Survey to inform new fireweed management guide

Posted by | November 22, 2011 | News, Research | No Comments

fireweedResearchers from the University of New England and CSIRO will soon be conducting a survey of rural landholders as part of a two-year project exploring control and management options for fireweed.

The project is being funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis), a native of South Africa, is a poisonous plant that, when eaten by cattle or horses, may lead to a decrease in condition and, eventually, death.  It is capable of germinating and flowering throughout much of the year, making year-long management difficult.

Fireweed (pictured here) is recognisable from its yellow daisy-like flowers, which have 13 petals.  It can grow up to 60 centimetres in height and spreads rapidly.

The survey will examine the ecological conditions under which fireweed grows best, what kinds of pasture grasses compete most effectively with fireweed, what methods landholders use to control the weed, and the impact it has had on farm management.

As fireweed is primarily a weed of coastal grazing pastures, the survey will be aimed specifically at graziers and dairy farmers in coastal NSW and south-east Queensland, where it is currently spreading rapidly.

UNE’s Professor Brian Sindel, the leader of the project and a world authority on fireweed, conducted a similar survey during the 1980s, and so the 2011 survey will provide important information on how the impact and management of fireweed have changed over the intervening period.

The eagerness of fireweed-impacted communities to manage this weed more effectively is illustrated by the formation of landholder action groups, such as the Bega Valley Fireweed Association, and Dorrigo Community Weed Action.

Other aspects of the fireweed control research project include field trials to improve understanding of the ecology of fireweed, and research currently under way in South Africa into potential biological control options.

“The results of the research will be provided to landholders through a management guide to be published in 2012, as well as through DAFF, local community groups, and a project Web site,” Professor Sindel said.

“We hope that landholders who receive a copy of the survey will return it promptly with all questions answered,” he added. “We also hope that landholders who do not receive the survey in the mail will consider completing it online. The experience of those who complete the survey will help Australian landholders to improve their ability to control fireweed.”

A link to the online version of the fireweed impact survey, as well as more information on the research, is available on the project’s Web site, hosted on www.ruralfutures.une.edu.au.

People who would like to receive a paper copy of the fireweed impact survey, or who are interested in finding out more about the project, can contact Professor Brian Sindel in UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Science by an e-mail to bsindel@une.edu.au, or by phoning (02) 6773 3747.