Ecological Restoration

 

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that
has been degraded, damaged or destroyed
(SERA 2017: 26).

The goal of ecological restoration is full recovery, insofar as possible… (SERA 2017: 13).

The historical settler societies of Australia and the United States of America (USA) featured extensive mismanagement and degradation of unique natural ecosystems. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the idea of substantially repairing these ecosystems developed; desire to conserve valued indigenous biodiversity was one compelling reason (Jordan III, Lubick 2011: 2, 38-43).

Ecological Restoration presents a series of historical Australian degraded area repair projects that prominently featured many of the principles and standards of contemporary ecological restoration practice (see SERA 2017). The historical development of the Bradley Method, an important on-site practice component of many Australian ecological restoration projects, is also presented.

References:

Jordan III W, Lubick G, Making Nature Whole. A History of Ecological Restoration (Island Press : Washington 2011)

SERA 2017 Standards Reference Group ‘National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia’ Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia. Second Edition http://www.seraustralasia.com

 

Two ecologically focused but unsuccessful 1930s repair projects

The earliest known and successful Australian degraded area repair projects that featured practices and ideals comparable to contemporary ecological restoration practice commenced in 1935 and 1936. However, at least two strongly ecologically focused, but ultimately unsuccessful, Australian environmental repair projects preceded them; perhaps there were more.

 

'Truck load of koala skins in the Clermont area' approx. 1927 Source: State Library Qld
‘Truck load of koala skins in the Clermont area’ approx. 1927 Source: State Library Qld

In ca.1930 biologist David Stead launched an attempt to reinstate to New South Wales, from Queensland, the much slaughtered koala bear. Ongoing disputes over methodology and finances troubled the project, and led to its ultimate demise. Stead was a determined campaigner for the conservation of indigenous Australian biota, and founded the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia in 1909. It is quite likely that he would have aspired to extensive reinstatement of the koala to its natural range in New South Wales, had his project proceeded.

 

Original caption: 'A favourite pose when shooting koalas ("native bears") in the bush' approx. 1900-1912 Source CG Lane State Library Victoria
‘A favourite pose when shooting koalas (“native bears”) in the bush’ 1900-1912   Source: CG Lane State Library Victoria

In 1931 distinguished entomologist Walter Froggatt recruited North Sydney Council, New South Wales, and launched a degraded area repair project at Balls Head reserve, on Sydney harbour. It was on the traditional lands of the dispossessed Eora group of clans that the project was undertaken.

As outlined and planned by Froggatt, the project had ambitious ecological objectives. For example, he aspired to create ‘a home for the trees, flowers and birds of old-time Sydney Harbour’ (Ardill 2021). The regional Hawkesbury sandstone flora was to serve as a model to guide the re-vegetation work. Today, this form of model is referred to as an ‘indigenous reference ecosystem’ (SERA 2017: 4).

Unfortunately, a number of disparate organisations were involved, and after several years of successful operation, the initial repair imperative faded with Froggatt’s death in 1937. The project dissolved into sporadic landscaping and beautification events, involving non-regional flora species (Ardill 2021).

Froggatt was a member of David Stead’s Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia, and maybe the two men discussed their respective repair projects. It is also interesting to note that at the same time that Froggatt was working on his Balls Head repair project, he was also campaigning to prevent the release of cane toads in Australia, to serve as an insect biological control.

 

'Ferry passing Balls Head' 1920 Source: Stanton Library Historical Services
‘Ferry passing Balls Head’ 1920 Source: Stanton Library Historical Services

Reference: 

Peter J Ardill (2021) ‘Innovative Federation and Inter-war Period repair of degraded natural areas and their ecosystems: local government and community restoration of Coast Teatree Leptospermum laevigatum at Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia’ The Repair Press Sydney (February) https://ecologicalrestorationhistory.org/articles/

SERA 2017 Standards Reference Group ‘National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia’ Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia. Second Edition http://www.seraustralasia.com

Images courtesy of the Stanton Library Historical Services, State Library of Victoria and State Library of Queensland

 

Restoring the Big Scrub, Lumley Park, Alstonville 1935

The indigenous and highly biodiverse vegetation community, Lowland Rainforest of Subtropical Australia, once flourished for hundreds of kilometres along the coast and hinterlands of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales (OEH 2019). From approximately 1830, timber loggers, and then farmers, progressively expanded into the coastal areas of northern New South Wales. First Nations communities, including the Bundjalung nation of present-day Alstonville and the broader Lismore region, were forcibly dispossessed of their Country.

