Above One of the small areas of planting that survived the Huntly Streamside Reserve fire in early January 2020.
For the last 10 years Northern Bendigo Landcare Group has been restoring the Creekline Grassy Woodland habitat within Huntly Streamside Reserve, just north of Bendigo.
The group had worked hard undertaking extensive weed control, rabbit warren surveying, revegetation, nest box installation and monitoring flora and fauna.
The site had been a major focus for awareness, education and community collaboration. We had provided many environmental educational opportunities for local primary schools, produced brochures and held community events to raise awareness of the many values of this riparian corridor.
Over time we were seeing good results. Ecological connectivity along the Bendigo Creek had improved and close liaison with Parks Victoria was seeing positive low impact use of the site by the local community.
On the afternoon of Saturday 4 January 2020, a watch and act bushfire emergency warning was issued for the reserve. A fire had started near a power pole and fanned by strong winds it was tearing through the group’s planting sites. Thanks to an outstanding response from emergency services the fire was contained quite quickly without loss of life or property.
Unfortunately, several thousand of our young plants were lost including their corflute guards and stakes and a number of nestboxes. The planting represented three years of community effort.
A few weeks later when conditions were safe group members rallied together with Parks Victoria staff to clean up the melted tree guards. We were confronted with a bare, blackened, scorched earth. Every seedling was brown and shrivelled – completely dead. It was very upsetting, especially as many of the grasses, shrubs and trees had been planted by the community on National Tree Day last July and at a Trees for Mum event in May 2019.
The good news was that some of our nestboxes in the mature trees had survived even though the entire tree had been scorched.
A small patch of early planting had also survived as it was located close to where the fire began where the fire was less intense. Dead spiny rush that had been sprayed eight months earlier was also completely burnt which removed rabbit harbour.
After assessing the damage, we started to plan for the future. In the months before the fire the group had fenced some rabbit exclusion plots and kept them weed free by spraying. The fire burnt around these plots and we will now direct seed them as the first step in habitat recovery. Weeds in the burnt area will be monitored over the coming months and we will spray any spiny rush that regenerates. Nestboxes will also be monitored to assess the recovery of wildlife after the fire.
The group will continue its replanting in collaboration with Parks Victoria and we will work with Huntly Fire Brigade to carefully assess how we can move forward in a way that enhances habitat values along Bendigo Creek while minimising the risk of fire.
Aldo Penbrook is a member of the Northern Bendigo Landcare Group.
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