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HomeLifestyleDogs at North Head? For very good reason...

Dogs at North Head? For very good reason…

Meet Alice and Echo, a dynamic scent-detection-duo helping keep our eco-system in good health.

Northern Beaches Council has partnered with National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to stop the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi, a soil borne pathogen that infects threatened and iconic plants, by using specially trained sniffer dogs to detect the disease.

A detection in progress. Photo: Tate Animal Training

The soil pathogen threatens a number of endangered species and can causes root rot in susceptible plants.
With funding from NPWS Saving Our Species program, the NPWS Invasive Species Unit developed a project in mid-2022 to see if conservation detection dogs could be trained to detect Phytophthora and prevent new infestations to protect threatened species.

With the expertise of TATE Animal Training Services and two of their newest dogs – Alice, a Springer Spaniel and Echo, a Brittany Spaniel, the dogs have been successful in identifying the pathogen in controlled trials.

Northern Beaches Mayor Sue Heins said Phytophthora free tube-stock, propagated and grown by environmental volunteers in Council’s community nurseries, was donated by Council and infected with the disease by University of Sydney staff for training purposes.

“Results from the pilot study have proven the dogs can discriminate the scent of Phytophthora and they can successfully locate infected tube stock when placed with uninfected tube stock. These dogs are simply incredible,” Mayor Heins said.

“We’re so pleased to be partnering with NPWS on this unique project and hope the hard work by the team at TATE and their dogs can stop the spread of this pathogen infecting our precious flora.”

The detection dogs will continue training and testing to provide a low-cost tool to detect this pathogen. Conservation detection dogs play an important role at NPWS and are also used in detecting threatened species such as Koalas and underground orchids, as well as invasive animals and plants like the Hawkweed eradication program in Kosciuszko National Park.

NPWS Project Officer Julia Rayment said the infection of plants by Phytophthora is a big problem and is included in the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act as a “Key Threatening Process” requiring action to be taken to stop its impact.

“Any activity that moves soil can spread the pathogen, including movement from humans and vehicles, as well as soil movement from regeneration and translocation of nursery stock. Therefore, preventing new incursions and good hygiene is paramount,” Ms Rayment said.

With both dogs still yet to reach maturity, they will only improve in consistency and skill as they grow; however, early results show strong signs of real-world applicability.

“We’re so pleased the trials have been successful and with access to more plants of all varieties, thanks to Northern Beaches Council, the dogs will increase their ability to discriminate and improve their level of correct responses,” Dave Wilkins, Handler at TATE Animal Training Services said.

It is hoped that these dogs can be used to sniff out Phytophthora to prevent new incursions and keep our precious bushland safe.

For more information about the project visit the NPWS website or contact Julia Rayment, National Parks and Wildlife Service Project officer via email.

Information and images provided by Northern Beaches Council. 

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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