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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 655

Mr BUTLER (12:35 PM) —Bush For Life is one of the programs run by Trees For Life, a non-profit community organisation that works to protect, maintain and renew the native vegetation of South Australia. Bush For Life concentrates on weed management, with a philosophy of minimum disturbance, biodiversity and ongoing commitment. Bush For Life is apolitical; in spite of the name, there are no links to recently disappointed American Republicans. Instead, they work together with landowners and councils, selecting sites with high conservation value for ongoing care. An important aspect of this is to prioritise the areas with the least weed infestation, as this prevents further spread and encourages lasting renewal. Volunteers then receive training in bush regeneration techniques, plant identification and bush management, as well as the continuing support and advice of regional coordinators and staff.

One of my constituents, Kevin McCormack, invited me to visit the Bush For Life site that he works on. Together with fellow site volunteers Michael Vaughan and Graham Greaves and Bush For Life manager Mark Ellis, we braved the 40 degree plus heat to view the thankfully roadside site. It was a good education. Whilst in a cultivated garden, weeds are merely a source of sore backs; in the bush they are a deadly threat to a delicate ecology. At this Bush For Life site, the volunteers’ three main adversaries are boneseed, bridle creeper and blackberry—all introduced species that have been identified as weeds of national significance. Like a ‘most wanted’ list for criminals, the weeds of national significance are 20 weeds in Australia judged to pose the greatest threat due to the damage they inflict, dangerous potential and aggressive spread.

Boneseed, for example, has a competitive edge, with its ability to regenerate quickly after fire and clearances, as well as having a shallow root system that absorbs the moisture from light showers before more deep-rooted plants have a chance. Apparently named for the colour of their prolific seeds, their hard shell and indigestibility make their name equally apt and ensure wide dispersal. The bridal creeper’s climbing vegetation smothers the natives above ground, whilst its thick mat of tubers strangle their root systems below. Blackberries use fruit to bribe the fauna into spreading their seed, whilst also reproducing from their canes and roots. Any trip through the Adelaide Hills can show you the success of their multilayered reproductive technique and the impenetrable thickets that result.

All these weeds steal the native plants’ space, nutrients and water—vital for their existence. As introduced species they take nature by surprise, with no natural predators to contain their spread and ensure biodiversity and balance. As our native bush plants are driven from the land, so too are our native insects, birds and animals that rely on them for their own survival.

 For 15 years, Kevin and his fellow volunteers have worked on their site, and the difference to the adjoining bushland is evident, even to an untrained eye such as mine. Nature is amazingly resilient, but it needs a chance to breathe. The Bush For Life program gives it just that. The native plants the volunteers try to introduce to the site generally refuse to thrive. Instead, the land followed its own initiative, with golden wattle in particular returning in large numbers. However, without ongoing maintenance, in five years our national floral symbol will once again have been trampled beneath the aggressive march of introduced species. Continuity is vital.

In South Australia, we have just endured a record-breaking heatwave and face the prospect of climate change bringing hotter and hotter temperatures with less and less rainfall. We are suffering through a drought that has seen our rivers turned into algae infested swamps and our soil turned barren. Our environment is under serious threat. As Kevin told me, the work he does through Bush For Life helps him cope with the sense of tragedy, fear and powerlessness that climate change can engender. Taking positive action through a well-organised community program such as Bush For Life helps the environment while also empowering the individual and strengthening the community.

With the training and support of the program, volunteers not only gain knowledge and appreciation of the extraordinary and beautiful native environment in which we live but through their action and commitment also give us and our bushland hope for the future. Bush For Life currently manages over 300 sites in South Australia, with more than 4,000 hectares getting dedicated assistance from nearly 700 volunteers. It is a community program that does South Australia proud and deserves our support.