Top End community campaign wins national Froggatt Award for fight against grass

Media Release |

The community campaign Gamba Grass Roots has been awarded a national Froggatt Award for their work tackling one of Australia’s most alarming invasive species.

The annual awards, named in honour of the Australian entomologist who was a lone voice lobbying against the deliberate release of cane toads in the 1930s, recognise outstanding achievements in Australia’s fight against environmental weeds, diseases and pest animals. 

John Woinarski stands amongst invasive gamba grass. Photo: Gamba Grass Roots / Pew Charitable Trusts

‘Gamba grass is one of the biggest environmental threats currently facing communities across the Top End. It fuels hotter, more dangerous fires which threaten to destroy our homes and lives, outcompetes our native species and transforms landscapes,’ said Pew Charitable Trusts NT Manager, Mitch Hart.

‘Gamba grass transforms our native flora and fauna into a wasteland. It fuels dangerous fires that threaten our homes and is also at risk of taking over tourist icons like Litchfield National Park,’ said Liza Tobin, a Bees Creek resident and Gamba Grass Roots supporter.

‘When a fire comes through, Gamba is quick to return and take over. In parts of the rural area, we’re still dealing with ongoing outbreaks and gangbuster growth through the wet.’

Gamba Grass Roots is a community campaign in the Northern Territory’s Top End, established in 2018 by Pew Charitable Trusts and Environment Centre NT to raise awareness of the gamba grass threat, support landholders to control gamba and motivate the NT Government to control gamba on crown land. The largest infestations are on public lands, including an infestation covering more than 20% of Litchfield National Park.

Powered by passionate local volunteers, the campaign ran stalls at local markets and fairs, lobbied members of government, campaigned for gamba grass control commitments during local elections, published reports and educational materials and was an active and constant voice on traditional and social media. 

The group maintains excellent relationships with government weed officers, Bushfires NT, Landcare and tourism operators. 

‘The Gamba Grass Roots campaign was extremely deserving of a Froggatt Award in the community advocacy category,’ said Invasive Species Council CEO, Andrew Cox.

‘It was instrumental in gaining a major financial commitment by the Northern Territory Government during the last election campaign to control gamba grass.

‘Thanks to the tireless efforts of Gamba Grass Roots, the Northern Territory Government committed $1 million over two years to establish a Gamba Army and nearly $1 million in additional funds to expand gamba control measures.

‘The impacts of Gamba Grass Roots cannot be overstated. Every candidate in the 2021 Litchfield Council elections and the by-election for the Northern Territory seat of Daly publicly stated their support for action on gamba.’

A recent survey conducted by the Northern Territory Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security found over 95% of landholders are concerned about gamba grass and over 80% understood individual landholders have a legal obligation to control the weed. 

‘This is perhaps the most important impact of the Gamba Grass Roots program,’ said Mr Cox.

‘Even pastoralists who once regarded gamba as valuable cattle feed are now seeing it encroaching and joining the calls for action. Momentum is building through people power.’

‘Supporters made up of landholders and community members have powered Gamba Grass Roots and been instrumental in getting results, such as more funding from the NT Government for programs like the Gamba Army, which we hope to see scaled up with more funding at a federal level,’ said Mr Hart. 

‘It’s been awesome to see programs like the NT Government’s Gamba Army make a start,’ said Ms Tobin.

‘But we are a long way from getting on top of this issue. Residents want to see their efforts backed up further with wider support from the federal government.’

‘The Froggatt Awards were established to bring national attention to the often overlooked local campaigns like Gamba Grass Roots,’ said Mr Cox. 

‘It’s great that the collective efforts to combat one of Australia’s very worst weeds has been recognised, which helps build more momentum for further action,’ said Mr Hart. 

‘More people than ever before have been taking action at home, joining community efforts and raising the profile of the issue – this award recognises that and inspires the alliance to continue its efforts.’

View All Froggatt Awards 2021 >>

Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]