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Bush block heroes conserve state’s wild places

Trust for Nature is a not-for-profit organisation that conserves Victoria’s most-threatened native plants and wildlife on private land on1455 properties across the state, says chief executive officer Victoria Marles.

It has helped private landholders place conservation covenants – voluntary legal agreements that prevent development – over more than 100,000 hectares of high-quality vegetation.

“Generally the people who take that step are committed to environmental and conservation values, they want to see those endure. I see them as heroes,” says Ms Marles.

Trust for Nature runs a program where it buys properties that have high conservation values and sell them to buyers willing to put a covenant on them.

Usually the trust would have eight or so properties on their books at any one time but since the start of the pandemic its properties have been snapped up when advertised. And Ms Marles says some could have been sold “three times over”.

Carol's home today.

Carol’s home today.Credit:Joe Armao

In a new book, Making Ecologies on Private Land, RMIT academic Dr Ben Cooke and associate professor Ruth Lane from Monash University, interview Victorians who bought rural blocks to revegetate and turn back into bushland.

They found conservation on private land was more successful if there was a collective community approach, with many interviewees reporting how critical the land management of their neighbours were for their patch of bushland.

“In tree-change areas where properties are smaller, owners were carving up the landscape into tiny parcels that don’t reflect the scale of ecosystems function,” said Dr Cooke. “So you can’t be working in isolation because everything your neighbours do affects your property.”

Initially Carol and Rob Barker did a lot of the physical grunt work themselves, methodically felling and burning pines and planting species that were indigenous to the local area.

They had support from Ecotender, a now-defunct state government conservation project that assisted with purchasing plants and drawing up a land management strategy.

But progress was slow until a neighbour introduced them to a local logging contractor who agreed to take away the rest of the pine trees – a total of 35 B-double trucks’ worth – for free.

“Once you take away a group of pine trees the local under-story just shoots up and it’s astonishing,” says Carol. “We didn’t have kangaroo apple, dogwood, sedges, native grass, it all came up by itself.”

Almost 20 years later Carol lives in the house they built on the property. Up to 300 trees have been planted and the property is home to wallabies, koalas, blue tongues and 72 species of birds.

Part of the property has a covenant on it, which Carol would like to extend to cover the entire block.

“I feel very proud, especially because it has now become Rob’s legacy. I go outside to walk around the property and continue the work that I can, look at all of the things we did together.”

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