Visit the new Virtual Extension Officer Website!

The Virtual Extension Officer website (VEO) is a free, online resource to assist landholders, land managers, professional pest controllers, biosecurity groups and community groups, manage serrated tussock, gorse, and rabbits on their property.

Developed by the Victorian Gorse Taskforce in collaboration with the Victorian Rabbit Action Network and the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party, this website brings all our expert knowledge about these three species together in the one, easy to use place!

Rabbits, gorse, and serrated tussock are widespread in Victoria and impact agricultural productivity and the environment. We all need to work together to manage these devastating pests, but it can be difficult for people to know the right control methods to use when and where.

The Community Pest Management Group’s wanted people with pest issues to feel empowered to control these pests. The three groups recognised that by having easy access to information, helps everyone to take action.

The VEO was developed to enable landholders battling any one of these species, to replicate their individual situation online and gather tailored pest control information, in a quick and easy way, without leaving their home.

No need to search through multiple resources and websites for the right information or how to apply it in your situation, the VEO website provides a step-by-step guide to assist you in finding the right management options for your property.

It’s just like having your own personal extension officer in your pocket! Image of the homepage of the Virtual Extension Officer

So how does it work?

In as easy as four clicks of a button, the user can choose:

  • their property location
  • pest species
  • infestation size
  • type of control method they are interested in e.g. chemical, mechanical, bio-control

Following the selection, the VEO will advise the most appropriate methods of control. The VEO website will also provide you with many practical resources to help you decide which techniques to use based on the four step process.

The VEO is very easy to use and compatible with most smart devices.

The only thing it won’t do is implement the work for you!

We know you will find value in this website and we would encourage you to please share it amongst your networks.

The website can be accessed at www.virtualextensionofficer.com.au

Funding for the website was provided by the Australian Government Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper in collaboration with Agriculture Victoria.

Partnerships in sensitive landscapes

VRAN’s cultural awareness program is supporting community groups and agencies to undertake rabbit control in Aboriginal culturally sensitive landscapes.

The Victorian Rabbit Action Network (VRAN) visited the far north-west corner of Victoria recently, as part of an ongoing program to build knowledge about managing rabbits in culturally sensitive landscapes.

Acknowledging that rabbit control can be significantly more challenging in landscapes where there are ancestral remains, VRAN hosted a workshop for community and agency stakeholders at Neds Corner Station, near Cullulleraine, in October 2019. The initiative is part of a community grants program funded through the Weeds and Rabbits Project.

The workshop aimed to build partnerships and raise awareness of Aboriginal heritage. The north west of Victoria is a truly unique part of Australia, in terms of the number of globally significant ancient Aboriginal burial sites, however sites have been significantly damaged by rabbits.

Parks Victoria and the First People of Millewa Mallee are working tirelessly to protect the most highly culturally sensitive areas.

Kaye Rodden is a farmer and Landcare member from Barrabool Hills, near Geelong, and a member of the VRAN committee.

“Rabbit management is extraordinarily complex, and it requires lots of players, lots of community engagement and lots of partnerships,” Kaye said.

Kaye Rodden, VRAN committee member

“This country is just another step beyond, it’s so complex, it’s so fragile, the community here are trying so hard not to impact on cultural heritage and in the middle of a drought it’s really accentuated how vital it is for rabbits to be managed in a culturally sensitive way.”

Damien Jackson is one of the local Parks Victoria staff working to protect the area’s cultural heritage, and partnering with VRAN to share his knowledge about how rabbit management can be done in sensitive landscapes.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of support behind VRAN, as it’s bringing everyone together,” Damien said.

“It’s not just Aboriginal people’s issue, it’s not my issue, it’s not our team’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue – it’s the government, it’s the landowners, it’s everyone”.

VRAN would like to thank all our partners for attending including: First People of Millewa Mallee, Parks Victoria, Aboriginal Victoria, Agriculture Victoria, DELWP, Trust for Nature, Mallee CMA, Uncle Dave Wandin and Mildura Rural City Council.

Do you have a question in relation to rabbit management and working in sensitive landscapes? Contact Heidi Kleinert, VRAN Executive  Officer.

More information:

Weed hygiene training program

The VSTWP is planning on delivering training to individuals and organisations around Victoria in 2020, focusing on reducing the spread of serrated tussock and other weeds by machinery.

The WeedStop workshop on weed hygiene is a nationally accredited program aiming to increase awareness of how weeds can be spread via contaminated vehicles or machinery and how the risk of this occurring can be minimised.

The target audience is organisations, contractors and land managers responsible for weed control, slashing, and movement of machinery through weed-infested areas. To register your interest please complete this short survey.

New community projects underway

The third and final set of community projects funded through the Weeds and Rabbits Projects got underway late in 2019.

Nine new projects are being delivered by Victoria’s four Community Pest Management Groups (CPMG) to support community participation and capacity in weed and pest management.

The Victorian Rabbit Action Network delivered cultural awareness training in north west Victoria, through the round 3 funding program.

Focused on the four major established invasive species in Victoria, the grants program has delivered $1.5 million in funding to the community to support management of blackberry, gorse, rabbits and serrated tussock.

The final round of projects covers a broad range of initiatives, ranging from virtual extension officers, to indigenous cultural awareness training, to weed hygiene management.

A full list of projects is available on the Round 3 page.

Activities will be undertaken across Victoria, with CPMGs focusing on building on the round 1 and 2 investments, and extending the reach of their work into new communities and regions.

