From bushfires to COVID-19, the past 18 months have not been easy for the Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Manning Great Lakes Centre on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.
- Ageratum houstonianum, also known as blue billygoat weed, has infested paddocks
- The noxious weed was making horses ill and many have been relocated
- The Manning Great Lakes Centre was set to reopen after a 12 month-long due to COVID-19, but can’t until the weed is under control
But the centre has run into another huge challenge — a noxious weed known as Ageratum houstonianum, or blue billygoat weed, has completely taken over.
“We’ve got six paddocks and this horror purple weed has infested the whole lot,” Manning Great Lakes RDA administrator Sue Harding-White said.
“After the fires went through they made our grounds sour, and then all the rain. It’s the perfect breeding ground for the weed to take over.”
Ms Harding-White first noticed the weed popping up about the property at the same time a horse fell sick with a stomach ulcer.
“[The horse was] old and old age can cause that [stomach ulcers], but this purple weed was fairly prevalent at the time so I had my suspicions,” she said.
To ensure no more animals fell ill, Ms Harding-White had to relocate almost half the herd.
“I have had to move horses and agist them on a different property away from the weed,” she said.
“We only have four horses still at the site on the only weed-free paddock.”
‘We want to get back to riding’
Priscilla Field has autism and was a regular rider at the Manning Great Lakes RDA.
While the centre is temporarily closed, she has been unable to get on a horse, but still comes along every Thursday with her aunty Robin Schep to help out.
“This is the highlight of her week,” Ms Schep said.
“Priscilla lives quite remotely so coming here is great for her to socialise.
Ms Harding-White said she hoped to get a handle on the blue billygoat weed infestation over winter.
“We’re really hoping to be on top of it by next spring when we’ve got the summer-spring grasses coming,” she said.
“Once we get the weed under control we can get good grass in the paddocks, then we can get horses back in the paddocks, and then we can get the volunteers back in.
“Then, after all that, we can get back to riding — which is what we are best at.”
So far, attempts to control the weed at the RDA have been unsuccessful.
“When we slashed it, it just came back stronger,” Ms Harding-White said.
“Our first spray didn’t do anything, then we got advice and had to go to the stronger stuff.”
The property has undergone two heavy-duty sprays to control the weed, but just over a week later seedlings of blue billygoat weed resurfaced.
Ms Harding-White said their efforts to kill the noxious plant may be failing as just over the fence on a neighbouring property it was thriving.
“It’s got like little hairs all over it and they fly off in the wind like dust,” she said.
“If it’s not addressed it’s going to get out of control”.
The two chemical sprays on the property also wiped out grass and native plants at the site.
“We will have to go right back to the beginning and get it re-seeded, re-aired, paddock improvement now right from the word go,” Ms Harding-White said.
No plan of attack from the council
Hunter Local Land Services’ regional weeds coordinator Matt Kennedy said there was no plan for the management of Ageratum houstonianum across the Mid North Coast or Hunter regions.
“It [blue billygoat weed] is a widespread weed, well naturalised across the mid-coast area and other parts of New South Wales and Australia,” he said.
Mr Kennedy said the weed can affect the health of animals if ingested.
“We know that this weed contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids so can affect the liver if consumed by a herbivore,” he said.
“But according to the Local Land Services District vet in the area, there hasn’t been any cases reported, or recorded of poisoning, from blue billygoat weed.
“It hasn’t been brought to the attention of anyone within the Hunter weeds space that this species is readily known to impact human health.
“If its impact to human health was so serious, it would not be sold so readily.”