I want to take you on a brief journey to a lovely patch of rainforest near our home in the Byron Bay hinterland. It is a very hot day but when you walk in to the forest, it is cool. You look around and see an amazing diversity of life: many species of trees, some with beautifully mottled bark, some with large buttress roots, some festooned with epiphytes. On the ground you see a variety of beautiful fungi, purple and red fruits, interesting winged seeds, beautiful fallen flowers. This is the journey that i took some 25 years ago. I was captivated by the amazing biodiversity and incredible beauty of our local rainforest. I still am.
I soon learnt that the Big Scrub, our local rainforest, covered 75,000ha prior to European settlement. It was the largest expanse of lowland subtropical rainforest in Australia. It is directly descended from the great Gondwana rainforest that covered Australia 40 million years ago. It is unique. It is internationally significant. It is a very important part of Australia’s rich biodiversity heritage.
Tragically European settlers cleared almost 99% of this magnificent rainforest because the government required them to clear the forest before they could gain freehold title. By 1900 all that remained was less than 100 remnants of this now critically endangered rainforest with a combined area of less then 1000ha. By the beginning of the 1990s most of the remnants were degrading under the impact of 140 environmental weeds. Governments were doing little or nothing to save the priceless remnants.
What we did
A small group of us decided that the community had to take the lead. We formed Big Scrub Landcare in 1993 with the mission of helping to save the Big Scrub and its magnificent biodiversity. We launched the Big Scrub Restoration program. We restore the remnants to good condition largely by the ongoing control of weeds using professional bush regenerators.
We also facilitate the restoration of rainforest on land from which it has been cleared. We engage with and educate the community We have helped more than 70 public and private landholders
The highlight of our community engagement activities is the annual Big Scrub Rainforest Day, which over its eighteen-year history has attracted more than 25,000 attendees. The Big Scrub restoration program has been a resounding success and we have received a number of awards for our achievements.
Our future priorities are clear. First to continue to care for the remnants that we have restored to excellent condition and to complete the restoration of the remnants we are working on. Second to broaden and strengthen our engagement with the community and bring our communications into the digital age.
Over much of the past 20 years we have funded our restoration work mainly through the $2.7million we raised in government grants. Unfortunately government funding for our remnant restoration work has largely dried up. Our only option is seek funding from the community. This is a huge challenge. What are we doing to overcome this huge challenge?
We have set up the Big Scrub Foundation and have a generous donor who has pledged to give $1 million. We will seek other large donors.
We are developing long-term relationships with several wonderful local businesses that support us. We engage with individual community members that make regular monthly donations to help fund our on ground work.
We are totally rejuvenating the way we use the internet and social media and how we communicate with our members and followers. We are rapidly expanding our membership numbers and the number of people on our social media network. We want to enhance their positive feelings about the beauty and biodiversity of our precious local rainforest and hopefully get them to help us care for it.
We as a community can and must take the lead in conserving and caring for our magnificent natural environment and our country’s rich and unique biodiversity. We can enlist the support of government but we can’t rely on government because of the ever-changing political priorities and budget constraints.
We the community have to do it. Please get involved yourself.