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Byron Shire
March 31, 2023

The camphor crisis

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I totally disagree with Simon Thompsons’ assessment that clearing camphor would be a shame. Camphor laurel is the number one invasive species threatening the ecology of the Northern Rivers. It’s true that there are many other invasive species to worry about, but nothing is as prolific as camphor. Camphor is a large, fast-growing tree, originally from China, that dominates the forest and smothers slower-growing native species. If left unchecked (which is the case across swathes of the hinterland) native biodiversity is completely destroyed by forests of camphor laurel. Even the understory of these camphor forests attracts invasive species such as privet. Indeed, I can barely think of any native plants or animals that live in these camphor wastelands.

So to say that camphor can’t be eradicated is a cop out! My property was once a banana plantation left abandoned decades ago. When I moved here, it was a camphor forest. But, slowly, I’m making inroads and find when I poison camphor trees in the forest and let them rot, native trees immediately start growing back. Qandongs, red cedar, hoop pines etc just need some light and room to grow. Twice a year I recheck areas of rainforest regrowth and clear the new growth camphor, Devil’s fig and tobacco weed to give the natives space. Eventually when these magnificent native trees reclaim the canopy they won’t need my help at all. There’s plenty of like-minded people regenerating rainforest. It’s simply a myth that it can’t be done.

Another myth perpetuated by those who do nothing, is that it’s all the fault of the so-called Pitt St farmers, i.e. absentee landowners who don’t look after their land. Not true. Drive anywhere in the region and you’ll find working farms and inhabited properties covered in camphor laurel. Many people have simply put tackling invasive species in the ‘too hard’ basket.

If we want to avoid the Northern Rivers becoming a camphor wasteland, it’s time for some government action. Councils and state government need to think of some incentives for landowners to rid their properties of this weed. And with the carrot must come the stick. Give each property a five-year or ten-year timeframe to start making inroads into this problem – and if no progress is made, start issuing fines. It’s a pity the government has to intervene to make landowners good custodians of their land, but is there an alternative? I’ve heard Kyogle Council already does this, so why can’t Byron, Tweed, or Ballina Councils?

At the end of the day, the only good camphor is a dead one!

Simon Alderton, Murwillumbah

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