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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Extreme Heat withering the trees in Albury

It's been an incredibly hot summer so far if you live in Australia's inland. Record breaking heat is impacting the health of people and roasting the vegetation.

Take the City of Albury- Wodonga as an example.

The towns of Albury-Wodonga straddle the Victoria-New South Wales border, on the Murray river. It is an important regional city with both the Hume Highway and Sydney Melbourne rail passing through.


Record breaking January temperatures coupled with low rainfall have caused significant stress on local plants including death of less established trees, burnt leaves, defoliation of deciduous trees, increased eucalypt limb falls and premature fruit drop.

Albury’s January temperatures were the hottest on record, with an average day time temperature of 37.4 degrees, 5.1 degrees higher than the long term average of 32.3, according to Bureau of Meteorology data.

“These record-breaking January temperatures, including 11 days over 40 degrees, have had widespread impacts on our area” said Lizette Salmon, convener of Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH).

“As well as the blue-green algae problem and many people complaining of listlessness and irritability, we’ve received 60 reports from 30 citizen scientists describing impacts such as fatigued outdoor workers, decimated rhubarb, pumpkin and spinach crops, stressed and dehydrated wildlife and melting wax in bee hives. But the most frequently reported phenomenon has been the number of stressed trees.”

“A local arborist said he’d had double the number of limb fall call-outs from Vic Roads, a council worker said there was more summer leaf litter than any previous year and an orchardist estimated he’d lost 90% of his avocado crop due to premature fruit drop. Just look around our streets and you’ll see lots of stressed trees. Established trees in urban landscapes provide amenity, microclimate and biodiversity, so losses will impact greatly.”

Former curator of the Albury Botanic Gardens, Paul Scannell, said he too had noticed many changes in local plants this summer. “Natives like hakeas are dropping like nine-pins, avenues of ashes and other European and Asian specimens including Japanese maples, planes, conifers and elms are suffering. It’s the extreme temperatures, compounded by lack of water and attack by insects and diseases having an accelerated impact.”

“While defoliation, limb loss and fruit drop are natural responses to extreme conditions, this shutting down for self preservation can only go so far. If the heat and dry persist they’ll need to be well maintained with watering, mulching and, in the case of some street trees, air shattering the ground to open layers, or mechanical aeration to allow moisture to the root zone. Even then, they may not survive long term. If plants are suffering, insects are suffering, birds are suffering and lizards are suffering. It’s all interconnected. I anticipate that in the next 20 years there will be a 30 to 40 percent change of plant species we can use in gardens. We need to take strong action on climate change as well as selecting plants that are more likely to survive a heating planet.”

After advocating for climate action for more than a decade, Mrs Salmon has lost much faith in federal government. “Scientists have been warning us about these heatwaves for years and this January has been an absolute scorcher, yet the Prime Minister and his government are completely ignoring it. Their wilful silence and decades of inaction are disgraceful. Although Mr Morrison says we’ll meet the Paris climate targets he’s using dodgy accounting to ‘carry-over’ credits from Kyoto towards Paris. To pass on a habitable planet to our children we need to replace coal-fired generation with renewables and pumped hydro storage at emergency speed. It will be quicker and cheaper than more fossil fuels.”


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