(Adapted from a paper by P. Gillespie and H. Klein, presented at the XI International Symposium on Biological Control of Weeds, held at CSIRO Entomology, Canberra, Australia, 27April-2 May 2003)

A partnership has been formed between the Weeds Research Division of ARC-PPRI and the Working for Water (WfW) Programme, to ensure the optimal implementation of the products of biocontrol research. The Biocontrol Implementation arm of WfW focuses on the distribution of biocontrol agents for invasive alien plants and the integration of biocontrol into all alien plant clearing programmes. For this purpose, WfW appointed six regional Biological Control Implementation (BCI) Officers who liaise with biocontrol researchers, agricultural departments, the forestry industry and biodiversity managers, ensuring biocontrol agents are distributed to the extent of their ecological ranges. The programme also raises awareness of the effective and safe use of biocontrol.

Distribution of biocontrol agents

The BCI programme relies on close co-operation and information exchange between biocontrol researchers of the ARC-PPRI and the BCI officers. Once permission is obtained to release a new biocontrol agent, the responsible researcher and regional BCI officers collaborate on the first releases and plan a mass-rearing and release strategy for the agent. Once established in the field, the distribution and establishment of the agent across the country is managed by the BCI programme.

Information sheets are produced about the biocontrol agents, their mass-rearing and integration into alien plant clearing programmes, for use by all weed controllers and interested members of the public.

Source of insects for redistribution

After release from quarantine, insects are usually mass-reared in the regional BCI centres on potted plants in shade houses, or in insectaries using cut sprigs of plants as a food source. Once it is possible to collect a biocontrol agent species more easily from an established field site than it is to mass-rear it, mass-rearing is usually discontinued.

Certain biocontrol agents, particularly those insects that lay their eggs on the immature fruit or seeds of large, woody trees, cannot be mass-reared in a laboratory situation. As most of the agents used in the Western Cape region fall into this category, the Western Cape BCI centre currently has no facilities for mass-rearing, but relies on field-collection as a source of insects for redistribution. Collecting times for seed or fruit-feeding agents are seasonal and provide temporary employment for small collection teams who might normally be employed by WfW for the chemical or manual control of weeds.

Highly mobile biocontrol insects are often so widely dispersed that suitable collecting sites can easily be found. Others, such as stem-boring beetles, reproduce slowly and often have a restricted distribution. Their breeding sites are valuable sources of insects for redistribution, and need to be protected. These sites are registered as "biocontrol reserves" (discussed later).

During the 3 years up to 2002, some 12.6 million individuals of 30 species of biocontrol agents were distributed in South Africa against 22 weed species.

Release site selection

The BCI programme aims to distribute available biocontrol agents throughout their ecological range, to as many target weed infestations as possible. Whether releases are made on private or public land, the BCI officer consults with the land manager to ensure that the chosen site does not clash with other land-use priorities. Land owners are informed of the need to protect the site for a number of years to ensure establishment and natural spread of the insects.

The BCI programme aims to have biocontrol operating in all catchments, whether or not WfW is actively clearing weeds there. Biocontrol could suppress weeds in low priority areas that have no other long-term weed management plan, thereby giving WfW a 'presence' in the catchment. In catchments where WfW manages weed clearing operations, the BCI programme aims to incorporate biocontrol into these operations, providing an ongoing legacy of weed suppression. BCI officers liaise with clearing managers to ensure that suitable pockets of weeds are left to ensure the continued presence of the biocontrol agents. Guidelines are prepared to aid land managers in this respect.

Protection of released biocontrol agents

The Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, 1983 (Act 43 of 1983) (CARA), administered by the National Department of Agriculture (NDA), recognises effective biocontrol as a valid control method and protects such sites from disturbance. CARA allows important biocontrol agent nursery sites to be registered as biocontrol reserves, protecting them from clearing.

When biocontrol agents are released, an undertaking is signed between the land user and WfW. It requires the land user to protect the agents for a maximum of 5 years or until notification by WfW, and protects the land user from prosecution by NDA. By applying biocontrol in parts of a weed infestation, land users are not absolved of their weed management obligations in surrounding infestations. NDA is notified of all biocontrol agent releases, and once established, the release site can be registered with NDA as a biocontrol reserve.

Data management

All biocontrol agent release sites are recorded on a standard release form which includes global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, site descriptions, land managers involved, infestation characteristics, weather data and numbers of insects released. During post-release monitoring sessions, information regarding insect numbers and damage to the infestation is recorded. This information is stored on the WfW information management system as well as being sent to relevant researchers and NDA. The BCI programme produces maps upon request showing established release sites.

The web-based database was established to store the BCI data. Different types of information is available to registered users depending on the their requirements. All users have access to regional maps showing release points, what has been released and when. Biocontrol researchers are given detailed site references and data about release conditions and site monitoring. This web site will provide a useful tool for evaluating the effectiveness of biocontrol of alien plants in South Africa.

Other partnerships

The BCI programme has united all organisations involved with weed control in a single forum, co-ordinating their activities, and avoiding duplication or counter-productive actions. Apart from biocontrol researchers, the following organisations participate in these Technical Liaison Committees:

National Department of Agriculture (NDA): administers the CARA regulations dealing with weeds, recognizing and protecting biocontrol. It is responsible for law enforcement and advice on weed control methods and has taken part in the development of the BCI programme, including the funding of a technical officer position in one region

The forestry industry: As a major weed manager, the industry has a financial interest in the success of the WfW programme. SAPPI (South African Pulp and Paper Industries), SAFCOL (South African state forestry organisation) and Mondi actively participated in the BCI programme development in three regions, and manage a number of insectaries for the programme

The South Africa National Parks or equivalent nature conservation organisations: contribute actively to planning the release programmes

Private conservancy or "Landcare"-type groups, municipalities and private landowners.

Education and training

Ninety percent of WfW staff have low levels of formal education and technical expertise. They initially feared that biocontrol agents would kill all the weeds, and that their jobs would then be terminated. Another misconception, especially among managers, concerned host specificity of biocontrol agents, because they were unaware of the strict protocols followed in releasing agents.

The training programme aims to provide a more rational understanding of biocontrol and how, by focusing clearing programmes on weed species not under biocontrol, it may be used to better achieve weed management goals. Training is provided to WfW personnel at all levels, from contractors in charge of clearing teams to management. Other partnership organisations have also requested training for their employees on the role of the BCI programme and how they could co-operate. BCI officers deliver the training, with supportfrom biocontrol researchers.

Approximately 400 people have attended one of 14 half-day biocontrol information sessions held by 2002. The theory of biocontrol was outlined, how it is applied in South Africa and how biocontrol can be integrated into the alien plant-clearing programme without affecting jobs. Demonstrations using live insects or pathogens and the plant damage they cause generated much interest. Course notes were issued to each participant, containing examples of release site maps, data record sheets and illustrated colour brochures on biocontrol agents and their associated weed damage.

Informal surveys indicated that there was a much greater acceptance and willingness to co-operate with the BCI programme after these training sessions.

Public awareness

An important component of the BCI programme is providing the public with information relating to the use of biocontrol of invading alien plants. The interest in biocontrol generated by this extension activity provided the BCI programme with excellent release sites across the country.

Regional BCI officers are often invited to speak about their programmes at local farmers' days, schools and conservancy meetings. The BCI programme is represented in all WfW public displays and publications. A set of 26 colour brochures on biocontrol agents has been well received by the public and WfW employees.