The settlers cleared the Lowland Subtropical Rainforest, primarily to enable dairy farming, and other agricultural pursuits. Only scattered remnants remained by the 1930s.

 

Clearing scrub on the Tweed River 1907 Source: Kerry and Co National Library of Australia
‘Clearing scrub on the Tweed River 1907’ north-east NSW   Source: Kerry and Co National Library of Australia

On the north coast of New South Wales, Alstonville dairy farmer Ambrose Crawford, alarmed at the looming extinction of the rainforest community, or Big Scrub, as it was locally referred to, mustered strong community support for a proposed rainforest repair project. Regional Tintenbar Shire Council approved and financially supported the project.

Work on a two hectares patch of remnant, highly degraded Big Scrub, known as Lumley Park, commenced in 1935. By replanting appropriate rainforest flora species and weeding the exotic climbers and shrubs that infested the site, Crawford facilitated the recovery of the rainforest ecosystem (Lymburner 2018). He also persevered with the conservation management of the restored rainforest for decades. Crawford’s legacy is significant, a rare and treasured stand of protected Lowland Subtropical Rainforest.

 

Lumley Park regeneration area 2018 Source: P Ardill
Lumley Park regeneration area 2018   Source: P Ardill

The successful repair and regeneration of other Big Scrub remnants has been undertaken in more recent times, commencing with Victoria Park Nature Reserve in 1978. These projects have been initiated and undertaken by coalitions of ecologically skilled and conservation minded local residents, regional rainforest advocacy organisation Big Scrub Landcare, government agencies and private landowners (Parkes et al. 2012)

Bibliography:

Ardill P J (2019) ‘Colonial and twentieth-century management of exotic species threatening intrinsically valued indigenous flora: Susan Island, Lumley Park, Broken Hill’, Australasian Plant Conservation 28:2 (September – November).

Peter J Ardill (2021) ‘Innovative Federation and Inter-war Period repair of degraded natural areas and their ecosystems: local government and community restoration of Coast Teatree Leptospermum laevigatum at Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, Australia’ The Repair Press Sydney (February) https://ecologicalrestorationhistory.org/articles/

Lymburner S (2018) ‘Lumley Park and rainforest restoration’s early champion. Ambrose Crawford – Regeneration Pioneer. The Lumley Park story.’ (Sydney. Australian Association of Bush Regenerators) Newsletter 137 July. https://www.aabr.org.au/images/stories/resources/newsletters/AABR_News_137.pdf

McDonald T in Jordan III W Lubick G (2011) Making Nature Whole. A History of Ecological Restoration (Washington: Island Press) pp. 71-73

OEH (2019) ‘Lowland Rainforest in the NSW North Coast and Sydney Basin Bioregions – NSW North Coast: Distribution and vegetation associations’ Office of Environment and Heritage NSW Government  https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedspeciesapp/profileData.aspx?id=20073&cmaName=NSW+North+Coast

Parkes T Delaney M Dunphy M Woodford R Bower H Bower S Bailey D Joseph R Nagle J Roberts T  Lymburner S with McDonald T (2012) ‘Big Scrub: A cleared landscape in transition back to forest?’ Ecological Management and Restoration 13:3 (September)

Tweed River image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

 

Broken Hill regeneration area 1936

Squatters commenced seizing the Baaka (or Darling River) and then the extensive plains and low ranges of arid western NSW from approximately 1840. The Indigenous Australian Traditional Owners of these regions, including the Barkandji nation of the Baaka, were forcibly dispossessed of their Country. First Nations communities were confined to government reserves for many decades, experiencing harsh conditions and ongoing discriminatory treatment (OEH 2021). After a protracted seventeen year administrative and legal process, the Barkandji People, including the Wilyakali clan (Broken Hill), were awarded Native Title rights to their traditional lands in 2015.

By ca.1900 vast expanses of the indigenous Atriplex spp. saltbush and Acacia aneura mulga vegetation communities of the west had become significantly degraded, predominantly due to pastoral industry overstocking practices. Constant exploitation of timber resources, plus exotic fauna species’ impacts (particularly rabbits and goats), also contributed to the destruction of the vegetation. Typical extended dry periods impeded vegetation recovery. Significant proportions of the regional landscapes, including the environs of Broken Hill, the main western NSW city, had been reduced to barren, eroded wastes by the 1920s (Ardill 2017).

