Dr Jody Gunn, Bush Heritage’s outgoing Executive Manager for our South East region – and incoming CEO of the Australian Land Conservation Alliance – reflects on the future of private land conservation in Australia.
1. What have you loved most about your time at Bush Heritage?
Getting field reports from my team: the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby mother with baby in the pouch being spotted by our volunteer caretakers, ecological reports showing long-term vegetation recovery or hearing about a great method to tackle a really tough weed, like lovegrass at Scottsdale.
Getting calls from reserve managers at Naree as they’re watching water coming down Cuttaburra Creek, trickling through the dry cracked earth, the anticipation of the inundation and life that will follow after the long dry.
Being able to partner with the Traditional Owners, where we work to continue to strengthen the realisation of their aspirations for Country, supporting the reconnection of people with Country, bringing back cultural burning programs or school cultural days on reserves.
And finding ways to keep connecting people with nature, and programs that engage with other private productive landholders, like the Tasmanian Midlands Conservation Fund project or the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach – both different ways of connecting productive landscapes with their natural and cultural values. But mostly I have loved working with and learning from incredibly smart and passionate people.
2. What do you think has made the most impact in the past 5 years?
Investing in people on Country and the recognition of our First Nations people. By working to support Ranger groups on Indigenous Protected Areas, investing in fieldwork on reserves, and undertaking long-term monitoring to track change over time, Bush has built an approach that sees cultural and natural values protected, people rewarded by seeing the outcomes and impacts of their work, and all Australians benefitting from resilient land, healthier waterways and carbon sequestration.
3. Tell us your favourite reserve and why.
Oh that’s mean – it’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is! Every time I go to a Reserve, it becomes my new favourite!
But if I had to choose, Naree and Yantabulla Reserves on Budjiti Country, on the eastern edge of Yantabulla Swamp in north-west NSW. It has always astounded me. It’s on the edge of one of Australia’s top 25 wetlands of national significance, but most of the time, you wouldn’t know it. It's most often dry, but a beautiful mix of mulga woodland, coolabah black box woodland and swamp habitats.
It's filled with cultural significance, tangible and intangible. It relies on overland flow and rainfall for a full flood and sits within the Great Artesian Basin – there's evidence of mound springs that used to support so much life. This landscape is awe-inspiring for its complexity and its ability to respond with the first drops of rainfall or trickle of floodwaters, as long as we keep the land healthy.
4. What will you miss the most?
I’ll miss continuously learning about our complex and incredibly diverse landscapes. My team has taught me so much about all of the different landscape we operate. Their knowledge, passion and genuine efforts to bring the bush back to good health was continually inspiring.
5. What do you see as the main challenges ahead in conservation?
The rates of fragmentation and land degradation are increasing, and the policy needed to support the protection of our natural and cultural values are not yet realised. Land managers need to address all range of threats, like invasive weeds and pest animals and the rates of the changes that will be exacerbated due to climate change.
6. And of a final note – can you leave us with a quote that inspires you?
There's a concept, that I've read and seen cited by various people – Uncle Bob Randall, a Yankunytjatjara Elder; Dennis Foley, a Gai-mariagal and Wiradjuri man; and S. Knight – and this has been reflected similarly by a number of Aboriginal people that I have worked with over the years. It helped me in my early work to understand the connectedness between Aboriginal people and the land.
The land is the mother and we are of the land; we do not own the land rather the land owns us. The land is our food, our culture, our spirit and our identity.
I also love this Jane Goodall, because it really attests to the possibility that everyone can do something, big or little.
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.