Protecting Our Heritage

By Alan Hewitt, Chiltern Landcare member

Since European settlement nearly 90% of private land in Victoria has been cleared of native vegetation. What is native vegetation? It is the trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses that existed before Europeans arrived.          

This widespread clearing has seen significant environmental consequences: loss of habitat for birds and animals, erosion and salinity of soils, loss of water and air quality and the expansion of weeds. Loss of natural habitat has led to the extinction of at least 60 species of animals and plants. A further 700 native plant and animal species in Victoria are threatened with extinction.                                                    

Many organisations and individuals have attempted to redress this loss. Some landowners place a conservation covenant on their land to protect it. Others register with ‘Land for Wildlife’ to receive help in protecting the native vegetation. There are groups such as ‘Tree Project’, who encourage people, particularly in the city, to grow seedlings that can be planted in rural areas. There are Landcare groups and Friends of Parks, all dedicated workers. One of the most successful projects has been the Hindmarsh project in North West Victoria, which has seen the planting of over 2 million indigenous trees, shrubs and plants.

These revegetation projects are vital but protecting existing native vegetation is even more important. The widespread deforestation of previous generations has seen a lack of large, old hollow-bearing trees. This has led to strong competition amongst animals for nesting sites. Remnant bushland is precious. Even the smallest area may provide protection, sustenance or a resting place.

These fragments of native vegetation are often isolated by man-made obstacles such as open paddocks or development. Native wildlife is constantly on the move, searching for food, seeking new territory by offspring, annual or seasonal migrations. If native animals become ‘trapped ’ in these isolated pockets they are threatened by disease, bushfire, inbreeding and the vagaries of climate, eventually leading to decline. That is why native vegetation corridors play such an integral part in maintaining wildlife populations. Of particular importance are roadside verges. It is important not to graze or create unnecessary firebreaks along them, or illegally remove firewood, especially cutting down mature trees.

Even in a suburban backyard a variety of native trees, shrubs and plants, particularly those indigenous to the area will provide food and shelter for native birds and animals. Our native vegetation is special, our heritage for future generations, don’t destroy it, protect it.