Oh Horrors. The weeds are taking over. Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella or Pilosella officinarum) is on the march and trying to take over.
This weed comes from Europe and Northern Asia, but has colonised other countries including New Zealand, USA, Canada and Japan. It threatens agriculture and biodiversity, forming a low-growing and dense mat, spreading by wind-blown seed and by runners (stolons). I understand that in New Zealand it has covered huge areas and even forced farmers off their land. The problem for farmers is that it may be killed by a herbicide , which of course, kills other plants, but then the land cannot be used for about 5 years.
Now it has come to Australia. A small area has been found in the Victorian Alps, and more recently in the lovely Strzelecki Valley high on the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) in New South Wales. It is thought that the KNP infestation came from New Zealand on hikers clothing such as gaiters or boots, or on their packs or tents.
The infestation in the Strzelecki Valley has been quarantined and the existing weeds flagged, logged on a gps and poisoned. Now surveys are being conducted to determine the effectiveness of the control measures and any evidence of new plants.
The surveys are being conducted by the New South Wales Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Greening Australia which is a national, non-profit organisation dedicated to restoring and conserving Australia’s unique landscapes, and the Canberra Bushwalking Club which provides most of the survey team members.
A team went down there in December 2015 and discovered a number of new plants. I was part of the team which went there in late January 2016. We found another 17 plants. Each new plant is flagged and logged by gps.
We travelled down on the Saturday and stayed overnight at the Canberra Ski Club lodge at Perisher Village. On Saturday afternoon we had a number of briefing and training sessions and then did the survey on the Sunday, returning to Canberra late that afternoon
From Perisher, on Sunday, we took the road to the trailheads at Charlotte’s Pass. Here the gate was unlocked and we then lurched and bumped and even scraped our way up onto the Main Range in a couple of 4x4s along the walkers track. I have often walked this long trail and it was quite an experience to do it in a vehicle!
From Charlotte’s Pass the trail drops steeply down to the infant Snowy River and Club Creek before winding its way up and down and round about, past glacially formed Blue Lake, and onto the Main Range. This is rolling, rugged, sometimes craggy moorland, subject to heavy snowfall in winter and to often extreme weather changes in the other seasons.
It was an absolutely stunning, sparkling mountain day, and I felt very privileged to be up there as part of the team. Apart from the pleasure of doing something useful and giving back to an area which has given me much pleasure, I just love being in mountains, above the tree line, in open country up high and in amongst lovely gurgling streams too. As the late Geoffrey Winthrop Young wrote in his poem Knight Errantry:-
There is a region of heart’s desire
free for the hand that wills;
land of the shadow and haunted spire,
land of the silvery glacier fire, land of the cloud and the starry choir
magical land of the hills;
loud with the crying of winds and streams,
thronged with the fancies and fears of dreams.
Up here, my soul expands, and as the late Geoffrey wrote in another of his poems:-
There is much comfort in high hills,
and a great easing of the heart.
We look upon them, and our nature fills
with loftier images from life apart.
They set our feet on curves of freedom,
bent to snap the circles of our discontent.
Mountains are moods;
of larger rhythm and line,
moving between the eternal mode and mine.
Moments in thought, of which I too am part,
I lose in them my instant of brief ills, –
There is great easing of the heart,
and cumulance of comfort on high hills.
I am sure that some people are psychologically wired to be happier and better performers in mountains and at altitude, whereas others do better at low levels or in forests. I definitely am in the former group. I am really only truly happy in high mountains.
When we reached the saddle on the top of the Main Range between Mounts Twynam and Carruthers, it was time to start walking. Talk about the “ ruined rooftops of the world”. This is a world full of rocks and stones and low-growing ground covers. As I have said, we had come up here across wild alpine moorland, perhaps akin to the Cairngorms in Scotland. However, before setting off, we first had to attend to our senses. From this spot the western slopes of the Main Range fall steeply and ruggedly down, down, down, and on such a stunning morning the view was breathtaking . The cameras were soon “clicking” away.
From here it was a lovely walk over the western flank of Mt Twynam to the Strzelecki Valley across wonderful open country.
Once we were in the quarantined area we got down to business. The area is quite large, covering the side of part of the valley and fenced off. We formed a line, each of us 1.5 metres apart, and then keeping in position, slowly made our way up the slope searching the grasses, the weeds, the alpine daisies and ground covers, the rocks and stones for hawkweed. Most of the plants we found were very small, maybe only 3-4 cm across and, at first glance to inexperienced eyes, very similar to flat weed. Reaching the top fence we would move the appropriate distance along and then work our way down, then up again. After a couple of hours I think that we all knew what to recognize, but I think that we only found one fairly large plant and someone called out “hey! You had better come and see this one. Ben has a big one” . The comment passed without notice until Lois started to gurgle , leading to some general merriment.
We called a halt for a short morning tea break and again for lunch which we enjoyed from just above the top fence, on the top of the ridge where we had the most wonderful views down into the Geehi Valley and across to Mt Townsend.
All too soon this lovely day had to end and we made our way back to the saddle where, now, there was only one vehicle. Here we brushed and sterilized our gaiters and boots. 4 started walking back and 4 clambered in. However, at the Snowy River we jumped out and the vehicle went back for the others, leaving us to hike up the hot steep slope to Charlotte’s Pass. Here we all gathered, returned to Perisher for our belongings and returned to Canberra.
Given what has happened in NZ it seems that there needs to be a great deal more publicity and education about hawkweed in the general media, by the NSW NPWS and by bushwalking clubs across the country. The alpine area of the Snowy Mountains is relatively small and very fragile. Already it is threatened by global warming since there is nowhere higher for it to go.
The great web of creation which supports life on this beautiful planet of ours is finely balanced and interconnected. The more we damage it and the more we diminish or develop our wilderness areas, the more we diminish our own survival on Earth.
WILDERNESS! WHAT AN EVOCATIVE TERM! Sadly, today, most people, including many conservationists, mountaineers and climbers and bushwalkers or hikers, see wilderness, if not still to be tamed by man, then at least subservient to man; a place to be used by man for his pleasure: its value seen only in economic resource terms or for our pleasure . Few see wilderness as something which has a right to exist for its own sake, something we are allowed to share, but which dictates its terms on us.
Do we see that conservation and the preservation of wilderness is not about protecting an environment for our use but about saving the Earth? The great web of Creation which supports life on this beautiful planet of ours is finely balanced and interconnected. The more we damage it and the more we diminish or develop our wilderness areas, the more we diminish our own survival on Earth.
If we wish to save this planet of ours and ensure our own survival, we must accept that wilderness is a vital and integrated part of a total and fragile ecosystem created to support life and ultimately our life. We must not see it as an economic resource for man to use for his pleasure or economic benefit. .
For those of us who do go into the wilderness, do we just go to use it, to look at it? Or do we actually allow it to become a part of us by imparting its essence on us? For those who do allow themselves to become a part of it, life will surely take on a new meaning and the wilderness and all its values will live with them. This precious planet of ours will be then seen in a new light. One needs to become one with the wilderness; to merge into it.
Crossing the Snowy River. We drove across here at this exact spot.
Nearing the site which lies just over the line of rocks on the left.