Environmental issues

Pests and weeds

Pest and weed management in NSW national parks

There are at least 30 species of pest animals around Australia, and more than 500 weed species.

Pest animals and weeds damage agriculture and harm our environment. Controlling them is a common area of concern for farmers and conservationists alike.

For this reason, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), now a part of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), gives a high priority to managing pest animal and weed populations in our national parks.

Download the report Protecting our national parks from pests and weeds to find out about the weed and pest management issues affecting our national parks and how we are performing.

Frequently asked questions

What kinds of pest animals and weeds are found in our national parks?

Foxes, wild dogs, pigs, rabbits, goats and feral cats are widespread across the state. Some other pest animals, such as feral horses, deer, rats and cane toads, present localised problems in some reserves. Emerging pest threats include pest birds, such as mynas, exotic turtles (e.g. red-eared sliders), and invertebrate pests like the pandanus planthopper.

Over 1350 exotic plant species (weeds) are naturalised in NSW with more than 100 of them likely to have significant impacts on the environment. Many naturalised plants are the result of deliberate introductions: approximately 65% of weeds were imported initially for ornamental or agricultural purposes. Some of the most invasive are bitou bush, lantana, blackberry, Scotch broom, privet, introduced perennial grasses and exotic vines, such as Madeira vine. New weed incursions are being detected each year.

What damage do they do?

Since the arrival of Europeans, there have been significant declines and extinctions among Australia’s native fauna and flora. Historically, introduced pest animals and weeds have been identified as the major cause for many of these losses. Furthermore, pests continue to represent one of the greatest threats to biodiversity in Australia with new species still being detected.

Pests also cause financial losses to agriculture and other industries and damage areas of cultural significance. Managing the impacts of pests is an issue of great importance for managers of all land tenures. The issue is not only widespread, it also requires sustained, long-term management to minimise damage by pests to environmental, economic and social values.

How did they get there?

Australia's introduced plants and animals date from the very first days of European settlement in the late 1700s. Ever since, they have been brought from other countries and released into the Australian environment, sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not.

And when our first national parks were formally created in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the pest animals and weeds were already well established.

Unthinking people are still illegally dumping unwanted cats and dogs in the bush every year. Many of them become feral, causing problems to the environment and farming.

What is the National Parks and Wildlife Service doing about it?

NPWS manages pests within the state's park system to protect native flora and fauna, maintain natural ecosystems and cultural heritage, and minimise the spread of pest animals and weeds to and from neighbouring land. One of the keys to successful pest management is cooperation, and NPWS actively works with other agencies, Catchment Management Authorities, private landholders and community groups.

The complete eradication of pests over wide areas of different land tenure is, however, rarely practicable. It is therefore necessary to prioritise pest management efforts and allocate resources to those areas where they will be of greatest benefit. Priorities include those areas where new pest outbreaks occur, where threatened native plants and animals are at risk from the impacts of pests, and where there is a need to minimise the impacts of pests on neighbouring lands, such as farmland.

In NSW, pest management priorities for the conservation of biodiversity are focused on threatened species, and are identified in the Threatened Species Priorities Action Statement (PAS) and in individual threat abatement plans (TAPs). These documents set the main priorities for pest management on parks with a focus on protecting threatened species.

NPWS Regional Pest Management Strategies detail priorities for each region, including actions listed in the PAS and TAPs as well as other actions such as wild dog and feral pig control to protect neighbouring properties and site-based weed control.

How successful are we?

As a result of our programs pest animal and weed problems are often less serious in national parks than they are across most other land in NSW.

The recent NSW State of the Parks report also found that in more than 90% of parks across NSW, the problems caused by pest animals and weeds were either being reduced or were unchanged.

What does the future hold?

By working cooperatively with other organisations and stakeholders, NPWS will be able to achieve wider-reaching and longer-lasting reductions in pest animal and weed populations.

Our close working relationship with the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IACRC) and the CRC for Australian Weed Management aims to develop smarter, more effective ways to fight pest animals and weeds. These include:

  • new toxins, chemical lures and a special bait delivery device to improve the effectiveness of control programs targeting wild dogs and foxes
  • trialling the effectiveness of llamas to protect sheep from wild dogs and foxes
  • strategic fencing and managing watering points to control feral goats
  • new biological control agents to tackle blackberry, bitou and lantana
  • a trapping system for broad-scale control of common myna birds.

