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Living Lightly column

What do we know about living in this landscape?

By Alan Hewett

“They had not lived long enough.”

Judge Leonard Stretton made this famous statement in his royal commission report after the 1939 bushfires.

He was not referring to the age of those who died but indicated their lack of knowledge about the environment they lived in.

The question can still be asked, do we really understand about living in the Australian landscape?

Because of its isolation Australia evolved unique flora and fauna. Indigenous people, over thousands of years, preserved and protected the natural environment.

The arrival of Europeans however, had a drastic impact. Some adapted to this new land but many others were overwhelmed by its uniqueness. Attempts were made to replicate the conditions of the old country.

This led to the introduction of foreign plants and animals which have had such a devastating effect on our native vegetation and animals.

Since Europeans arrived 100 species have become extinct and more than1, 770 are listed as threatened or endangered, we have the unfortunate record of having the highest rate of vertebrate mammal extinction in the world.

Pet and feral cats are killing over two billion reptiles, birds and mammals every year. Foxes have also contributed significantly to the destruction of native wildlife as well as spreading disease and weeds.

Land management practices have resulted in damage to ecosystems, reductions in biodiversity and degradation of soils and waterways.

The vast majority of Australians live in urban areas. We are proud of our gardens but of the nearly 3000 introduced plant species that are now established in the environment two thirds are escaped garden plants.

Some plants that are known weeds can be bought in garden centres. Sweeping weeds, leaf litter and lawn clippings into storm water drains spreads weeds though waterways, creating weed infestation in our parklands and along creeks.

Garden weeds and lawn clippings that have been dumped into our parks can become difficult to eradicate if established.

Of course our situation has been exacerbated by man-made climate change, a problem that we seem unable to address either nationally or globally.

Has our ignorance of this dry country subject to dramatic weather changes contributed further to its environmental decline?

Perhaps the final judgement should be left to Leonard Stratton, “…man’s impious hand has disturbed the delicate balance which nature would maintain between forest, soil and water.”