After a first failed volunteering attempt, I managed to hop onto Tim Harvey’s four wheel truck to join the volunteers of the Conservation Volunteers Australia. Scottsdale reserve, at about 45 km from Australia’s capital, spreads over more than 1500 hectares from which 300 hectares have been strongly disturbed by past grazing and clearing. Owned by Bush Heritage Australia (BHA) since 2006, the damaged parts of the reserve have become part of a regeneration project which includes the seeding and planting of various key Eucalypt species. As can be seen on the map below, the zigzagging lines indicate the different tree planting lines. In one day, with a group of around 20 people we managed to plant about 500 trees, out of the 20.000 trees that have already been planted over the last few years.
While taking time to carefully plant the Eucalypt trees, a few questions crossed my mind. Firstly I wondered WHY I was planting trees, which seemed to be an all too easy question to answer in the first instance. I was planting trees, because that area, which used to be a Yellow Box Grassy Woodland, was now a patch of land which seemed pretty much treeless to me now. Secondly, I asked myself HOW useful this method was to effectively restore the area at hand. BHA has attempted to reintroduce Yellow Box Grassy Woodland by both seeding and planting. As the success rates of seeding turned out fairly low, especially on slight hill sides, planting now offers an alternative to this. While the trees we planted were only small and fragile, the success rate is supposedly 80%. After a period of 5 years, the trees are however no longer monitored which suddenly makes them vulnerable to drought, fires and other extreme events which are likely to damage and possibly kill the trees.
As my knowledge on planting trees in Australia is fairly elementary, I started doing some research as soon as I got home after my exhausting day out in the Australian sun. This is what I learned from the World Wide Web: Firstly, the most common way to reforest a distorted patch of land in the past has been to abandon it and rely on nature for regeneration (Weber et al.,2009). This has however been proven to spread out over a long period of time and it happens we as humans do not have that much time. Time is money. This is why, we started taking the matter in our own hands by seeding and planting trees in order to reforest degraded land. It is however important to notice that while forest regeneration by planting and seeding can enable biodiversity to flourish again, it will not result in a copy of the original forest structure and composition (Chazdon, 2008). Some academics have expressed their concerns about large-scale forest regeneration and have wondered whether this will possibly lead to low genetic diversity and increased homogeneity.
Generally speaking, forest regeneration is rather hard to evaluate as the process stretches over a long period of time and can take to over more than a century to fully develop (Chazdon, 2008). Short-term strategies are appealing but “if future forests are to support the wide range of species, species interactions, and ecosystem services present in current forests (Chezdon, 2008, p. 1460)”, long-term solutions need to prevail. By reading this I became a little critical of planting trees and monitoring them for a period of only 5 years. In the life of a tree, 5 years is rather short and does not ensure a high survival rate in the long term vision. Asking volunteers to put time and effort into planting literally millions of trees around the world does therefore only seem beneficial and meaningful for conservation purposes if the planting of trees is monitored over a long-term span.
On an end note, here a picture of my acquired Volunteering Certificate. Although some extreme weather events and organizational issues came into my way and I was not able to do as much volunteering as I would have liked to, I had the wonderful opportunity to go out on adventure with an organization trying to act on the best behalf of nature. In the few weeks I have left on this continent, I am more than willing to continue volunteering and enriching myself with a deeper understanding of Australia’s mesmerizing nature and the willingness of its people to protect it.
Bushheritage.org.au. (2016). Scottsdale Reserve – Bush Heritage Australia. [online] Available at: http://www.bushheritage.org.au/places-we-protect/new-south-wales/scottsdale [Accessed 10 Oct. 2016].
Chazdon, R. (2008). Beyond Deforestation: Restoring Forests and Ecosystem Services on Degraded Lands. Science, 320(5882), pp.1458-1460.
Günter, S., Gonzalez, P., Álvarez, G., Aguirre, N., Palomeque, X., Haubrich, F. and Weber, M. (2009). Determinants for successful reforestation of abandoned pastures in the Andes: Soil conditions and vegetation cover. Forest Ecology and Management, 258(2), pp.81-91.