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Protecting and creating habitat in bushland and local parks and gardens

Danie Ondinea and Ian McAllan

The loss of wildlife due to expanding urban development can be partly redressed by individuals and community groups taking an active interest in retaining remnant vegetation areas and by providing suitable habitat in parks and private gardens. Although the guidelines presented here are mainly relevant to New South Wales, they are general enough to provide practical help for anyone interested in the protection of urban wildlife. In addition to these guidelines, legislation and government policies relating to management of wildlife and urban bushland, such as those in New South Wales, should be consulted.

Strategies to protect and restore existing habitat areas and their wildlife

  • Consider the habitat potential of weeds, unwanted trees and shrubs and garbage before removal. Limit clearing, heavy pruning, "clean ups" and weed removal in bushland areas or parks and gardens to no more than one third (up to an area of 20m. x 20m.) of the total area at any one time (and preferably outside peak bird breeding times). Small birds, Common Blue tongued lizards and other reptiles, possums and bandicoots are sheltered by weed species such as lantana, privet and exotic vines, as well as concrete blocks, sheet metal, car bodies and old pipes and timber. Replace (preferably before removal) with more natural (and aesthetically pleasing) habitat components such as rocks, logs, leaf litter and native plantings.

  • Use a mosaic pattern of weeding or clearing on degraded sites or sites to be landscaped. Retain mature trees, and, where appropriate, remove vines from all indigenous trees and weed around their bases. Choose upslope sites to begin initial weeding, each site to be no larger than 20 m x 20 m. (to reduce predation on moving wildlife).

    Use a mosaic pattern such as:


    Begin weeding in the number 1 areas, and allow regeneration (or revegetation) to develop in these areas to a height of no less than 2 m, or a density similar to the previous weed cover, before commencing on number 2 areas and so on. Once the indigenous trees are mature (flowering and fruiting) begin to poison or remove the weed trees. These can be left in situ.

  • Protect mature trees using best practice arboriculture techniques. Trees provide important food, shelter and nest sites for a wide range of native animals. However, if the tree is non-indigenous, and a weed of bushland or unwanted, and there are many indigenous mature trees around, remove as soon as possible or poison in situ. If the tree is non-indigenous, and a weed of bushland or unwanted, and there are no mature indigenous trees around, plant indigenous trees nearby, wait until they produce flowers and fruit and are a mature size and then remove or poison the unwanted tree.

  • Encourage retention of valuable fauna habitat on private property (including mature trees around blocks of flats) and within the grounds of local commercial and industrial properties. Mature trees (including exotics and non-indigenous species known to be used by native wildlife) need protection of their canopy, root system, soil levels and access to moisture. This includes when land use is changed or when land is developed on neighbouring properties. Dense native understorey, exposed rock, natural waterways and waterlogged areas also need to be maintained wherever possible.

  • Encourage co-operation and co-ordination between Council Departments to ensure habitat and corridor values are not compromised during development.

  • Reduce the impact of Pied Currawongs and other predators on smaller birds by planting dense and spiky shrubs to provide safer nesting sites for small birds, not encouraging large birds into gardens by feeding them and reducing the number of introduced berry-producing plants as these help maintain high Currawong populations.

  • Prepare ecologically-based procedures for dealing with "problem" native fauna e.g. Brush-tailed Possums in roofs, unwanted Common Blue tongued Lizards, spiders, etc, so that the best solutions for the residents and the fauna can be found. Organisations such as WIRES (Wildlife Information and Rescue Service) and Taronga Zoo could assist.

  • Provide traffic calming devices and signs at established fauna crossing sites. These would include known ground fauna crossings or fauna road kill or injury areas. This information could be obtained from the local community, local vets and WIRES records.

  • Develop close working relationships with organisations such as Taronga Zoo, WIRES, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales and others which study and protect native fauna. Many of these organisations produce leaflets and other material valuable for community education and can be invited to local fairs or open days to give talks and show educational animals such as Common Blue tongues and Grey-headed Flying-foxes to the public.

Blue-tongued Lizard
The Common Blue-tongued Lizard, Tiliqua scincoides, is found in many urban areas and may become unafraid of humans.

