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Creating wildlife links in Tasmania – watch

Ever since I arrived down under in my friends have been telling me to visit Tasmania. They know I’m a sucker for hills and the great outdoors, so when my boss floated the idea of visiting some of our projects on the Island State I didn’t hesitate for a second. Two weeks later I was in Hobart and ready to take a tour of the Tasmanian Midlands, and about to have my eyes opened. You can scroll down to watch my short video.

First a bit of background. I joined Greening Australia in March 2014 and have barely left my desk since. I’m allowed lunch and bathroom breaks – and they let me go home at evenings and weekends – but during work hours I’m usually on my computer nine till five.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining at all. Being hired to work on digital communications here is a) a brilliant opportunity, and b) pretty obviously a lot to do with computers. But I can’t deny that I feel the odd pang of jealousy whenever my colleagues dash off to tend to a seed bank or do whatever they do in the ute.

So as soon as our new website – the thing you’re currently reading – went live last year, I’ve been on a mission to see more of our practical projects. That’s what we’re really about after all.

Now back to Tassie. I’d been warned that the weather might remind me of home (the supposedly ‘grim’ north of England) but luckily I woke up to bright blue skies and not even the vaguest hint of a breeze.

That said, my tour guide for the day, our Tasmanian Director of Conservation, Sebastian Burgess, did give me a funny look when he picked me up from the hotel and saw that my choice of footwear was some not particularly well kept skate shoes. It might have been a sunny day but where we were going had been pretty wet in recent weeks. On with his spare pair of boots  then. Thanks Sebastian.

After an hour of driving through towns with unexpected names – Bagdad and Melton Mowbray (the spiritual home of the English pork pie) being the most memorable – we arrived at the first of our projects.

Dungrove is a few years old now, and therefore great way to see some of the scientific results that our projects produce. We created a series of ridges or ‘rip mounds’ across a large area of paddock in 2010. The rip mounder machine first cuts a slice in the ground, which helps tree root penetration and concentrates moisture. The machine also ‘scalps’ the surface soil and folds it upside down to impede grass and weed growth. This process made the mounds along which thousands of saplings were planted.

Now for the science bit. We split the planting area into a number of sections, and in each section we planted saplings grown from seed collected from different parts of the country. It might seem more obvious to just use local seed – but we wanted to test how seeds from the same species but different climatic regions would cope in the Tasmanian Midlands. Why? Because we all know that growing conditions are changing across the country, and it’s therefore vitally important to know where to collect the best possible seed for future landscape restoration projects.

Tasmanian Midlands landscape restoration Tasmanian Midlands landscape restoration

Although the project is half a decade old we don’t have the final results yet – you can’t rush trees. But even to my untrained eye it was clear how big a difference there was between the saplings. In some areas they were already well above head height, and in others they were struggling to break through the grassy groundcover. Sebastian had some great insights, but interviewing the scientists involved went straight on my to-do list. Watch this space for a more detailed update in the coming months.

Next up was Chiswick. This turned out to be the real highlight of the day, mainly because there was a whopping great hill right next to the revegetation site which gave me the chance to see just how massive in scale our Tasmanian Midlands work is.

So while Sebastian nipped off to load some freshly delivered fencing onto the back of the ute, I got out my smartphone and recorded a quick video diary about the project.

When Sebastian returned we set off to the Chiswick remnant, another patch of habitat restoration in the same valley. This one was different again. Where the first Chiswick site had been all about recreating native habitat in cleared open land along a river, this one was actually in amongst existing native trees.

It didn’t take too long to realise why the work is needed . Although the old trees were beautiful, they were clearly coming towards the end of their life. After years of thinning out we were needed to help establish the next generation, which will ensure that both native animals and the landholder’s stock can still benefit from the shelter that they provide.

A quick look at the clock told us that time was running low – I was booked on a flight back to Melbourne that evening – so the next stop was going to have to be our last.

Bloomfield Fosterville was similar to Chiswick, but not quite so large. And although it lacked a good vantage point, it was a chance to finally meet a few of my colleagues who were making use of the good weather to crack on with some on-ground preparation of the site before tree planting commences in August.

I hadn’t quite realised quite how labour intensive some of our work is. I’d seen photos of machines ripping ridges across paddocks and plunging holes into the soil so it was easy to think it was all mechanised. What I hadn’t realised was that each hole – and there are thousands of them in this valley alone – needs to be carefully sprayed by hand to give the saplings the best possible chance of setting root and successfully competing with the existing vegetation, but without harming any native grasses.

Tasmanian Midlands landscape restoration Tasmanian Midlands landscape restoration

So with the sun beginning to dip in the sky and my colleagues still working away in the paddock, I headed back towards Hobart with a much better understanding of the huge task facing our team in Tasmania, and a determination to get out from behind my desk at least one day a month. Next time I might even remember my boots.

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Richard Hines, Greening Australia