Booming growth of moss and algae, falling autumn leaves and persistent wet weather have created a slippery threat to Sydney’s safety that has sparked increased footpath cleaning and a warning for people to be careful.
The City Of Sydney said the issue of slippery paths around the CBD had become so serious that it had changed its seasonal routines.
The Royal Botanic Gardens’ chief scientist, Brett Summerell, said he’d never seen growth like it. He described the explosion of mosses around the gardens and across the city as “almost like a rainforest”.
“There’s a lot of slimy stuff everywhere,” he said.
“Mosses are really, really loving the conditions at the moment. They’re really dependent on having a consistent supply of water over long periods of time, so they’ll wax and wane normally … but at the moment we’ve just got so much runoff because the soil is completely saturated.
“They keep growing, keep expanding, getting larger and thicker, reproducing and just generally taking over any surface that doesn’t move.”
There’s no end in sight. An extra soggy winter is ahead, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. And Summerell said moss has the ability to tolerate daily cold conditions.
“You’ll probably find that they’ll still be a problem and still manage to grow – perhaps not quite as fast,” he said.
Sydney’s council has boosted cleaning practices to get on top of the problem.
“We generally see an increase in fallen leaves … during autumn. The recent rainfall has exacerbated the issue and we have increased our regular cleansing services across our roads, parks and paths accordingly,” a spokesperson said.
“We continue to monitor the safety of our roads and paths and encourage residents to take care while the inclement weather continues.”
The maintenance team at the botanic gardens has also been working to stay on top of leaf drop and constant dampness, swapping their usual leafblower regime for a pressure hose and occasional chemical use.
The gardens’ curator manager, David Laughlin, said it had added quite a bit of extra work for the team, but that it was better than a slip and a broken arm.
“We’ve got a mixture of leaf drop and paths being constantly wet … it’s made them slippery and encourages the growth of all sorts,” Laughlin said.
“This year has been horrendous. We have had a huge upsurge in the need to clear paths and reports of slippery areas.”
A falls expert from the University of Sydney’s institute for musculoskeletal health, Prof Anne Tiedemann, urged young people who rarely slip to take a little extra care, as well as older Sydneysiders who were at greater risk.
“Thinking about safer shoes is going to help and walking more carefully in slippery areas,” Tiedemann said, noting heels were best reserved for better weather.
She said it was important to take proactive steps, like working on strength and balance, especially for older people who were at risk of serious injury, including death, from falls.
“If you do exercise that targets strength and balance, that gives you the better physiology when you come across these obstacles or these slip hazards that we’re all encountering at the moment,” she said.
The slippery threat comes as households continue to struggle with mould after months of wet weather and widespread flooding.