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EARTH

HOW TO PRESERVE OUR NATIVE LAND

Bush Heritage Australia is a national conservation not-for-profit that buys and manages land around the country to protect forever. The organisation is taking practical action to nourish the health and well-being of our planet, and right now is protecting hundreds of near extinct species integral to our delicate eco-system. In celebration of Earth Day, we chat with CEO Heather Campbell on the importance of working alongside our original scientists, and how our recent donation is making a change.

M+E: In a sentence (or two!) define the key objective of Bush Heritage?

HC: Bush Heritage Australia is a national conservation not-for-profit that buys and manages land around the country to protect forever.

We also work in partnership with Aboriginal people to support the management of their land and help protect 11.3 million hectares (more than half the size of Victoria!) across our 37 nature reserves and partnerships.

Conservation work is often not very sexy. Combatting things like bushfires, feral animals and weeds can be a tough slog but we never lose sight of the reason we do it: the need to protect our native species and our landscapes because once lost they’re gone forever.

M+E: How is what you’re doing integral to the health and well-being of our future planet?

HC: The future of the bush is something I think about a lot. It’s wrapped up in some pretty chunky questions like: how will a changing climate impact wildlife who have evolved to live in specific conditions? How will more extreme bushfires affect the landscapes we work across? How can we sustainably manage the land to keep healthy country, protected forever? And in doing so, keep people healthy too?

By taking practical action. By acquiring land of high conservation value and investing in it long-term, or supporting the empowerment of Aboriginal people to live and work on their country, we’re able to make a tangible difference.

M+E: What are some species currently facing extinction here in Australia and how are you working to protect them?

HC: Unfortunately, Australia’s track record of species extinction is extremely poor. We hold the unenviable title of global capital for mammal extinction, with 34 mammal species lost since colonisation. For context, about the same number of mammal species lost in the rest of the world combined over the past 200 years.

Introduced and deadly predators like feral cats, loss and fragmentation of habitat from land clearing, altered fire regimes, threats like climate change … all these factors combine to make it hard for our native species to thrive.

However, I never give up hope because I see so much incredible work being done in this space.

Take for example one of Australia’s rarest species, the Red-Finned Blue-Eye Fish, which is found only on natural springs at our Edgbaston Reserve on Iningai country in central Queensland. Ten years ago, this critically endangered species was teetering on the brink of extinction as it was slowly pushed out of its habitat by an invasive species known as Gambusia: the ‘cane toad’ of the fish world.

Thanks to an innovative captive breeding program and much love, care and attention from our ecologists, around 30 of the Red-Finned Blue-Eye have recently been re-introduced and juvenile fish have already been spotted!

Or the ultra-adorable Pygmy and Honey possums on Noongar country in south coast Western Australia. Tiny marsupial species like these find safe havens in patches of bush we protect, and our work revegetating the landscape ensures they will be able to thrive long into the future. We’ve also recently begun rolling out one of the largest predator control programs ever in that region which will see us work alongside farmers, Traditional Owners and other landholders to manage the threat of feral cats, foxes and rabbits.

These are just two examples of hundreds.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been managing this land for more than 65,000 years. They were the first astronomers, scientists and innovators and there are no better teachers for learning how to care for country.”

M+E: You work closely with Aboriginal groups to help plan and achieve conservation goals, what have you learnt from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures terms of ultimate conservation practices?

HC: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been managing this land for more than 65,000 years. They were the first astronomers, scientists and innovators and there are no better teachers for learning how to care for country.

Bush Heritage is committed to what we call a ‘right-way science’ approach in all our work. This is based on respect, sharing knowledge, listening and learning, and brings together different ways of thinking (Traditional and Western) for the benefit of people and country.

Our superstar Aboriginal Engagement team is made up in part by three Aboriginal women – Cissy Gore-Birch (a Jaru/Kija women from the East Kimberley region), Sarah Eccles (a Wadawurrung woman from western Victoria) and Chontarle Bellottie (a Wardandi Noongar woman from south coast Western Australia).

I’m lucky enough to learn from them all the time and am continuously grateful for their steady guidance around how Bush Heritage can help care for country the right way.

M+E: How can even the smallest donation to Bush Heritage make a change?

HC: Donors are the backbone to our work. We’re supported by more than 30,000 engaged and passionate people around Australia who recognise that our environment and the species that call it home need our help. This generosity sustains us and gives us hope for the future.

Without the support of this loyal community, we simply couldn’t do what we do. Some people choose to become regular givers and make a monthly gift, others donate when the time is right for them. Every little bit adds up and I’m pleased to say that last year was our most successful fundraising year to date.

For an idea of how this impacts our work: around $50 will help us purchase high-tech drones and essential survey equipment to monitor bird populations like the critically endangered Plains-wanderer, while for around $400 we can plant 63 trees and offset the average annual carbon emissions of one person.

M+E: How has MAURIE + EVE’s donation been put to work?

HC: MAURIE + EVE’s generous donation allows us to take important steps towards improving the health of the bush.

For example, a donation like this can assist with bushfire recovery work at Scottsdale Reserve on Ngunawal country in southern New South Wales which was badly impacted during the Black Summer bushfires. Bush Heritage staff and volunteers have been hard at work de-guarding fire-damaged trees, controlling invasive weeds and propagating new native seedlings at the on-site nursery.

It could also help fund a critical native grass seed harvesting project at Carnarvon Reserve on Bidjara country in central Queensland to restore surrounding land with endangered bluegrass, or support our work with the Wunambal Gaambera people in the Kimberley to carry out right-way fire work to prevent damaging bushfires during the dry season.

From everyone at Bush Heritage, thank you for your generosity and for investing in our magnificent landscapes and precious native species.

Follow @bushheritageaus | @maurieandeve

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