By Eliza Buzacott-Speer and Terri Begley
A forest hemmed in by two major roads may not seem like the most likely place to support a thriving wildlife population.
But after years of work in Mount Gravatt Conservation Reserve, between Brisbane’s M1 and Logan Road, the animals are finally returning.
Echidnas, koalas, possums and even a red-necked wallaby have been spotted in the area recently, and it is all part of a wider plan to use green spaces both big and small to save threatened wildlife in south-east Queensland
Michael Fox is the coordinator of the Fox Gully Bushcare group, president of the Mount Gravatt Environment Group and director of Pollinator Link, a project encouraging and supporting the creation of wildlife corridors within urban areas.
The return of wildlife to the Mount Gravatt reserve is a coup for Mr Fox and his groups, with species appearing in the area he had scarcely believed possible.
“The koalas were the first major find … since we started work here,” he said.
Red-necked wallabies were another exciting recent discovery.
“We’ve had two sightings around the Mount Gravatt [Griffith University] campus, we’ve had another sighting in [nearby] O’Grady Street itself and sightings in Toohey Forest as well.”
Corridors needed to link conservation areas
But discoveries like these highlight another problem Mr Fox is trying to solve — the need for links between conservation reserves and other areas of bushland.
Mount Gravatt Conservation Reserve is an island habitat, and although at 66 hectares it is large, ideally it would be much bigger.
“Mammals like this — how do you move around the city? You’ve got roads, fences, dogs, everything like this getting in your way,” Mr Fox said.
“What we’re trying to do is restore the habitat that is available, but also, wherever possible, create corridors so they can actually move safely.”
He said there were a number of corridors being built around Brisbane as part of Queensland’s Main Roads program developments which would, in time, offer better protection for large mammals.
“We usually lose at least one koala a year — we lost a young male earlier this year,” he said.
“They get hit on the motorway when they’re trying to move … so we’ve got to keep on improving the conditions.”
Taking the bush back into backyards
But Mr Fox is also encouraging people around Brisbane to make their homes more friendly for smaller animals — like birds, butterflies and bees — that can safely cross roads.
“There are rows of houses, and roads, and more houses and more roads … but I thought we can create something with backyards,” he said.
Live in an apartment? Here’s what you can do:
- Provide a water dish and, if you have room, a birdbath with water, hung up high away from the local cat
- Growing a native finger lime or dwarf citrus tree can support the orchard swallowtail butterfly
- Herbs like basil and mint can be used in cooking and provide a habitat for native bees
- Lavender and other flowering herbs can also be used in the kitchen and to support wildlife
- Small native beehives can often fit on a balcony — don’t worry, the bees are stingless
- A nesting box or block of wood with holes drilled in it can provide habitat for birds or insects
His goal is for 10 per cent of Brisbane buildings to provide the simple combination of water, food and shelter, and he said even those living in apartments with small balconies could help.
“I know from my bushcare work, people lose heart … [but] if we can get 30,000 gardens across Brisbane — some will be schoolyards, some will be balcony gardens in high-rise units, it doesn’t matter.
“Effectively we’ll create a mosaic habitat right across the city that will support birds, butterflies, bees, moths — even ants need to drink.
“I want to take that bush out into the backyards.”
‘What you’re doing is creating stepping stones’
Mr Fox said improving genetic diversity in urban areas was an important step towards helping threatened species.
“If you narrow genetic diversity down, it leaves species more vulnerable to disease, so regenerating that genetic diversity makes the whole population stronger,” he said.
“What you’re doing is creating stepping stones. Birds might go from one conservation reserve to one of the local parks and they might go to a backyard a couple of streets away; suddenly they’ve flown three or four kilometres away from the reserve.”
There are about 20 pollinator corridors around Brisbane, made up of different communities of homes, businesses, parks, community gardens and more within short distances of each other.
But there is also a community-focused side to Mr Fox’s goals — the power of a network of 10 per cent of a city’s population.
“The other side of having 30,000 gardens is we’re not only helping the wildlife but we’re giving ourselves the ability to influence the city council, the developers, the nursery industry and so on.”