By Alan Hewett, Chiltern Landcare member
A national park is an area of land set apart for the preservation and protection of native plants and animals. They are usually areas of natural beauty and some, like Kakadu, have cultural significance. Today in Australia there are over five hundred national parks, covering an area of twenty eight million hectares, nearly 4% of Australia’s land mass. Their role is also to conserve nature for future generations and encourage enjoyment of outdoor life.
It was in America that the first national park was created, Yellowstone, in 1872. Ferdinand Hayden explored and mapped Yellowstone and saw the need to preserve its extraordinary beauty forever. John Muir, a naturalist and early advocate of the preservation of wilderness, helped create Yosemite National Park in 1890. These dedicated individuals were visionaries who saw the need to protect nature from rapacious development.
Alice Manfield helped create one of Australia’s first national parks, Mt. Buffalo, in 1898. She guided visitors up a rough walking track to the plateau, long before any road was built. She was an amateur naturalist who realised the importance of its natural beauty: the giant rocks, waterfalls, snow gums, wildflowers and spectacular views. She dedicated a large part of her life to protecting the area and educating people about its significance.
Although it is important for people to enjoy the facilities of national parks, their main function is the protection of native flora and fauna. The Chiltern Box Ironbark Park is a remnant of a forest type that once flourished throughout Victoria. The discovery of gold in 1858 saw widespread logging of trees to provide timber for the mines, fencing and construction and firewood. Overgrazing by stock and the mining activities saw erosion problems, introduction of pest species, soil compaction and salinity.
Since being proclaimed a national park in 2002, the forest has revived. There are 600 native species of flora and 276 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. The park offers protection to threatened species like the barking owl, swift parrot and brush tailed phascogale. It has also played an important role in the regent honeyeater survival program.
National Parks play an important part in our Australian psyche. They encompass all that we love about the open air: mountains, desert, forests, and water. As a predominately urban species they allow us to re-connect with nature. However, they must be protected against the encroachment of unnecessary development, feral animals and weeds, illegal activities and improper use. Any failure in our present stewardship will have a devastating effect on areas we hold so dear.