Friday, 28 June 2013

Our Environment is all in the “Mined”

  Anyone who’s volunteered with a local Council “Bushcare” group will quickly realise that trying to conserve a small plot of remnant urban nature, involves a struggle of gargantuan proportions.  These small groups of be-hatted Australians face terrifyingly robust invasive weeds, tenacious rubbish dumpers, scary tick borne diseases and depressing acts of vandalism.  Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the realisation that restoring such areas to robust environmental health can take more than one lifetime (unlike a quick “Backyard Blitz” style garden make-over).  Most of these sites are small, but beautiful, examples of a rich natural heritage that is often taken for granted.  We’re talking about places such as Bungan Beach, Pittwater, Tania Park, Manly and Mermaid Pool, Warringah.  All of this hard yakka provides the greater community not just with gorgeous scenery but with many thousands of hours of free labour, saving millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money. 

 If all this effort is going into caring for these modest areas of land...then you’d think it was a sure sign that Australia is really looking after its environment on a wider scale and we are the epitome of a clean, green modern society.  On the contrary though, it seems that, just as people are learning about biodiversity and what makes it so precious, our government is prepared to sacrifice it for a pound of resource-rich flesh.  

Many of our truly significant nationally iconic places...the ones we were confident would be around and looking stunning for ever...are being dug up and shipped out. Here’s a hit list of places that are likely to be “detonated” in the wonderful resources “boom” that the likes of Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart get so excited about.  The Tarkine in North West Tasmania is Australia’s largest temperate rainforest boasting extraordinary Aboriginal Heritage and providing habitat for over 50 threatened species, including the Tasmanian Devil.  Our Environment Minister, Tony Burke, has refused to give it formal protection and there are now nine open cut mining proposals and around 60 exploration licences in train. Tony Burke recently also approved the “South of Embley” Bauxite project on Cape York. This will involve the land clearing of 30,000 hectares of pristine landscape and result in 900 additional shipping movements through the fragile Barrier Reef.  Talking of the Great Barrier Reef, major new port infrastructure is proposed (and in progress) along the World Heritage Area from Gladstone to Cape York. These projects will devastate significant parts of Queensland’s coastline both on and offshore. Western Australia boasts the Kimberley, one of the world's last great wilderness areas, but it's currently covered in more than 700 mining tenements. Mines as diverse as coal, oil, bauxite and uranium are all on the drawing board. BP has applied for permission to search for oil in the Great Australian Bight.  This area has the greatest diversity of marine life anywhere in the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. Meanwhile in NSW, there are plans, by Santos, to sink 1100 Coal Seam Gas wells in the Pilliga, the largest remaining area of temperate woodland in our state. Apex Energy has even been given a licence to explore for gas in Sydney’s sensitive water catchment.  These are just a few examples of the enormous threats facing our natural world from industrialisation.  Add to that the havoc wreaked by climate change, drought, feral pests, introduced plant pathogens, pollution, land clearing, soil salinity, over development, deforestation, species extinction radioactive contamination, invasive species etc and it looks like “Houston...we have a  problem” in conserving Australia’s unique wild places.
 In the face of this onslaught “acting locally” is still important in making a positive difference. So please, join a local Bushcare Group today...but most importantly, call Tony Burke on 6277 7640 and tell him how much you care about the bigger picture!
Mermaid Pool, Manly Vale. Bushcare site. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Barking up the right tree.

  I can never understand why someone would want to cut a tree down to enhance their view. To me the tree is the view. Would you really prefer to stare incessantly into a vacuous distance or witness a living, growing, ever changing life-form, up close? 

  In Australia we’re lucky to have an amazing diversity of trees, many with wonderfully textured bark and curiously decorative seed pods. Take our locally iconic Sydney Red Gum (Angophora Costata) for example. With its smooth, salmon pink trunk and wrinkly, intricate limbs, it is gracefully architectural. 

 But trees have much more than good looks going for them. According to T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta, a tree living for 50 years will generate $31,250 worth of oxygen, provide $62,000 worth of air pollution control, prevent soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the tune of $31,250 and recycle $37,500 worth of water. He didn’t consider the fact that shade provided by trees can cool buildings by up to 20 degrees in the summer (hence massively reducing air conditioning bills). But trees do even more than that. Real Estate agents estimate that there is a $15-$25,000 increase of a home or business value in a tree lined street compared to one without trees. There is also compelling research to suggest that road rage is less in green urban areas  than in stark treeless ones and the aesthetic qualities of trees is well known to reduce blood pressure and ADHD.

