Title: Warrnambool students and leaf hoppers do their part for nature
[Warrnabmbool Extra 03 Nov 2010, p. 3 by Madeleine Mcneil] -- SCHOOLCHILDREN have helped to reduce a highly invasive environmental weed across South Warrnambool wetlands by growing leaf hopper hugs which they released last week. The bridal creeper weed establishes in undisturbed native vegetation and its climbing stems form a dense canopy which smothers other vegetation. The creepers’ underground roots can extend to form a thick, dense mat which destroys other plants from below. Biological control, using the leaf hoppers, is the preferred option to treat the weed which was introdnced into Australia in the 1870s as an ornamental garden plant and was popular for use in bridal bouquets.
Warrnambool City Council waste and environment co-ordinator Kate McInnes said the program, which was in its sixth year, was making a difference. "The leaf hoppers seem to have controlled the bridal creeper well in the South Warrnambool wetlands," she said. The project is ajointinitiative of Coastcare, Department of Primarylndustries (DPI) and the Warrnambool City Council, and included representatives from each organisation. She said the groups involved in the program would "keep plugging away". "We haven’t got rid of all the bridal creeper. That will be along-term goal."
The program was facilitated by Rebecca Corbett, who is also a Coastcare volunteer, and included grade five and six pupils from Warrnambool East and Merrivale Primary schools. Ms McInnes said by involving the children it helped teach them about the impact of weeds and biological control. The children bred the bugs in special 50-centimetre-square capsules in their classrooms for six weeks before releasing them in the wetlands. Ms McInnes said most pleasing was the difference that the leaf hoppers had made to the weed since May last year, when the last leafhopper release day was held. "I couldn’t believe it. It looks like it’s starting to have an impact," she said.
Rebecca Corbett with Warrnambool East Primary School pupils Louis Osborne and Taylem Wason. Picture: LEANNE PICKEFI