There is hope: ecological restoration starts locally in Tooborac and Heathcote

By Vanessa Wiltshire

FOLLOWING the successful “Walkabout” workshop in Tooborac during April, Biolinks Alliance held its first Local2Landscape workshop in late November at the Heathcote Senior Citizens hall.

Twenty participants attended, including local landholders and representatives from Parks Victoria, North Central CMA, Goulburn Broken CMA and the City of Greater Bendigo.

The group was led by Biolinks Alliance executive director Sophie Bickford and ecologist Paul Foreman.

Funded by a two-year grant by the City of Greater Bendigo, Local2Landscape is a collaborative and community-building process. It supports the development of a collective and ecologically informed understanding of the local landscape and encourages the uptake of transformational landscape repair through best practice.

Dr Bickford said the process would produce a ‘prospectus list’ of high-priority projects, as well as strategies for their implementation and funding.

“This will enable more much-needed targeted and effective ecological restoration to halt species extinctions and ecological breakdown,” she said.

Ms Bickford said there was a "great appetite" in Heathcote and local communities to help restore the ecological landscape.

“People want to act, but in the right way,” Dr Bickford said.

“It’s upon us as experts to lead the way and give them meaningful ways to act.

“One of the principles of the L2L processes is to identify what plans currently exist and use them as a starting point. It’s a collaborative process. We’re not reinventing the wheel.”

The goal for November’s workshop was to agree on five or six ecological targets for the region.

“Much discussion on the day was around the vitally important role soil health plays in underpinning productive and biodiverse landscapes and how we need to address the root of problems rather than symptoms,” Dr Bickford said.

“We need to look at ways we can restore our soil's health, its ability to hold water and support productive natural and farming systems.

“The L2L process will produce a prospectus list of high-priority projects, as well as strategies for their implementation and funding, enabling more much-needed targeted and effective ecological restoration to halt species extinctions and ecological breakdown. One or two will be selected for project development.”

Participants on the day spoke about concerns on their own properties, while also looking at the area as a whole.

“We are here to learn about we are doing, which is different to what others are doing. We are here to manage the land for conservation value,” Tooborac land owner Lisa Godinho said.

“If one way of building resilience for the country, the landscape, and the future of our kids, is to do this very important work, then I think it’s vital to support Biolinks and join in their work,” Lindy Shelmerdine said.

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority conservation management network co-ordinator Janice Mentiplay-Smith spoke about many local native species in decline and the focus on the Phascogale, an iconic species in Heathcote.

“The interest in the Phascogale feeds into interest in all sorts of other little critters above and below the ground,” she said.

“This is really important because the link between the health of the soil and the health of the trees, which provides the food and improves nectar qualities for other species, it all fits in together.

“But it's not until you get people's interest and engagement in the ‘cute and cuddly’ aspects, there is less willingness to understand the bigger picture.”

Ecological targets and possible projects to date include:

¦ Habitat trees (citizen science, protection of large old paddock and forest trees)

¦ Duck Creek & McIvor Creek and their catchments (water retention)

¦ Corridors (natural regeneration and revegetation along roadsides)

¦ Gliders and Phascogales (citizen science, nest boxes, and under-storey planting, re-aging the woodlands)

¦ Threatened Woodland birds (improvement of Swift Parrot habitat in box ironbark forests. Ecological thinning, water retention, under-storey planting).

Next steps are to review the work from the day and develop pilot projects for 2020.