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The King of Sword Cactus

Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)
Published 26 Sep 2018 by Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)

Ian Haverly started volunteering with Bush Heritage back in 2014. He was based in Melbourne and gave his time to our Supporter Services team in the Conservation Support Centre while he “scoped out” reserve-based opportunities to fill the coming 12 months.

In the four years that have followed, Ian has racked up a massive 2,300 hours on eight different reserves, in four different states! Ian spends most of his year on the road, moving between volunteer postings for Bush Heritage Australia and other conservation organisations. He turns his hand to any task and is always keen to learn new skills.

For the last couple of years, we’ve had the lion’s share of Ian’s help up here in the northern region. Ian has been a vital support on fencing projects at Yourka including the upgrade of the Herbert River boundary fence and the construction of pig and stray stock exclusion fences around our sensitive, natural billabongs. He also spent days spraying grader grass and trudging creeklines in search of Siam, along with other volunteers. But, it is Ian’s work at Goonderoo Reserve in sunny Central Queensland that really stands out.

Ian earnt his 'King of Cactus' title through 138 hours spent mapping, recording and killing sword cactus at Goonderoo is how .

Building on his efforts in 2017, Ian returned to Goonderoo in May and September this year with one purpose in mind - to complete the systematic treatment of sword cactus that has encroached on the reserve.

Let’s be honest, weed control isn’t exactly the most glamorous volunteer gig going around and weed control using herbicide is even less appealing. But treatment trials in 2016 proved that herbicide control is the only effective method for killing this cactus that can sprawl to the size of a shipping container.

It takes a dedicated volunteer to ‘suit up’ for spraying every day but it is only through a dedicated effort that we can win the battle over environmental weeds. Ian has even been known to turn down the opportunity to participate in Bridled Nailtail Wallaby surveys on neighbouring Avocet Nature Refuge (Nailtails are incredibly cute, mini macropods) because it will “cut into cactus-killing time”! 

Ian’s dedication to this project is certainly paying off. Yesterday he emailed to say he’d finished the final paddock for the year. Over 1500L of herbicide, delivered mostly via backpack due to the thick, scrubby mid storey limiting access for the buggy. We know from experience that it takes 3-4 months for the cactus to shrivel up after a spray but, 2017 survey results show that the kill rate is high.

Ian predicts that within 2-5 years of followup spraying (which gets easier every year), the sword cactus infestation on Goonderoo will be no more.

So, hats off to Ian and the other volunteers who have supported this successful program at Goonderoo, as well as those who tackle weeds on the slopes of Scottsdale, Nardoo Hills and other Bush Heritage properties around the country.

Invasive weeds are a key threat to habitat integrity and ecological processes and one of the greatest, ongoing challenges we face on our reserves. Weed control often feels like a never-ending, loveless task, so if you're a volunteer then I hope that when you read this blog you're “feeling the love” from reserve managers who truly appreciate your help.

Thank you weed warriors!

[Both photos of Ian were posed for the story, with no pesticide in the backpack or the spray unit. When working, Ian wears full personal protective equipment (gloves, haz suit, eye protection, respirator etc.). We recently had six volunteers, including Ian, complete the Queensland ACDC chemical user certification.]

Volunteer Ian Haverly has been leading the charge on sword cactus control at Goonderoo.

Ian killing cactus at Goonderoo.
Sword cactus Sword cactus
Spray result, 3-4 months after treatment.
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