Australia was covered with ancient rainforest some 40 million years ago when it split off from the southern supercontinent of Gondwana. As Australia drifted north and the climate dried, the rainforest contracted to the wet tropics, a small are in the moist subtropics and high-rainfall temperate areas, principally in Tasmania.
The Big Scrub was the largest expanse of lowland subtropical rainforest in Australia covering an area of approximately 75,00 hectares on rich volcanic and alluvial soils between Byron Bay, Ballina and Lismore
The Big Scrub was cleared for agriculture from the 1880’s and by 1900 only one-percent remained in the form of 100 small remnants scattered across a largely cleared landscape.
Over the following decades an array of 140 environmental weeds caused increasing damage to the remaining remnants. Starting in 1993 Big Scrub Landcare engaged with landholders, government and the community to lead a successful restoration program to arrest the degradation of remnants, to restore them to good condition and provide ongoing care. Big Scrub Landcare also led the re-establishment of lowland rainforest on land from which it cleared, facilitating the planting of more than 1.5 million trees and the restoration of more than 300 ha of lowland subtropical rainforest.
Big Scrub Landcare also led the re-establishment of lowland rainforest on land from which it cleared, facilitating the planting of more than 1.5 million trees and the restoration of more than 300 ha of lowland subtropical rainforest.
The Value Of The Remnants
The remnants of the Big Scrub lowland subtropical rainforest, a Gondwana-descended ecological community, are internationally significant. They have very rich biodiversity, exceeded in Australia only by tropical rainforest. More than 300 species of trees and shrubs and more than 180 species of vines, epiphytes and other plants occur in the remnants, including tree species whose lineages go back as far as 240 million years.
The small scattered remnants of the Big Scrub are mostly less than five hectares in area and cover less than 1000 hectares in total. They are an important component of the Border Ranges National Biodiversity Hotspot. The critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest remnants contain important and significant habitats for the in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including 32 threatened species of flora and 12 threatened species of fauna listed under Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Old growth trees in the remnants are especially valuable because they incorporate the genetic diversity of millennia of evolution and adaption undisturbed by post clearing impacts. Old growth trees are thus the most valuable source of planting stock for rainforest restoration plantings.
The mosaic of Big Scrub remnants are important stepping stones for birds and bats, which move from remnant to remnant in search of food. The remnants and their old-growth trees are important genetic pools for seed dispersal. 70% of their tree species bear seed covered by fleshy fruits, which are distributed across the landscape by fruit-eating birds and bats. Some seed germinates and may grow on to become mature trees, enabling these species to regenerate naturally.
The remnants are important research sites, particularly for researching genetic diversity and the effects of human land use and forest fragmentation on rainforest ecology – topics of national and international concern.
The Big Scrub remnants are listed as critically endangered. They have inestimable value. We must nurture and care for them. We must be their voice – the voice of the rainforest.
Restoring Our Rainforest
Caring for the remnants is the most important aspect of restoring our rainforest. Another important aspect of rainforest restoration is re-establishing rainforest on land from which it has been cleared. This often involves plantings to: create a new patch of rainforest; expand a remnant or connect two remnants; enrich a patch of regrowth rainforest; convert camphor laurel forest to rainforest; natural regeneration usually enhances plantings
Remnants of critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest in the Big Scrub and elsewhere require rehabilitation to repair the damage caused over the decades by weeds and other adverse human impacts such as trampling by cattle. These vigorously growing weeds smother native plants, seriously degrading the forest structure and arresting the potential for natural regeneration. Once rehabilitated and restored to good health, the remnants require ongoing care to control fresh weed infestations and ensure fences are maintained.
Without effective ongoing weed control the remnants’ health and viability will decline, its value as habitat for more than 30 threatened species will deteriorate again and the benefits of more than $5miilion of investment in rehabilitating remnants in the Big Scrub alone will be lost.
Weed control in remnants has to be undertaken by professional bush regenerators as they, unlike almost all landholders and volunteers, have the necessary plant identification skills to instantly differentiate the more than 400 native species from 140 weed species and so avoid killing the native plants they are caring for.
In the past Big Scrub Landcare has relied largely on government funding to pay bush regenerators, who have enabled us to rehabilitate and provide ongoing care for 25 Big Scrub remnants and to work on the rehabilitation of more than 25 other important remnants.
Unfortunately the availability of government funding that can be accessed for our critically biodiversity conservation work has declined greatly.
Looking to the future we can seek the support of government but cannot be reliant on it. The challenge we face is to obtain the financial support of the community and local business to enable us to continue and hopefully expand our vital work of restoring and providing ongoing care of our critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest.
We have responded to this challenge by launching a community-based funding strategy.
Experience The Big Scrub
There are approximately 100 remnants of the Big Scrub with a total area of almost 1000 ha. Most of these remnants are in private ownership or not accessible to the public. The main Big Scrub remnants that you can visit for recreation, picnicking and bushwalking are Victoria Park, Booying Nature Reserve, Minyon Falls or Rocky Creek Dam and the Big Scrub Flora Reserve. See the map on this page.
Walk in a remnant of the big scrub to experience a glimpse into the beauty and magnificent biodiversity of our critically endangered ecosystem.