Wouldn’t it be wonderful if fairy stories were true?

How long should we plan for? An interesting hint can be found in the May issue of the newsletter of the Australian Forest History Society, in a story by Roger Underwood, about New College Oxford, founded in 1379:

‘The chapel is about 600 years old, and until this story unfolded, was famous for its massive oak beams. (In the late 1970s)… an inspection  of the New College chapel roof had disclosed the alarming fact that the old oak beams holding up the roof and spire were infested with wood boring beetles, and were on the point of collapse. The situation was dire, and the college authorities were at a loss. Where on earth would they find replacement oak beams for the urgent restoration work?

‘However, the college historian came up with the answer. It turned out that at the time of the building of the college in the 14th century, the builders anticipated that one day the oak beams in the chapel would need to be replaced. So the college purchased land and arranged for a plantation of oak trees to be planted. A forester was appointed to look after the resulting forest. Over succeeding centuries, the word was passed along from one generation of college foresters to the next: ‘You don’t touch them oaks, they’s for the college chapel.’

‘And they were. Cometh the hour, cometh the trees. The oaks were felled, the new beams cut and installed, and the chapel roof was again secure and a thing of wonder. And another grove of oaks was planted, anticipating the need for the next refurbishment of the chapel 600 years hence.’

Unfortunately this story, which has circulated in a variety of forms, is a bit of a myth, although it is true that the college has forest reserves used for repairs of its old structures… but wouldn’t it be great if it were not only true, but unremarkable: that it was completely normal to look that far ahead in the management of our resources? Maybe the gold rushes would have panned out a little differently if that had been the case…

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Taking a new look at the Botanical Gardens

The Castlemaine Botanical Gardens are an important part of our community, but it’s fair to say that the flora and fauna reserve section of the gardens is a bit of a poor relation, even though it has tremendous interest in itself, being home to the Eltham Copper Butterfly.

That’s why it’s good to see the reserve get a bit of attention in the draft Conservation Management plan for the gardens produced for the Council in March. You can find it here. It’s a comprehensive 268 page document full of interesting material, and Council is looking for feedback on it by June 21. We recommend you have a go: send comments to info@mountalexander.vic.gov.au

In the flora and fauna reserve, Castlemaine Botanical Gardens: the reserve is an important part of the gardens, and gets some interesting attention in the draft plan.

Presumably as part of the same process, Council has commissioned a separate management plan for the flora and fauna reserve. We’ll be following this with interest.

Among other things, the present Draft recommends renewed interpretive signage for the reserve; consideration of drought and climate change when managing new plantings in the gardens; and upstream management of the Barkers Creek floodplain to mitigate future flooding in the gardens.

Here are a few interesting passages from the draft plan relating to the reserve:

‘Floods in the early history of the gardens were likely the result of the deforestation of the surrounding landscape and the disruption of the watercourses by alluvial gold mining (the first gold discovery at Castlemaine occurred on a tributary of Barker’s Creek upstream of the Gardens). While predominantly a rural creek, development of roads and structures (including culverts) and changes to the soils produced by pasturage, cropping and the loss of woodlands have increased the volume and speed of runoff entering Barker’s Creek and reaching the site during extreme weather events.’ P 155

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Celebrating gold…and other things?

Parks Victoria has flagged the possibility of ambitious celebrations to mark the 170th anniversary of the discovery of gold in this region. They would take place in spring 2021. Another celebration possibility could be the 20th anniversary of the opening of the diggings park in 2022. The celebrations could take the form of conference discussions, re-enactments, musical events, art shows and other activities. Social, technical, environmental and indigenous perspectives would be included. There is a definite purpose in the proposal to promote the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park as a tourist destination, and the proposal so far has the support of Mount Alexander tourism officers.

As readers of this site will know, FOBIF is sceptical of the tendency of heritage events to glorify gold and everything to do with it, and to sideline or pay polite lip service to the collateral damage of the gold era: the outright trashing of the environment, and with it the completion of the dispossession of the Indigenous Australians.

