Beyond the Boundaries Coordinator Stuart Cowell gives a long-term perspective on the role of Bush Heritage reserves in providing a genuine conservation solution.
Liffey River Reserve, Tas. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.
There's no doubt that Bush Heritage reserves are spectacular places. Each in its own way safeguards some of Australia’s most important plants and animals and the bush on which they rely. But the reserves are also important because they provide a conservation ‘focal point’ in their region, a focal point that can nurture conservation efforts on surrounding properties.
Let me illustrate this by telling you about a pleasant Saturday in May when my father and I spent some time clearing the walking track on the Liffey River Reserve in Tasmania.
Corackerup moort Eucalyptus vesiculosa is protected on Monjebup Reserve. Photo Lochman Transparencies.
Taking a break, we sat sharing a ‘cuppa’ under an old myrtle tree and watched as a platypus searched methodically through the sand and pebbles on the riverbed for a tasty meal.
Once, my father and I might have seen the platypus as simply a delightful river-dwelling animal that needed protection for its own sake. We now know that it is also an integral part of a healthy temperate river ecosystem.
In the same way, we can see that Bush Heritage reserves are not just sanctuaries for plants and animals; they're also important in helping to sustain the natural systems of the regions in which they occur.
Monjebup Reserve in the South West Botanical Province. Photo Lochman Transparencies.
Moreover, the reserves are sources of expertise and hope for other conservation workers, and places from which to build regional conservation initiatives. In other words, Bush Heritage reserves are ‘anchors’* in the landscape.
In Bush Heritage News Autumn 2003 Sophie Underwood and I reported on work done by Bush Heritage to determine the strategy that would produce the most effective conservation results. That work launched a ‘free and frank’ exchange of views that crystallised into a plan for the future: to focus our efforts in specific regions rather than spreading our resources thinly across the country, and yet to remain open to broader opportunities.
Judith Eardley Reserve in the grassy woodlands of south-eastern Australia. Photo David Tatnall.
The regions we chose had to be
- under immediate threat from a factor or factors that we could influence,
- protect as many significant species as possible,
- be able to support healthy ecosystems throughout the process of climate change,
- be located where the establishment of an ‘anchor’ would provide significant benefits for conservation in the wider community, and
- build on what we had already achieved.
It would take a lifetime of ‘cups of tea by a river’ to reach universal agreement about where our efforts should be focused. There are always other regions, other priorities, other possibilities. However we needed to start somewhere.
In the end, five regions stood out:
- south-west Western Australia,
- the grasslands and grassy woodlands of southern Australia,
- the midlands of Tasmania,
- the Channel and Gulf country of Queensland and the Northern Territory, and
- the brigalow belt and uplands of Queensland.
Ethabuka Reserve on the edge of the Channel Country. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.
Opportunities will arise outside these regions, and in fact already have. Some are too important to pass up: working to protect Hunter Island, trialling a new conservation model at Reedy Creek in Queensland, developing partnerships in South Australia.
It would be negligent of us not to follow these to their conclusion. But there are also many lifetime’s work in the ‘anchor’ regions. There are reserves to acquire, conservation management to refine, and support to give for conservation management on neighbouring country.
Using the same determined and methodical approach as our platypus searching for her dinner, we, the supporters and staff of Bush Heritage, have identified and protected key properties by using the best of our knowledge and combining our resources.
We will keep on doing it for the foreseeable future. But there are also other important opportunities to seize, including working beyond our own boundaries. By concentrating our efforts around our ‘anchors’ in the landscape and helping neighbours and other regional land managers to bring conservation management and expertise to their land, the country and its wildlife will see much greater benefits.
My father and I finished our cups of tea – it’s always hard to have one in such a relaxing spot – and got on with the day’s work. The platypus was long gone. However, knowing she was still there somewhere in the river gave me confidence that the river was healthy, and hope that by protecting habitats like those at the Liffey River Reserve we can be instrumental in restoring the health of our environment both within and beyond our reserve boundaries.
*An anchor not only represents security; in heraldry it is the emblem associated with hope.