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Queenscliffe Herald Article - July 2007

Battling Bridal Creeper in Coastal Dunes - A Community Approach

Sue Longmore, Coastal Officer, Swan Bay Integrated Catchment Management Committee

Bridal Creeper, a South African plant, is one of the most serious weeds in coastal dunes and foreshore areas from Portarlington to Breamlea. Bridal Creeper was introduced in the 1800’s as a garden plant. Since then it has spread throughout southern Australia and parts of New South Wales and Tasmania. It is classified as a Weed of National Significance. Sale of Bridal Creeper is now prohibited in Victoria.

During autumn to spring, Bridal Creeper creeps and twines smothering vegetation. In late spring it produces berries which, when eaten by birds, enable wide distribution of plant seed. Its foliage dies back over summer. However all year round, masses of underground roots and tubers persist in thick, dense mats under the soil surface, out-competing local native plants for space, light and nutrients and preventing establishment of local native seedlings.

In our coastal dunes it is impossible to control Bridal Creeper using herbicide as local native plants would be damaged too.  Implementing biological control of Bridal Creeper is therefore an across boundary priority project for many coastal land managers, aided by community groups.

Biological control involves the breeding and release of Bridal Creeper’s natural predators. Scientists have carried out rigorous tests to ensure these predators do not attack any Australian native species or agricultural crops.

Through the Swan Bay Integrated Catchment Management Program (SBICMP), Bridal Creeper leafhoppers and Bridal Creeper rust fungus, (natural predators) have been released at strategic locations, including the Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale dunes. The program has required a close collaboration between researchers, land managers and groups, including local schools. Since 2000 biocontrol agents have been released at nearly fifty sites on the Bellarine Peninsula.

Bellarine Secondary College (both campuses), Christian College, Gordon TAFE, St Leonards and Queenscliff Primary Schools are all a part of the SBICMP Bridal Creeper Weed Warriors team. In Term 3 St. Aloysius Primary School will join the team. The schools raise leafhoppers and rust fungus in cages in their classrooms for six weeks before releasing them at infestations in the dunes. Leafhoppers are tiny white insects with sucking mouth parts that pierce and extract the cell contents of the leaf tissue. Feeding damage appears as white zig-zag markings on the leaves. Under heavy attack the leafhoppers bleach and severely defoliate bridal creeper plants, forcing the bridal creeper to send up new shoots, use up stored nutrients from the tubers, thus reducing its ability to produce berries. Bridal Creeper rust fungus also weakens the host plant. Spores appear as yellow or orange spots on the leaf surface. Rust fungus spores are spread on the wind.

In 2006 an innovative method of increasing rust fungus spread in dense coastal vegetation was trialed, for the first time in Victoria, in a joint project between SBICMP, City of Greater Geelong, Barwon Coast, Friends of Buckley Park and researchers at Department of Primary Industries Frankston. Rust fungus spores were mixed with rainwater, placed in tanks and then sprayed by a helicopter flying low over dense vegetation in Buckley Park Foreshore Reserve and at Thirteenth Beach. This may prove a useful model for others in controlling Bridal Creeper infestations in dense coastal vegetation difficult to access from the ground.

Weeding and care of foreshore vegetation was identified as a priority project for community involvement as part of the recent Council sponsored Lighthouse Community Planning Program. To find out more about our special foreshore vegetation communities come along to an illustrated talk ‘Caring for the Big Nature Strip’ given by Sue Longmore, Coastal Coordinator, SBICMP. Wednesday July 25th 7.30 p.m. Queenscliff Town Hall, Learmonth Street.

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