Case studies

Oolambeyan National Park

Oolambeyan National Park, south-east of Hay, was once a famous merino stud. The historic homestead overlooks the surrounding woodlands and open grassland plains. The grasslands are home to threatened birds such as the bush stone curlew, superb parrot and plains-wanderer.

Following its declaration as a national park in 2002, 4000 rabbit warrens were ripped up. Poison baits were laid to kill rabbits and foxes, and the large boxthorn bushes were destroyed. 

Foxes

Since their introduction into Australia in the 1870s, foxes have contributed to severe declines and regional extinctions of a suite of native fauna, particularly among medium-sized ground-dwelling and semi-arboreal mammals, ground-nesting birds and freshwater turtles. Furthermore, recent experimental studies have shown that predation by foxes continues to suppress remnant populations of many of these species. Foxes are also predators of livestock and significant impacts on livestock production have been reported.

In contrast, experimental studies have demonstrated that foxes can suppress rabbit numbers in both semi-arid and montane environments, suggesting that fox control may have unintended negative effects. Interactions between foxes and feral cats are likely complex and variable, but increased impacts by cats have been observed where foxes have been controlled.

Priorities for fox control for the conservation of biodiversity across all land tenures are determined by the NSW Fox Threat Abatement Plan (Fox TAP). The Fox TAP identifies which threatened species are at greatest risk from fox predation and at which sites fox control for these species is most critical. Thus a total of 81 priority sites for fox control have been identified, providing recovery actions for 34 threatened species (11 mammals, 15 birds and 8 reptiles). Undertaking collaborative fox control programs across all land tenures at these sites is the central action of the plan. The Fox TAP also establishes monitoring programs to measure the success of control programs. There are 16 species-specific monitoring programs involving coordinated population monitoring across sites and tenures.

The Fox TAP is the largest current project for the conservation of threatened species in New South Wales. It is being implemented by NPWS, the Department of Primary Industries (Forests NSW) and the Department of Lands.

Wild dogs

Wild dogs, including dingoes, can cause substantial losses of livestock, especially sheep, goats and cattle. Thus, they have been declared a pest animal under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 (RLP Act) and they must be controlled on all lands. However, dingoes are a native species that has iconic status with the public and there is an expectation that they should be conserved in NSW.

To balance these objectives, the general destruction obligation of the RLP Act can be met for publicly managed lands listed in Schedule 2 of the Pest Control Order for Wild Dogs by the implementation of wild dog management plans. The objective of the management plans is to control wild dogs where necessary to minimise their agricultural impacts while allowing dingo populations to be maintained in core areas. Schedule 2 lists the parks that are likely to be important for the survival of dingoes in NSW.

Priorities for wild dog control are set in wild dog management plans and NPWS Regional Pest Management Strategies.

There are early and encouraging signs of success. For example, employing more trappers and expanding baiting in the Brindabella–Wee Jasper area in southern NSW has reduced the loss of sheep by 75%. Trapping  in the Adaminaby–Yaouk area, along with aerial and ground baiting, is also helping to reduce sheep losses. In some areas around Glen Innes stock losses are reported to have dropped 65%.

Bitou bush

In 1908, bitou bush was introduced from South Africa to stabilise mined sand dunes. It has now invaded 900 kilometres of our coast and is considered one of the greatest threats to coastal national parks.

Because of its impact on biodiversity, bitou bush has been listed as a Key Threatening Process under the TSC Act and a Weed of National Significance (WONS). A threat abatement plan has been developed which identifies the biodiversity/sites most at risk and priority locations for bitou bush control. One hundred and sixty nine priority sites have been identified, 82 of which occur in parks. While the priority sites have been chosen according to the level of threat posed by bitou bush, control programs at these sites target all weed species.

The Bitou TAP is in its second year of implementation by DECC, the five coastal CMAs, the Department of Lands, local councils and community groups. A Natural Heritage Trust grant has funded the production of site plans, monitoring programs and bitou bush control at 50 sites along the NSW coast. The grant is also funding a full-time TAP Coordinator and the production of resources to help implement the plan.

Resources already produced or in production include a website, an identification guide to the native species threatened by bitou bush invasion, and guidelines for site managers to establish monitoring programs. See Protecting our national parks from pests and weeds.

Essential monitoring programs are being developed to demonstrate success of the control programs, both in reducing the cover and extent of bitou bush and in promoting the recovery of native species.

Already many years of control in Crowdy Bay National Park has almost eradicated bitou bush from a headland, allowing native plant communities to re-establish.

Page last updated: 02 December 2015