The Weeds and Rabbits Project was funded between 2015 and 2019 by the Commonwealth Government, and delivered by Agriculture Victoria. Its objective is to build community capability to manage invasive animals and weeds, in collaboration with the Victorian community.

Citizen science training

Training workshops to support citizen science.

A series of training workshops are being planned around Victoria to support communities with weed mapping.

The workshops will demonstrate the use of the Atlas of Living Australia platform, providing participants with the skills and knowledge they need to deliver training sessions in their own communities.

These ‘train-the-trainer’ events are suitable for anyone who works with the community on weed management or citizen science initiatives, including Landcare facilitators, project staff and community leaders.

Workshops are planned for March 2020.

To register you interest, please complete the online survey.

This project is coordinated by the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) with support from the Victorian Gorse Taskforce (VGT).

For more information please contact VSTWP Executive Officer, Martin Deering on 0417 541 719.

Global recognition for the rabbit network

The Weeds and Rabbits Project is very pleased to congratulate the Victorian Rabbit Action Network (VRAN), who’s innovative approach to rabbit management was acknowledged with a prestigious international award recently.

The United Nations Public Service Award was awarded to Agriculture Victoria for the inclusive and innovative work of the VRAN initiative.

The program has taken a long-term, collaborative approach, across the state, to manage one of Victoria’s most invasive species, the European rabbit.

VRAN committee community members Gerald Leach and Kaye Rodden, along with Agriculture Victoria program manager Michael Reid travelled to Baku, Azerbaijan, to accept the award at a ceremony on UN Public Service Day, in July 2019.

The award was contested by programs from Europe, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, and Victoria’s program was successful for bringing together a diverse range of perspectives from those affected by rabbits – such as land managers, farmers, scientists, government officials and the wider community.

The network hosts learning and mentoring networks, including its highly successful rabbit management ‘bootcamps’, and supports people and organisations to collaborate on rabbit action. It also provides occasional funding grants to support community learning, innovation and rabbit management.

This short video, featuring some of VRAN’s leaders and Agriculture Victoria staff members, was broadcast at the awards ceremony to a global audience of 400 delegates, including world leaders, ministers and senior government officials.

Inviting young people to the cause

Participants at the youth engagement workshop, co-designing projects to support youth participation in invasive species management.

“Imagine what would be possible if we gave young people the skills and the agency to deliver environmental projects…”

This question was posed to participants at a recent workshop on boosting youth participation in invasive species management.

The response? More innovation, better sharing of knowledge and power, employment pathways for school leavers, effective succession plans, more diverse volunteer groups, more young people connected with their environment.

The youth demographic has one of the lowest rates of participation in invasive species causes in Australia, despite there being no shortage of skilled, passionate young people with an interest in the environment.

The Weeds and Rabbits Project has recognised the importance of inviting young people into the conversation about how we address the invasive species problem. Over the past 12 months, the team have been working with Intrepid Landcare to understand barriers to youth engagement and how we can overcome them.

The project culminated in early May with a training workshop for community members keen to boost youth engagement in local projects. Participants came from all over Victoria, representing groups such as Landcare, the environmental ‘Friends’ network, local councils, schools, Parks Victoria and community pest management groups.

Participants overwhelmingly left the workshop inspired, empowered and ready to engage young people. For tips, insights and ideas on engaging young people, take a look at the workshop highlights package.

Serrated tussock community engagement training

Towards Better Management of Serrated Tussock

Community Engagement Principles and Practice Workshop

Bacchus Marsh, Saturday 25 May

9 am – 4 pm

Are you interested in serrated tussock control and looking to develop your community engagement practices?

Apply now for this free workshop, hosted by the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP).

You will need to be interested in connecting with others to share your knowledge and experience of what is going well and the issues you face, in a professionally facilitated, peer-based learning environment.

Fifteen places are available. Applications are welcomed from community members, volunteers and professionals involved in serrated tussock management, whether it be through a community or farming group, Landcare, government agency, Catchment Management Authority, or any other organisation with land management responsibilities.

Applications close Friday 5 May 2019. Apply online at https://goo.gl/forms/RTDn3wwqbcazJbW33

For more information contact Martin Deering, VSTWP Executive Officer: info@serratedtussock.com

Reinvigorating community action on blackberry

The first year of a partnership between the Victorian Blackberry Taskforce (VBT) and the Whittlesea community (on the northern fringe of Melbourne) has been productive and busy for landowners and the local council.

Formed in response to community and council interest in managing blackberry infestations on peri-urban and small rural acreages, the Whittlesea and Surrounds Blackberry Action Group have worked closely with City of Whittlesea and the VBT to sign up 29 local landowners to voluntary management agreements.

The group have also hosted an Invasive Species Forum, which saw 40 community members meet to discuss blackberry biocontrol, deer population projections and further collaborative opportunities with local council and Melbourne Water.

Most recently, the group worked with the VBT to hold a demonstration day on practical control techniques including the use drones for applying herbicide.

The Whittlesea program will continue over the next 12 months, focusing on follow-up visits and recruitment of new landholders. The video featured at the start of this newsletter highlights some of the group’s early achievements.

Another new group, the West Strzelecki Blackberry Action Group, has recently been formed in the Mt Worth area south east of Warragul. The group hopes to sign 20 landholders to a voluntary management agreement in the next 12 months.

Image: VBT Executive Officer Barton Roberts with WASBAG President Peter Rutley and City of Whittlesea Environment Officer Katherine Whittaker.