‘The park’s also a forest,’ I tell my visitors. ‘Botanists tell me that in the town of Byron Bay it’s unlikely any tree alive is from before 1860, when the settlers invaded. These she-oaks (Causarina species) were planted as repairs for sand-mining in the 70’s. Throughout the Shire, older trees are very scarce, found in small reserves. Still, the area is labelled a biodiversity hotspot. So I often wonder how have all these native creatures survived so far? How much longer can they manage? What can we do to help?’
Urban forest planning is one step. Although many municipal plans aim to cool off hot towns, improve waterways and protect human health, they can also support wildlife. Plans in Byron Shire can become exercises in empathy
Start by imagining you are a Topknot Pigeon (Lopholaimus antarcticus). You flock to the low lying coasts cooler months. You wing through town streets, parks and private residences, throughout the different Landcare sites and along the various waterways and wetlands. Fig trees (Ficus species) and Bangalow Palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) already catch your eye.
At heights of 5-8 metres you would find Coogera (Arytera divaricata), Brown Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsos flagelliformis) Native Mulberry (Hedycarya anjustifolia) and Native Ixora (Ixora bleckleri). Although toxic to ruminants, Corkwood (Duboisia myoporoides) Native Peach (Trema tomentosa var aspera) are still your favourites.
Ranging from 2-5 metres, you would delight in Smooth Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis serrata) as well as certain Ti Trees (Leptospermum variabile). Another plus are the Psychotria both the Hairy (Psychotria laniceroides) and the Small (Psychotria simmondsiana).
Filling in, growing from 1-2 metres in height would be Heath Bushes (Leucopogon deformis). These parts of the urban forest would also attract others species: Woompoo Fruit Pigeon (Ptilinopus magnificus), White Headed Pigeon(Columba leucomela ), Fig Bird (Sphecotheres vieilloti) and Catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris). The last is a species of bowerbird. The male will carry fruits and flowers, dancing to attract the female. The pair mate for life.
From empathy to action? Back in our human forms, we must keep thinking as pigeons do, carrying the seeds of future forests throughout town as well as rural places. A gift for someone’s yard or garden can make that site a member of a greater neighbourhood forest. Groups refurbishing street-scapes, enhancing linear park-ways, planting around sport-fields, recreation grounds or school-yards can insist on plants vital for a variety of wildlife.
Rural landowners can make important connections for migration over the seasons as well as across the landscapes. They also can become producers supplying the rapidly growing markets with ingredients of Australian cuisine. The website of Australian Native Food and Botanicals has fact sheets, projects, networks and other supports for this industry. In August, the Australian Research Council invested $180.4 million dollars into 132 research projects about native foods and medicinals.
In our Byron Shire, growth plans for aquatic wildlife can unite town and country. The drains of yesterday’s settlers become the channels of tomorrow’s marine and coastal sea-foods. The wetlands hold water for wildlife and plants as well as recharging aquifers.
Reforesting makes resilience. Rebecca Jones writes about Australian farm journals, recording daily events from 1870 to 1950. These settlers struggled against the native landscape to service cities and the Empire with exotic livestock and crops. But often, especially when droughts set in, they themselves relied on harvesting plants and animals from native forests and wild waterways. During the most recent drought, they were hardest hit as most of these forests were either badly degraded or simply non-existent.
If one small exercise in empathy makes birdbrains of us all, what if we expanded to thinking with forests? Paying such attention to other kinds of living beings can lead us to other ways of being. Why not?