An area of semi-natural bushland in South Australia devastated by the summer’s bushfires following 30 years of careful cultivation is showing the opportunity that can be presented by a blank slate.
University of South Australia ecologist Joan Gibbs and her partner Terry Reardon spent three decades nurturing 70 acres of land in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Their work was reduced to ashes in just 15 minutes when bushfires ravaged the property in December last year.
Whilst many would have lost hope following such a devastating event, Joan chose instead to see the opportunity presented by the charred and blackened landscape. Together with a group of local volunteers, work was undertaken to ensure native flora gained the upper hand over invasive weeds and grasses in the regenerative process.
The property has been treated as a “pilot regeneration program” for bushfire recovery, with a big focus being put on laying the right foundations. Instead of launching into mass tree plantings, the project has concentrated on regenerating soil and encouraging the growth of native grasses.
"Fire obviously burns a lot of the weed seed so it brings you down to a clean slate to start ecological restoration… People think 'Oh. We'll plant trees and everything else will follow,” Ms Gibbs told ABC News.
“Well, it doesn't necessarily happen that way. The longer-term recovery is based on getting these habitats to work in an energetic relationship."
With this in mind, Ms Gibbs turned to biochar, the by-product of burnt plant matter, and an oatmeal sludge to create the right conditions for native grass growth. The biochar acts as a fertiliser and the oatmeal a substrate that allows seeds to stick to soil.
The project is now beginning to yield results and Ms Gibbs is now encouraging greater community participation in the regenerative process.
"Every man, woman and child who thinks laterally are able to do this … we need everyone," Ms Gibbs said.
- Find out how you can get involved in regenerating Australia’s native lands with National Tree Day.
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