The Young Eco Champions and some of our Young Farming Champions recently travelled to Bega for two days of workshops and one day of in the field experiences.
At each of our workshops we aim to provide insights into the workplace of a farmer from the food or fibre industry the champions represent or a taste of the world of natural resource management
Our Bega workshop in the field experiences led us to The Crossing Land Education Trustwhich is the brainchild of two magnificent human beings Dean and Annette Turner. Dean and Annette gathered an amazing array of local expertise together for us to learn from and work with during our time at The Crossing
Dean and Annette Turner
We are lucky to have our A Team of Ann Burbrook and videographer Tay Plain with us to record the experience for us which we will share with you
Tay Plain sets up for the interviews
Hanging out at The Crossing at Bermagui
Our time at The Crossing which saw the team sleeping in converted railway carriages meant the the YFC’s and YEC’s had the opportunity to follow in Young Eco Champion Heather Gow-Carey’s footsteps as well as see the work National Young Landcarer of the Year Megan Rowlatt is doing to engage young people in Landcare.
Converted railway carriages provide a unique sleeping experience at The Crossing
Megan, Heather and Steph share some weekend highlights with you
Starting with Megan ………………………….
Heading to the far south coast is always a win for me. I absolutely love the landscape and the fact that the coastal communities have been relatively untouched by development. But this trip was even more special. Being amongst such incredibly passionate young farmers and eco champions always leaves me walking away with my head swimming with ideas and feeling inspired to put more energy into what I do for my industry.
Megan leads the team on a tree guild planting exercise
Learning more about the agricultural industry from other young people who are actually actively involved in the industry is fast becoming one of my favourite components of being involved in this program.
See Megan’s interview with Dean Turner here
Heather shares with you some background on quest to save the Koala population on the South Coast……………………….
This year, I have been lucky enough to be able to undertake an Honours project that is both very close to my heart and that will have very real and practical outcomes. Koalas have long been found in the Bega Valley, they were so common that by 1865, the Bega District News reported that it was possible to ‘catch a Koala or Native Bear in the main street of Bega’.
Heather with Chris Allen
The population continued to remain at a high level for the remainder of the nineteenth century, able to support extensive fur trade beginning in the 1890’s, with several million skins being exported from NSW over a 20 year period. The fur trade soon collapsed and it was estimated that koala numbers in the late 1930’s were “only hundreds” throughout NSW. Though the koala populations may have recovered somewhat in the past 80 years, the distribution of koalas on the South Coast has been severely limited due to their vulnerability and inability to adapt to changing habitat conditions.
Learning about koala poo before going out to search a survey point for any evidence of koalas
Going down to The Crossing was a great opportunity to show the other YEC’s and YFC’s the importance of the koala survey work that has been conducted by hundreds of volunteers over the past 4 years. The purpose of the surveys is to try to gauge the current population levels as well as the main areas where they inhabit. From the survey work to date, it is estimated that in the forests to the north-east of Bega, no more than 42 individual koalas remain… and so many people do not realise this!
Chris Allen teaching everyone how to search the base of trees for koala scat
Not only are the surveys quantifying the population, they are educating so many people about the South Coast koalas and the importance of this population. There is the possibility that these koalas are the last remaining truly ‘wild’ koalas, being completely endemic to the region. With such an important and iconic species on the brink of localised extinction, it is great to work alongside people like Chris Allen (OEH) and Dean and Annette Turner (The Crossing) who are so dedicated to the surveys and are always very interested to hear about the progress of my thesis.
It is so rewarding to know that my university work will be able to be used in the field, with the preferred tree species that I have identified, along with the areas of prime habitat that I have mapped being used to assist the survey work along with the revegetation of wildlife corridors. My overall objective is to assess the habitat quality of the region, and my research has raised many interesting questions. It was originally thought that the habitat was marginal or low-quality due to the lack of ‘primary’ feed species and the poor soils and rugged terrain where the population is now limited to, but this might not be the case. It has been thought that these koalas may have a unique ability to forage an existence in this ‘marginal’ country by having unique genes and an inherited knowledge of country and place. Also, other recent research into the nutrient levels of the most utilised trees on the South Coast revealed that they are hardly different to the nutrient levels of many of the primary tree species that koalas are eating in other regions. So the habitat may now not be as poor as originally thought!
Learning about the work The Crossing is doing to create koala friendly wildlife corridors.