 So embrace your trees, perhaps hug them if you’re so inclined and if possible, plant one yourself. If you do, remember - trees which are native to our area, are suited to our own soil and climatic conditions and provide food and shelter for our local wildlife. It makes sense, therefore to choose a species which is indigenous to the Northern Beaches.  


 A gorgeously tactile Sydney Red Gum.

  For some ideas on planting low growing, non obtrusive, endemic street trees and shrubs, check out the King St Avenue of Honour in Manly Vale   Green Tribute to the Merchant Navy.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Operation WOW...Watching Our Wildlife.

  Australian wildlife is becoming increasingly threatened due to loss of habitat, in fact this country has the highest extinction rate in the world! Most people are unaware of the amazing biodiversity that still exists-even in our suburbs, because many species are nocturnal and hard to observe.  Volunteers working to restore the Mermaid Pool (and its bushland surrounds) at Manly Vale in Sydney, have come up with a solution. They are producing nesting boxes with inbuilt cameras which will provide homes for wildlife (acting as surrogate tree hollows) and help provide the community with knowledge of their local species. 

 The nesting boxes will be located in areas of remnant bushland and some will be donated to nearby schools and businesses. Vision from inside the boxes will be transmitted live via the internet, using high tech telemetry, to provide an amazing educational and conservation tool.

  The impact will be to not only boost the breeding capability for possums, birds and micro bats but also give local residents and students an amazing insight into the wildlife that exists in their area. With more knowledge and empathy will, hopefully, come a desire to help protect wildlife and habitat. Biodiversity is disappearing around the globe and city dwellers often don't care because they have become estranged from the beauty of is a wonderful opportunity to get the urban population to reconnect! The local volunteer environment group (Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee) is overseeing this project and specialist nesting boxes are being made by retired volunteers at the "Men's Shed".   
  IT expert, Paul, is putting the technical aspects of the project together:- Based on the Raspberry Pi single-board-computer and the new Raspberry Pi micro camera, video and images will be shared via the world wide web. This will include real time views of the site and activities within the new nesting boxes. Nesting box in addition to a Raspberry Pi computer will be connected to a Mesh wireless network which connects to the internet. Additionally each box will be powered by a dry-cell battery that is charged via photo voltaic solar collectors. As many of the residents are nocturnal, they will illuminated their nesting boxes with infra Red which the cameras pick will up as monochrome images.

The nesting boxes will be delivered to the Mermaid Pool at 12 noon on June 22nd 2013. Meet outside the UNSW Water Laboratory gates, Western corner of King St, Manly Vale.  Martyn Robinson from the Australian Museum will also be on hand to talk about local ecology.
An orphaned Ringtail Possum

Monday, 10 June 2013

Purple Menace Threatens Sydney.

  It’s been said that if our great city hadn’t been plonked on top of Farm Cove, the Sydney environs could have become Australia’s most spectacular National Park.  After all, our region contains over 2,000 native plant species, many more than in the entire U.K. So, here’s my exasperated gripe.  Since Cook first landed, we’ve been decimating the natural vegetation at warp speed. Walk down any suburban street and, chances are, you’ll find not one blade of remnant native grass. 

 To add insult to injury, people still plant harmful species such as Privet and Honeysuckle which escape from gardens and end up as bushland weeds.  Some deluded individuals even book into cruises to view the superficially attractive Jacarandas- a South American tree that is inexorably replacing the majestic Eucalypts and Angophoras around Sydney Harbour. Sadly, Jacarandas have become ubiquitous from Avalon to Zetland (and everywhere in between). In South Africa’s Pretoria, they’ve “wised up”. The “Jacaranda City” (featuring 55,000 such trees) has now classified these purple pests as an “invasive alien plant” due to its destructive root system and thirst for water. BBC clip on pesky Jacarandas

  You can tell I’m not a fan of Jacarandas but don’t get me started on Agapanthus...another introduced purple pollutant that seems to be the unimaginative “plant of choice” for McMansion owners everywhere. If the odd native seedling does appear in the occasional garden, chances are it is not an indigenous species but a hybridised product of the horticulture industry with a name such as “coconut ice” or “peaches and cream”. It’s these kinds of cultivars that provide an unnatural, but bountiful, food supply for Noisy Miners, identified as being the world’s most aggressive territorial bird. They’ve chased virtually every other avian species out of town!

 Tim Low in his book “Feral Future” argues that gardening has done more to harm Australia’s environment than mining. It has certainly contributed greatly to the introduction of the more than 2,700 weed species which have become established in Australia at a cost to the economy of over $3 billion p.a. In NSW weeds now make up a massive 21 per cent of the state’s total flora. 

