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An update on Eurardy's 1 million tree project

Published 16 Aug 2023


Eurardy revegetation site.

Dr Geoff Woodall with Sam Fischer.

On Eurardy Reserve, Nanda Country, Western Australia, a project began four years ago to plant one million trees and shrubs. 

When Bush Heritage bought the 30,000-hectare reserve in 2005, 750 hectares of York gum woodland and 1,550 hectares of kwongan heath on yellow sand had been cleared for cropping and grazing. In 2019, Bush Heritage partnered with Carbon Positive Australia, a WA-based charity, to create the largest revegetation project in Bush Heritage's history.

Since the project’s inception, more than 624,000 seedlings have been planted across the cleared areas – all grown from seed hand-collected from the reserve. This winter alone, around a quarter of a million seedlings were planted over a 5-week period. Knowing the scale of this year’s planting program, Carbon Positive Australia, whose donors funded the project, originated a plan to use agricultural-scale revegetation tools.

“Dr. Geoff Woodall, Carbon Positive Australia’s restoration specialist, is a great innovator. He’s modified a horticultural planter to be suitable for native seedlings. The planter, which has two seats for people to sit on, is pulled by a tractor. As the tractor moves along, the planter makes holes, which the seedlings get dropped into. It is the only way that many seedlings can get into the ground that quickly,” explains Dr. Fiamma Riviera, Bush Heritage’s Flora Restoration Ecologist. 

On average, the six-person team were planting more than 9,000 seedlings per day. For scale, in a less tractor-accessible area, it took six Bush Heritage staff and volunteers one week to hand-plant 10,000 seedlings.

The scale of the project is not the only factor that makes it unique. For its size, the project is the first of its kind with such a high level of biodiversity, helping to set a new standard. 

“Many carbon projects plant a handful of species, but this one has planted 62 to date,” Fiamma says.

So how is the seed for that many species collected? 

“Collecting so much varied seed is a huge collaborative effort,” says Reserve Manager, Sam Fischer. “Last summer, Bush Heritage staff, volunteers, and professional collectors from APACE WA Nursery, braved Eurardy’s heat and flies to collect the seed used to raise seedlings in nurseries ready for this year’s planting. I particularly enjoyed getting out and about for the less common species”.

The first phase of the project began in 2019 on the red soil and has been a resounding success.

“There's a very high survival rate for the York Gum seedlings. They are three metres tall, well overhead, which is great to see,” says Fiamma.

However, the project has been anything but straightforward, challenging some of the state’s best minds in post-agricultural restoration. 

“Geoff has been working in the revegetation space in WA for 30 years, and we are his most marginal and challenging site. So that gives you an indication of how much work the Eurardy restoration is,” Fiamma says.

The team have had to rigorously adapt to the challenges the project has posed; different soil types and historical fertiliser loads, hardy weeds, and extreme weather, to name a few. 

“Each season has its challenges,” says Sam. “We're constantly learning and improving year-on-year. The major issue this year was maximizing water availability”.

Implementing soil moisture conservation works by ploughing deep furrow lines for seedlings to go into, means every precious drop of rain has the greatest chance possible to make it into the soil, where the seedlings’ roots develop.

This year, the team tackled the yellow sands, which to Fiamma, has presented a stark reminder of the gruelling ebb and flow of landscape-scale restoration. 

Restoring a globally significant kwongan heath ecosystem, piece by piece, the team is faced with the mammoth task of replicating one of nature’s most diverse ecosystems. 

“These areas are much more technically challenging. Especially coupled with a poor season. What's happening now is actually a more accurate reflection of what it’s like to restore such a large area on the edge of a winter rainfall zone. Results will fluctuate from year to year.” 

Next steps for the team will be figuring out how to reintroduce threatened flora and ground layer species to the restored areas. “We're dealing with lots of species, many of which we don't know very much about. Is their seed viable? Does that seed need particular treatment to make it germinate? Do we know the methods for raising seedlings in a nursery?” says Fiamma. 

Restoring Eurardy is a long-haul project. Like staff before them, Sam and Fiamma know that they are part of a committed line of staff, partners, and supporters. The project will continue to push Bush Heritage and Carbon Positive Australia, but like all good scientists and land managers, they’re meeting the challenges with new innovations.

The team involved in the 1 million tree project.

Rows of seedlings that were prepared for the reveg work.

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