I really enjoyed this workshop because it was a chance to share my research with the other young people involved in the YEC and YFC, all the while learning about their industries and lines of work. It really is a two-way learning street and I think that is what I like most about the entire program. It has really made me realise that there is more to agriculture than what I originally thought and it has opened my eyes about how much more there is to learn. The interactions between the farming and natural environments cannot be separate and in order to manage either, it is important to have a knowledge of both. So that is now my goal, to learn as much as I can about whole farm management and best management practices… so I can go off and save the world!
and more thoughts from Megan…….
I think we all took away much more from this workshop than we usually do from each other, and this was all thanks to our wonderful hosts Dean and Annette from The Crossing. Not only did we hear about sustainable design and how we can use resources we already have access to live comfortably, we were able to hear their stories of how they got to where they are today.
Sharing ideas, trials, errors and successes, that’s the key really, in anything we do. Sharing what we learn and then allowing the next generation to come in and build on this, is how we progress and improve. Sharing our stories is the most powerful tool we have in improving our future. It’s just that simple. And spending time with such inspiring people such as Dean and Annette who open their doors to the world to learn from them, just made this resonate with me even more.
Connecting with staff from National Parks and Wildlife Services, environmental educators Dean and Annette from The Crossing, landholders involved in biodiversity projects, and Aboriginal cultural officers all at once really cemented the fact that we are all connected to the land in one way shape or form and we all have a roll and responsibility, but we also have the ability to make a positive change by working together. The South Coast Koala Habitat project is so vital to the survival of this last remaining population of an iconic Australian species on the far south coast of NSW.
So the highlight for me, was taking part in the biodiversity planting and survey work.
Knowing that as volunteers our small efforts were contributing to such a valuable project was rewarding. I always like getting my hands dirty and physically contributing to something worthwhile. And to see so many partners and community members working together to achieve the best possible outcomes for the future of this Koala population is fantastic. And we are now a part of this too.
Some thoughts from meat scientist Dr Steph ………
The best thing about the workshop was that it was hands on. After a short demo on how best to plant the trees for survival and talking about why it was important to do it that particular way, off we went to plant some.
And getting there was lots of fun. Dr Steph in the middle with Heather and Ann ( at the back)
After a chat about the koalas what they face as an impact of habitat fragmentation and how they look for them, off we went to look. Had anyone told me that as a Young Farming Champion I would be looking for koala scats, I am not sure that I would have believed them but the enthusiasm of the group was infectious and we were more than willing to participate.
The infectious enthusiasm of the group drove me to want to participate and learn about everything and Tay’s work behind the camera was no exception.
When Tay needed a hand behind the camera to adjust the lighting, I found myself on the other side of the light and eventually managed to graduate to using the switches on the back. It’s mastering these skills you never think you would ever possibly get a chance at doing that I often find the most rewarding.
From behind the camera, it wasn’t long until I was back in front of the camera interviewing Dean from ‘The Crossing’.
Dean and Annette have a real connection with the land and the environmental education programs, such as the Sea to Snow and the koala surveys, they run there. It was inspiring to have a chance to interview Dean and hear so eloquently, how the landscape around him has altered the journey that he has taken and how that now inspires others.
The significance of ‘The Crossing’ certainly has not been lost and we thrilled to have been part of this experience and to have the opportunity to share it with you .
For the benefit of the author, koalas from Dignams Creek to Wapengo were nominated as endangered and likely to become extinct in 2001. The NSW Scientific Committee rejected the nomination in 2008. (http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/determinations/KoalaPhascolarctosCinereusPopulationSENSWRejectionEPL.htm)
The changed conditions that threaten the last koalas in the South East Corner Bioregion stem from the loss of biodiversity, particularly those native species which maintain soil fertility. The last koalas are constrained to forests growing on the Murrah soil landscape where trees are threatened with extensive canopy dieback, also associated with reducing soil fertility.
The South Coast Koala Habitat project seems to be based on the notion that there has been no reduction of soil fertility and I expect that’s why the NPWS supports it, as opposed to longer term community attempts aiming to improve conditions for koalas where they live.
what a great blog article! (and I should know – we own a farm that neighbours the Kooraban National Park – where many of those important koala surveys have taken place – and just over the hill from where the delightful Heather grew up … and that’s just for starters! The Crossing is a fantastic place and the environmental work being done there and on farms in the area is totally inspiring
Thank you so much for this feedback i agree Congratulations to Heather the team at SRCMA Local Landcare and the Crossing and the local farmers involved in this fabulous project