Volunteers are beating buffel


p2362-buffel-spencer-hill-cuBy ERWIN CHLANDA


A small Landcare group in the Old Eastside has proved that buffel can be beaten: After years of effort – absurdly some of them spent on obtaining permission – several hectares at the base of Spencer Hill are now a sea of yellow billy button flowers.


What’s more, the effort is proof that selected areas, including our major tourism assets, can be restored. Parks & Wildlife, under  Minister Bess Price in the Giles Government,  had all but thrown in the towel.


The Eastside effort – which is ongoing because after rain new plants need to be dealt with –  has been spearheaded by Sue Morrish and Rosalie Breen.


Ms Morrish says the effort began in 2007.


“We had to get approval from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA, as Spencer Hill is a sacred site), Department of Lands and Infrastructure, and needed to become an incorporated body for public liability purposes – this is why Alice Springs Landcare was formed,” she says.


“Jo Boniface from Alice Springs Landcare received approval from AAPA in October 2008, and Tim Collins started the first organised spraying from January 2010.”


Many people told the group they were on a mission without hope.


“That’s why it is so rewarding that we kept going,” says Ms Morrish.


The main method of control was spraying Roundup at times when the plant was growing vigorously, after rain.


p2362-buffel-spencer-hill-2ok“This kills the plant. It won’t come back.”


Buffel burns very hot, killing native trees that can survive “cool” fires of native grasses.


Buffel – declared a weed in South Australia but not in the NT – displaces native plants which are now coming back to Spencer Valley: bluebells, swainsonia purple peas and golden everlasting.


The Landcare volunteers mostly use spray backpacks, but also mattocks and Landcare’s trailer-mounted spray unit, towing it behind Ms Morrish’s car to various spots in the area and using two spray hoses to go from plant to plant.


She says last year alone 695 litres of Roundup solution (usually mixed at 1 to 100) was used and volunteers worked an estimated 200 hours.


PHOTOS: Billy button flowers. The grey clump is dead buffel • Part of the treated area. In the background, on the other side of the track, buffel still reigns supreme.


Some before and afters, courtesy Alice Springs Landcare:




May 2012




October 2016




April 2014




October 2016




September 2012: Trees killed in buffel fire.



UPDATE October 28: 


Eight St Philip’s community service students have been working on eradicating and managing dense areas of buffel and coral cactus in and around the Telegraph Station, Spencer Valley and the college grounds (photo below).


“That will give native grasses a chance to grow and reduce damage to trees during bushfire,” says the college.


The group is a finalist in the Natural Resource Management Awards.



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17 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted November 3, 2016 at 8:24 am

    @ Collins: Please have the guts to put your name to a comment; may be I wrote stupid things, but at least I sign for them.
    @ Craig San Roque: Very good, but it is not everyone who can do same, may be for reasons of health or work commitments.
    However, may be everyone could control their footpath to avoid the seeds to be transferred far away by winds a major mechanism of dispersal of buffel grass seeds.

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  2. Craig San Roque
    Posted November 1, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    It was helpful to read all those comments on poisons and methods and hope … and big pictures, but when it comes down to it, all I do most mornings around 6.30am is go out through the back gate into the Coolabah Swamp with a hoe or mattock and a dog and chip out a buffel or two.
    I don’t argue with the dog, I don’t instruct the buffel. I don’t see anyone else, much, doing so.
    In a population of 24,000.

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  3. Andy Vinter
    Posted November 1, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Great to see volunteers who care enough not to wait and watch our native plants and animals disappear.
    Whether you choose hand removal or chemical spray, it all takes effort.
    The key is to act strategically so that regeneration is as far as possible self sustaining, and the value of your work maximised.

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  4. Leigh Childs
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    Gosh Janet. Are you incapable of just saying job well done? Read the other responses, you might learn something.

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  5. Collins
    Posted October 30, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Peppering???!! I foolishly wasted 30 seconds of my life reading that article.

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  6. Michael Dean
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:14 am

    @ Hal Duell Here is the link you requested.


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  7. Jimmy Cocking
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 11:06 am

    @ Evelyn: Pine oil is also being used widely as an organic herbicide that breaks the cell walls of seeds. This is being used in areas where organic beef producers are concerned about the impact on their organic classification.
    Rod Cramer suggested at the SA Buffel Forum that we need to have a political plan and political leadership on the issue of buffel grass.
    Here is a quote from Tucson Mayor, Bob Walkup, in regards to buffel grass in his jurisdiction: “It’s matter of priority and public will. The public has to send a signal to its elected officials. If we don’t do something, eventually we’re all going to look out and say ‘What happened? How did this happen, and why didn’t we do something about it. Here we are in 2020 and we’ve lost our desert.”
    — Bob Walkup, Tucson Mayor, 1999-2011
    More information at the Arizona Desert Museum website http://www.desertmuseum.org/buffelgrass/
    The most effective efforts in Australia to date are in SA. Unfortunately the resources have wound up for the coordinator position but the collaborative spirit of the taskforce lives on.
    More information on the Buffel Taskforce in South Australia can be found here http://www.pir.sa.gov.au/biosecurity/weeds_and_pest_animals/weeds_in_sa/weed_id/plant_id_notes/buffel_grass
    Here in Alice Springs we need to get the heads together and have targetted blitzes at the right time.
    Alice Springs Town Council and the NT Government providing support for volunteers to get in and clear it.
    People with maddocks and hoes, and others with spraypacks, where allowed and we need to beat the buffel back in areas that we value.
    Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, Alice Springs Desert Park, Desert Knowledge Precinct and any number of the hills and other areas of high value. It’s one thing to walk together, it’s another to work together.

