Our usual tools are wikis, issue trackers and continuous integration servers… But today we wielded long-handled loppers, secateurs and saws. The last time we used a long-handled lopper, we saved the planet. This time, we’re out to save Mars!

Ten Atlassians went on a bush regeneration exercise with Conservation Volunteers Australia and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We worked in the Mars Creek area of Macquarie Park, an area of valuable native vegetation and biodiversity. Our goal: Clear the privet, Crofton weed and other non-native plants in preparation for a controlled burn.


TL;DR: These weeds are no triffids. They’re not carnivorous or highly venomous. But they’re waging a silent war on our native environment, and we’d be better off without them.

Privet and Crofton weed have been declared noxious weeds in New South Wales. A noxious weed is a plant that can cause harm to native plants or to the native ecosystem, and can spread within the area or to other areas. From our point of view as conservation volunteers the key factor is that a noxious weed can be controlled by reasonable means. Controlling the spread of the weed will provide a benefit that exceeds the cost of implementing the control programs.

Overheard: Even if it’s a native, it’s probably been hanging around with the privet so long that it’s turned bad.

Careful methodology

The conservation experts gave us thorough instructions on the effective ways of tackling each type of weed. Our primary target was privet. We ignored the very small plants (up to knee height). The upcoming controlled burn will kill those off. To get rid of the larger plants, we chopped each one down at the base of the stem, and painted the stump with poison.

Crofton weed is easy to pull out of the ground, roots and all. We broke each stem, to cut off the path from the roots to the leaves, then left the uprooted plants in a pile, elevated above the ground to ensure they do not regrow.

We also encountered plenty of Japanese Honeysuckle, a very hardy creeper. You don’t chop these plants down, because they will just grow again even if poisoned. Instead, you leave the plant in place, and scrape the bark off a long section of the stem, moving down towards the base. Then you pour poison onto the scraped area. The plant draws the poison in and circulates it around the roots and stems, and eventually dies.

Overheard: This is the coolest weed ever!
(A Japanese Honeysuckle that had different-shaped leaves on the same stem.)

Next step: a controlled burn

In a few months, the local council will conduct a “controlled burn” of the area. The fire will stimulate the growth of the native plants, which are accustomed to fairly regular fires sweeping through the bush. During the fire, the native plants will drop seeds into the ground. Many native species survive the fire and regrow from roots or stumps. We’re poisoning the non-native plants, so that they will not be able to regrow.

Conservation Volunteers Australia turns 30 this year

This web page celebrates their achievements: Celebrating 30 Years.

Conservation Volunteers Australia has grown from small beginnings in 1982. In 2012, we celebrate 30 years of community conservation programs covering all States and Territories of Australia. From urban to remote, coast to desert, city to outback – our volunteer teams have been there, making an enormous contribution to our environment.

So, what have they been up to over the last 30 years? These are my favourite bits:

  • Planted more than 25 million trees.
  • Sighted the Central Rock-Rat (Zyzomys pedunculatus) in remote desert for only the sixth time in scientific history.
  • Removed 5,000 items of marine debris including 73 deadly ‘ghost nets’, some of them kilometres long, from the coast of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
  • Developed and implemented Green Gym, a program combining physical and mental health benefits with conservation outcomes.
  • Involved 15,000 young people in Green Corps – six months of training and work experience in nature conservation.

Atlassian Foundation and conservation volunteering

Five times in recent history, the Ozzie Atlassians have partnered with Conservation Volunteers Australia on a day of bush regeneration. We’ve fought major and minor skirmishes, discovered that we have green blood, and foraged for bush tucker. All this happens under the auspices of the Atlassian Foundation, formed to foster ways in which the company can share its wealth with to the world. The Foundation grants each employee 5 days’ leave a year to spend on the charity that we feel most passionate about. For me and the other conservation volunteers, that passion is to preserve and restore the unique Australian environment, so that the kookaburras and possums, and Zyzomys pedunculatus too, have somewhere to live.

OK, and it’s pretty good to get paid to spend a day out in the sunlight, shooting the breeze with our colleagues.

So, you can all sleep sound tonight. If a triffid shows its face, Atlassian Foundation and Conservation Volunteers Australia are on it!

From a volunteer: Me and Don were having so much fun working we were actually disappointed to hear the “let’s call it a day” call and tried to get as many more bushes out as we could before having to leave…

Check out the photos on Flickr, and like the Conservation Volunteers post on Facebook.

Atlassian conservation volunteers strike back on Mars