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Our future in the field

Published 18 Jun 2021 
by Bron Willis

Hayley Sime began her relationship with Bush Heritage wearing a ‘volunteer’ hat, but these days her hat rack is crowded – it now includes botanist, intern and strategic planner, such is the nature of collaborating with Bush Heritage.

If early-career botanist Hayley Sime was daunted by the size of the task being asked of her in September 2019 – to tag 9000 eucalyptus seedlings in freezing temperatures, together with a handful of other volunteers – she didn’t show it.

“You would take the seedlings out of their little tubes and find that all of their soil was frozen,” says Hayley.

But Hayley was warmed by the connection she felt with the dedicated volunteers around her. Like Hayley, they were inspired by the role those seedlings would play in revegetating Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills Reserve.

Hayley Sime on Bush Heritage's Nardoo Hills Reserve,  Dja Dja Wurrung country, Vic. Photo by Eliza Herbert.
Hayley Sime on Bush Heritage's Nardoo Hills Reserve, Dja Dja Wurrung country, Vic. Photo by Eliza Herbert.

A year later, Hayley graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Science, a course that had included a six-month paid internship under the guidance of Bush Heritage ecologist Julie Radford, a fellow plant lover.

“It’s not every day that an intern can just be given direction and go out there like Hayley did and work completely self-guided, with such a great result,” says Julie.

Hayley’s task was to develop a threatened flora reintroduction and augmentation plan for the Kara Kara–Wedderburn region of north-central Victoria, Dja Dja Wurrung country, where Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills, Bellair and J.C. Griffin reserves are located.

Hayley’s task was to research plant species at risk of local extinction. Two flora groups emerged from Hayley’s research, one of which had an intriguing characteristic.

“The flora associated with granite soaks is a really interesting community to work on – because most of the time it's not there!” says Hayley.

The soaks, found at the base of granite outcrops in the Kara Kara–Wedderburn region, appear only in years of particularly high rainfall.

“Soaks are almost barren-looking areas that turn into lush, bright-green, herb-covered systems after significant rain. At a moment’s notice these plants germinate, grow, flower and produce seed, all before the system dries up.”

The other flora group included species with large fruits, which are important bush tucker and medicine plants. These species include Sweet Quandong and Silver Banksia, used as a sweet drink, and Sugarwood, the resin of which was used by Djaara people as glue.

“The relationship and information flow (or rightway science), that Bush Heritage shares with Dja Dja Wurrung, meant that I could easily find what I needed to know,” says Hayley.

Hayley also values the contribution that Bush Heritage makes to supporting her peers, the conservationists of the future.

“The way that Bush Heritage works with volunteers and students is exceptional. It was one of the main draws, back when I started volunteering for Bush Heritage in 2019.”

Julie Radford says that volunteers like Hayley bring a welcome fresh energy and a familiarity with new technology.

“It’s easy when you've been doing something for a long time to take it for granted,” she says. “Volunteers like Hayley bring a newfound passion that helps to reinvigorate you, to rekindle that fire.”

“Volunteers also bring a whole heap of information about new technologies.”

Julie hopes that Hayley’s work will help to attract funding for projects recommended in her plan, including seed collection of key species for both propagation and long-term storage, and a project to assess climate readiness of priority species.

Hayley’s next hat is as a research volunteer on the Nardoo Hills Climate-Ready Revegetation project, which will see her monitor the growth of the 9000 seedlings that she helped to tag in 2019. She hopes her work will include a little more time in the bush than her 2020 mid-lockdown internship allowed – just two nights.

A seedling planted as part of the Climate Ready Revegetation project on Nardoo Hills Reserve. Photo by Eliza Herbert.
A seedling planted as part of the Climate Ready Revegetation project on Nardoo Hills Reserve. Photo by Eliza Herbert.

“I was so incredibly grateful to finally get out to J.C. Griffin Reserve in Spring,” says Hayley.

“I woke up with the birds in the morning and oceans of wildflowers. I just thought, ‘I don't think you can get any luckier than this’.”

Hayley’s internship was generously funded by the Purryburry Trust.