Bringing back the forests by Gerard Proust. Posted on August 10, 2014, Sunday
The first portage section is difficult with a fully loaded canoe.
FOR many centuries traditional societies lived within the natural world with minimal impact.
The traditional inhabitants of Australia lived there for over 40,000 years and nurtured the land.
In the last 200 years, this has changed with the loss of much of the natural areas.
What is left of these natural areas (the forests, the grasslands etc) is degraded and fragmented.
The good news is that many people are doing something to fix these imbalances. The main problems are habitat loss, weed invasion, erosion and feral animals.
I feel privileged to be an ecological restorator and work in many amazing places restoring the balance. The work is hard but so rewarding.
After assessing an area, I take a crew in to start the forest regeneration process by various on ground works (ie removing the weeds etc).
These work areas vary from islands, river systems to mountains, rivers and deserts.
A journey of time – The river journey
After three failed attempts (due to weeks of rain) we were finally off on our mini work-play adventure.
What could be a 20km or 20-minute drive through a country landscape would be a 10km or three-day canoe trip down one of Sydney’s main river systems.
Our mission was to record and map all the invasive woody weeds and control, by stem injecting with herbicide, as many as possible.
Four of us set off in two fully laden canoes from a sandy bank under an old disused suspension bridge.
The natural beauty of the steep sandstone valley was captivating and made it hard to keep focused on the task at hand.
A Diamond Python suns itself on a branch.
We soon fell into a rhythm of slowly paddling the wider sections where we recorded the most weeds, so it was these sections where we had to get out and stem inject as many as possible.
We recorded 15 different woody weeds species and the main ones we controlled were Honey Locust, Privet and Box Elder.
The worst weed was Honey Locust, which forms dense stands, excludes native animals and has thorns designed for major damage, which I can attest to after getting stabbed in the temple, neck and hand with painful results.
All up we recorded over 2,500 woody weeds (at 150 different GPS points) and controlled over 1,000.
There were many narrow rocky sections where we took on the rapids till they got too shallow and then we had to start dragging the canoes. In several sections, the water disappeared under the boulders and we had to do the long portage of hauling canoes over difficult terrain. It was in these fast rocky sections that no weeds had established.
Finding a suitable camping place was difficult due to the rocky and/or steep shores and slopes. One was found high up the bank on a mini-bench.
After setting up hammocks, drying clothes and having a spartan dinner, a warming fire was appreciated to contemplate the expanse of time and place under the brilliant clear sky.
We were 1km (as the black cockatoo flies) from the main highway and rail line and 60km from the Sydney central business district but it seemed like we were miles from anywhere.
I thought of the time and enjoyment we took from the 5km of river we travelled compared to the pace we all usually go about on this planet.
As we worked our way downstream, we saw and heard many native animals. While not in the amazing biodiversity league as the Kinabatagan River in Sabah, it still yielded some great finds despite its current state.
In areas where the native forest was still intact or had elements left; we saw Azure Kingfishers darting along the banks in search of fish, Wedge-tail Eagles being chased by Magpie Larks, Swamp Wallabies bounding through the dense ferns, Diamond Pythons sleeping in their favourite sunny spots, Water Dragons diving for cover and Long-necked Turtles floating in the shallows.
We heard the lugubrious cries of the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, the mimics of the lyrebird, the coo-ee of the Brown Fruit Dave and the nocturnal whoo-hoos of the Powerful Owl.
I know that these animals will only increase in number with projects such as this one where government, community and professionals are working to restore the damage we have done over many years.
We have started work on 15km of the river with plans to expand to 45km over the next five years. The river is 170km in length so I am determined to do and see as much of this and other systems on this fragile planet while I am still able.
As we left feeling exhausted but also elated from our last few days, we passed a large mixed flock of Firetail Finches and Double-barred Finches bidding us farewell.
They reminded me that despite what humans have and are doing to this planet, there is a strong natural resilience out there that we can tap into to continue the restoration process.
Dense stands of Honey Locust have thorns designed for major damage.