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Decade Of Ecological Restoration Series – Episode 7 – Assisted Regeneration – Dave Rawlins

Dave Rawlins is a bush regenerator and ecologist working on a property in the headwaters of Marshalls Creek at the Pocket. The 40 ha property was once cleared for bananas and grazed. It was heavily run down being degraded from intact rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest to areas of bare soils and landslips. The current property owners’ intention is to support biodiversity conservation and, 20 years ago, the owners engaged Dave and others to focus on regenerating the land.

We target controlling the weeds in the highest quality areas of the bush first. This is the least amount of work, as most weeds are more readily shaded out and there is native seed present in the soil allowing for natural succession processes to take place. We expand from these areas to link those higher quality sites to give them more resilience.

 It’s much easier for Dave and the team to convert areas of woody weeds such as Camphor Laurel and Lantana back to forest than it is to convert exotic grasses. Lantana colonises the grassland and this starts the succession process. Most trees cannot germinate in a thick grass layer but once you have Lantana and Camphor Laurel this breaks the dominance of grass. An area dominated by grass also has a soil microbiology dominated by bacteria whereas an area with Lantana and Camphor has more fungi in the soil due to biodegrading woody debris and mulch. Rainforest plants can grow much better in this soil.  Frugivore birds also have been feeding in the Lantana and Camphor trees bringing native seeds in their poop.

We have planted some trees but we get a huge number of trees that come up naturally through assisted regeneration. We occasionally plant species of trees such as Eucalypts or Brushbox that wouldn't naturally recruit in an area where rainforest pioneers are dominating. We also spread around seed to increase diversity but in total have only planted around 500 trees. We also target priority weeds such as Maderia Vine, Privet and Cherry Guava that may threaten the site in the long term.

From a young age Dave has always been interested in nature and felt a need to protect it.  He studied Ecology and when he moved to Byron Shire in 2001 he began work in bush regeneration. “There is just so much to learn, every site has new types of plants and a new challenge”.  To Dave, learning how the succession process of nature works is just fascinating.

Dave has facilitated many community Landcare plantings over the years and sees how important community involvement is. “You see how much people like to connect to nature and this helps them realise that there is lots they can do to help repair the environment. When we reflect on how degraded the landscape was and then on how much we have repaired in just the last few decades, it is empowering for people to see how much can be done” .

The sites Dave is working on around Byron Shire were all intact primary forests, before the 1850’s, until they then began to be cleared.  The vegetation was removed and the topsoil was then destroyed. So much stored carbon was lost. “What we are doing is recreating the processes that can then cycle atmospheric carbon down and back into vegetation and the soil profile”.

This site has copped it in recent years. We had a very severe dry season in 2019, followed by intense floods, landslips and cyclonic winds that have destroyed the canopy in places. The more complex and diverse an ecosystem is, the more strength and resilience it has to withstand extreme weather. With the challenges of Climate Change, it feels good to get as much vegetation as we can establish on this property to future proof it”.  

 Dave is always amazed at just how resilient Nature is, even when it seems so degraded, with a bit of help life just comes back. “I don't really see that I am doing the work, I’m just here to guide a few things, support these processes, let nature do the work”.

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