 

Cable Hill Broken Hill 1915 a degraded landscape Source: SLSA
Degraded landscape ‘Cable Hill Broken Hill 1915’      Source: SLSA 280/1/27/108

Albert Morris, a mining assayer and resident of Broken Hill, had nurtured a desire to restore the indigenous plants and arid ecosystems of the region for many years. Due to the loss of vegetation cover, severe wind erosion created sand-drifts and dust storms that severely afflicted the residents of the city, and Morris was determined to address this issue.

However, it is well documented that Morris closely studied and delighted in the evolved biological qualities of the regional ecosystems, and this factor also strongly motivated his interest in ecosystem restoration. He was distressed by the degradation of these beautiful landscapes, the widespread loss of indigenous plant communities and the resultant indigenous fauna extinctions. He also perceived the need to reform the environmentally unsustainable pastoral industry (Ardill 2017).

Acquiring considerable expertise as an arid zone botanist, Morris studied and trialed various environmental repair techniques in the 1920s and 1930s. Confronted by a conservation management vacuum, in 1936 he initiated the Broken Hill regeneration area project, another historical Australian degraded area repair project that shares many features with contemporary ecological restoration practice.

The regeneration area project successfully utilised a stock exclosure technique and natural regeneration processes (not irrigation and planting, a common misunderstanding) to restore a wide range of the local indigenous flora species to hundreds of hectares of wasted terrain around western Broken Hill (Ardill 2017). Residents and government officials were amazed by the outstanding re-vegetation outcomes. From 1939 botanists, ecologists and wind erosion researchers studied the regeneration area closely.

Following Albert Morris’s death in 1839, his wife Margaret and Broken Hill field naturalist colleagues campaigned for the completion of the regeneration area by promoting its many conservation and social benefits. The final reserve was fenced in 1958, and the indigenous flora and fauna were formally conserved (see Gallery). Pearce (2017 : 581) acknowledges the achievements of Morris and his environmental repair colleagues, but argues that ‘The Regen portends a trend in ecological restoration to overlook Indigenous people, stories and local knowledge…’ 

 

A Broken Hill regeneration reserve 2017 Source: P Ardill
A Broken Hill regeneration reserve 2017   Source: P Ardill

The regeneration area, consisting of a series of fenced regeneration reserves, persists today, supported by Landcare Broken Hill, local field naturalists, and the broader community. View the beautifully crafted film, ‘Renewal in the desert‘, for an account of how the regeneration area was created from 1936, and how it is cared for today by the local community.

See the page, Rehabilitation, for a description of Albert Morris’s work in South Australia.

Bibliography:

Ardill, P J (2017) ‘Albert Morris and the Broken Hill regeneration area: time, landscape and renewal’ (Sydney : Australian Association of Bush Regenerators) July https://www.aabr.org.au/morris-broken-hill/

Ardill P J (2019) ‘Colonial and twentieth-century management of exotic species threatening intrinsically valued indigenous flora: Susan Island, Lumley Park, Broken Hill’, Australasian Plant Conservation 28:2 (September –
November)

Jones, D (2016) ‘Evolution and significance of the regeneration reserve heritage landscape of Broken Hill: history, values and significance’ Historic Environment. 28:1

McDonald T in Jordan III W Lubick G (2011) Making Nature Whole. A History of Ecological Restoration (Washington : Island Press) pp. 73-75

OEH (2021) Bioregions of NSW/A Brief overview of NSW/NSW-Regional History/New South Wales- Aboriginal occupation-Aboriginal occupation of the Western Division’ New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage. Sydney. NSW Department Planning Industry Environment  https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/-/media/OEH/Corporate-Site/Documents/Animals-and-plants/Bioregions/bioregions-of-new-south-wales.pdf 

Pearce L M (2017) ‘Restoring Broken Histories’ Australian Historical Studies 48:4 569-591

Pearce L M (2019) ‘Critical Histories for Ecological Restoration’ (PhD thesis, Australian National University) https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/173547

Outback Archives, Broken Hill Library, houses the archives of the Barrier Field Naturalists Club, and other relevant archives.

Cable Hill image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Film ‘Renewal in the desert’ courtesy Australian Association of Bush Regenerators (AABR) 2021. Director: Virginia Bear, Little Gecko Media. Script: Virginia Bear, Tein McDonald.

