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Willows

Traditionally introduced for soil stabilisation, basketry, landscape, shade and shelter, willows have spread to occupy long sections of creeks, rivers and wetlands around the Shire. Many people are very attached to the willows growing in the landscape, enjoying them for the shade and shelter they provide.

Unfortunately, willows are an aggressive introduced species that grow at the expense of diverse native vegetation, reduce habitat for native species, with the potential to reduce water quality and exacerbate erosion.

Here we explain why Uralla Shire Council is removing willows as part of riparian rehabilitation projects, and outline the positive outcomes expected as a result.


Why do we remove willows?
There are a range of reasons why Salix spp are considered a significant environmental threat:

  • Willow leaves cause a flush of organic matter when they drop in autumn, reducing water quality, especially available oxygen, directly threatening aquatic plants and animals.
  • Willows spread their roots into the bed of a watercourse, slowing the flow of water and reducing aeration. Where willows occur in dense stands this effect is exaggerated and can lead to bank erosion and in severe cases, flooding.
  • Willows will drink much more water than native trees and shrubs. When rivers and wetlands are at very low levels, thirsty willows hasten the drying of pools which protect fish and bug life from drought conditions.
  • Willows are easily treated with herbicide but difficult to control as broken stems and twigs easily take root. Some varieties of Willows can spread by seed, which can be carried up to 100 km by wind or water.
  • Replacing native vegetation with willows reduces habitat for land and aquatic animals.

For all these reasons, most species of willow have been declared Weeds of National Significance (WoNS)*. Controlling WoNS listed weeds is the legal responsibility of landowners. Council, like other landholders, is obliged to remove them.

The Uralla Subcatchment Management Plan identifies willow removal, together with replanting native vegetation, as one of the management tools to improve river health.


What are the alternatives?
Planting native grasses, shrubs and trees will enrich local habitat, provide shade and shelter and benefit aquatic fauna.

Willows can be slowly replaced by a number of regionally suitable species. The attached document is a native species list for various parts of the New England Tablelands. For expert knowledge regarding the species suitable for your land please contact Southern New England Landcare (6772 9123) or Border-River Gwydir Catchment Management Authority (6728 8020).


What else can you do?
If you visit the river for recreation, avoid breaking willow twigs and branches, to secure your fishing line or cross a creek. Willows can sprout from broken fragments.

Get involved in a riparian rehabilitation program. Visit the High Country Urban Biodiversity Project section of the website to find you how you can get involved.
If there isn’t a riparian project operating near you, consider starting one. Funding is available at various times of the year for community environmental projects.

If you would like more information, please contact Uralla Shire Council’s Environmental Project Officer via email or on 6778 6300.


References
* Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Weeds in Australia, www.weeds.gov.au, 24.05.2011