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Restoring bushland, re-connecting communities: IN CONVERSATION WITH THE 2018 ACF PETER RAWLINSON CONSERVATION AWARD WINNER, TODD DUDLEY.

TASMANIAN CONSERVATIONIST Todd Dudley has a lot on his plate.

The winner of ACF's conservation award recently succeeded in stopping a huge ex-navy ship, coated in toxic paint, from being scuttled in the stunning waters of Tasmania's Bay of Fires and posing a threat to the area's vibrant marine life. He's drumming up support for a new east coast conservation corridor. He's opposing plans for a 54-lot subdivision and a resort on ecologically-significant bushland near St Helens.

And he's using an innovative technique to rehabilitate former quarries.

"The best way to revegetate quarries is by direct seeding," Todd says. "You don't do any planting, you go out there and collect seed-bearing branches of local native species and broadcast the seeds around. With certain species the plants hold their seed in capsules from year to year and when you cut the branches the capsules open up within a few days. The seed germinates on the ground and the branches protect the seedlings a bit from being browsed by wallabies."

This is a little bit like what Todd and his group, the North East Bioregional Network, is doing in eastern Tasmania--collecting people from across the community to work on a variety of restoration projects and, in the process, germinating friendships and an enduring sense that when people work together with a common purpose, we can make a difference.

Todd has seen that when people get involved in bringing back native vegetation to landscapes that have been damaged or degraded, they start to feel a connection with the land and other people. And it generates hope. Hope that collectively we can change the world for the better.

"For political purposes some have used the line that once a place has been damaged or degraded, it can never be recovered. That's a pretty pessimistic message. Literally what it means is things can never get better. The best that we can hope for is the status quo. Whereas restoration offers the hope that we can actually improve the condition of existing areas and also expand native vegetation and habitat across Australia.

"That's not endorsing bad land management, but we have a lot of land that's been abused over the last couple of hundred years and in many cases there are opportunities to recover those landscapes."

That's good for biodiversity. It's also good for community cohesion.

In the Skyline Tier restoration project, Todd and a team of locals restored bush-land on the hills overlooking Scamander. The area had been a pine plantation for about 40 years. But Todd knew many native seeds can survive for 50 years or more under the ground. So, after the mature pine trees were harvested, Todd and his team conducted a hot ecological burn through the former plantation. This served the dual purpose of killing off pine seedlings and germinating long-dormant native seeds under the soil.

While protecting forests can be controversial, restoring them tends to be less polarising. Todd says 99 per cent of the community supported the Skyline Tier project and the re-veg work provided common ground for people from across the community.

"We had a lot of people involved who would not call themselves conservationists, but once they've been working up there for a while and become more ecologically aware, it can change the way they look at things. That's critical, I think.

"If we can get more people involved and having a better understanding of the environment, it has important political implications--more support for restoration and protection, and for better laws and policies."

The Friend of the Blue Tier group were one of many who wrote letters nominating Todd for the Rawlinson Award, which celebrates outstanding voluntary contributions to protecting the environment. They said, "He's unassuming in nature, a quiet achiever and an amazing man."

They wanted ACF to recognise the positive effect Todd's work at the Blue Tier Forest Reserve had on the local community, adding "the pride he has given to unemployed men is incredible, he's changed people's lives."

Todd Dudley is a worthy recipient of the Rawlinson Award. Established in 1992, the award is given annually in memory of former ACF Councillor Peter Rawlinson--a zoologist, lecturer in biological science and tireless campaigner for our living world.

Nominations for this year's Rawlinson Award open on World Environment Day, June 5th. Visit www.acf.org.au/rawlinson_award for more information.

By ACF Media Adviser, Josh Meadows
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Author:Meadows, Josh
Publication:Habitat Australia
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:731
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