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  8. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Peppering is a method used by biodynamic practitioners to clear an area of unwanted plants or animals that have become pests, reduce diversity and are resistant to other control measures.
    As a method for increasing and enhancing the growth and vitality of plants and animals, biodynamics also points the way to reining in plants or animals that have become so dominant and aggressive that they must be restrained.
    By understanding the forces that feed growth and reproduction for any given species, biodynamics also shows us how to break or impair the connection between that species and the forces that sustain it.
    Instead of trying to kill those species that offend us, making a pepper using the organism’s seed, exoskeleton or hide shuts down or breaks its connection with the in-streaming energies that sustain it and give it vigour.
    In the case of plants they dry up and struggle to grow or reproduce. In the case of animals, they tend to move out and go elsewhere.
    We have seen the promethean efforts of the chemical industry and its many decades of billions of tons of poisons used on every sort of crop, while the problems of weeds and pests have become worse than ever.
    This approach has cost many lives and caused enormous suffering from its side effects. Residues are found in our food chain, even in the polar regions, and many of these chemicals contribute to loss of ozone in the upper atmosphere and toxic sediments in our lakes and oceans.

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  9. Hal Duell
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Thanks for the link Jimmy.
    Also, from http://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/where-are-gmos-grown-and-banned/ – Genetically modified crops are grown in 28 nations around the world, while nearly three dozen nations prohibit or ban their cultivation.
    GMO bans received considerable attention in 2015, when a majority of the European Union nations decided to block the cultivation of new GMOs within their borders and Russia issued a ban on both cultivation and imports.
    As in so many things in today’s world, it seems Russia is leading the way.
    Why anyone would purchase soya products not certified organic boggles the mind.

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  10. Jimmy Cocking
    Posted October 27, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Great work Landcare Alice Springs – Spencer Hill Special unit.
    @ Hal: Seems like cancer issues in Argentina from aerial spraying of roundup resistant GM soya beans. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27373134
    Topically applied the risk is much reduced. While not an avid supporter of spraying, the results coming out of roadside sprays in SA and the dedicated work of the Buffel Taskforce demonstrates the positive impact that collaboration of people and groups can have on this ecologically transforming weed of the arid zone.
    The people of Arizona also provide inspiration in their buffel busting efforts to protect the sagura cactus of the sonaran desert.
    Closer to home and not involving spraying is the tireless efforts of Buffel Warrior Bruce Simmons who has cleared around the community garden and built most of the soil there through composting the buffel with cow manure. It works a treat.
    Have just returned from SA buffel forum along with a number of Alice Springs residents involved in buffel control.
    Inspiring forum and a working group to pursue a biological control has been formed. Thanks to the Alice Springs News for covering this important ecological issue.

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  11. Janet Brown
    Posted October 27, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Out of town the wild flowers are prolific with bloom and all alongside buffel grass.
    Amazing isn’t it.
    And all without polluting the group with chemicals.
    Dare I say it is all environment and clean.
    Wow, who would believe it?

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  12. Hal Duell
    Posted October 27, 2016 at 10:30 am

    @ Michael Dean, Posted October 27, 2016 at 7:14 am
    I use Roundup sparingly to control kutch (couch?), but have residual worries.
    What happened in Argentina? Can you provide a link?

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  13. Michael Dean
    Posted October 27, 2016 at 7:14 am

    Very commendable effort indeed, but I have always been concerned about the inert ingredients in Roundup and its toxicity. Look what happened in Argentina. Just saying …

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  14. Robert Read
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Great to see this story and for the volunteers to get some acknowledgment of their effort. Spencer Valley is now a credit to all who have spent time controlling buffel.
    To be fair to Parks, I believe that they are doing some work to stop buffel invading sensitive areas.
    The cost of manually fighting buffel on a broad scale is huge.
    Research into technology for buffel control is urgently needed.
    A first step would be a drone that can quickly map clumps of buffel to save the time consuming search for it on foot.
    This should not be difficult with existing technology.

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  15. Pip Mcmanus
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:23 am

    So impressed by these dedicated souls who continue to battle the buffel menace – their efforts are really noticeable around Spencer Hill and Ankerre Ankerre.
    Such a clear example of small positive steps in the face of a seemingly overwhelming invasion.

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  16. Penangke
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 6:44 am

    Anyone who has been in Central Australia for a little while can see the devestation and displacement of the native species caused by the ever spreading buffel grass. It is a serious issue that must be addressed.

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  17. Craig San Roque
    Posted October 25, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Erwin, thanks for running this story.
    Readers might like to know that the same thing is happening in the Coolabah Swamp / Ankerre Ankerre.
    A handful of local land care people under the watchful eye of the local TO family are clearing back buffell and invasive saltbush (originally planted for dust control in the 1970s).
    Look around the Sturt and Stott Terrace corners and back of Mueller and Lindsay Avenue.
    You will see the clearing and new growth. Once upon a time the Coolabah Swamp was overgrown, trashed and seen as wasteland. Now, with the support of the group it’s safe to rest and walk though some of it.
    Anyone can see how its getting to be a happier part of the fertile native bush spaces of Alice – like Spencer Hill – and some of the riverside.
    Maybe next on the list would be cleaning up the buffel from the heritage site of Billy Goat Hill / Alkeyule. Take a walk up there and see for yourself.

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