Eighteen months on from the 2019-20 bushfires, we want to introduce our supporters to the faces behind the amazing work happening in-the-field to Regenerate Australia. This team of experts have witnessed the devastation of the fires first-hand, but they haven’t been alone. Over the last year and a half, WWF-Australia has collaborated with incredible partners to achieve innovation for our planet on an immense scale.
With the help of our supporters, we have been able to change the odds for the future of our wildlife and habitats all across the nation as we work together to Regenerate Australia. Rachel Lowry is WWF-Australia’s Chief Conservation Officer, and she asked her fellow conservationists to give our supporters an insight into their most rewarding projects over the last eighteen months.
What was your favourite project over the last 18 months and why?
Dr Stuart Blanch, Senior Manager, Towards Two Billion Trees
Tall eucalypt forests and lush rainforest burned on a devastating scale during the 2019-20 bushfires, so the project I value most over the last eighteen months has been leading WWF-Australia’s Defending the Unburnt Six campaign. It’s our mission to protect the six remaining pockets of healthy forests along Australia’s southeast coast. These remaining areas are crucial to helping our wildlife rebuild towards their pre-fire populations, and so we partnered with the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) to preserve these precious areas of untouched nature.
As a conservation scientist, I’m always reading scientific journal articles and discussing with experts the importance of saving our forests in the face of climate change, deforestation, and logging. But reading and talking about forests and the impacts of deforestation and bushfires is one thing. Walking through a eucalypt forest that escaped the fires but not the bulldozers or logging is another. It’s devastating to know we’re continuing to destroy our nature when we’ve already lost so much.
That’s why this campaign is so important. We’re helping Australia transition from a global front for deforestation and forest degradation to a world leader in reforestation. The Unburnt Six consists of wildlife-rich refuges and unburnt rainforest in landscapes that were devastated in the bushfires. We must keep it that way to succeed in our mission to Regenerate Australia. Our goal is to protect 1.4 million hectares of these unburnt refuges. I’m honoured to be working with EDO to spread the message of protecting these beautiful landscapes.
Tanya Pritchard, Landscape Restoration Project Manager
I have really enjoyed working with Bangalow Koalas to create koala corridors in northern NSW. WWF-Australia has a mission to double the number of wild koalas by 2050, and so we’re helping NSW community group Bangalow Koalas to plant 100,000 koala habitat trees to restore priority corridors.
This project means a lot to me as it provides an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved and volunteer to help save koalas. By planting trees in areas identified as priority habitat for koala populations, we create connectivity between bushland remnants that allows koalas safe passage and maintenance of gene flow. This is critical for their long-term survival. Hundreds of passionate volunteers, farmers and organisers are supporting Bangalow Koalas to restore native trees to provide food, protection and increased habitat in the fragmented landscapes of the Northern Rivers.
This project has allowed me to get out in-the-field and get my hands dirty by planting trees - my favourite thing to do! We’re trialling climate-adapted seed and planting designs to ensure the success of the habitat regrowth. The community planting project has been so successful that we are exploring Bangalow Koalas’ idea of a social franchise mentoring model that could allow this successful community led initiative to be replicated nationally. This kind of development is only made possible with the help of our supporters, so I say thank you to everyone who has helped us support our amazing Koalas Forever program.
Darren Grover, Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes
One of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on over the last year and a half has been saving the Kangaroo Island glossy black cockatoo. These charismatic birds lost almost 60% of their feed trees and nesting habitat during the Kangaroo Island fires at the end of 2019. For a while, it looked like their future was at risk. WWF-Australia quickly deployed funding and support to the people on-the-ground, and I’m proud of our rapid response. A survey in September 2020 found about 450 glossy black cockatoos living on the island, but their habitat was still struggling to recover from the fires.
This posed a different challenge to their ongoing survival as the glossy black cockatoo is very fussy and feeds on just one species of plant – the drooping she-oak. However, thanks to Kangaroo Island Landscape Board and the help of our supporters, cockatoo numbers are on the rise. With the help of funding from furniture retailer Koala, we installed artificial nests. We also planted over 7,000 food trees and reinstated nest protection. We also supported a recent survey that found the glossy black cockatoo population numbers haven’t declined and the 2020 breeding season was a success.
In the short-term, these are great results and show the resilience of the glossy black cockatoos in finding enough food to sustain breeding activity. However, we need to continue to actively support the regeneration of Kangaroo Island to ensure there’s enough food and habitat to sustain the cockatoos for years to come.
Dr Kita Ashman, Threatened Species and Climate Adaptation Ecologist
I’d have to say without doubt my favourite project over the last eighteen months has been helping a flying fox population adapt to rising temperatures. The grey-headed flying fox is a vulnerable species, and the increase in heatwave conditions pose a real threat to their future.
WWF-Australia helped fund the research and deployment of a novel atmospheric cooling system to help our flying fox populations stay cool. Heat-activated sprinklers set up in their preferred trees turn on automatically when it gets too hot, and reduce the risk of the bats experiencing heat stress. The day I saw the sprinklers in action it got up to a scorching 38 °C, and it was clear the flying foxes were bothered by the heat. But when the system was activated they started climbing through the canopy to get closer to the sprinkler points. As they stretched their wings out under the water it was clear they were really enjoying themselves, and that was really special to see.
This project was a favourite of mine because it’s innovative, collaborative and trials a scalable method for tackling one of the impacts of climate change on an important vulnerable species. The work that we do at WWF is only made possible with help from our supporters and partners, and projects like this show what can be done if we work together. Vulnerable species like the grey-headed flying fox need our help to survive, and I’m proud to say I’ve played a part in a project helping to secure their future.
Tim Cronin, Senior Manager, Landscape Restoration and Protection
The project I’ve been most proud of since the bushfires is WWF-Australia’s collaboration with the Great Eastern Ranges (GER). Through our Great Eastern Ranges: Cores, Corridors and Koalas campaign, we’ve been able to focus on restoring and protecting habitat across the Qld, NSW and Vic forest ranges. In doing so, we’ve been able to benefit at least 26 threatened mammal species and countless other native animals.
This project is important to me because of just how much positive change the partnership will lead to. Given the scale of the bushfires we really needed all the help we could get to restore our ranges, and GER’s hundreds of amazing local partners have played a massive role in helping us achieve this. Landscape restoration is no easy feat, so I am grateful that by working with GER we have access to a whole suite of local actions that are eager to help. It really shows what can be achieved when we all work together to change the future for our nature.
While we have a long way to go, I’m proud of what this collaboration has achieved so far. It’s a rewarding feeling knowing the work we’re doing is directly helping to save threatened species like our greater gliders, spotted-tail quolls and so many more.
Our conservationists are continuing to work hard to Regenerate Australia and save our iconic native species. The wins for nature we’ve achieved over the last eighteen months have only been possible with the help of our supporters and partners. By working together to save our wildlife and natural habitat, our beautiful landscape is on the road to recovery after the 2020 bushfires. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but your continued support will help us on our goal to Regenerate Australia and restore our nature.