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.

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.

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.

Motivating the disengaged

Field day participants at a talk on serrated tussock controlAn innovative social science project has delved into one of the biggest issues plaguing community pest management: how to motivate disengaged landowners.

Funded by the VSTWP through the Weeds and Rabbits Project, it focused on understanding the mindset of “don’t know/don’t care” landowners.

The research considered different types of landowners and the values that would be most likely to drive or hinder weed control.

Community Engagement Officer at VSTWP, Ivan Carter, said the findings were transferable to many environmental issues and challenges.

“The work provides us with more effective options and strategies to embed into our engagement activities, and gives us a better understanding of the landowner groups we are dealing with and what exactly motivates them.”

A report on the project is available on the VSTWP website.

Image: VSTWP Extension Officer Ivan Carter with community members at a recent field day.

Master class on leading change in communities

Master Class delivery team members Tanya Howard, Ted Alter, Lisa Adams and Darren MarshallA community engagement course with a difference has helped build new skills and networks for supporting community-led management of weeds and pests.

The Master Class in Leadership for Community Engagement brought together 23 aspiring community engagement leaders, representing Landcare, government agencies, local councils, industry and community groups.

Instead of following a step-by-step engagement framework, the Master Class encouraged participants to consider how they could advocate for a stronger voice for the community in the planning and delivery of weed and pest management.

The program highlighted the importance of investing in relationships within the community to build trust. For many participants, this was a shift away from the more traditional approach of coming up with a project idea and then ‘engaging’ the community to help ‘deliver it’. It also highlighted that ‘outputs’ such as hectares of control undertaken, number of trees planted, or number of people ‘engaged’ are not always reliable indicators of success for either projects or communities.

The Master Class is the Weeds and Rabbits Project’s major community leadership program. It was facilitated by Professor Ted Alter from Penn State University and Dr Tanya Howard from University of New England.

If you missed out on this opportunity and are keen to build your community engagement skills, read on below for details of an upcoming program.

Image: Some of the members of the Master Class delivery team – Tanya Howard (co-facilitator), Ted Alter (facilitator), Lisa Adams (panellist) and Darren Marshall (presenter).

Spreading the word on rabbits

VRAN mentor John Matthews (centre) and Learning Network participants at the Mt Rothwell conservation reserve.
VRAN mentor John Matthews (centre) and Learning Network participants at the Mt Rothwell conservation reserve.

The Leaps and Bounds Learning Network is about boosting the expertise and strengthening the support networks of Victorian community members who manage rabbits.

At its most recent meeting, network members explored rabbit management for large-scale conservation projects, cultural heritage legislation and the recent K5 biological control release. A visit to the Mt Rothwell conservation reserve highlighted the challenge rabbits pose for conservation and cultural heritage, but also the positive impact a small band of dedicated people can have on a landscape.

The Victorian Rabbit Action Network will be starting a new Rabbit Learning Network in 2018. If you or someone you know is interested in joining, contact Heidi Kleinert from Agriculture Victoria: heidi.kleinert@ecodev.vic.gov.au.

Building community blackberry action

Screen shot of the VBT start-up kit front cover.
The Victorian Blackberry Taskforce’s community start-up kit.

Is your community concerned about blackberry? Are you interested in how people can collectively manage weeds?

The Victorian Blackberry Taskforce supports local groups to establish Community Blackberry Action Groups.

Its Start-Up Kit can help your community take control of the problem.

The kit, which has recently been updated, contains interactive videos and templates to help communities start their own blackberry action groups, plus practical advice and insights based on the experiences of established groups around Victoria.

Contact the VBT to receive a free copy of the Start-Up Kit: vbt@vicblackberrytaskforce.com.au.

Off to a flying start

With the first full year of the Weeds and Rabbits Project behind us, we took some time in late 2017 to stop, reflect and look at what’s working and where we can improve. As part of this process, we asked people who have participated in the project so far tell us what changes they’d seen as a result.

We found that the four community pest management groups – rabbits, blackberries, gorse and serrated tussock – are collaborating more and sharing their knowledge. Their members have a better understanding of how pests are managed in Victoria, where their group fits into the bigger picture, and how they can work with others more effectively.

We’ve also seen institutional changes, like new governance structures, that are better supporting both community-led decision making and the way government agencies engage with groups and administer projects.

Do you have a story to share about how the project has affected your organisation, community, or pest management activities? We’d love to hear from you.