So far, however, we are cautiously supportive of the idea. We’ll see what happens in the detail.

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Tackling the intractable

Users of Expedition Pass reservoir over the last year or so have noticed signs of serious stress in the Red Gums at the south western end of the dam wall, near the Golden Point Road.

Reasons for the stress are speculative, but drought and soil compaction from the parking of cars must have something to do with the problem.

Soil platform under one of the corner Red Gums at Expedition Pass. Will it solve the problems faced by trees at the popular beach? We don’t know…

Parks Victoria have had a small go at one side of the problem by building a soil platform in front of two of the trees. We’re not sure how this will work, given that it’s likely to be used as a platform for resting by swimmers in summer. We’ll see. An intriguing side of the problem is that Red Gums are notorious for dropping dangerous limbs without warning, a fact seemingly disregarded by the many who rest under these trees every summer. Fencing the trees off might be a good idea, but it would probably get a hostile reception by users, given the popularity of that ‘beach’ area.

A trickier problem is the cars. Parks have placed rocks to prevent these from parking too close to the trees, and compacting the soil further: but there’s a further problem: illegal and possibly dangerous parking along the road. This is more or less universal in summer. Parks seems to have made a start on this one by improving the walking track up to the Reservoir from Llewellyn Road. It’s a pleasant track, though definitely uphill. Will it tempt people to leave their cars below the Res and walk? One problem with that is that parking along Llewellyn Road is presently limited. We believe Parks has plans to deal with this…we’ll see about that one too.

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Eucalypt photo competition

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub  is undertaking a nation-wide assessment of the conservation status of Australian eucalypt, which includes the genera Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora.

Photo taken from Threatened Species Recovery Hub website.

The assessment will help conservation managers to understand which species are at risk and will also underpin a national conservation action plan for Australian eucalypts.

To mark this significant milestone in eucalypt conservation the Recovery Hub is holding a photo competition to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Australia’s eucalypts. 

The best photos will be included in the National Action Plan for Australian Eucalypts, an online photo exhibition and in other materials that promote the findings of the assessment and the national action plan. This could include stories on the hub website and social media, in presentations, factsheets, reports and media coverage related to this conservation research project.

You can find the competition details here.

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The promotion of lunacy 1: ‘let’s drive through those flood waters in our flash car!’

Last year Macquarie Uni’s Andrew Gissing and Fran Molloy offered this comment on driver behaviour and flood deaths:

‘Research by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre found that most of the 178 flood-related deaths in Australia since 2000 have resulted from motorists driving into floodwaters.

Photo from The Age June 1 2019 illustrating an article comparing two SUVs. The picture has no caption, but is clearly designed to show the car’s ability to drive through waterways.

‘Australians just can’t help themselves. Even though floodwaters are the nation’s second-highest natural disaster killer – after heatwaves – we keep driving into them, and new research suggests that’s because many of us think we know how to work out when it’s safe.’

And why would that be? Perhaps–it’s just a theory–they’ve been persuaded by frequent publicity by car companies and their friends in the media that it’s perfectly possible to make that calculation. Have a look at the photo from The Age Drive of June 1. Does it not suggest that the car in question is quite capable of driving in flood water in which the depth is uncertain? You decide.

Rules and regulations are one thing: but when there is a persistent, well funded campaign to encourage people to drive irresponsibly, and to see the environment as an opponent to be conquered, no rule will ever be quite effective.

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The promotion of lunacy 2: what are ‘prevailing community standards’?

A few weeks ago FOBIF wrote to several responsible persons/agencies complaining about car advertising which promoted unsafe and environmentally irresponsible driving. Recipients included the state Minister for road safety, the Federal Council for Automotive Industries, local MPs and the Ad Standards Bureau. We’ve had answers from Maree Edwards (a politely sympathetic letter) and the Ad Standards bureau, the federal body supervising the voluntary code of the industry.

