September 18, 2023

Bushfire recovery project helping to heal country and community on NSW South Coast

Campbell Page’s Ecocrew planting new habitat around a dam on a private property as part of the GER project. Photo © The Coastwatchers Association Inc.

South Coast landholders still feeling the effects of the Black Summer bushfires are receiving a helping hand as part of a broader effort to restore country, culture and community in NSW.

Through a large-scale project spearheaded by Great Eastern Ranges (GER) and funded through the Australian and NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, South Coast landholders on fifteen properties are being supported to regenerate their land and build their resilience to future climate disasters. Project activities in the region are being led by local Eurobodalla environment group Coastwatchers.

These landholders include Rae Harvey, wildlife carer and owner of Wild 2 Free, a 27 hectare wildlife sanctuary within the Mogo State Forest near Batemans Bay which was destroyed by the bushfires that ripped through it on NYE 2019.

Rae and her volunteer Karen had to be rescued via boat by her neighbour when the fire hit. They returned shortly after to care for any animals who had survived, despite the property having no power, water or septic running and only a fire-damaged cabin to shelter in.

“No one was prepared or ready for what happened that night. The fire entered Mogo at 4.00am and skipped us, so we thought we were in the clear, especially after a few false alarms. We had also worked really hard to prepare the property for fire. And then the southerly came and we were suddenly surrounded by flames,” said Rae.

Wildlife carer Rae Harvey with one of the grey kangaroo joeys she is caring for. Photo copyright Wild2Free.

Although the property has been regenerating well in some areas, Rae has welcomed the additional support and funding to assist with managing weeds and planting and reconnecting of habitat and food for yellow-bellied and greater gliders, glossy black cockatoos, powerful owls and other local wildlife. This includes the animals that she releases back into the wild after rescuing and rehabilitating them.

“Being a wildlife carer, I am particularly sensitive to the environment and what we have lost. I get upset when people say that the bush has come back so it’s all okay. Yes, some of it has returned but where are the glossy black cockatoos and the she oaks? It’s come back, but it hasn’t come back right.”

To encourage glossy black cockatoos back and support other local wildlife including her beloved roos, Rae requested that lots of species of flowering trees and shrubs be planted around her homestead as part of the GER project. Wild 2 Free’s neighbours are also being supported through the project with work on their land focused on reconnecting habitat for woodland birds.

In addition to helping landholders, the project has stimulated local employment opportunities with Batemans Bay Local Aboriginal Lands Council’s (LALC) Walbanja ranger team and Campbell Page EcoCrews funded to assist with bush regeneration. The work is building on existing on-ground efforts in the region, including boosting the number of trees planted in 2021 by the LALC on Rae’s property.

The Batemans Bay Local Aboriginal Lands Council (LALC) Walbunja rangers team on another one of the private properties in the Eurobodalla being supported through the GER project. Photo © Batemans Bay LALC

Gary Howling, CEO of Great Eastern Ranges says that the South Coast was selected as one of the priority landscapes for the project due to the severe impact of the Black Summer bushfires on the region and the local community’s calls for help.

“A lot of the initial focus and funding for the recovery effort was directed at northern NSW to the detriment of other regions. But the NSW South Coast was one of the areas that was the most severely impacted by the bushfires. We developed the project in direct response to appeals from local landholders who lacked the funding, knowledge and resources to respond to a bushfire crisis of that scale themselves. We were able to provide that targeted assistance through our regional partnerships,’ said Gary.

Other local partners working with Coastwatchers on the project include the Community Environment Network, which has been conducting Land for Wildlife property assessments, and the Eurobodalla Shire Council.

GER project activities to restore country, culture and community have also been taking place on the NSW North Coast, Greater Blue Mountains and Illawarra-Shoalhaven region.


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