3 March 2022

Scouting for cleaner waterways in Canberra

| Dione David
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Ducks in water

Communities could play a critical role in keeping our waterways safe from the harmful effects of leaf litter. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Two Canberra Scout groups are among those leading the charge in helping their communities rid themselves of one of the scourges of our waterways – leaf litter.

The Lake Tuggeranong Sea Scouts and the Mount Taylor Scout Group are participating in a competition as part of a six-week campaign organised by The Leaf Collective – a community-based initiative funded by the ACT Government and led by Social Marketing @ Griffith to develop ways to sustainably manage leaf litter.

The campaign and competition closes on 13 March. Until then, Scouts from each group will be de-leafing their local areas and possibly earning themselves the coveted Champions For Nature Scout badge. The group with the largest weight of leaves recorded in The Leaf Collective app will receive a prize.

READ ALSO The path to preventing toxic blue-green algal blooms in Canberra’s lakes

Mount Taylor Scout Group leader Rachael Dawes said for a Scout, there’s no greater reward than helping the community and the environment.

“I like to start any discussion by asking them first what they already know about a subject and was surprised at how many of them were all over the topic of leaf litter,” she said.

“They knew why leaves shouldn’t go down the drain, they were aware of the role that leaves played in blue-green algae in the lakes and what that meant for them and their communities.”

Ms Dawes, who is also a forester, explained that most people are not aware of the harmful impact leaf litter can have on the environment.

“Most people figure leaves are natural; what harm can they do?” she said.

The answer is – a lot.

“In nature, leaves litter the forest floor, break down and are part of a natural and important cycle. But our drainage systems can carry massive amounts of leaves down our waterways, which results in unnatural nutrient loads and all sorts of problems,” Ms Dawes explained.

Dead leaves cluttering a stormwater drain

Stormwater drains direct large amounts of dead leaves into our waterways, resulting in adverse environmental impacts. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Organic waste, including leaf litter, was partly responsible for recent toxic algal blooms in Canberra’s waterways, including Lake Tuggeranong – the kind of outcome The Leaf Collective wants to arm communities to avoid.

Social Marketing @ Griffith started work in 2021, learning what people in the ACT want and need. One part of this learning phase was a survey which showed that almost 50 per cent of people answering the survey were passionate about the environment and had actively participated in behaviours for positive environmental outcomes. Many, however, were either unaware leaf litter was a problem or were unsure what they could do about it.

READ ALSO Where should Canberra’s leaf litter go? A new survey wants to know

Many community groups have partnered with The Leaf Collective, including SEE-Change Tuggeranong, Tuggeranong Community Council and Canberra Organic Growers Society. Dubbed the ‘Leaf Collective Champions’, these groups assist with promoting the campaign and supporting free drop off events and more.

Senior Research Assistant for Social Marketing @ Griffith Dr Renata Anibaldi said the campaign has involved a newsletter drop to about 11,700 residents, and it has tapped into a group of passionate, community-minded people.

The blitz of information seemed to be working. Since the campaign launched on 1 February, the website has had more than 1300 visitors and more than 10,000 people have engaged with the campaign on social media.

The six-week campaign has focused on raising awareness and generating conversations among neighbours, but it has also provided them with the materials and information they needed to take action.

To that end, the website houses creative and practical advice on mulching and composting or, for those without the time or space, options to take leaf litter off-site.

In the first weeks of the campaign, residents could also sign up for free leaf bags and scales. These were sold out on the last day of February, but people can still order green waste bins or get a discount on composting gear.

Man running by lake

Leaf litter was partly responsible for recent toxic algal blooms in Lake Tuggeranong. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

One campaign highlight will take place on Saturday, 5 March, at the Lake Tuggeranong Scout Hall, when members of the public are invited to toss their leaf litter into a designated skip manned by volunteers from SEE-Change Tuggeranong from 12 pm to 2 pm.

Another initiative, which Dr Anibaldi said has generated a lot of public interest, was ‘adopt a tree or storm drain’, in which people can volunteer to take care of their charge for the duration of the campaign.

“We hope that in doing so, people will see it’s not a big commitment – even just taking care of the patch in front of your home is a big help,” she said.

“Mobilising the community is a crucial ingredient to success. You need everybody involved.

“The government may be able to get more street sweepers, but the truth of the matter is the driving factors behind leaf litter, such as rain and wind events, are hard to predict. In terms of getting the timing right, residents are in the best position to make a sustainable impact.”

For more information on initiatives and how you can get involved, visit The Leaf Collective website.

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