Wild Futures

Restoration & Resilience: Kangaroo Island Community

When we think of resilience in the wake of a bushfire, we tend to think of the strength of the natural world around us. The green shoots that starkly contrast the burnt gumtree they sprout from. The threatened wildlife who now face near-extinction and adapt to keep their species alive. A wondrous reminder of the adaptability of life.

To also be celebrated is the resilience of the people, who like those green shoots, represent a determined unfurling and strength in the wake of the hardships they’ve been dealt.

Leah Couchman has lived in Kangaroo Island (KI) for the past 15 years and was one of the many KI residents to lose her entire home, livestock, shed, pasture and vehicles to the 2019 / 2020 summer bushfires.

“My partner’s family has owned the property since the 1960’s. We run sheep and cattle on the farm, and we’ve got quite a bit of native vegetation along the creek lines as well as in heritage areas. [The past year] has been a very busy and a very hard time, but we’ve rebuilt our house now and have been in it for about 6 weeks. We’ve also built new sheds, bought new livestock and have done a lot of fencing!”

Leah is a symbol of resilience amidst a community of people were all affected and who have banded together to support one another in rebuilding their homes and lives ever since.

In fact, Leah says one of the hardest things initially was because the entire community was affected, neighbours, friends and family all had less time to help each other – as they were all protecting their own properties from the fire.

“Having said that, we had a huge amount of help especially in the beginning before the fire spread – because it got to us first. We’ve also had a huge amount of help during the firefighting because that went on for weeks, and in the actual recovery we’ve had a lot of assistance, and people look out for each other in the community.

I can’t even tell you all the ways that people have helped us – I kept a spreadsheet and there’s so much on there. Everything from toys for the kids and Blaze Aid helping with fencing through to monetary assistance, and just recently we had an organisation called SA Bushfire Recovery Gardening who came and did an open day where we were given native shrubs and tools to get our gardens back on track. I think was one woman who started it on the mainland, and it’s a volunteer organisation where everyone on the fundraised. It’s amazing what they achieved.”

The impact of these bushfires was vast, with the 210,000 hectares of Kangaroo Island that was burnt being the western end of the island – home to majority of the island’s pristine native habitat.

As a part of a wider bushfire recovery project, funded by CVA National Bushfire Recovery Partner – Boral, Leah was one of the four landholders to receive volunteer assistance to help with the revegetation of native habitat on her property. And what was being tackled? Weeds. Lots of weeds. In particular the Tasmanian Blue Gum trees which were spreading rapidly and undermining the natural recovery process of the regeneration of native plants.

Mel Crouch, SA Project Coordinator, says that weeds are by far the largest ecological threat after bushfire, with Tasmanian blue gums shading out natives and consuming huge amounts of water needed by native plants. With a keen eye for spotting weeds, Mel set out with six volunteers and staff to remove an estimated 15,000 Tasmanian Blue Gums across 14.9 hectares of priority scrubland on the island.

“Ultimately, the removal of these weeds has a flow-on effect for the wider ecosystem. Allowing natives to grow back means more food & homes for threatened species who are trying to recover from this devastating event” says Mel.

Leah, being a self-proclaimed not-quite-environmentalist, herself said Mel’s knowledge of the plants was amazing.

“The area they weeded wasn’t a spot we go regularly, so we weren’t even sure if there would be many weeds – but Mel spotted hundreds of them straight away!”

“A big thank you to the CVA team. Removing the Blue Gums isn’t something we could have prioritised quick enough, and these trees would have got bigger and bigger which would have been hard for us to deal with so it’s been very helpful to us for them to come in and do what they did, so thank you.”

Find out more about the bushfire recovery project and how you can be involved.

Wild Futures

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