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The volunteers next door

Published 20 Mar 2015 

Twenty years ago, when Bush Heritage supporters helped to purchase and protect beautiful Brogo Reserve, little did we know that two very firm friends of the organisation – and future volunteers – lived just next door.

Fig tree. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPixFig tree. Photo by Wayne Lawler / EcoPix

Denise and Graeme Krake know all about the labour of love that is conservation in the Australian bush, having lived on their 41 hectare property near Bega in NSW, for 21 years. But ever since a phone call in 1994, they’ve been even busier.

“A neighbour of ours rang and said, ‘Guess what? Bush Heritage has bought the property next door’. And I said, ‘Oh, how wonderful!’” Denise was rapt. “I’d worked at Healesville Sanctuary (outside of Melbourne) for 12 years and a couple of us from work had fundraised for Bush Heritage in the past, so I was excited.”

That phone call was the beginning of a long-standing partnership with Denise and Graeme that’s been hugely benefici for the wombats, wallabies, kangaroos and over 100 bird species that rely on the reserve for habitat.

Denise Krake under a flowering Dendrobium speciosum on Brogo reserve. Photo Graeme KrakeDenise Krake under a flowering Dendrobium speciosum on Brogo reserve. Photo Graeme Krake

As well as Brogo’s sprawling community of river sheoaks, gossamer wattle and basket grass, however, are numerous, persistent weeds.

“My god, how quickly it takes off!” says Denise, of Bursaria spinosa – a native that spreads quickly forming a dense growth that can be invasive and weedy.

It’s valuable for birds, providing nectar to a range of species and attracting insects – but must be controlled. The area also has outbreaks of blackberry, tiger pear and prickly pear. Tiger pear in particular takes a stronger foothold on the rockier, sandier disturbed sites on top of rocky outcrops.

“The tiger pear is a really nasty weed that just gets stuck in the animals’ faces or legs and is easily spread around,” she said. “We just go down there with our buckets and tongs to collect it, and you just relax and enjoy the environment while you’re there.”

“We find that drowning tiger pear in a bucket of water breaks the cactus down very quickly, disintegrating the pulp (so there are no seeds) and we can then put it in the compost bin,” she said.

“We concentrate on the area we can easily access from our house. Another neighbour, David Ubrihien, drives down the river track and monitors down there.”

Peter Saunders, Healthy Landscape Manager in south east NSW, considers the contribution of volunteers, neighbours and community groups that gather around our reserves as invaluable.

“We’re always looking at conservation on a landscape scale and in that context it helps enormously to have neighbours onside,” he explained. “On Brogo three of the neighbours have conservation covenants on their own properties so there are no boundary fences there and a lot of collaboration.”

There are no boundary fences there and a lot of collaboration.

So what has motivated Denise to spend time over 20 years protecting creatures like the sooty owl and the long-nosed bandicoot that rely on Brogo Reserve as their habitat?

“I don’t know,” she says. “It’s just in me, I suppose.”

Her love of the land is evident in the way she talks about it. “We’re on the coastal fringe with mountains all around us. It’s really fabulous.”

“There’s quite a mixture of vegetation because it’s steep so there’s deep gullies and a lot of outcrops of rock. We’ve got warm temperate rainforest, dry rainforest and there’s Brogo wet vine forest. There’s a little creek at the start of the water catchment, which goes down, through the Bush Heritage reserve and down to Brogo River.”