Meet our Biosecurity Officer - Matt Bell

Published on 07 September 2022


As a Biosecurity Officer, every working day involves identifying weeds and helping people to control them.

But why do we keep going on about it? Why is it so important to recognise and control weeds?

One hundred years ago, farmers were abandoning their central Queensland farms in droves due to the overwhelming invasion of Prickly Pear cactus. Had it not been for the discovery and introduction of the cactoblastis moth, entire towns and industries would have perished due to an introduced weed. This example may be dramatic, but introduced plants continue to establish and spread. So much so that introduced plants now outnumber native species, and around 2700 species are considered invasive in Australia.

Weeds that overtake agricultural land are still an issue in Australia, however weeds that threaten native biodiversity can be just as destructive. In fact, weeds are second only to land-clearing as the leading threat to endangered plants and animals in NSW. As an example, Bitou bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera subsp. rotundata) was introduced from South Africa and deliberately spread along the NSW coastline from 1946-1968 to aid in erosion control. It now occupies 80% of the NSW coastline and negatively impacts on 157 native plant species, with huge amounts of money and hours of volunteer labour spent every year trying to contain it.

In our own backyard, in 2011 a South American plant named Water star grass (Heteranthera zosterifolia) was discovered growing in a creek in the Port Macquarie industrial area. This was the first and only known naturalised population of this plant, which until then had only been known as an aquarium specimen. Despite many control attempts the weed has spread downstream towards Lake Innes Nature Reserve and threatens to smother out many native aquatic plants.

Invasive weeds may be introduced to NSW in a variety of ways, though the most common are as ornamental plants for the home garden or aquarium (which later prove to be successful invaders), as fodder for livestock, in imported soil & gravel, or on machinery transported from weed infested areas. It is vital that we all do our bit to ensure that weeds are not allowed to flourish on our properties, and that we prevent plants from spreading to areas where they are not suitable.

You don’t have to be an expert, just follow some simple rules to ensure that you are meeting your General Biosecurity Duty:

  • Keep watch
    Look out for new or unusual plants that may be spreading in your area, or plants that you didn’t plant in your garden. If purchasing soil, gravel, sand, compost, rock or fill, ensure that you are buying clean material from a reputable source. Carefully monitor areas after introducing new material to detect and remove weeds if they appear.

  • Keep clean
    Vehicles, boats, bikes, footwear, camping gear and many other items can pick up weed seeds when you travel. Cleaning down of machinery and equipment before you leave a site is a small but vital step in preventing weeds from spreading to new areas.

  • Buy local
    Support your local nursery or landcare, and use native plants where possible. Avoid purchasing plants from online markets without knowing exactly what you are buying, as you may unwittingly buy plants that should or must not be sold in NSW. Selling prohibited plants can attract large fines under the Biosecurity Act.

  • Don’t dump
    Dispose of lawn clippings, branches and other unwanted plant material (especially aquarium plants) in your green waste bin or home compost system. Dumped vegetation is one of the biggest causes of weed invasion in our native bushland.

  • Learn about weeds
    The NSW WeedWise website contains over 300 weed profiles and includes control information along with biosecurity requirements for each plant. You can also learn about and report weeds on the PMHC website through our online form. As Council's biosecurity officer, I can also visit your property to discuss weed issues with you and provide support and advice.