Where the rainforest meets the Cape: Inside the old-growth remnants of Hayters Hill
A contribution from Big Scrub Landcare member Dan Scott. Original version of story published in the Byron Echo.
From the balcony of Neil and Erica Holland’s Hayters Hill home, visitors enjoy an uninterrupted view of Cape Byron Lighthouse and its coastal plains. It’s a breathtaking vista, punctuated by rolling green hills and the sparkling of the sun as it dances across the Bay.
On either side of the homestead sit ancient remnants of the Big Scrub rainforest, equally as breathtaking in their natural beauty. These remnants – one on the Holland’s property and the other on what is now public land – are the closest patches of unspoilt lowland subtropical rainforest to Byron Bay. Their proximity to the wetland rainforest around Suffolk Park help to form important stepping stones in the area’s recovering wildlife corridor.
For this endangered ecosystem it was fortunate that landcare runs deep in the history of Hayters Hill. One of the first landowners along the winding ridge of Bangalow Road, JJ Hayter, chose to save an area of rainforest, contravening government mandates that the entirety of the land be cleared. His resolve saw a 3 hectare area of the Big Scrub preserved. Through edge planting, this old-growth remnant has more than doubled in size, with Erica, herself a Hayter descendant, and husband Neil continuing the family’s stewardship of the remnant. Recognising the ecological significance of the site, Big Scrub Landcare organised and funded 120 days of restoration work by professional bush regenerators over the past 20 years at a cost of $35,000.
A short distance down the road is Hayters Hill Nature Reserve, a sister to the Holland’s remnant. Also spared from clearing, this 8ha portion of land was originally held by the Hayter family and has since passed through several owners. The most recent private owner was a botanist who lived in a small hut on the site before passing the land on to NSW Parks and Wildlife Service in 1988. There is a commonality between the plant species in each remnant but with some notable differences. The coastal facing edge of the reserve is exposed to easterly winds, making it home to more dry rainforest species, such as the Thorny Yellowwood.
Together the two remnants represent the most significant stand of subtropical rainforest between Bangalow and the Byron coast. The corridor, remarkable in the towering size of its old-growth specimens, is home to many important and threatened species, such as the Carronia vine, a woody climber and the host plant for the endangered Southern Pink Underwing Moth larvae. The larvae are a sight to behold with their distinctive heads decorated by white tribal-like markings. Higher up in the canopy you can see Coolamons and the rare Red Lilly Pilly, and hidden deep in the heart of the remnant sits a spectacular giant fig with root buttresses towering above head height and stretching well into the forest.
As their interest in rainforest regeneration grew, Neil and Erica hosted the inaugural Big Scrub Landcare field day in 1993. A crowd of over 300 people visited the property to share knowledge about landcare. Around that time Neil and Erica were exploring models of active reforestation. They initially planted out adjacent areas to the existing remnant with pioneer species, but their approach would change course successively over the years as the collective knowledge in the field matured.
Maintenance of the Holland’s remnant over the years has been a combination of their own efforts and an ongoing collaboration with Big Scrub Landcare. The invasive Madeira vine is now all-but eradicated from the property after decades of relentless weeding. Ongoing maintenance is needed around twice a year to keep this and other invasive species in check.
Neil and Erica are now allowing the gullies and steep banks on their grazing property to naturally regenerate, thanks to seed dispersal from nearby remnants. As native species continue to germinate Neil and Erica are hopeful that inspiration will spread to nearby landholders.
A number of neighbours along Bangalow Rd have also planted tens of thousands of trees, bolstering the Bangalow-Byron corridor even further. With two significant remnants and restored rainforest flourishing, it’s heartening to think that the forests of old may begin to extend all the way to the Cape once again.