The core role of the County Council is the enforcement of General Biosecurity Duty of land occupiers in the County Council’s area of operation and the control of Invasive Plants on Council lands. The County Council trades as Upper Hunter Weeds Authority (UHWA) with its administration office located in the Muswellbrook Shire Council Administration Centre, 157 Maitland Rd, Muswellbrook, New South Wales.
The diverse range of climatic conditions within the region exposes it to large range of invasive plants which have the potential of establishing themselves within the region. The weed species that have this potential to become a serious threat include Harrisia Cactus, African Olive, Serrated Tussock and Chilean Needle Grass in the upper reaches of the Hunter Valley and Cabomba, Senegal Tea, Alligator Weed and Salvinia in lower parts of the Upper Hunter.
Along with climate variation, the risk of new weed incursions occurring within the region is compounded by the presence of major freight and transport corridors, New England & Golden Highways and Northern Rail Line. In excess of 10,000 vehicles, of which approximately 1,800 are heavy vehicles, pass through the region daily. The region’s rail system transports over 100 million tons (109mt in 2016*) of coal annually as well wheat and other agricultural produce from the Northern NSW The region is also the location of two major Australia Defence Force facilities, the Infantry Training School at Singleton and Myambat munitions storage centre located near Denman. Both of these facilities receive and dispatch personal and equipment to various Defence Force bases and training sites throughout the eastern states of Australia.
The Upper Hunter also contains a highly developed viticulture industry, is a major breeding centre for the Thoroughbred Horse Industry and home to extensive grazing and dairy enterprises. The region currently has 20 operational coal mines, most using the open cut method of extraction. Land which is undergoing rehabilitation after this mining practice is particularly vulnerable to invasion from invasive plant species.
The region also has a number of aquatic features at risk from new invasive weed incursions. These features include the Hunter & Goulburn Rivers, which transverse the region and three major water impoundments, Glenbawn Dam, Lake Liddell and Lake St Clair.
In order to protect the viability of these valuable industries, UHCC has historically, conducted an extensive detection and public awareness programs in the regards to Invasive Plants. These programs are conducted by Council’s five (5) fulltime employees who have specialised training and qualifications in invasive plant control. These Staff are based in districts within each of the three Constituent Council areas and are responsible for day to day operations in their allocated districts.
Council has formulated an involved delivery plan with a number of operating polices regarding property inspections and control works. The focal point of the management of Invasive Plants in the region is the aim of inspecting every rural property within the Council area at least once every five years. To facilitate the achievement of this goal, Council has set one of its key performance indicators a total property inspection target of 2000 inspections per year.
To coordinate this inspection program, Council has for over the last fifteen years used various computer based record keeping systems to keep track of the inspection program and to generate reports for Constituent Councils and NSW Government Departments. In 2005 Council adopted the WeedMap systems, which allows Council Staff to electronically collect inspection information in the field, via laptop computers. One of the features of this system is it allowed staff to accurately identify properties they are inspecting through the use of this GPS enabled mapping system.
The Council uses an internet based inspection system and the associated field collection software. This system has the following features:
- A semi-automatic synchronisation process. This process only requires a connection to the internet and allows Council’s remote sites to update inspection and treatment records daily. This process also not only allows the field units to retain all of their collected inspection and infestation data but also received the data collected by all other Staff members. This includes the shared visual display of the inspection and infestation records through the transfer of the mapping data through the synchronisation process.
- The ability of staff to access to all of Council’s inspection records in the field allows for better coordination of joint inspection programs between staff and eliminates doubling up of property inspections on district boundaries.
Electronic recording and transferring of day to day workplace required records such as Activity Risk Assessments has been included as required fields in all activities.