The bureau’s letter notifies us that our complaint ‘is scheduled for submission to the Ad Standards Community Panel. A copy of it will be provided to all members of the Panel in order to help them in their determination of your complaint. We will also send a copy of your correspondence to the advertiser in question for comment. Any comments we receive from the advertiser will be submitted to the Panel for consideration together with your complaint…details of your complaint may be made available to researchers from time to time to enable Ad Standards to remain up to date on community attitudes and concerns about advertising.’

The Ad Standards community panel is the ‘centre piece of the self regulation system.’ It consists of 18 people from around the country not directly connected to the advertising industry. They’re from an interesting range of backgrounds, though none of them list ‘conservation’ as a major interest. We are assured that ‘The Community Panel discharges its responsibilities with fairness, impartiality and with a keen sense of prevailing community values in its broadest sense. Its task is often a difficult one and the outcomes of its determinations will not and cannot please everyone.’

We wait with interest to see what ‘prevailing community values in its broadest sense means.’ A cynical glance over a range of current television commercials might lead us to conclude that the community puts great value on being yelled at by trashed up celebrities urging us to buy unnecessary stuff. But we’ll avoid cynicism for the time being.

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In a different light … an exhibition by David Oldfield

David next of one of his photo exhibits showing Acacia melanoxylon in visible light and the same image in UV light.

David points out in an introductory pamphlet that camera manufacturers go to great lengths to make sure that digital sensors in their cameras will never see Ultraviolet (UV) light as it messes with the colours. However images taken under UV light can reveal how insects see flowers:

It has been known for many years, since the days of black and white film in fact, that many flowers have dark patterns visible under UV light but not visible to the naked eye. On the basis of much scientific work on honey bee vision, the eyes of pollinating insects are known to be sensitive to UV, blue and green light, and it is widely believed that such UV patterns, known as ‘nectar guides’, assist pollinating insects to find the nectar or pollen on the flower.

With a history of photography going back to childhood, David started to take UV flower photographs in 2013. He soon realised that nobody was taking such photos of Australian native flowers and thus began his groundbreaking work in this area. 

You can see David’s beautifully presented photos at the Newstead Arts Hub until 23rd June, open every Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. The Hub will also be open on Queens Birthday Monday 11th June.

If you would like to find out how to take UV flower photographs and see more of David’s work, have a look at www.ultravioletphotography.com 

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Life and death in the fire zone

The brilliant green in the photo below is Funaria hygrometrica, a moss which flourishes in fire ash. If you look closely you can see it’s growing in the ashes of a fallen tree. Harder to see, but still there, are dozens of small mushrooms, as well as a patch of fire fungus, Pyronema omphalodes ,also confined only to this ash rich line. That brilliant green patch is an intriguing sign of nature’s complex response to fire, still not properly understood.

Funaria hygrometrica on the ash of a tree trunk, Fryers Ridge May 25: the moss flourishes in post fire situations.

The rest of the scene is pretty desolate: it’s the margins of the Fryers Ridge Road, scene of a DELWP management burn last year [Cypress Drive, fire number CAS 066]. The severity of the burn on the steep slope below the ridge has scorched almost all trees to the crown, and most now look in crisis, with epicormic growth on nearly all of them. The slope is practically bare of ground cover.

Not all of the burn area is as bad as this: but enough of it is so severely burned that we have to ask the question, again: if it’s not the Department’s intention to destroy big trees, why does it inevitably do so?

The steep slope below Fryers Ridge road, near Timmins Track: fire managers aim to burn the bark off the Stringybarks. When the fire gets too high up the trunk, the tree is at risk.

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Here’s an unexpected fire problem

The photo below shows solar panels at the foot of the Fryers Forest fire tower. One has been smashed by rocks tossed over the quite high fence surrounding the tower.

Attacks on fire towers are not unheard of—reports from Gippsland last year included a depressing list of destructive actions: broken windows, graffiti, damaged ladders. One fire watcher reported being shot at…

There’s no easy solution to the problems of stupidity and mindless destructiveness: but given the importance of arson and vandalism in the fire equation, it’s hard to over emphasise the value of community education in making people aware of the responsibility we all have in dealing with the fire threat: more evidence that fire management is a lot more than just fuel reduction.

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