Breaking things is easy; fixing them is hard
by Sarah Lloyd OAM
One of the principles of landscape conservation is to preserve what’s already there. It therefore seems absurd that Westbury Reserve could be partially cleared for a prison, especially in the light of the recently announced Meander Valley Project, a Landcare program partly funded by the Tasmanian government, the very same government that plans to clear this biodiversity hotspot.
The Meander Valley Project is a timely and worthwhile project in a catchment that has been severely impacted by agricultural activities. It aims to restore riparian areas by preventing stock access that leads to erosion and poor water quality; plant shelter belts to benefit stock, pastures and soils; and improve skills through community workshops. It also aims to enhance biodiversity by fencing off and connecting highly fragmented patches of remnant vegetation and incorporating paddock trees where possible.
Between 1990 and 1995 I participated in two projects conducted by Birdlife Australia, the peak body for bird conservation in Australia. The 'Birds on Farms' project involved surveying birds every season on three farms in the Meander Valley and the ‘Australian Bird Count’ involved counting birds for five years at Birralee. I also conduct annual bird surveys at a property near Cressy. These surveys, and work by other Tasmanian researchers, have made me aware of the alarming plight of many native birds and how critically important it is to retain patches of remnant vegetation, no matter how small.
Any remnant vegetation is valuable for conserving species, especially if stock is excluded and there is good understorey vegetation and organic material in the form of leaf litter, logs and fallen branches. Large old trees—dead or alive-are also crucial to retain because they provide birds and other fauna with cavities for breeding, other nest sites and places to search for food. Eucalypts can take 100 years or more to form hollows so they are essentially irreplaceable in our lifetime. Many birds like a vantage point to survey the landscape for predators, or a high perch from which to sing to attract a mate. Fencing around these trees will prolong their life and allow replacement seedlings to flourish.
The Meander Valley Project, like any such project, is extremely costly. It takes considerable effort, time and expertise to source seeds, grow plants, prepare the ground, plant and protect seedings, and water and weed for many years. No matter how successful the revegetation, it is impossible to completely restore all species in the landscape.
Restoring habitats is vital for the survival of species and the health of the agricultural landscape. But biodiversity can only be enhanced if there are places where species persist that can re-populate degraded areas. Westbury Reserve has numerous large, old hollow-bearing eucalypts; it retains plants from which seeds can be sourced for revegetation projects, and it supports numerous birds and other species that can repopulate degraded land. Landscape scale projects will only be successful if places like Westbury Reserve are left alone.
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