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Farmers and scientists ask for help to banish pest

Photo: A healthy, flowering ragwort plant - a threat to the health of livestock.

Media Release - 22 March 2001

Farmers and scientists ask for help to banish pasture pest

West Coasters are being asked to band together to help battle the noxious weed ragwort, which thrives in dairying pastures from Westport to Haast.

On the West Coast, ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is found mainly on land where there is pugging from stock, and also on uncultivated land. It can cause fatal liver damage to cattle and horses. Biocontrol agents like the ragwort flea beetle and cinnabar moths have been released nationwide to attack ragwort plants. But though the beetles and moths have destroyed significant amounts of ragwort in some areas of New Zealand, they have failed to make much of an indent on the West Coast, where the wet conditions are not to their liking.

The Crown Research Institute, Landcare Research, and the New Zealand Landcare Trust, which manages community-based groups that address environmental issues, have arranged a meeting in Westport aimed at setting up a West Coast Landcare group. This would unite people to seek funding from sources including AGMARDT and the MAF Sustainability Fund to enable further research on the Coast's ragwort problem.

Landcare Research researcher Hugh Gourlay says two things in particular need further study. "First, we want to confirm exactly how much the ragwort flea beetle has spread on the West Coast and what impact the beetles are having. We would expect that although the beetle has established in some areas it has failed to thrive in areas of high rainfall, and build up to sufficient numbers to damage ragwort populations.

"Secondly, we want to investigate ragwort control measures in Tasmania and Victoria, Australia, where one insect has recently been established in wet marshy areas similar to the West Coast. We are particularly interested to see whether any of three other biocontrol agents there, a beetle and two species of moth, may be better suited to the Coast than the current ones".

Mr Gourlay says he is optimistic that Coasters will get behind the ragwort efforts. "I am encouraged by the early support of local farmers, the Department of Conservation, the Regional Council, and Federated Farmers branches in Westport and Greymouth, who recognise that the weed causes significant problems from Carters Beach near Westport, to the Landsborough Valley near Haast ".

Landcare Research, along with the Landcare Trust and West Coast Federated Farmers, invite any farmers, farmer groups and interested members of the public to a meeting to be held at the Albion Hotel, Brougham St, Westport, on Wednesday, March 28, at 8pm.


For more information, please contact:

Mr Hugh Gourlay Researcher Landcare Research Lincoln wk. (03) 325 6701 x3752

Helen Ricketts Northern South Island Co-ordinator New Zealand Landcare Trust wk: (03) 349 2630

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