Burning the bush… in a good way

by Megan Rowlatt, 27th May 2015
Burning the bush… in a good way

This month we did an awesome project on the Nepean River!

Actually stop there, not to brag or anything, but let’s be honest, all of our projects are awesome

But this one was particularly special. Not only did we hang out with one of our favourite outdoor adventure conservationists, THE Jeff Cottrell from Willow Warriors, but we also got to paddle the Nepean River and hear from the Bass Sydney Fishing Club, and participate in a cultural burn with the awesome dudes at Firesticks, Greater Sydney LLS and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service – Yellomundee Regional Park.

Arriving on the Saturday we jumped straight into some afternoon treatment of Lantana as the sun set behind the surrounding hills. We pitched a tent, had a few drinks around the camp fire and star gazed. With the aide of an App. Which we totally kinda geeked out about. Called Star Walk, Check it out!

Weeding as the sun was going down

The next day we were up early to meet the guys at Emu Plains and hear from the Bass Sydney Fishing Club who gave us a great run down as to why they were working on Landcare projects and planting trees on the river banks. “Why?” someone asked, “you’re a fishing club, aren’t you interested in the water?” Great question! Followed by a great answer…

It’s all connected you see. The health of the ecological systems on the banks play a key role in the health of the water. For example healthy, diverse riparian vegetation provides habitat for the insects which feed the fish! These guys have been getting their hands dirty at the site for over 30 years! They have seen the impacts weeds have had on bass populations in the area, so they are actively doing something about it.

Chris and Jenna on the water with the rest of the Source to Sea crew

We kayaked for 9km back down to Yellomundee as part of the 'Source to Sea' paddle which was all about connecting people to the river and the projects along the way that keep our catchments healthy.

We met the crew for lunch and were welcomed to country with a traditional smoking ceremony which washed away any bad energy from the group and set the scene for the cultural burn.

Smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country

What is a cultural burn?

Watch this!

Yellomundee Firesticks Project from Living Knowledge Place on Vimeo.

So what’s so special about a cultural burn you ask? Everything! Traditional owners have managed the Australian landscape for tens of thousands of years and yep, they had it down to a fine art. But over the last century a lot of knowledge has been lost and in many areas, is no longer being applied to the management of the land. The Firesticks program is working to bring all of this knowledge back into use, and allows the wider community to work together, learn and share knowledge to achieve the best outcomes for the environment.
The guys at Yellomundee Aboriginal Bushcare in partnership with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Rural Fire Service have really embraced this, and are now the first National Park in NSW to allow cultural burning to be practiced.

Rangers using tradtional tools to get the fire started

As the burn takes off, volunteers casually walked around with the rangers and Firesticks crew, and chatted about how the burn would affect the soil, wildlife and the plants.

Land management in Australia has drastically changed over the last 200 years. Many areas have been modified and pest plant and animal species have been introduced and certainly made their dent in the Australian landscape. We’re out there battling it every month as are the thousands of Landcare/Bushcare groups and conservation organisations around the country.

At Yellomundee Regional Park, they have been battling weeds for many years. I remember the first time we set foot on this site back in 2011 and feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the amount of weeds on site. I remember thinking, “OMG how, wha.., where would you even start!?” So we helped out with some lantana removal for a few hours which was just one of the many weed species on site.

In 2014, three years on, we visited again, and wow! This site was looking incredible! I couldn’t believe how much it had changed. Now 2015, a year later, even better, we were able to see the results of the first cultural burn which took place in 2014.

What the area looked like before burn 2014 (top) After 2015 (bottom)

Traditionally cultural or “cool burns” are burning practices used by Aboriginal people to enhance the health of land and its people. Cultural burning means different things to different people. It could include burning (or preventing burning) for the health of particular species such as native grasses, emu, black grevillea, potoroo, bushfoods, threatened species, or biodiversity in general. It may involve patch burning to create different fire intervals across the country or it could be used for fuel and hazard reduction.

Cool burns allow for insects and wildlife to move away from the fire due to the slow pace and low intensity of the burn. We found this little fella only 10mins after the burn had moved through. He had hidden in the damp native ground covers which were remaining after the burn.

Don't believe it was a "cool" burn?

Cultural burns may also be used to increase access and amenity for people or as a part of culture heritage management. It is a ceremony to welcome people to country or it could also be as simple as a campfire around which people gather to share, learn, and celebrate. But here at the Yellomundee, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Yellomundee Aboriginal Bushcare group, Firesticks and other community volunteers, they are applying the technique to take on weeds including Lantana and African Love Grass.

African Love Grass. Farmers know it well. It takes over productive land, outcompetes native grasses, and it has taken over so much of this site too. But the first cultural burn has shown promising results. Because the burn is done in the right conditions and does not scorch the soil or some of the undergrowth, this has meant that any native plant species which survived the burn (and with the African Love Grass knocked out by the fire), now have a chance to compete for the resources unhindered for a period of time. There has been some regrowth of the love grass but the native ground covers are putting up a fight, and the group intends to carry out a series of follow up burns. African Love Grass is actually adapted to cope with fire as it comes from a landscape which is hot, dry, and experiences regular fires. But despite this, the group is seeing progress, you can see the control site untreated vs treated above, and the pics speak for themselves.

Jenna and Chris taking it all in

All in all it was an incredible experience, we met some awesome people, oh by the way shout out to our friends from Oatley! Explored, chilled, worked and played! Perfect recipe for a perfect weekend.

Many thanks to the Greater Sydney LLS (esp. Vanessa Keyzer, what a legend), Willow Warriors, NSW NPWS, Firesticks and the Yellomundee Bushcare Group.

We’ll be back!