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Living Lightly column

Biodiversity flourishes in roadside reserves

By Jonathan Howard

Roadside reserves are complex parcels of land, with a range of interests and issues at play.

Often these reserves retain significant biodiversity, including those remnants of ecological communities that are not well represented in national parks or stock reserves. They also provide valuable corridors, especially when linked with other native vegetation remnants in the landscape.

Where humans are involved, councils managing roadside reserves also have to consider road safety, cultural values, firewood collection, bushfire risk, recreational use, development pressures as well as conservation.

But it is the neighbouring landowners who can have the greatest impact on the reserve. And I have come to think we could be doing a better job.

Along my road, the various property owners who manage the roadside outside their land tend to fall into three groups. The first group sees the reserve as an extension of their properties: the shrub layer has been removed, and the ground is mowed.

The second group manicures the reserve, not mowing the area, but planting horticultural shrubs in the ‘natural’ area outside their properties.

Finally the others “let nature take its course” and try to nurture the remnant – if possible. We all have good intentions, but some are not considering the wider values that the roadside has.

This creates a dilemma. The roadside along my street is also squirrel glider habitat. These possums are not only beautiful; they are endangered. What also makes them of particular interest is they have a high degree of ‘encephalization’. This is a relative measure of brain size to body mass, and has been used as a proxy for intelligence. That is, squirrel gliders may be amongst the smartest marsupials on the planet.

So people on my street who are let “nature take its course” are continuing to ensure remnants provide a home of these gliders and other wildlife. Furthermore, those people who have planted some shrubs are providing habitat and food for wildlife.

However people who mow their reserves have no gliders at all, because shrubs are a key resource for the possums. Indeed small birds are also often absent in these area.

The key lesson? If we act as stewards of the land, and appreciate they are not owned by any one person, our roadsides may retain the biodiversity values we all hold dear and their important place in the broader landscape.