No one should have to read this stuff (though it is everywhere and very hard to avoid), but if you are going to read it you should be made to practice critical thinking throughout. Then again, this could just make it painful for you. Non-critical thinking is so much easier; no jarring thoughts, no need to employ logic, just a comforting background hum of soothing ideology.
The following quotes are from the Australian Platypus Conservancy website.
But first, an apology: I’m sorry, we all love platypus, of course we do, but I think we need to try to keep things a little bit real. Too many organisations are caught up in this impenetrable monolithic fervor around willows, it’s really very worrying. I haven’t yet found the original scientific study discussed below, but whether or not this is an accurate reflection of it’s findings we can still take this retelling as an example of the way that willow information is being disseminated, creatively exaggerated and confused.
The page begins:
“Recent studies have repeatedly found that the presence of platypus is positively related to the amount of indigenous vegetation growing along a waterway. For example…..”
[and this is the only example provided]
“……a radio-tracking study along Running Creek near Melbourne (a small stream mainly bordered by either native forest or open cattle paddocks) found that each 50-metre section of waterway in the areas used by platypus supported on average 22 medium-to-large trees growing within 8 metres of the water, of which 82% were eucalypts or acacias (with the rest being introduced poplars or willows).”
Note well: we are investigating “a small stream mainly bordered by either native forest or open cattle paddocks“. Got that? The sites were mainly either native forest or open cattle paddocks, and in the areas where the platypus were, there were lots of trees, 82% of them were native.
Would that be the native forest (with willows), I wonder?
The paragraph continues:
“In contrast, the same amount of bank in the areas not used by platypus supported fewer than 9 trees on average, of which only 21% were eucalypts or acacias (with 70% being willows).”
That sounds like the open cattle paddock (with willows) to me.
So the study compared stream sections within native forest (with some willows), to stream sections in open cattle paddocks (with some willows). Which of these kinds of sites had more trees and more platypus I wonder?
Well, I’ll keep wondering because this isn’t mentioned. All we’re told is that the platypus preferred the sites with more native trees. And thus the author of this summary has concluded for us that: “Recent studies have repeatedly found that the presence of platypus is positively related to the amount of indigenous vegetation”.
We are left to guess whether it was the native forest or the open cattle paddocks that had more native trees. We are only told that the platypus prefers indigenous vegetation. The fact that what was being compared was forest and paddock isn’t discussed. I’d be interested to know which of the sites had more half-ton cows stomping around on their hard hooves and crapping in the creek.
Either way, these results do NOT show that platypus prefer native vegetation–which is what the author has asserted from the beginning. The results provided here can only really suggest that platypus prefer forests to paddocks with cattle. Whoop-ding!
The author goes on to discuss willows more directly, beginning by informing us of how they “have spread aggressively along the banks of waterways“.
Why “aggressively”? Why always such nasty adverbs when applied to willows and other weeds? Why didn’t they spread ‘passively’? Why didn’t they spread ‘naturally’? Why didn’t they spread ‘tree-like’ along the banks of waterways? Why do we have to pretend they’re some kind of vicious and malevolent force?
They’re actually trees. No teeth! No claws! Have a look at one, they’re just trees, they won’t bite.
Forgive me, I digress. Moving right along……After listing some woes allegedly caused by willows, and without directly suggesting that all willows must be removed, we get to the part where the author informs us that:
“Studies carried out near Melbourne have shown that the process of removing willows from stream and river banks does not disrupt platypus populations over the short term – at least in cases where the trees are first poisoned and then cut down, and the roots left in the bank to rot gradually.”
What’s that bit about “short term” again?
So………we’ve got “short-term” results?……..Well that’s good enough for some! What are we waiting for? Let’s go!
Whoa! But hang on again now……what are those “platypus populations” doing anywhere near these aggressive trees (that they supposedly don’t like, and that are so bad for them) anyway?
Also, just how big are these muddleheaded willow-dwelling platypus populations?
Please tell me more….
The paragraph continues immediately with:
“Radio-tagged platypus remained resident in an area where willows were being removed by this method and continued to use burrows located next to willow stumps.”
So, in “the short term“, while the willow roots are still there, the platypus continued to use the burrow they had dug next to willow stumps. But according to the sentence beforehand, these roots will “rot gradually”. So in the short term the hard science shows everything’s fine if the roots are left in place, but, then again, in the long term the roots will rot.
So what happens then?
Well it seems we don’t know, but we do have some very rosy-sounding short term information! (up-beat smiley face!)
Wait on a second though, because according to this other authoritative-sounding source:
“Playtypus (sic) can travel many kilometres in night long feeding sessions but choked waterways , particularly those with a mesh of numerous willow root systems, can prevent them from swimming, feeding and digging burrows.”
So the Australian Platypus Conservancy says willow removal has been found not to disturb platypus (at least in the short term) if the willow roots they have dug their burrows into are left in situ, but Kiamma Creek Landcare says platypus can’t actually dig burrows where willow root systems are present.
Ooookay………So it sounds like willows are just bad all over. Sounds like there is no need for anyone to think about it anymore! Stop thinking now!
I’ll summarise this last part for you: ‘Willows stop platypus from digging burrows because of their root-mats, this is one of the reasons why they should be removed. But when you do remove willows, don’t worry about disturbing the platypus so long as you don’t remove the root-mats where they have dug their burrows’.
This should be perfectly clear: the only logical conclusion is that willows are bad.
Apparently, “a mesh” of willow root systems can even prevent platypus from swimming?!?
Was this written on a computer outside in the field….or thought up in the office? I wonder.
We return to Australian Platypus Conservancy:
“As well, platypus reproductive success was not compromised in the breeding season following willow removal works. However, it is important to note that some native trees (mainly acacias) were found along this waterway to provide a measure of cover and shade after willows were eradicated. In situations where willows are the only (or nearly the only) woody plants growing on the banks, special care should be taken to ensure that indigenous trees and shrubs are planted as soon as possible after willows are removed.”
So, what this is saying is that platypus reproductive success was not compromised by willow removal (presumably where burrows in roots-mats were not disturbed), but the presence of mature acacias is thought to have played an important role in this.
Therefore, when you remove mature riparian willows, make sure you place some tiny native seedlings near to where the mature trees once stood “ASAP“!
That way you can be absolutely sure that the platypus populations which are presently found living (and, presumably, ‘burrowing, feeding and swimming’) among these famously aggressive willow trees will be totally OK.…….in the short term.