  • Develop and co-ordinate community education programs on local native fauna, habitat protection and creation, responsible pet ownership for local radio, newspapers, schools, businesses, industry, etc.

  • Develop signage to promote community awareness and reduce disturbance of remnant vegetation and important habitat areas.

  • Develop programs to monitor the status of remnant vegetation, wildlife and important habitat areas and to control predators of wildlife.

Strategies to create more habitat areas and vegetated corridors between existing habitat

  • Ensure that a diversity of habitats are retained and integrated into all reconstruction or regeneration programs (eg. open unmown grassy areas near dense shrubs and trees; areas retaining fallen timber, dead trees and shrubs; exposed rocky outcrops; open areas with exposed rock, sand and timber along watercourses to provide basking sites).

  • Enhance the habitat values of existing areas of planted vegetation by :

    • increasing the density of existing shrub plantings and increasing the areas of such plantings to allow safe movement and shelter of small animals. The best shrubs for these plantings are those that are dense and/or spiky and that offer a range of resources such as seed, nectar, insects, nesting material and nest sites throughout the year.
    • planting around existing mature trees to create a shrubby understorey or a group of same or similar species trees indigenous to the area. These plantings will be more attractive to the fauna which use them than individual trees. Also small migratory birds such as Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and Silvereyes will head for groups of trees which provide rest sites or from which they can locate safe feeding areas.
    • planting midslope areas within grassy parks and other open space adjacent to bushland with a corridor of shrubs and trees This provides safer movement for small animals and reduces mowing on difficult sloped areas.

  • Plant clumps of shrubs or trees or mixed plantings on wide road verges or in the middle of divided roads or in pocket parks or street closures in quiet streets while not compromising pedestrian and vehicular safety.

  • Plant around fences, park perimeters and other barriers, in unused corners, around seating, steps, carparks, toilet blocks, depots and stockpiles. Clumps of dense shrubs, climbers and some trees (with gaps no greater than 20 m. to protect moving wildlife) will help screen undesirable views; provide privacy, windbreaks and a sense of enclosure and safety; soften hard landscaping, fencing and buildings and need not compromise pedestrian safety.

  • Replace mowing with weed control techniques, such as hand weeding and spot spraying, in areas where regeneration of indigenous species is possible (for example, at the base of mature remnant trees in parks and on the edges of bushland reserves).

  • Use trees to lift flight paths over busy roads. Mature trees along both sides of roads allow small birds to rest, assess the situation and fly short distances high up to other trees helping create safer crossing areas.

  • Restrict the number of indigenous fruit-bearing plant species in revegetation projects. Although these plants, such as Sweet Pittorsporum, Pittosporum undulatum, and Bleeding Heart, Omalanthus nutans, may provide food for small birds and other animals such as butterflies and flying-foxes, they are known food plants for Pied Currawongs, a major predator of eggs, nestlings and occasionally adult birds.

  • Plant waterways to maintain bank stability as well as provide important vegetated corridors.

  • Use locally collected indigenous plant material wherever possible in plantings. Make locally collected plants available to the community (via Council and other nurseries) in conjunction with lists of fauna attracting plants and guidelines for habitat plantings.

  • Replace exotic and non-indigenous street trees and mixed plantings with locally native species during routine replacement programs.

  • Assist in Council and community seed collection programmes by co-ordinating branch pruning of mature remnant trees such as eucalypts with seed production times.

  • Make hollow logs, excavated rock and leaf litter available to the community to enhance habitat areas on private property. Return hollows discovered in pruned branches to parks and bushland areas to provide shelter for ground dwellers such as lizards, insects etc. Leave dead stumps, approximately 30 cm. from the trunk, when branches are being removed from mature trees. These stumps allow the formation of hollows which will provide nest sites or shelters for possums, parrots, owls, etc.

  • Place nest boxes for existing and potential fauna in appropriate mature trees. Provide information to Council staff and the community about nest box design, installation and maintenance, or sources of appropriate nest boxes.

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Australian Plants online - September 1997
The Society for Growing Australian Plants