Torch passed on fireweed fight

CRUSADE: Long-time Kangaroo Valley fireweed campaigner Robert Cochrane with his grandson Alastair Urquhart, who has also taken up the cause.

CRUSADE: Long-time Kangaroo Valley fireweed campaigner Robert Cochrane with his grandson Alastair Urquhart, who has also taken up the cause.

WHEN 10-year-old Berry Public School student Alastair Urquhart had to do a school project that included a three-minute speech he could have chosen any topic.

The Deadly 60 – the 60 deadliest animals in the world – quickly came to mind, but instead he chose an environmental issue, the battle against noxious fireweed.

The year 4 student’s grandfather is well-known Kangaroo Valley dairy farmer and long-time anti-fireweed crusader Robert Cochrane.

Alastair said his grandpa’s years of passing on information about the insidious weed had struck a chord.

“We were driving along Hockeys Lane one day at North Nowra on the way home and I noticed all the fireweed in the paddocks,” he said.

“When I saw all the fireweed I thought I could do something on that to highlight the problem.”

During his talk he explained how the weed was bad for the environment, can kill cattle and horses if eaten, but goats and sheep can sometimes eat it. He explained it got its name because it spreads like wildfire and how important it was to eradicate it.

“Grandpa gave us some brochures on it and I researched it on the internet as well,” he said.

“My classmates chose a number of different topics like cooking and books, but I was the only one to choose the environment. They thought it was good and enjoyed it.

“Hopefully I have given them some information that will make them think about the weed and what we can do to try to eradicate it.”

He took in a sample of the weed – “it may look like a nice plant with a lovely yellow flower but it is a horrible plant,” he said.

For 34 years Mr Cochrane has campaigned to attempt to keep Kangaroo Valley free of fireweed. He said he was proud his grandson had also taken up the campaign.

“It is classed as a noxious weed in the Valley and landowners are required to remove the plant when found on their properties,” Mr Cochrane said.

“Our campaign came about 34 years ago over concerns the weed could affect the Kangaroo Valley ryegrass seed harvest.

“It is like a cancer and it is hard to control – it can be sprayed and they are devising a beetle that may be used to control it but that is still in the experimental stages.

“Honestly, the best way is to simply put in the time and pull it out by hand.

“And it is important it is removed before the seeds mature and flower.

“Now is the time to get in and remove it – in fact you can start as early as March, or whenever the plant becomes evident.”

Each plant has the ability to produce 30,000 seeds.

“It’s an old saying but one year’s seed equals nine years’ weeds – and that is the case with this weed – the seeds can often lie dormant in the ground and won’t produce until the ground is disturbed or worked up,” Mr Cochrane said.

“Dorper sheep will control it but eventually the plant’s toxicity will cause liver failure within the animal.

“Humans should also be careful when picking it to wear gloves, as it can affect us as well.”

Once collected Mr Cochrane said the plant should be placed in a sealed bag and allowed to dry and once dry, burnt.

Grandmother Narelle Cochrane was proud of her grandson’s passion.

“We went for a drive recently with Alastair up through Robertson, down through Jamberoo, Kiama, Gerringong and back through Berry Mountain and it is a shame to seen how far fireweed has spread on the coast,” she said.

“It just makes me that much more proud of our efforts in trying to keep it out or eradicate it from the Valley.” 

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