 

Australian Alps ca.1960

The traditional lands of the Ngarigo and Walgal (Wolgalu) nations embraced the Australian alps and Monaro plains of south-east Australia. Squatter pastoralists commenced seizing these lands in the 1820s, dispossessing the Ngarigo and Walgal communities and rapidly destroying traditional cultural practice; introduced diseases also devastated communities (Environment 2016). Over time, the grazing activities of the settlers significantly degraded the alpine high country: severe erosion afflicted expanses of sensitive alpine bog and fen ecosystems.

 

'Cattle on Blue Lake near Kosciuszko' 1909 Source George Bell National Library Australia
Degrading impacts. ‘Cattle on Blue Lake near Kosciuszko’ 1909 Source: George Bell National Library Australia

The initial repair projects undertaken in the park were managed by ecologist Roger Good and the New South Wales Soil Conservation Service. The need to manage sediment flows generated by grazing induced erosion motivated the provision of generous funding for the projects by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Good and his colleagues aspired to the progressive reinstatement of indigenous biological diversity to the sites; restoration of the indigenous flora was a major priority (Good, Johnston 2019).

Management of the Australian Alps repair projects passed to the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service in the 1970s, and Good’s extensive ecological knowledge and environmental repair skills were retained; he also managed post 2003 bushfire recovery projects in the alps. A culture of professional Australian scientific expertise evolved throughout the course of the Australian Alps projects: alpine botany, alpine ecology, and restoration ecology (Good, McDonald 2016: 14-15).

 

Successful swamp restoration by Roger Good, Blue Mountains NSW, undertaken ca.2010 Source: P Ardill 2019
Detail of successful swamp restoration work designed by Roger Good, Blue Mountains, NSW ca. 2010  Source: P Ardill 2019

References:

Environment (2016) ‘ Australian Alps – regional history – Aboriginal occupation’ Australian Alps Bioregion NSW Department Planning, Industry, Environment April https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/bioregions/AustralianAlps-RegionalHistory.htm

Good R Johnston S (2019) ‘Rehabilitation and revegetation of the Kosciuszko summit area, following the removal of grazing – An historic review’ Ecological Management and Restoration 20:1 January

Good R McDonald T (2016) ‘Alpine restoration in the NSW Snowy Mountains: Interview with Roger Good’ Ecological Management and Restoration 17:1 January

Snowy Mountains image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

 

Tower Hill, Victoria 1961

Tower Hill, near Warrnambool, Victoria, is a place of great cultural significance and value for regional Traditional Owners and Custodians, the Eastern Maar nation. At Tower Hill reserve, a state government funded project pursued the reinstatement of the indigenous flora and fauna to the highly degraded site. The environmental ideals of USA ecologist Aldo Leopold, active in the important 1935 University of Wisconsin Arboretum ecosystem reconstruction project, influenced the project.

A group of Warrnambool field naturalists and Victorian Fisheries and Wildlife Branch officers commenced replanting the reserve in 1961. The project appears to have aspired to the reinstatement of substantial, and possibly even all potential levels of ecological function to the site. The pre-degradation indigenous vegetation communities were investigated, replanted flora was propagated from locally collected seed, additional botanical advice came from Melbourne’s National Herbarium and re-introduction of the indigenous fauna was attempted. Two nineteenth-century items, a landscape painting and a travel guide book, served as additional repair guides.

 


 ‘Tower Hill’ 1855   Source: Eugene von Guérard National Gallery Victoria

Reference:

Bonyhady T (2000) The Colonial Earth (Melbourne University Press : Melbourne) pp.340-366.

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

 

The Bradley Method, Sydney ca.1960

From approximately 1960 sisters Joan and Eileen Bradley developed a keen interest in the management of the introduced flora species that were threatening the quality of their local indigenous bushland at Mosman, Sydney. They devised a comprehensive weed and degraded area treatment technique, that became known as the Bradley Method. Their technique made use of the potential of indigenous flora species to naturally regenerate and recover from degrading impacts (Bradley 1971).

The New South Wales National Trust took up the Bradley’s ideas in the 1970s and applied them to the repair of Sydney’s degraded bush areas (May 1996). The Trust undertook professional bush regeneration contract work, and offered training courses in the principles of the Bradley Method and bush regeneration to professional bush regenerators and volunteer bushcarers.

