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Wonder dog recruit sniffing out wild weeds

Melbourne Water’s Waterways and Catchment Operations team has welcomed a new furry recruit with a talent for sniffing out a troublesome weed which grows in tricky to reach and hard to spot places.

Raasay is a young border collie with a scented skillset – trained to smell Spartina anglica – an invasive grass that grows in tidal estuaries. The weed collects sediment, choking creeks and destroying natural mudflat habitat.

Melbourne Water’s Project Manager Adrian Vinnell says Raasay has successfully completed her preliminary on the job training at the Cardinia inlets and the Bass Estuary near Philip Island and has already proved herself a great asset.

“On day one Raasay gave a strong signal and led her handler to a hidden and previously undetected patch of Spartina. Ground crew could then immediately target the weeds which are often hard to detect even on foot or by helicopter as they grow in marshes and amongst other flora.

“Having Raasay as part of our team has safety benefits as well. Her nose knows where to go so our crews don’t have to be as close to waterways while they look for the weeds and they are able to cover more ground in the same time," Mr Vinnell said.

Raasay completed her 12 weeks scent coaching at the Skylos Ecology base near Ballarat. Handler Tracy Lyten said Melbourne Water shipped frozen samples of Spartina to their site to help with the training.

“It was really beneficial having the samples. We were able to teach Raasay the odour prior to her initial field training. This gave her the best possible start to her career as a Spartina detection dog.”

For now – Raasay’s work with Melbourne Water will continue to focus in the Cardinia Inlets near Koo Wee Rup and the Bass Estuary, with plans to use her Spartina detection abilities across a wider area of Westernport.

Adrian Vinnell says while Melbourne Water is still in the early stages of the canine training and deployment project – Raasay is fitting right in.

“This is a terrific partnership and hopefully Raasay will continue with us long term – proving a significant help to our work in eradicating Spartina throughout the catchment.”

Media Catherine Garrett: 0429 219 084