Mike Dodkin & Sue Baker, Mid North Coast Branch, National Parks Association of NSW
In May of this year the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and NPA Mid North Coast Branch celebrated forty years of habitat restoration, focusing particularly on Bitou bush removal in Crowdy Bay National Park, north of Taree, making this Australia’s longest-running Bitou eradication project.
Mike was involved with sand mining restoration projects as part of his work requirement with the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1972. It was during this period that the presence of Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera ssp. rotundata) became apparent, even though not planted as many people think, by the mining companies. It appears that it spread in the late 1950s-1960s from Soil Conservation Service (SCS) sand dune stabilisation project sites by various dispersal agents (e.g. birds, foxes). It spread widely and became one of the worst weeds along the coast of NSW.
Bitou Bush was introduced into Australia via seeds deposited in ballast from South African ships where it rapidly colonised sand dunes at Stockton, Newcastle. The plant was identified by SCS as a potential species for sand dune stabilisation and rehabilitation works further north along the NSW coastline. The SCS ignored advice against its use from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.
NPWS had few resources to manage Bitou Bush and hence Mike, then the ranger for the park, asked Mid North Coast Branch for help when Crowdy Bay National Park was added to the reserve system. A partnership started in 1979 to remove Bitou Bush from spectacular Diamond Head, the park’s icon.
At the twenty-year mark volunteers were still struggling to control Bitou on the headland. Several things then happened to dramatically change the face of the project. Firstly, NPA members established a Landcare project on crown land at Dunbogan to the park’s north, while Friends of Kattang Nature Reserve was formed to work on directly adjoining land. For both groups initial work focused on dense infestations of Bitou Bush. Secondly, Mike made a statement that we were never going to beat the problem unless we developed a strategic plan and obtained grant funds. From then on multiple grants were obtained and with cash and in-kind support from the project partners, massive achievements were made.
The first grant enabled Diamond Head to be brought under control through contractor work and aerial spraying of inaccessible cliff sides. The results were highly successful. Attention then turned to the huge seed pool on Dunbogan Beach to the headland’s north. A decision to aerial spray was made with some trepidation as aerial spraying was pretty much in its infancy. Would it work? Would it kill native vegetation? Would loss of Bitou lead to dune erosion?
Well, work it did – brilliantly. Regeneration of native plants occurred quickly and was spectacular! Contractors were employed to regenerate the strip of littoral rainforest on the hind dunes. Port Macquarie-Hastings Council came on board to fund spraying of the crown land section on the northern end of the beach. Now the Dunbogan-Crowdy Bay National Park Habitat Corridor Rehabilitation Project came into being, joining the work in the park with that in Dunbogan. This was highly successful in terms of obtaining grants as multiple partners and a greater variety of activities were involved.
So – what to do now about the 10 km long strip of beach on the southern side of the headland. Could we manage to take that on too? We did, mainly through two grants from the NSW Environmental Trust of which $160,000 or so funded work on the beach and its hind dunes.
The project has focused on far more than Bitou. All other weeds have been targeted. Volunteers have begun restoration of a beautiful mixed forest behind Kylies Beach. While the canopy is in great condition the understorey is dominated by Lantana. Urgent restoration work has also begun on a diverse littoral rainforest pocket behind the foredune where native Cissus and Smilax vines have become out of balance, smothering and killing trees and seedlings. Two more rainforest pockets are also in need of urgent restoration.
Volunteer coordinator Sue Baker said, ‘While we have a fantastic group of core volunteers, I need a small army (or even a large one!) to achieve what I want to. I encourage all NPA members to consider whether they could assist even if only to spread the word to others who might be interested.’
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
For some years now a six-day annual bush regeneration camp based at the beautiful spot of Kylies Beach has been held in either April or May. If you would like to join in next year, details will be advised in the Activities Program and the E-Newsletter or contact Sue Baker on 02 6559 7134 .