Top End ramps up war on invasive grass

·2-min read

The Northern Territory is ramping up its battle against an invasive African grass ahead of the upcoming Top End bushfire season.

Gamba grass burns 10 times hotter than native grass species and can grow up to six metres tall, creating uncontrollable fires if it catches alight.

"Gamba is a major issue for the Top End," Environment Minister Eva Lawler told reporters on Wednesday.

"It has spread right across the Territory. It's a terrible weed and it needs to be managed because when it burns it burns ferociously."

Northern Australia's peak bushfire period is during the dry season from April to October.

Introduced in the 1930s as cattle feed, the grass flourishes in the northern Australian wet season and could infest areas from Broome to Cairns

It has invaded rural properties, crown land, backyards and parks in the NT, including about 25 per cent Litchfield National Park.

"We can find up to 80 per cent coverage at some rural properties. We found one specimen that was about six metres tall and it's quite thick," environmental management consultant Geoff Niere said.

"So managing that from a fire risk and environmental perspective is paramount."

The NT government has tasked Mr Niere's land management team with clearing Gamba grass from vulnerable and elderly Territorians' homes on Darwin's outskirts.

"They're really in need of some support out there in the community," he said.

The program is part of a broader attack on the grass that includes the Gamba Army, a seasonal workforce focused on controlling the weed, as opposed to eliminating it.

"We know that Gamba cannot be eradicated across the Top End but we do need to manage it," Ms Lawler said.

About 1.5 million hectares of land in the Darwin area have already been overrun with new infestations discovered throughout the savanna region from remote Arnhem land to Groote Eylandt, in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The grass is also spreading south through Batchelor and Katherine, including into the Nitmiluk National Park.

Environmental group Gamba Grass Roots says the NT government needs to do more to stop the spread of the noxious grass, which can take over whole ecosystems in as little as five years, according to a recent study.

"If we lose Litchfield to Gamba we'll lose a tourism icon and natural jewel," NT manager Mitch Hart told AAP.

"The government needs to commit enough money to fix this problem. We need more people paid to be out spraying, burning and slashing the grass."