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Be Aware of Dieback in the Wheatbelt

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Healthy Environments

With winter upon us, and therefore in theory the wetter months of the year, it is important to be aware of the effects and risks of Dieback.

Dieback is a pathogen of the Phytophthora group which can cause disease and death in otherwise healthy plants, including many native species. Dieback is a type of water mould (similar to a fungus) which lives in soils, especially in moist conditions, and kills plants by invading and destroying the root system. Some species of plants are more susceptible than others, and so may show signs of disease before other plant types are affected. Banksias and Grasstrees are more easily killed by Dieback, whereas Wandoo trees often show no signs, and survival in Jarrah is variable and depends on local conditions.

Dieback is easily spread and it has now been recorded across the south-west corner of WA from Eneabba to Esperance. Although much of the Wheatbelt region is at lower risk of Dieback due to generally drier soil conditions, there are some known locations for this pathogen in the western and southern Wheatbelt, and it may still be present in other places but not yet tested or recognised.

Infestation with Dieback can kill off susceptible species of plants across large sections of bushland, destroying ecosystems, rare plant communities and important habitat for wildlife. Once an area has been contaminated, there is no effective way to eliminate Dieback from the site, and the entire nature of the landscape may be changed irreversibly. The best way to protect an area from the disease is to stop the disease from entering.

The most common way that Dieback is spread is by movement of soil on vehicles, equipment or shoes. It can also spread unaided through water movement in the soil, and animals may track it around the local area, however human activities are the main culprit.

Some ways you can prevent the movement of Dieback in your own actions are:

  • Be aware of Dieback signage and don’t enter infected areas.
  • Stay on established roads and tracks.
  • Avoid puddles and mud patches when driving, to minimise mud splatter onto vehicles that may carry spores.
  • Check and clean vehicles, equipment or footwear before entering bushland.
  • Create a Dieback hygiene kit, to carry and use when travelling between areas.
  • Avoid introducing water from unknown sources into an area – dieback spores can be carried in water, e.g. from dams fed by creeks flowing through dieback-infested bushland. Water from Mains supplies and treated water is considered safe.
  • Ensure you only accept Dieback-free soils or materials for works on your property.
  • Remember that even if the vegetation looks healthy, the plants present might be resistant species, and there may still be Dieback in the soil.

Reducing the spread of Dieback requires a community effort. Taking hygiene actions and reporting suspected infestations is a huge part of this. It is up to all of us to protect our properties and landscapes and stop Dieback in its tracks.

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