Sharon Fulcher, Owner of Two Rivers Catchment Reserve
This a story of devastating fires. Fires that have impacted personal life, communities and our natural environment, the silent casualties – plants and animals.
We can provide ecosystem lifelines while our burnt land is recovering by using house yards to their full potential, private conservation of properties and personal donations to enable the purchase and maintenance of large tracts of land by non-government organisations.
Our fire story started with the large Currowan fire that began with a lightning strike in state forest, west of Batemans Bay in late November, south of where we permanently live at Lake Tabourie. It spread east and north to the coast. Communities adjacent to Murramarang, Meroo and Morton National Parks were warned at public meetings of the fire’s path and evacuation timings. Surrounded by bush we deemed that leaving was our safest option. Some neighbours decided to stay and defend. The fire hit the southern end of our village, luckily with minor damage to property.
Returning 3 days later we were shocked by our blackened forest. We are ever grateful to our neighbour who put out two spot fires in our yard. The Currowan fire returned again on New Year’s Eve and again 4 days later burning remaining bush around our lake. The fire continued to leave a trail of destruction including Conjola Park. It spawned the Morton Fire, Charley’s Forest Fire and the Clyde Mountain Fire causing so much damage around Batemans Bay and Mogo. At the time of writing it had reached 313,449 ha, finally declared under control.
With much of the forest burnt the number of animal casualties was emotionally shocking. We had to dispose of dead birds, flying foxes and rescue a displaced snake. Help to our native animals began as neighbours arranged for water points and fruit for distressed animals, especially flying foxes. Unburnt grass in front yards remained unmown, left for kangaroos and wallabies. Vegetation on house blocks provided immediate resources for animals in fire-affected areas. Mulch for micro-organisms and worms, plant species that attract insects, seed-eaters, nectarivores and fruit-eaters were all utilised by fleeing birds, possums, bats and kangaroos. Audits on backyard resources is timely if you are in an area to assist hungry, displaced animals and if possible create a backyard corridor with your neighbour/s.
At a larger scale, conservation of biodiversity on private land can also fill corridors between agricultural land and national parks, providing important habitats for animals escaping fire and for repopulation post-fire.
For those with vacant acreage or a farm consider protecting the biodiversity within it, especially in the current conditions. Two years ago we bought a large piece of mostly intact woodland (537 ha) adjacent to a section of the Abercrombie River National Park (4,000 ha) aiming to preserve it as a nature reserve. It has vulnerable bird species, an endangered fish and a frog amongst its many animal species. It protects important riparian corridors for the protection of water and soil. Its thousands of trees provide nest hollows and homes for insects. Its vegetation and soils assist in sequestering carbon. The land has been registered with the Wildlife Land Trust (WLT), a private land conservation network that protects wildlife and habitats. In NSW 23,900 hectares in 282 sanctuaries are protected under this network. Additionally, the property is being assessed for Wildlife Refuge registration through the Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT). Down the track we will also apply for an In-perpetuity Conservation Agreement that will register the agreement on the title of the land. The BCT manages 909 of these agreements with landholders protecting over 237,000 hectares. We are working with other landholders and communities on the Kanangra-Boyd to Wyangala link (K2W), part of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, building corridors in riparian areas along the Abercrombie River. Hopefully this link will assist the movement of animals from the Green Wattle Creek Fire, immediately to our east that burnt through 278,722 ha. Organisations like WLT, BCT and the K2W link assist in networking like-minded people, gain access to technical support and conservation partners grants to assist with property maintenance (pests, weeds, fencing) and revegetation.
Groups of friends, family or like-minded people sometimes pool money to buy land for private conservation. Another way of conserving land with threatened ecological communities and endangered species is to purchase it by donations through land trusts and foundations. Some examples of NGOs protecting land in NSW include Australian Wildlife Conservancy (64,969 hectares), Bush Heritage Australia (15, 417 ha), South Endeavour Trust (22,474 hectares) and Nature Conservancy Australia (with Tiverton Agriculture – 33,765 hectares).
The real challenge for private conservation reserves like ours will be how WE manage fire into the future
Resources for the immediate assistance of wildlife:
Attracting Birds to Your Garden by Birdlife Australia – http://www.birdlife.org.au/images/uploads/education_sheets/INFO-Attracting-birds-to-garden.pdf
Building and installing a possum box – http://www.wildlife-rescue.org.au/uploads/1/8/3/0/18305629/building_a_possum_nest_box_brochure.pdf
Helping Wildlife in Emergencies – http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/helping-wildlife-in-emergencies
Private land conservation agreements:
Wildlife Land Trust – http://www.wildlifelandtrust.org.au
Biodiversity Conservation Trust Partners Program – http://www.bct.nsw.gov.au/conservation-partners-program
Non-government organisations protecting land in NSW
Australian Wildlife Conservancy – http://www.australianwildlife.org
Bush Heritage Australia – http://www.bushheritage.org.au
South Endeavour Trust – http://www.southendeavour.com.au
Nature Conservancy Australia – http://www.natureaustralia.org.au