RIPPING willows from the banks of the Macquarie River is nothing short of environmental vandalism, according to passionate environmental activist Peter Andrews.
Mr Andrews, the author of Back from the Brink, was in Bathurst yesterday to see the impact of Bathurst Regional Council’s policy of willow removal.
And he was horrified by what he saw – deeply eroded river banks lined with piles of willows ready for burning.
Mr Andrews said the practice was in no way based on credible science.
“It is causing carbon release and destroying heritage,” he said.
“It is all because some ignorant person a long time ago said that willows use more water.
“The pioneers of Bathurst saw what was happening (the erosion) and planted the river banks with willows.
“Now we are too stupid to learn from them. Council needs to rethink its practices. They need to check the science.
“Scientific evidence proves that this is wrong. It is environmental vandalism of the highest degree.”
Mr Andrews has been campaigning against willow removal across Australia.
He said he is trying to bring some common sense to our treatment of the Australian landscape.
“I grew up in Broken Hill and saw the landscape destroyed,” he said.
“They burned all the trees in the smelters and the sheep were buried alive in dust.”
He said at the time of settlement the Australian landscape was filled with plants and animals as a result of nothing more than sunlight and gravity. And then man interfered.
Rahamim sustainability manager John Fry said Mr Andrews was visiting Bathurst to take a look prior to the Great Willow Debate which will be held on May 31 at Rahamim.
Industry representatives, scientists and members of the public are all invited to make comments and ask questions.
He said there will be a few speakers debating the issue from every angle.
Mr Fry also believes council’s willow removal policy is too intrusive and too heavy handed.
“They need to sit back and look at the way the river functions,” he said.
“Going right back to the 1960s, council had a river clearance gang because the belief was we had to move water away as quickly as possible.
“Unfortunately, the increase in water velocity has the potential to do more damage.
“Australia is the only country in the world that strips willows.
“They were originally planted a century ago to stabilise the river bank.
“It was a good idea, but a few decades ago things changed and someone decided they had to come out,” Mr Fry said.
He added that council is taking its lead from the state government and the Catchment Management Authority, however, reduced biodiversity contributes to degrading the water quality, raises water temperatures and interrupts the breeding cycle of insects, frogs and fish.
“Then council banks the willows up and they become home to birds, river rats and lizards because they are the only shelter available to them.
“The following winter they set fire to the piles and the animals are cremated.
“Up until 10 years ago I was removing willows in the same way as a River Care project manager.
“I was removing willows all around the catchment and then I started reading about climate change and that made me reconsider my position on why I was taking willows out and burning them,” Mr Fry said.
He said with climate change more extreme weather and climate must be expected, and willows are useful in keeping the landscape cooler. They are also a fire barrier.
He said council’s Bathurst Urban Waterways Management Plan was formulated in 2009 and needs to be revisited.
“Ideas are changing all the time,” he said.
“I’ve changed my ideas. I’m big enough to say I was wrong.”