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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 21(1) June - August 2012, p 7-9

Tweed-Byron Bush Futures Project: improving urban and peri-urban bushland sustainability in Tweed and Byron Shires

Angus Underwood1 and John Turnbull2*
1) Byron Shire Council; 2) Tweed Shire Council. *Corresponding author email: jturnbull@tweed.nsw.gov.au

Sugar Gliders using a nest box installed during the project at Byron Bay cemetery. Photo: Angus Underwood

Sugar Gliders using a nest box installed during the project at Byron Bay cemetery. Photo: Angus Underwood

Community native garden planting Federal Community Children’s Centre. Photo: John Leedom

Community native garden planting Federal Community Children’s Centre. Photo: John Leedom

Community planting adjacent Stotts Island Nature Reserve with Coolangatta Tweed Heads Lions Club members, National Green Jobs Corp team, contractors and 
Tweed Shire Council staff. Photo: John Turnbull

Community planting adjacent Stotts Island Nature Reserve with Coolangatta Tweed Heads Lions Club members, National Green Jobs Corp team, contractors and
Tweed Shire Council staff. Photo: John Turnbull

The Tweed-Byron Bush Futures Project was developed as a joint project between Tweed and Byron Shire Councils to address a common need for improved bushland management in urban and peri-urban areas. Funding for the project was gained from the NSW Government’s Environmental Trust Urban Sustainability Program. The project has been highly successful winning the 2011 NSW State Landcare Award for Local Government Landcare Partnership and overall category winner in the Natural Environment Protection and Enhancement: On-ground Works Award at the 2010/11 Local Government and Shires Association (LGSA) Local Government Excellence in the Environment Awards.

The main aims of the project are to:

  • undertake extensive on-ground work to restore native urban and peri-urban bushland and minimise threats;
  • engage with residents to raise awareness of the values and threats to urban bushland; and
  • reinforce council’s role in managing bushland reserves.

A holistic approach to achieving improved bushland management has been incorporated in the project through establishment of a working steering committee (comprising Council staff, Landcare representatives, NSW Environmental Trust and Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority staff); identifying and communicating with a range of stakeholders; development of a business plan which includes a communication strategy; and undertaking an extensive audit of urban bushland to guide project implementation. The project involves innovative partnerships with Landcare and Dunecare volunteers, local indigenous groups and environmental training and employment providers to improve management of urban bushland.

Bushland audit

A targeted and comprehensive audit (Bushland Restoration Services et al. 2010) was undertaken across 985 ha of public and adjoining urban bushland to determine values, threats, and management issues at selected sites. To facilitate the audit a rapid assessment methodology was devised to determine bushland health based on five variables (vegetation structure and composition, weeds severity and density, connectivity, habitat features, and other threats). The data was used to classify and map rehabilitation requirements at surveyed sites and to prioritise sites for on-ground works.

The audit found that the areas in best condition were larger remnants and those at some distance from urban areas or where adjacent development was relatively recent. Exceptions were remnants where restoration works had already been undertaken.

Weeds were the most commonly recorded threat being recorded at all sites. Introduced grasses were the most common weed and five of the top 20 weeds recorded were rated as major weeds due to their capacity to persist and spread and difficulty of control. These included Asparagus Fern (Asparagus spp.), Madeira Vine (Anredera cordifolia), Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.), Cat’s Claw Creeper (Macfadyena unguis-cati) and Privets (Ligustrum spp.).

Other threats included dumping of rubbish and green waste and incursions by neighbours.

The audit also provided indicative cost estimates for 10 Management Intensity Classes of restoration which detail the frequency of works required to restore a site to a ‘maintenance’ level and how many years this would take to achieve.

