A Bush in the Hand is Worth Two with Parks

Climbers and High Access Workers Needed

Everyone has heard of the infamous Sydney sea cliffs – the epic descents down rickety fishermen’s ladders; belays on rock platforms threatened by heaving seas; not to mention the sandy, frightening climbs protected by rusting bolts. It’s all good fun – especially when you throw interstate visitors on them. But there’s also a quieter, more peaceful, and less scary side, to Sydney climbing – short, steep cliffs that wrap around picturesque waterways, where, if it all gets too much, it’s often only a quick walk to bakeries, ice creams, pubs and the beach. For the slothful climber who doesn’t like driving, it’s all too good.

The dastardly Bitou Bush. Kill on sight.

But as every Sydney-based climber will tell you, while the climbing is good the access situation is not. Half of all Sydney’s crags are currently off-limits to climbers. Climbing is prohibited anywhere in the Sydney Harbour National Park (which includes North Head and Mike Law’s classic route, The Fear [17]), Royal National Park, Mt Kuringai, while the current access status is uncertain and probably bad for Georges River, Heathcote, Garigal, Bouddi, Brisbane Waters, just to name a few. The proposed Berowra Waters National Park will consume Kuringai and possibly Berowra before we know it. Of all the national parks and reserves climbing is only allowed on the Barrenjoey Peninsula (essentially one crag), plus a couple of areas at the bottom of the Blue Mountains.

Under park regulations, the status of climbing is determined by the plan of management developed for each park. As each plan is drafted, reviewed, the public consulted and then the plan activated, invariably Sydney climbers seem to lose out. If any climbing goes on at all, it’s done by flaunting the bans.

Exactly why National Parks & Wildlife Services (NPWS) doesn’t like climbers is a controversial topic that creates more than enough comment to fill the pages of web forums with endless debate and speculation. Maybe it’s the tracks we create or simply the risky things we do that scares the willies off bureaucrats and their ministers.

However, things don’t have to be this way. As we all know, climbing is tolerated in many other national parks around the country. It’s been demonstrated that climber’s impacts can be managed and that liability isn’t an issue.

Inspiration comes from the plight of our fellow outdoor recreationists, mountain bikers. Not so long ago they were bad boys and girls too, lumped together with trail bikers, 4WDers, shooters and other evil do-ers, for their erosion-prone tracks and breaking of the no-riding-on-walking-tracks rules. But concerted efforts by the mountain biking fraternity in recent years, a bit of hard-yakka on working bees, couple of biker-friendly rangers championing their cause, and there has been a shift in thinking from within Parks towards them. These days you can collect ‘mountain bike trails’ brochures at Parks visitor centres, there are designated trails in places like the Royal National Park, and mountain biking is appearing as an acceptable recreational activity in plan of management reviews.

An opportunity has recently come about that could give climbers the chance to likewise build a positive relationship with Parks. It’s all about an annoying little visitor from South Africa. No, we’re not talking the Springboks. It’s a weed called the bitou bush. Melbourne climbers will know it well as its close relative – boneseed – nearly choked the You Yangs until control programs got the upper hand. This invader, once established, forms dense clusters, out-competing native vegetation and reducing habitat for native animals. It also causes havoc with coastal dune formation resulting in extensive beach erosion. NPWS and council land managers are waging a war against this pest, with structured eradication programs throughout North Sydney, followed up with ongoing monitoring for outbreaks.

So what does bitou bush eradication have to do with climbers? Well, as we all know, Sydney’s coastline is well-endowed with cliffs and the eradication of bitou located around cliffs is a particularly expensive and difficult operation. Helicopter spraying has been used in the past, but whirly-birds aren’t cheap, and given  the current political climate Parks isn’t exactly flush with funds at the moment. In fact, the NPWS is currently being stripped of funding and resources by the current government. One of the few ways left for park managers to access funds and tackle problems like weeds is through public engagement volunteer programs. But old fogie bushcare groups don’t do cliffs. And so the olive branch has been extended to climbers, who can access the cliffs with ease.

So what’s involved? Well a bunch of enthusiastic local climbers have come together and formed the Big Bitou Bush Bash program, to work with the NPWS  and coordinate climbers contributions to the bitou eradication program. There are two aspects.

The first is to increase general awareness of bitou bush amongst climbers. This will enable climbers to contribute by reporting sightings of new outbreaks and locate plants missed by eradication programs. The best bit about this is it doesn’t mess with your climbing time. If you spot bitou bush while out climbing around Sydney, take a photo, note its location, and use the website to report it.

But how to learn to recognise bitou bush? View the info on the website, but why not come along to a Bitou Bash Day? Every now and then there will be work days out at Barrenjoey and other crags, where climbers can spend the morning seeking out bitou and controlling it with clippers and chemicals; then sit back for a relaxing barbie together, before hitting the crags for the afternoon. What a great way to spend the day in Sydney, make some friends, and get some climbing in.

WE NEED YOU! THE NEXT WORKING DAY IS AT BARRENJOEY ON THE 17TH OF NOVEMBER. THE MORNING WILL BE SPENT CLEARING BITOU BUSH AND ASPARAGUS FERN, THEN THERE WILL BE A BBQ, FOLLOWED BY SOME CLIMBING IN THE ARVO.

If you have a rope access ticket (IRATA, ARAA, or even a guiding certificate) we really want to hear from you. In addition to the ground-based and rocky-terrain weed eradication, the success of the program depends on our ability to target the hard-to-get isolated specimens up on the cliffs. If you have rope access qualifications, you can make a major impact on this program, and go a long way to improving the respect and standing of climbers within the NPWS.

The Metolius Mastercam - a handsome piece of kit indeed.

If you want to learn more and get involved, go to the website and sign up to the email list, and we’ll keep you up to date with news and events. Those who help will have the chance to win one of two Metolius Master Cams courtesy of Steve from Climbing Anchors (www.climbinganchors.com.au). Please email studobster@gmail.com to register your interest.

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