From ca.1980, an increasing number of Sydney’s local government councils commenced employing their own professional bush regenerators to manage weed affected bushland. Subsequently, councils also employed professional bushcare officers to guide the work of volunteer resident bushcarers and their bushcare groups.

Today, an extensive network of local government supported volunteer bushcare groups restores the degraded indigenous vegetation communities of Sydney and NSW, often utilising the principles of the Bradley Method, or regionally modified versions. Along with more recently developed environmental repair practices, and the science, restoration ecology, the Bradley Method also informs professional bush regenerators and ecological restorationists engaged with rehabilitation and ecological restoration projects.

Bibliography:

Bradley J (1971) Bush Regeneration (Sydney : Mosman Parklands and Ashton Park Association)

Franklin N (2015) ‘The other green army: a history of bush regeneration’ Parts One and Two Earshot Australian Broadcasting Commission https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/the-other-green-army-a-history-of-bush-regeneration/6364500

May T (1996) ‘Bringing Back The Bush’ Australian Plants Online Australian Society For Growing Native Plants http://anpsa.org.au/APOL4/dec96-5.html

Radi H ‘Bradley, Joan Burton (1916–1982)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bradley-joan-burton-10001/text16853

 

Wingham Brush 1980

Dispossession of the Biripi (or Birpai) People, Traditional Owners of the lands of the Manning River, mid-north coast New South Wales, commenced ca.1830. Settlers seized the rich alluvial plains of the river and introduced European modes of agriculture. The Biripi resisted; punitive expeditions were undertaken by the settlers, and massacres of the Manning River clans were perpetrated (Ramsland 2001: 26). The extensive Lowland Subtropical Rainforest community of the region was rapidly reduced to scattered remnants by the early decades of the twentieth century.

At Wingham, on the Manning River, nine hectares of rainforest, which became known as the Wingham Brush, survived. In 1980 local resident John Stockard, dedicated environmental repair colleagues, and the New South Wales National Trust commenced a lengthy, arduous and highly successful project to restore the Brush and ‘to keep the ecological processes going’ (Stockard, Pallin undated).

It soon became obvious to Stockard that innovative repair techniques would have to be devised in order to successfully manage the variety of exotic plant species, particularly the vines and climbing plants, that had overwhelmed the Brush (Stockard 1996 : 432-436). The introduction of herbicide use, and the development of efficient and effective means of applying them, was one such innovation.

 

Wingham Brush 1937 Exotic species enveloping rainforest Source: Govt Printing Office State Library NSW
‘Wingham Brush’ 1937 exotic species enveloping rainforest Source: Govt Printing Office State Library NSW

Today Stockard and his colleagues continue to maintain and advocate for the rainforest, known as the Wingham Brush Nature Reserve (Brodie 2018). The biologically diverse reserve is listed as a critically endangered ecological community by the Australian government, and as with many restored conservation sites, faces ongoing degrading impacts from a range of direct, on-site human behaviours, as well as from climate change and ongoing weed infestation. See https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/-/media/visitor/files/pdf/brochures/wingham-brush-pdf.pdf .

 

Wingham Brush 2018   Source: P Ardill
Wingham Brush 2018   Source: P Ardill

Bibliography:

Brodie L (2018) ‘AABR Visit to Wingham Brush’ Australian Association of Bush Regenerators Newsletter 138 October Australian Association of Bush Regenerators https://www.aabr.org.au/images/stories/resources/newsletters/AABR_News_138.pdf

Franklin N (2015) ‘The other green army: a history of bush regeneration’ Parts One and Two Earshot Australian Broadcasting Commission https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/earshot/the-other-green-army-a-history-of-bush-regeneration/6364500

Harden GJ Fox MD Fox BJ (2004) ‘Monitoring and assessment of restoration of a rainforest remnant at Wingham Brush, NSW’ Austral Ecology 29, 489–507

Ramsland J (2001) Custodians of the Soil (Greater Taree Council: Taree)

Stockard J Pallin N (undated) ‘The regeneration Of Wingham Brush NSW’ Australian Association of Bush Regenerators https://www.aabr.org.au/the-regeneration-of-wingham-brush-nsw/

Stockard J D (1996) ‘Restoration of Wingham Brush 1980-1996’ Eleventh Australian Weeds Conference Proceedings Council of Australasian Weeds Societies Inc. Weed Science Society of Victoria Inc. (30 September – 3 October)

Wingham Brush 1937 image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

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Page updated September 2021
Copyright © Peter J Ardill