Volunteer power

Kate Thorburn
Published 05 Dec 2018 
by Garry McDonald 
about  Nardoo Hills Reserves  
<br/>Dr Garry McDonald holds packets of seed which form part of his climate-ready project at our Nardoo Hills Reserve.
Dr Garry McDonald holds packets of seed which form part of his climate-ready project at our Nardoo Hills Reserve.
<br/>Nardoo Hills Reserve in central Victoria. Photo by Annette Ruzicka
Nardoo Hills Reserve in central Victoria. Photo by Annette Ruzicka

Today is International Volunteer Day – a day officially designated by the United Nations in 1985 to celebrate the efforts of volunteers worldwide.

Volunteers are vital to our work. For example, between April and September this year alone, volunteers contributed a massive 30,688 hours across the country!

To mark the occasion, we sat down with Dr Garry McDonald who volunteers with the Bush Heritage Science and Conservation team in our Melbourne office.

A research entomologist with the University of Melbourne, Garry tell us about what motivates him to come into the Bush Heritage office every week, and shares some insights on a pioneering new research project he’s been working on.

How long have you been volunteering with Bush Heritage?

I started volunteering with Dr Matt Appleby (Bush Heritage senior ecologist) in about September 2016.  So around 2 years and 3 months now.

Why Bush Heritage?

I made a choice to step down my working hours at the University of Melbourne and I didn’t want to cast off into the Great Unknown with no structure. I was attracted to the idea of committing myself for a period of time each week and I was particularly interested in volunteering in the conservation sector.

Michelle Stook (Bush Heritage’s National Volunteer Coordinator) is a gun and within a day of applying with Bush Heritage I’d had a good chat with her and it gave me a sense that this was a place I could do useful things and be respected.

So it just went from there and from that point on I have come in pretty much every week.

What’s your favourite part of being a volunteer?

There are a few things I like about my voluntary role here. I like that I can continue to work with a bunch of professional people whose company I really enjoy. I like that I can self-direct – I can choose aspects of things that I want to work on.

You spend a lifetime accumulating skills and in my line of work I’ve acquired skillsets that I’d quite like to put to good use, such as the use of species and climate modelling and planning and running field research. After first chatting with Matt Appleby, it seemed possible to apply these to a Bush Heritage project. So it’s applying your life’s experiences – it’s satisfying.

What do you spend your time working on?

I’m working on a project based largely out of Nardoo Hills Reserve in central Victoria in response to eucalyptus dieback of two particular species – Grey Box and Yellow Box.

When I first started volunteering here I did a lot of modelling to work out what was likely to be causing the dieback. The fundamental problem is that the climate has shifted and these tree species get stressed, particularly after bouts of heat shock and dry autumns. These conditions can also make them more vulnerable to attack by pests or diseases. So the whole cycle is linked.

That initial work provided an explanation but it also created an opportunity. The idea is if Nardoo Hills is going to have a hotter, drier climate in 100 years’ time, let’s go to temperate areas of Australia that already experience this climate. Where this is possible, we can collect seed from provenances of the same species to plant at Nardoo Hills to address the dieback. This should dramatically increase the gene pool, from which the strongest offspring will be selected naturally.

Using CSIRO guidelines, there are now groups right around Australia contemplating a similar approach.

The nice thing about this is that rather than sitting around and watching the ravages of climate slowly impact upon our environment, we’re doing something that's positive, with benefits that should extend for many decades.

Wow. What an awesome project. Where is it up to now?

We’ve just gathered the last lot of seed for 2018 and have sent it off to the nursery this week. The site at Nardoo Hills is currently being prepared by the Greenfleet team. In collaboration with Greenfleet, we expect to plant the seedlings in 2019 in a large field experiment designed to provide decades of information for future restoration work.

The project is also exciting because it’s providing opportunities for new science in the future.  We’re setting up in a formal experimental layout, which will be accessible to universities and CSIRO so they can come and see what we did and test the genetics of the future trees to see what worked.

The site at Nardoo Hills is currently being prepared by our project partner Greenfleet, a not-for-profit organisation focussed on fighting climate change through native reforestation

<br/>Dr Garry McDonald holds packets of seed which form part of his climate-ready project at our Nardoo Hills Reserve.
Dr Garry McDonald holds packets of seed which form part of his climate-ready project at our Nardoo Hills Reserve.
<br/>Nardoo Hills Reserve in central Victoria. Photo by Annette Ruzicka
Nardoo Hills Reserve in central Victoria. Photo by Annette Ruzicka