By Arhum Mustafa
As Canberra goes through some rapid urban development, new suburbs are springing up and with this requirements of how these areas should look. Old trees are not aesthetically pleasing; hence they are removed but despite their looks, they host the most abundance of species diversity, specifically regarding bird species for my work experience.
I conducted my work experience with Associate professor Philip Gibbons, a lecturer from the Fenner School of Environment at The Australian National University along with other students from the same course. The experience was based around bird surveying, which contributes to an ongoing research. The research looks at the importance of old, hollow trees for bird species such as the Common myna, European starling, Magpie, Eastern and Crimson Rosellas, and how the removal of these specific trees affect population numbers and biodiversity. The work experience was spaced over 2 days, Wednesday and Thursday of week 9 of the university academic calendar, the timings were from 6 am to 10:30 am both days respectively. The total number of hours worked was 8. It involved doing surveys for 20-minute intervals at different locations across Canberra including Mount Majura, nature reserves, private properties and public spaces. We were tasked with observing specific trees whilst recording the species present during the time. Observations included the bird species, direction it came from, its activity at the tree (e.g. perching, nesting, foraging) and then the direction it left. It was also required to note down the type of branch the bird used, whether it was alive or dead and the size, either small, medium or large.
As part of a conservation project, it links back to some content from the course. One such topic was from week 4, where we looked at threats to biodiversity from habitat loss. As these hollowed trees provide prime habitat for various species, the removal contributes to habitat loss. This forces the birds to relocate to other locations and compete in smaller niche environments, ultimately resulting in certain species to be out competed. One such species is the Currawong, which is one of the most successful urban species in Canberra.
(Picture of a Currawong by Birdlife Australia)
As some surveying locations were on privately owned properties, the idea of privately managing one’s resources and land is something we looked at in week 8 with off-reserve conservation. We visited a private property that week during the practical in which the owner of the property explained what she and her husband do with regards to management of the property and their efforts towards conservation. The work experience gave me an insight of individual’s idea of what conservation is and what they are doing to ensure the safety of the animals living on their property. One such effort is allowing third party groups such as Phil to conduct surveys and monitor the biodiversity hotspots. Another effort is keeping the environment as natural as possible and not disrupting it.
The work experience was good for me, as an aspiring environmentalist who has a passion to make this world a better place and ensure the betterment of all species, it really gave me first-hand knowledge of the work required to do so. Working with Phil, a professional in the field and to see his passion for biodiversity conservation encourages me to pursue my career path. Currently I am in my third year, last semester of my degree, and as an international student from South Africa, I too would really like to create conservation plans and strategies for species back home. Doing this work experience is a great concept and I believe should be a crucial part of many environment courses. Theory teaches us the terms, practicality is where we see these terms in action. So, based on my future career path and current passion, it is safe to conclude that the work experience was quite relevant to my field of study.
Soon, I plan on doing an internship at the African Union in their environment program. One part of this internship is looking at species conservation which exist on the African continent such as chimpanzees, gorillas, lions and several bird species (e.g. Cape Vulture). African Union has adopted some strategies from the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) to combat environmentally unfriendly actions such as poaching, which has single handedly affected populations drastically around Africa, either to sell prized resources such as ivory in the black market or then for traditional medicinal use. I am hoping that the strategies and concepts I learn in this course will help me develop effective management plans which can be implemented and provide positive results.
I am grateful to Phil Gibbons for giving me this opportunity as it was a great personal experience with a lot of insight and prime knowledge on how to deal with anti-conservation matters.