2015 began with a shared sense of relief and foreboding. You might remember that last Christmas Paul was helping our Parks neighbours to undertake much-needed ecological burns to our Northeast. Well, sometime around Christmas Eve when fire crews were enjoying a bit of down-time with family, conditions changed and that fire jumped a cleared break, a fenceline and two creeks to find it’s way into Yourka Reserve.
By late New Year’s Eve the heavens broke and a storm brought some relief, but the fire front was widespread and the rain was not, so the sense of foreboding remained.
For the next 14 days, Paul, along with support crews from Parks, worked to contain and then monitor the fires on Yourka. The onset of heavy, constant rain on the 15th of January eventually extinguished the centre of the last fire block and Paul could finally relax.
About one-third of the property burnt during those New Year's fires. That sounds catastrophic, however the result was a positive one. Despite it’s intensity in the creekline, we recorded negligible damage to our large habitat trees.
Our siam weed survey results show that in some locations the fire was hot enough to cook the weed seedbank which has since been replaced by a native grassy understorey. So, despite the stress at the time, the fire was a good thing for the reserve (don’t tell our mates at Parks, as they still think they owe us one!).
Our top priorities are all still tracking in the right direction. The siam weed population continues to contract thanks to great volunteer support during survey and treatment.
This year we also trialled the use of a tracked bobcat mulcher to help improve access to siam sites, especially those on islands within Sunday creek.
We invited other local land managers out to watch the machine in action and shared our lessons learned with those tackling similar weed issues in the Herbert River Catchment.
In July we hosted a contingent from the Qld Dept of Environment, Heritage and Protection and James Cook University as part of a climate change and conservation planning workshop in Far North Qld. It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the projects funded by the NatureAssist program in 2014 as well as the ongoing work to control artificial waters, reduce stock incursions and manage erosion features on the reserve.
In August we also hosted two groups of Bush Heritage bequest supporters. It's a privilege and a pleasure to meet the generous and passionate people who support our work and we always relish the chance to show how that support translates into on-ground conservation outcomes.
2015 has been a very busy year off-reserve as well. Paul has done three trips to help out on the Night Parrot property including a trip with a scent dog for feral cat detection in high priority areas, general feral animal control and logistical support for a media event and the cultural heritage survey. This has been an incredibly exciting opportunity and he feels very fortunate to be part of one of Australia's’ most significant conservation stories. (The kids get quite a buzz out of Dad’s “top secret” parrot missions as well).
Back home, Paul has been supporting some of our fellow Nature Refuge owners with advice and on-ground assistance. It’s a good feeling to have the know-how, and the resources and to make the time to help others with tasks like installing firebreaks and designing pig and weed control programs.
We both appreciate that Bush Heritage encourages this investment of our time because we believe that, as a large national conservation organisation we should be helping others where we can.
My part-time role supporting the Bush Heritage volunteer program and regional community engagement also brings enormous satisfaction. This year, volunteer opportunities in Qld and Naree have more than doubled with over 7,000 hours of volunteer time donated to priority tasks on our reserves.
New opportunities have been developed at Currumbin and Goonderoo and we’ve even signed up a volunteer who processes all of our remote camera data for not only our Qld reserves but for our uni and research partners as well.
Next year is going to be equally exciting as our project with the University of Qld student group iROOS gets into full swing and we develop other initiatives.
At this year‘s Tablelands Folk Festival our colouring-in comp drew a nice little crowd. Two members of that crowd were Johnny and Ellen, siblings from WA, who were travelling around Australia with their Mum and Dad. Over a cup of cordial and a packet of crayons we discussed all sorts of important issues while we added colour to some fauna and flora species.
Never one to let a teachable moment go by, I asked Johnny and Ellen what they thought we could do to help the little parrot who makes his home in the Spinifex.
“Get him a bigger sword,” said seven-year old Johnny, without hesitation, “and that way he can fight off all the baddies”. I looked confused. Six-year-old Ellen looked embarrassed… and then she piped up, “It’s a night parrot you idiot, with an “N”, not a “K”.
Of course, the highlight for the Hales family this year was returning to our beloved Eurardy Reserve in WA to help celebrate 10 years since Bush Heritage acquisition.
Paul and I (along with a belly bump, later called Beth) were the first managers at the reserve when we made the move from Qld Parks to Bush Heritage 10 years ago (yep, we were celebrating an anniversary too).
It was our first home together and the birthplace of our two daughters so Eurardy does, and always will, hold a very special place in our hearts.
It was just brilliant to return in a year of bountiful wildflowers and even more exciting, to see the return of a healthy groundcover, full of palatable species after the removal of feral herbivores. The years we spent at Eurardy were very dry and we never really got to see the positive effects of removing goats and sheep from this fragile, arid landscape.
It was great to meet the lovely new managers, to catch up with dear friends and to revisit some of our other favourites places in WA while we were there.
We look forward to the many challenges that the new year will bring (although preferably not wildfire!) and thank you for your support throughout 2015. Wishing you all a safe and joyous Christmas with loved ones and many bush blessings for the coming year.