Keeping the bush in ‘Bush Capital’
Canberra Nature Park puts the bush in ‘Bush Capital’. More than 20,000 Canberra houses are within 250 m of this bushland matrix, which includes nationally and regionally threatened and, now, previously extinct species.
Formally, the Canberra Nature Park protects 36 discrete nature reserves and covers approximately 6,000 hectares in and around urban Canberra. The close proximity of the Canberra community provides recreational, education and nature-based inspirational opportunities. But all of that comes with costs and impacts, these have been managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, who recently celebrated 30 years of service to the Australian community.
Importantly, in the national capital, the Canberra Nature Park comes with additional baggage – it has the weighted responsibility of being the ‘front-of-house’ of biodiversity conservation for national policy makers and those that control the weightiest of purse-strings in Australian environmental investment.
Regardless of whether you think it is in as good-a-nick as it could be, I have been thinking lately about what it would be like if it wasn’t proactively managed by the Parks and Conservation Service.
And I keep thinking that it would be like the patch of scrub at the end of the road when I was a kid…
The current vista (above) from Mt Painter reveals a flowing landscape of endangered, but patchy, box gum grassy woodlands flowing up to Namadgi National Park (for some reason not considered part of ‘Canberra Nature Park’).
In the absence of active management, the Canberra Nature Park would have more feral predators – especially foxes, implicated in the demise of many naïve native Australian animals (above).
On the urban edge, a few individuals confuse landfill with nature reserve, but once put there, cars, even when they are burnt, can last a long time. Someone needs to stop them getting in and, when they do, recycle them…
It’s a contentious issue, but in the absence of proactive wildlife population management, it is likely that some native species would thrive at the detriment of others. Some native species are well-placed to captialise on the way humans have modified the landscape, and can impact other rarer species when they become over-abundant.
Weeds. Without someone looking after the bush capital, it would eventually be taken over by weeds. Well, not taken over, but with 20,000 households each providing a foothold for dispersal of weedy species, someone needs to be keeping an eye on what is getting out and away. Our woodland biodiversity can be affected by weedy plants, both through their displacing native plants and also through their changing habitat availability. Previous land-use history (code-word-for-agriculture) makes the reserves prone to invasion in some areas due to land clearing and higher nutrients in the soil (btw –Opuntia not a big deal in Canberra, but easy to find online).
Anti-social behaviour – here the Yellow Box has been taken out by a 50 cal rifle, several times. Without an active ‘patrol’, neighbor and volunteer presence in the Canberra Nature Park this sort of behaviour (and other ‘anti-social’ activities) would be more prevalent. If you need convincing, take a trip to the Lower Cotter – out of sight is thought to be out of mind.
OK – tanks are a bit much, but without a Parks and Conservation bureaucracy to say ‘no’ on our behalf, many other utilities would take carte blanche to the reserve estate – useful land for military training, utilities infrastructure (note the existing power line easements), roads and asset protection zones for urban development, and altering water flows for water supply (oh, wait…).
In the same vein, if we didn’t have government (including laws and people willing to uphold them) and community groups to ‘say no’ to development in the Canberra Nature Park, surely one of our hills would be a great spot for commercial development?
Fire, finally. Urban centres need protection and ecosystems have evolved over the last 10,000 years to ‘require’ fire at certain time scales with related intensities. To protect both people and biodiversity we need smart managers, engaging scientists, and managing the landscape to balance wildlife and human needs.
There are a bunch of other things being managed, like recreational pressure, total grazing pressure biodiversity sanctuaries, volunteers and scientific programs – but I think the pictures are illustrative. As we look forward to the future of Canberra Nature Park, we need to acknowledge the gains, and the lack of degradation that might have occurred in the absence of 30 years of management.
Sure, the future can be more biodiverse, but we need a high quality canvas to paint a masterpiece….