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Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 27 October 2022

Tags: Environment, Invasive Species

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, yesterday it was my pleasure to table a petition from 1782 petitioners across Tasmania who are deeply concerned about the impact of the foxglove on the Tasmanian landscape, the weed's march across the Tasmanian landscape.

Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is an iconic ornamental garden plant native to Europe. It grows extremely easily, particularly in our cool, damp and shady spaces. Each plant, sadly, can produce up to 100 000 seeds and many of these do not germinate for many years. They can sometimes remain dormant for decades, able to regerminate.

The dramatic and rapid spread of foxglove into Tasmanian bushland and pasture, private land, forestry areas and public reserves is made much easier by the huge number of seeds that each plant produces and the ease with which each of those seeds can germinate in our climate, being distributed by wind or water, through garden waste, on the backs of bumble bees, on the fur of wildlife and in machinery as it is being transported between properties. The ability of seeds to germinate for many decades after they have been spread is another serious issue.

The fact that it is not listed or known as an invasive weed is the top-order concern. Despite its very beautiful and appealing appearance to many, it is highly toxic and contains compounds that can have an effect on the heart and cause severe illness or death, a cardiac glycoside, digitoxin, that can be absorbed through the skin. If that happens, it could be extremely poisonous. It is toxic to humans and animals, and hay contaminated by foxgloves is a problem for livestock as well as the danger that the plant poses to native wildlife.

Foxgloves are rapidly crowding out other plants. A group of dauntless Tasmanians, spearheaded by people like Jim Godfrey, Tony Wilson and Dr Liz Sharpley, among many others, have banded together out of pure love of unspoilt natural Tasmania to try and combat the spread of foxgloves. They have developed a dedicated Facebook group where members can report locations of foxglove sightings. That has been collated into a map of the huge extent of foxglove sightings across Tasmania by the group's administrator, Jim Godfrey.

Tony Wilson, in the group, has also compiled a website of information and tips on how to deal with the foxglove infestation and useful tips like where to start removing them, when to carry out each step of removal and the different methods and approaches to removing and reducing its spread.

The group has reached out to CSIRO and started working with scientists there to identify a potential bio-control agent that could be developed to manage foxgloves. They include specific species of moth caterpillars that feed on foxgloves.

The work these dedicated Tasmanians have done on their own is impressive and it shows the extent of their concern about the uncontrolled spread of foxglove across the landscape.

Their request is simple, as were the petitioners who signed the petition: for minister for Primary Industries Jo Palmer to list foxglove as a declared weed under the Weed Management Act 1999 because of its damaging impact on Tasmania's landscape, flora, fauna and humans. That would prevent, among other things, nurseries from selling foxgloves plants and seeds, which, horrifyingly, they still do. It will allow councils to use their weed management budgets to directly target foxgloves and start to bring this problem under control.

If listed as an invasive weed, infestations can be properly identified and notices issued to landowners requiring them to remove the plant and protect the native wildlife and livestock in the area. Weed management plans would need to be developed and enforced. Inspectors would be able to issue infringements and penalties if there are breaches of a requirement notice, or other regulations relating to foxgloves. Importantly, we will be able to start bringing the spread of this invasive and toxic plant under control and eradicate it.

This is all volunteer work, and the passion of those 1782 people who signed that petition registering their concern should not be in vain. We will continue to advocate with Ms Palmer on their behalf and on behalf of us all who want to live in an invasive weed free landscape. We will be encouraging her to take the step required. It is a very simple and obvious step because of the nature of this weed and the threat it poses to humans, flora and fauna, and also to livestock. This is the right thing to do and it should be done as soon as possible.