Using natural methods to keep the Tweed’s biting insects at bay has been Clive Easton’s passion for 28 years.
Pottering around the shire’s wetlands and woodlands may not be everyone’s idea of a fun career, but Mr Easton describes it as the best job at council.
‘I’ve had a really good time. I’m allowed scope to do my job, which involves research and innovation, working with scientists, engineers, public health officers, town planners and the public. I get to meet and work with a lot of people,’ said Mr Easton, who plans to spend more time fishing, surfing and travelling after his retirement in February.
‘It keeps you thinking when you are dealing with complex ecology and a lot of people. People can be annoyed when they have a problem with insects, but it is always good to be able to help an individual.’
Mr Easton said control methods had changed drastically since he first began work on the Tweed in 1983. Nowadays mozzie control has more to do with making sure mosquito larvae become part of the aquatic food chain rather than aerial spraying with toxic insecticides.
Allowing small fish into mosquito breeding grounds drastically drops mozzie numbers and appropriate controlled opening of certain flood gates to flush stagnant pools with salt water and reduce acidity can solve much of the problem.
‘Improving water quality and adjusting water levels has proven to be the best method. Mosquitoes thrive in poor-quality water devoid of natural predators,’ he said.
‘These days we have nothing like the number of mosquitoes that were about in the 1980s. Every season is different of course.
‘We try to avoid chemicals whenever possible and look to environmental solutions. Small changes to the habitat work well.’
One method now used involves use of soil bacteria discovered to kill only mozzies around desert waterholes in the Middle East. Spread around the wetlands, the commercially bred bacteria have a devastating effect of Tweed mozzies.
Decades of work by Mr Easton must have led to fewer cases of Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus in the shire. Mr Easton said the two illnesses were particularly debilitating to manual workers, such as farmers and tradesmen, because they may cause extended episodes of fatigue and arthritis in the small joints.
Biting midges are a harder problem to solve, according to Mr Easton, because they live much of their lives underground in their larval stages.
He said a big step forward took place in the 90s when council began to consider biting insect problems in their development control plans.
Mr Easton said creating buffer zones around new housing developments also helped to keep mozzies away from people.
‘We use softer methods of control these days.’
Image: Tweed Shire Council entomologist Clive Easton retires next month after almost 30 years keeping a keen eye on the shire’s insects, especially the biting ones. Photo Jeff ‘Itchy and Scratchy’ Dawson