In response to Dave Rawlins’s letter ‘Learn about low-chem regen’, Echonetdaily, November 18:
Back in 2004, after doing one year of a Masters in Environmental Management at NSW University, I decided to challenge myself as a bush regenerator. I could see clearly how hypocritical I was to restore a degraded ecosystem by placing toxic pesticides in my environment. My hunger for change grew stronger as I started to read independent peer-reviewed research that the pesticides that I was using in my work (glyphosate and metsulfuron), were not safe for me or my environment.
I was pregnant with my first child, Jali. I specially wanted to look at my environmental footprint as a bush regenerator. I had the opportunity on a one hectare site at Gondwana Community in Tyagarah. Through Envite, I successfully applied for an $8,000 grant and they agreed to employ me to implement the project under their public liability.
Some of the site was already planted but had been under-managed for the previous six months and many trees were covered by Setaria grass. So while uncovering trees we – shareholders and other community members – collected cardboard. Although cardboard is not considered ‘organic’, I thought at least I was not buying more pesticide. I was using a resource available free and I collected it as part of my shop trips to town.
Old and new planting areas were slashed and brush-cut, covered with cardboard secured with logs available in abundance in the surrounding land. Many of these logs had been targeted to be burnt, so we thought while they held the cardboard down, they also would become habitat.
I spent many hours planning. I followed a recipe given to me by Andrew Erskine, at that time working for Envite, now Byron Shire Council parks and gardens manager. Andrew told me to plant 60 per cent second successional stage (pioneer species), 35 per cent third stage, and five per cent fourth stage rainforest species. There were 1,500 trees, with 87 species of local canopy and understorey rainforest trees. The results were impressive. We planted one metre apart, which created great competition among the plants and in one year the ground was covered, the cardboard disappeared, and many of the logs were rotten. During that first year, we hand-weeded around the young trees and replaced the cardboard where necessary.
The planting site is now nine years old and free of weeds. So chemical-free planting for rainforest regeneration works excellently with the right strategy. It is all about managing the light and using weeds to protect soil ecology, and of course each site and ecosystem will need its individual approach.
Nadia de Souza Pietramale, Mullumbimby Creek