Table 1. Summary of the results of the bushland health assessment

Bushland Health Class

Area (ha)

Area (%)

Number of sites

Percentage of sites

Average size (ha)

A - Good

505.36

51.3%

36

18.7%

14

B - Moderate

314.76

32%

79

40.9%

4.0

C - Poor

73.14

7.4%

40

20.7%

1.8

D - Very Poor

91.8

9.3%

38

19.7%

2.4

Total

985.07

100%

193

100%

5.1

On-ground restoration

On ground restoration works commenced in June 2010 and have involved extensive primary and follow up weed control at 70 sites and follow up maintenance at five sites, with all works completed in May 2012. While final collation of reports has not been completed it is evident that works covering 125 ha have resulted in significant reductions in weed density and severity, removal of rubbish, nest box installation, feral animal control and interpretive sign installation. The project has involved management planning and restoration of more than 10 vegetation communities including seven endangered ecological communities, areas protected by State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 26 Littoral Rainforest and SEPP 14 Coastal Wetlands, and habitat for threatened flora and fauna species.

Site Action Plans were prepared or updated for each site prior to the commencement of work using a template developed for the project. All plans incorporated the rapid assessment methodology developed for the audit as a monitoring and evaluation proforma that was completed before, during and after works to facilitate assessment of the success of works programs.

The majority of restoration works centered on weed control to assist recruitment of native species. Many of the weeds controlled have spread from adjacent properties e.g. Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum) and Singapore Daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata). To address this and other neighbour/bushland interface issues extensive communication was conducted with all neighbours of worked sites through supply of over 1200 letters containing flyers outlining the project’s aims, copies of Bushland Friendly Nursery Scheme brochures and relevant fact sheets including Creating a Bushland Friendly Backyard.

Considerable and persistent rainfall coincided with the on ground phase of the project and restricted the planned and timely roll out of works, which were often undertaken opportunistically.

Project outcomes

Project outcomes to date include:

  • Over 17,000 hours of professional on-ground bushland restoration;
  • 30 nest boxes installed and monitored, 16 of these are being used by arboreal mammals (22 Sugar Gliders and seven Long-eared Bats were recorded in June 2011) while some boxes have been invaded by ants;
  • Over 50 community engagement activities held including field days at work sites, workshops on urban gardening and wildlife, talks at schools and garden clubs, planting of bushland friendly gardens and weed and feral animal ID;
  • 60 National Green Jobs Corps trainees supported to undertake work at Landcare sites and complete their TAFE Certificate II in Conservation & Land Management;
  • Support for the training and mentoring of four indigenous bush regenerators engaged by contractors Madhima Gulgan Community Association;
  • Preparation of a Care Group Procedures Manual to guide the establishment of and ongoing support for Landcare and Dunecare groups;
  • Innovative work in the Byron Dwarf Graminoid Clay Heath Endangered Ecological Community;
  • Development of fact sheets including: Nest Boxes for Wildlife, Urban Rabbit Control, and Guidelines for bush regenerators working in Flying Fox camps;
  • Compilation of a Native Species Planting Guide to inform species selection for landscape scale restoration to suburban backyard planting;
  • Production of a Butterflies of north-east NSW and south-east Queensland poster for distribution to the community;
  • Workshops for executive management and Councillors outlining Council’s Natural Resource Management (NRM) responsibilities and delivery of NRM surveys to all Council staff;
  • Completion of seven ‘Sustainable Streets’ programs which engaged an average of 10 households and 40 participants in reducing energy and water use and a range of sustainable activity workshops;
  • Formation of ‘Toad Buster’ groups and running of regular ‘Musters’ with over 5,000 toads collected to date; and
  • 25 community based Indian Myna trappers have caught over 6000 birds across both Shires.

Extensive media has been generated over the life of the project which has helped promote not only the works being undertaken but the idea that healthy bushland is important to fauna and flora as well as its neighbours and that its future commences in everybody’s back garden.

References

Bushland Restoration Services, EnviTE, Landmark Ecological Services Pty. Ltd. and AS Murray & Associates, 2010, Tweed Byron Bushland Audit, unpublished report to Tweed Shire Council, November 2010.

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