Making Weeds History on Lord Howe Island, June 2015

The Lord Howe Island Board, McDermott Aviation, the NSW Environmental Trust and the Australian Government’s National Landcare programme made weeds history in June 2015 using purpose built helicopter lance spray equipment to combat invasive weeds on World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island.

Lord Howe Island is in year 11 of an ambitious 30 year program to rid the island of invasive weeds. Since program commencement, over six million dollars in funding from all levels of government and over 120,000 hours of labour has helped achieve an impressive 80 per cent reduction in the number of weeds on the island. Even with that effort there have been areas on the island considered too inaccessible for weed treatment ... until now.

Over two long days, 10 kilometres of cliff line up to an elevation of 720m above sea level were surveyed and treated. At least 1500 weeds, mostly Ground Asparagus and to a lesser extent, Bitou Bush and Box Thorn, were sprayed with herbicide delivered in a targeted way by lance spray equipment fixed to the underside of a helicopter.

With weed specialists on board the helicopter, a close grid search of steep cliffs in areas with known or potential weed infestation was conducted. The lance apparatus enabled the precise spot spraying of weeds, as they were encountered, with minimal downwash and off target spraying. “We could even spray weed seedlings – that’s just how precise the gear was, and a testament to the patience and skill of the chopper pilot,” said Sue Bower, Flora Management Officer with the Lord Howe Island Board.

The ‘heli-lance’ concept was borrowed from New Zealand and has been used in Australia to clean high voltage powerlines. The design, construction and testing of the lance spray apparatus was undertaken by the McDermott Aviation team. Pilot Glenn Izzard was not surprised that the lance was successful “as there was a lot of research and development conducted before we got to the stage of actually turning up and doing the work.” Glenn said.

The first use of the equipment on Lord Howe Island was made possible through a grant from the NSW Environmental Trust. Peter Dixon from the Trust said “The Trust is happy to support this innovative project as if it is successful, the new techniques could significantly improve the effectiveness of remote area and hard terrain weed management projects across the State.”

The Federal environment minister, Greg Hunt, praised the benefits delivered by the programme. “I am delighted to see such outstanding results for the protection of Lord Howe Island’s World Heritage listed biodiversity,” Mr Hunt said. “Lord Howe Island is home to a vast array of native plants, many of which are only found on the island and supports extensive colonies of nesting seabirds, and the endangered woodhen, one of the world’s rarest birds,” Mr Hunt said. Ground Asparagus, one the target weeds, can completely smother the understory and prevent seabirds accessing their breeding habitat or land birds foraging through leaf litter.

The design and construction of the heli-lance was funded through a National Landcare grant, one of several Landcare grants which in combination have contributed more than $1.46 million for weed eradication on the Island since 2008.  “The Australian Government is committed to the protection and conservation of its World Heritage listed places,” Mr Hunt said, “The success of the weed eradication programme is an excellent example of the community taking on-the-ground direct action for the protection of their local environment. They are well on the way to meeting their ambitious target to eradicate weeds from Lord Howe Island.”

At least 30 mature Ground Asparagus were treated above the Black Face on Mt Lidgbird. “Great conservation outcomes were achieved, especially in the southern mountains in places where neither a person nor goat is likely to ever have trodden (or at least for some time),” said Sue Bower, “but to be effective, follow-up treatments are required in case any weeds were missed and for this we need continued support and funding.”

A separate and new grant from the NSW Environmental Trust will investigate other aerial techniques for their applicability for the surveillance and treatment of invasive weeds on Lord Howe Island, including drones and herbicide ballistic technology which involves the use of capsulated herbicide to treat woody weeds.

Helicopter with lance spray equipment targeting weeds on World Heritage Lord Howe Island cliff lines.

Helicopter search and spray effort on Lord Howe Island June 2015

Media contacts:

Penny Holloway, CEO, Lord Howe Island Board, +61 2 6563 2066

Nicole Balodis, Grants Manager, NSW Environmental Trust, +61 2 8837 6068

Damien Lindsay, Operations manager McDermott Aviation, +61 7 5447 6600

Nicole Green, Media adviser to Minister Hunt, +61 2 6277 7920