For the better part of two decades, Liz Charlton has been waging war on the weeds of The Grange - Barker College's historic outdoor education facility at Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains.
It was a war she couldn't fight on her own so she recruited plenty of allies along the way including hundreds of Barker students, professional bush regeneration workers, conservation volunteers and her fellow staff at The Grange - especially the gardener.
Together they logged thousands of hours not only pulling or poisoning blackberry, holly and honeysuckle but planting native seedlings such as ti tree, hakea and eucalypts grown from locally collected seed by the Blue Mountains Conservation Society.
Now Ms Charlton - affectionately known as Frau by the students of Barker - has been recognized for her hard work by winning the Individual Landcarer Award at the 2019 Greater Sydney Regional Landcare Awards.
The award goes to individuals who go beyond the usual practices and become a champion of Landcare by setting new standards through their achievements.
Ms Charlton's fellow director at The Grange, Scott Manwaring, said: "This award is very well deserved for such passion, commitment and dedication over the years. Liz has such a passion for protecting and regenerating the spectacular native bushland on site at The Grange and this passion is passed on to our young students. The Grange has never looked so good thanks to Liz's fine efforts."
So far, Ms Charlton has won funding valued at $140,000 for conservation work at The Grange and matched that figure with in-kind contributions (such as students pulling weeds as part of their studies) to create an environmental project valued at $280,000. Along the way, Ms Charlton also worked closely with Blue Mountains City Council, the catchment management authority, Sydney Water, Roads and Maritime Services, a local Bushcare group and neighbouring private landowners.
Ms Charlton, 46, said she was especially grateful for Barker College supporting her Landcare work. Barker has owned The Grange since 1989.
The first of its kind in Mt Victoria, The Grange was originally the grand mountains estate of NSW politician William Piddington (1815-1887).
Today it covers 33 hectares of mostly pristine bushland, but prior to the start of the Landcare campaign some sections of the Fairy Dell Creek catchment were so thick with weeds they were virtually impenetrable.
Ms Charlton was inspired to tackle the weeds because she wanted to teach her students about conservation values, give back to the Blue Mountains community and protect the "magnificent piece of land" where she loves to work.
"People can fight for themselves, but the bush doesn't have a voice, so someone has got to fight for that bush and the animals that rely on the vegetation of that creek to survive," Ms Charlton said.
The Grange is home to threatened ecosystems such as hanging swamp and manna gum forest as well as threatened species such as the spotted-tail quoll and the gang gang and all were being imperiled by the proliferation of weeds on the property.
Ms Charlton said the war to control and suppress weeds also helped protect heritage features of The Grange such as the old sandstone dam wall as well as the quality of Sydney's drinking water because the water of Fairy Dell Creek ultimately makes its way into Lake Burragorang. In Blue Mountains City Council's 2019 Waterways Health Snapshot, Fairy Dell Creek was one of only 13 catchments to be awarded "excellent health" status out of 54 studied.
Robert Leslie, an officer with Greater Sydney Local Land Services who nominated Ms Charlton for the award, said: "Liz is a highly committed advocate for the land. Liz has gone above and beyond her role as a teacher to actively demonstrate the importance of sustainability and stewardship of our natural environment. Liz set new standards and achievements by weaving a long-term bush regeneration project into the school's science and geography curriculum."
A bushfire burnt out much of The Grange in 2013. "At the time it was thought that many years of hard work had been lost to the fire, and this could have been true if nothing was done," Mr Leslie said.
"Liz again saw an opportunity to introduce a post-fire weed control project which targeted the fire-responsive weeds such as broom. The burnt bushland was easily traversed and weeds could easily be treated, allowing for maximum potential for regeneration."
Ms Charlton is now a finalist in the 2019 NSW Landcare Awards to be presented in Broken Hill in October.