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Byron Shire
May 11, 2021

Bitou spraying not working

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Veda Turner, Byron Bay

I note that we are again to be visited by the NPWS helicopter spray unit.

If NPWS think they are having success with this ‘strategy’, I beg to differ!

As a user of the ‘fishermans tracks’ on Cape Byron, I have noted the results of NPWS’s past aerial spray programs.

Initially most of the established bitou died, but within months new plants where establishing and within nine months there was as much bitou as previously.

I believe there have been two spraying programs in recent years. There has been some resurgence of native species, but aerial spraying is not effective in eradicating bitou on the cliffs at Cape Byron.

There needs to be a strategic backup program of some sort.

A more strategic approach with a hand-weeding component at critical times is the only way to get beyond the continual reliance on poison sprays.

Work has been done on the Cape by workers using harnesses and rope safety lines. This would allow systematic bitou control and probably be less costly than helicopters.

These programs are funded by taxpayers, and we are not getting good value.

A better plan is required, one which has a ‘spray-free’ future, not the current over-reliance on aerial spraying with all its risks, and nothing else!


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  1. I refer to the comments of Veda Turner about the Bitou Spraying program and the need for a more strategic approach to the weed’s management including hand-weeding. To see the success of a Bitou hand-weeding program you need go no further than the Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head where such a program operated for many years under the expert guidance of local biologist Ellen White.
    While there has been judicious use of hand-delivered herbicides in difficult-to-get-to places most of the work was by done by hand. Follow-up of new sproutings over a couple of years virtually eliminated the Bitou as native plants were given half a chance to take over the vacated space. Ellen has collected considerable data showing the benefits of her program. The authorities would do well to pay attention to her findings from Dirawong.

    Despite much propaganda about the ‘relatively innocuous nature’ of herbicides for native species the evidence shows they are often affected by herbicides. I have seen native plant death first hand in sprayed and drift areas even when concentrations are low.

    Criticisms of hand-weeding programs usually revolve around their labour-intensive character but the problem is that no-one seems to have done a proper cost benefit analysis. Are they truly more expensive? The negative comments may not be deserved.

    Ellen White needs to be commended and recognised for the wonderful work she has done with her approach to the management of Bitou. Take a look at Chinamen’s Beach in Dirawong Reserve at Evans Head. There’s the evidence.
    It is time for broad acre spraying programs to be reviewed.

    Dr Richard Gates
    The Evans Head Living Museum


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