 Even many local Councils are complicit in the “genocide” of native species, especially in our streetscapes. Why would they want to plant locally endemic Banksias when they could choose, hay fever inducing, London Plane Trees or American Liquidambars with invasive roots?  It doesn’t help when professional garden “experts” spruik foreign plants and chemical sprays for a dubious living. The original Sydney flora is diverse, beautiful, climatically hardy, needs no fertilizers or pesticides and supports our wildlife.  To plant these purple monstrosities is not just staggeringly boring, it’s, dare I say it? Un-Australian!

The boring and weedy Agapanthus.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Why have Aussies turned "chicken"?

  I reckon our society is really learning to embrace and own the word “pathetic” with energetic gusto. It's time to "man up" Australia.  I mean, how pitiful is it that people now buy specialised household insecticide for use outside their homes?  Isn’t that where all the useful bees, butterflies and beetles should be living unmolested?  Are we really so terrified of cockroaches and mosquitoes that we’re prepared to consider everything else (including possibly ourselves) as collateral damage?  And what have ants ever done to earn a reputation as public enemy number one? They’ve been efficiently helping human beings tidy up their biscuit crumbs for thousands of years, yet the amount of supermarket shelving devoted to seeking out and destroying this perceived threat to national security 
is staggering.

 Don’t even start me on spiders.  So they have a different number of legs to that just cause to turn tough, boofy, blokes into nervous, timorous, trembling fools at the mere sight of one?  The fact that arachnids are loyal allies in our chemical war against mosquitoes doesn’t seem to have won them any friends at all.  The truth is, that even the demonised mosquito has a role to fill in the finely balanced workings of this planet...they provide vital food to all the cute little frogs, birds and bats that David Attenborough recruits for star billing in his TV charm offensives .

 Regretfully David, few people seem to be getting the real gist of your message. We have become, not just estranged from the natural world, but unnaturally afraid of it. So, for example, instead of thinking of possums as miraculous wildlife survivors in our urbanised environment, they are demonised for the inexcusable crime of treading too heavily on our rooftops with their furry little feet! It’s this disconnection that has eroded the sense of stewardship that Australians once had for our richly diverse land. So now, big open-cut mining projects can destroy whole forests with barely a whimper, consideration for koala populations runs a poor second to development applications and the kangaroo, our national symbol, is turned into cat food, with little complaint.

 On a broader scale..iconic places such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Kimberley replete with endangered Aussie animals are being sacrificed to the resource industry before our very eyes.  So next time you go to squash an insect...maybe you should ask yourself...”is this all going to end in tears?”

Why have Aussies turned "chicken" ?

Come on guys..stand up for nature! At least try and help save the Great Barrier Reef!  Sign the petition.

PS: no animal was harmed in the production of this blog. I advocate kindness towards chickens.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Tails of the Unexpected.

  I love Possums.  To me they represent an endearing resilience, a capacity to survive and adapt to the urbanisation of their habitat, against all odds.   
 In Sydney’s “Northern Beaches” area, we have three kinds of possum the “Common Brushtail”, which prefers to live in tree hollows formed by mature eucalypts, the smaller “Ringtail”, which generally builds its own nest (called a drey) out of twigs and leaves and the tiny endangered Eastern Pygmy Possum, listed as “vulnerable in NSW. These cute marsupials are vestiges of the incredible rich diversity of wildlife that was here prior to European colonisation. A fascinating glimpse of what once existed can be found in the Natural History Museum’s First Fleet Artwork Collection (Port Jackson Paintings, Flora and fauna).  Here we can see long lost inhabitants such as the Potoroo, Dingo, Yellow Bellied Glider, Marsupial Mice, Emu and the now totally extinct White Footed Tree Rat.

 Even until fairly recently we still had small remnant populations of Platypus and Koalas on the Northern Beaches that eventually couldn’t cope with city living any longer and gradually disappeared.  Miraculously, Possums are still here, as a living reminder of our wilder past, despite being vilified by some. (Perhaps there’s a fur envy thing going on?) Possums, being nocturnal, are active at night, which accounts for their protruding eyes and shy disposition. The greatest enemies of the Possum are the cat and the car. So please, drive carefully and keep your moggie in at night. The average domestic cat kills 25 native animals a year and even if a captured possum seems unharmed, it is likely to die within 36 hours from shock or from toxins carried in the cat’s saliva.
If you find an injured possum please call Sydney Wildlife’s Rescue Hot line on 9413 4300 or WIRES on 1300 094 73    Sydney Wildlife website

The Brushtail Possum (a protected species in NSW)
To make a Possum feel really at home, why not locate a nesting box in your own backyard? Ask Sydney Wildlife or WIRES for details or Google “Possum Box Design” to find a plan and make your own.