MORE than 125 mature willow trees have been poisoned by Hepburn Shire Council at Daylesford’s Jubilee Lake.
The poisoning of the trees is the first stage of the removal project as the council moves ahead with works to manage the environment at the popular spot.
Following a preliminary engineering report handed over in 2017, stating minor maintenance works were required for the spillway at the Jubilee Lake dam wall, Hepburn Shire Council allocated $190,000 to undertake the works, including the removal of one hectare of willow trees around the lake.
The willows at the spillway have caused the water level to rise by half a metre, with the report indicating concerns the spillway could fail in a flood.
Dr David Holmgren, internationally renowned ecological land developer and manager and co-originator of the permaculture concept, said the poisoning of the willows making up the everglade forest was a disaster given that they are the largest natural air conditioner in the region.
He said the cooling effect of a deciduous tree with an 80 metre square surface area, which is exposed to the sun and grows in moist soil, was comparable to more than 10 air conditioning units that do not emit heat into the surrounding environment.
Dr Holmgren was commissioned on a pro bono basis by the Friends of Jubilee Lake to write a report to the council about the state of the trees and their environmental impact in August 2018.
He said the taxpayer funded North Central Catchment Management Authority is responsible for the willow removal programs in Central Victoria and has a nativist approach through which it tries to eradicate introduced species, with the view it is bad for the environment, to allow native fauna to thrive.
“While this prejudice against naturalised species, commonly demonised as weeds, enjoys some passionate support in the community and is considered best practice by our bureaucracies with the public money and poison, the promoters and instigators of these practices consistently refuse invitations to formal public debates on the merits or otherwise of willow destruction,” he said.
Hepburn Shire Council mayor Don Henderson said the removal of the willow trees at the inlet of Jubilee Lake was a result of discussions and advice.
“The removal of woody weeds (willow trees) and blackberries are in line with recommendations from the relevant management authorities (NCCMA) and Jubilee Lake Reserve Management Plan,” he said.
“The works have been packaged as part of one contract due to the similarity of the works being undertaken e.g. steam injection and removal.”
He said the willows were holding the sediment which had travelled down the catchment over hundreds of years together and if removed, would leak into the lake.
“The willows create a swamp land that slows the water down, purifies the water and prevents turbidity and blue green algae blooms,” he said.
It is believed council will leave the stumps of hundreds of trees around the lake to prevent the sediment from flowing.
Dr Holmgren said though there was no saving the trees which had already been injected, he wanted to facilitate debate for the community to better understand willows, their place in the ecosystem while providing an opportunity both sides of the debate to provide their evidence.
He said research by leading willow researcher Michael Wilson over many years had built scientific evidence to refute the nativist ideology used to back willow removal programs.
One such piece of evidence is that willows shade out the pervasive blackberry species to form an everglade ecology, while acting as a long term sustainable and low cost management solution as opposed to herbicides, which degrade soils.
Another finding has been that willows capture 40 times more sediment and 10 per cent more phosphorous than eucalyptus trees.
Dr Holmgren said protecting the fire safe willow species at a time the region is experiencing an increasingly hotter and drier climate with greater risk of bushfires due to climate change was imperative.
He said it would take between three or four decades for other trees to grow and the canopy to be re-established.