The weeds and the wilderness

Once again, I’ve been proofreading the thirdly (is that a word? – not quarterly but three times a year) newsletter of the Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare group. The editor does a great job of pulling together or writing articles on bush regeneration and related topics. The group is a very active one, comprising landowners who are interested in bush regeneration, bush regenerators themselves, and interested others.

As well as paper newsletters, they publish online articles.

Once a year, they hold an education day, the Big Scrub Rainforest Day, with talks and walks. Not just regeneration of trees and plants but all things that live in a rainforest (frogs, birds, insects, bats, fungi …) are covered.

They also host discussion days and field days around the topic of bush regeneration, and have been very successful in gathering grants to continue the work of restoring the Big Scrub, an area of land that was pretty much clear-felled in the 1800s for its valuable timber and to allow farming. There are remnants of that subtropical forest, and the work includes conserving those and expanding them, as well as reforesting empty paddocks.

I’ve seen aerial photos of properties from decades ago, compared with recent photos, and there’s no doubt that massive reforestation is occurring. But such work needs to take a (sometimes very) long-term view – many rainforest trees have longer, in some cases much longer, life spans than humans. We do what we can when we can.

The group have published a best-practice manual on how to do subtropical rainforest restoration, and a photographic one on identifying weeds (so you don’t pull out the wrong thing!). They work closely with other Landcare groups.

But it’s more complicated than just pulling out ‘bad’ weeds and putting in ‘good’ trees. There’s ongoing discussion about the value or otherwise of ‘bad’ weeds – camphor laurel, lantana, privet, madeira vine – and while ideally they’ve got to go, there’s so much of them that it’s a matter of prioritising. If you’ve got to leave some behind for a while, which is the least-worst option? Which have the worst effect on what you’re trying to achieve and should be removed first? Sometimes the answers aren’t easy.

For example, wildlife takes advantage of both weeds and wilderness. Rainforest pigeons eat and seem to prefer (and also distribute) camphor laurel seeds, and chopping these trees down may lead to food stress for these birds. However, short-term pain for the birds may lead to long-term gain for them, other wildlife and the forest. It’s not clear-cut.

Native bees build nests in lantana stems, and wallabies and small birds shelter from predators and weather beneath and in the spiky plants. There’s often a massive seed bank, protected by lantana, that will germinate into rainforest when the lantana is finally pulled out.

I  was struck by this except from by Gerald Manley Hopkins’s poem ‘ ‘Inversnaid’:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

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