With so many amazing natural landscapes in Australia, concern is increasing about their future. Outdoor investigated what,s being done to protect our bushland.
Recently Outdoor received a letter to the editor that reinforced our readership’s connection with this great country. In the May/June issue, one of our readers asked for more articles about environmental preservation and conservation. After all, ‘ensuring our landscape is cared for and protected, is just as important as exploring it.’ Well, we’ve got you covered.
Funnily enough, it was only a few weeks back that we were sitting in the Bedourie Pub 190km north of Birdsville chatting along similar lines with Matt Warr, Manager of the remote 215,500ha Ethabuka Station located in the Simpson Desert, 50km from the Northern Territory border. While sharing a couple of cleansing ales, Matt introduced us to the Bush Heritage initiative that has bought Ethabuka Station and more than 30 other environmentally significant properties across Australia.
So what is the intent of this not-for-profit entity? The overarching commitment is to return the Australian bush to good health by carefully selecting, buying and then managing land of outstanding conservation value. When Bush Heritage kicked off in 1990 under its founder, environmental activist Bob Brown, its vision was to have one per cent of the Australian land mass under its portfolio. Bush Heritage has evolved to now protect and help manage 6.2 million hectares of Australian land. Locating many of these properties in the vicinity of pre-existing conservation areas like National Parks, the Bush Heritage properties expand the potential habitat of endangered species by providing resilience and systems in times of fire, drought and flood. Ethabuka Station, for example, which is about the size of the Australian Capital Territory, acts as a refuge in dry times to the region’s fauna. This includes the vulnerable marsupial Mulgara and a rare desert python called a Woma. Importantly, the success of Bush Heritage’s environmental objectives is almost entirely dependent on the volunteer support of outdoor-minded people.
So Matt didn’t have to ask us twice if we’d like to come out to Ethabuka Station to see what was being achieved. After all, "it’s only an hour down the road" he told us. As it turned out, this hour on the road was spent on what we reckon must be the world’s longest driveway. Turning due west off the Diamantina Development Road just 8km out of Bedourie, we drove 130km along a surprisingly well maintained dirt road across a series of Simpson Desert dunes before reaching the property’s boundary.
We arrived to find a welcome environment with volunteers conducting flora surveys, removing the infrastructure of 100 years of cattle farming, and conducting general maintenance including painting the property’s office. Some volunteers were retirees, some were academics while others were nurses and tradies. Among this group we found bushwalkers, hikers, birdwatchers and bike riders. Despite their diverse backgrounds, the one thing these volunteers had in common was a united commitment to ‘giving something back’, offering their services free to contribute to the Bush Heritage conservation effort. In return they enjoyed the satisfaction of making a difference to the environment and comradeship.
Keen to find out whether Ethabuka Station was a ‘one-off’ unique collaborative effort, when we returned home we spoke with Bush Heritage about its property, Scottsdale, near Cooma in the NSW Alpine region. It didn’t take long before we were able to join a group of willing Bush Heritage volunteers and Antia Brademann, the regional Waterwatch Coordinator, who was working alongside them to conduct environmental monitoring at Scottsdale in support of ‘Platypus Month’. As Antia explained when we arrived, Platypus Month is an Upper Murrumbidgee Waterwatch initiative involving groups of volunteers undertaking surveys at specific sites across the upper Murrumbidgee catchment.
Scottsdale is one of the survey sites and this year was the fourth occasion that platypus monitoring had occurred on the property. Where we were on the banks of the upper Murrumbidgee River at 6am to watch the group of 10 volunteers brave the wind chill from the snow-capped peaks. Silently they waited and every 10 minutes recorded wind, cloud and water condition along with the multiple Platypus sightings. In Antia’s words, ‘the achievements of the Platypus Month survey program is entirely reliant on the steely efforts of our volunteers.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Currently, Bush Heritage draws on the support of approximately 70 full time staff with the rest of the work being conducted by more than 700 volunteers. These volunteers undertake a huge range of tasks including up-keep of infrastructure and vehicles, fencing, tree-planting and wildlife monitoring. Volunteers routinely operate alongside indigenous groups and non-government conservation entities such as Waterwatch, Kosciusko to Coast, Nature Aware, as well as individuals operating under university research programs and State and Federal Government grants.
Anyone can become a Bush Heritage volunteer. Register via the Bush Heritage website. Remote placements require a commitment of at least one week and in other reserves it’s a full weekend. Bush Heritage also makes specific calls for assistance via their coordinators for individual programs such as environmental monitoring.
But don’t assume that you’re the only person with a philanthropic tendency. When we last checked, Bush Heritage was experiencing such high levels of volunteer applications that it was unable to accept additional expressions of interest. The volunteers at Scottsdale had come from Melbourne and Sydney to take part in the three day platypus survey. And people were so keen to be involved that volunteer places were over-subscribed within 60 minutes of a call out.
However, if you’re unable to volunteer, Bush Heritage is committed to enabling its supporters to enjoy the properties that they’re helping to conserve. So many of the properties are open for guided tours with reserve staff, while others allow visitors to enjoy self-directed camping and bushwalking. Sites include Queensland’s spectacular Carnarvon Station Reserve, the wilderness areas of Tasmania’s Liffey River Reserve, and the Charles Darwin Reserve, Australia’s only internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot. For more information visit www.bushheritage.org.au.
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