In Australia, regrowth forest has been in the news recently. Our conservative Government requested that an area of regrowth forest be removed from the World Heritage listing. Thankfully the request was refused because this regrowth is part of a beautiful old growth forest in Tasmania. Over the last few weeks, when I ventured into areas of local bushland, the discussion of whether regrowth had conservation value prompted me to take notice of the condition of a local nature reserve.
I’m led to believe that most of the natural bush in this area is regrowth from logging which occurred in the 1850′s. This was when the gold rush was at its peak; when timber was needed to line mines, lay railway tracks and serve as building materials for the fast-growing new nation. There is the occasional old huge-girthed tree in our area, but most trees are in their prime, reaching for the sky and small enough to grasp your own hands on the reverse side of the trunk. With the limited knowledge I have, it seems that the regrowth bushland which still exists has been largely undisturbed since that time, with the exception of felling to make space for houses or to create paddocks here and there.
Not far from where we live is a reserve which has the same species of trees and under-story shrubs that we have on our property. Walking through the reserve, I couldn’t help but notice the number of exotic plants (or weeds as they are more commonly known) covering the ground. Among the species I noticed were couch grass, oxalis, thistles of various descriptions, but there were many more. During my walk, I could not see one example of a native plant growing low to the ground.
The history of the reserve is unknown to me, but it has obviously been exposed to higher level of traffic than our land. The weediest areas are those alongside the road.
Despite the weeds, the mature trees in the reserve do offer real value for wildlife in the form of hollows to nest in, bushy cover to hide in, and sufficient food to host a healthy population of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. It also has a higher ratio of old growth trees than we have here.
How Do We Compare?
Looking more precisely at our own property, it seems that it has never been grazed, nor has it been used for agricultural crops. In comparison to the reserve, we have relatively few weeds in our bushland. The ground in our regrowth bush area is covered with bracken, moss, and a myriad of native plant species such as orchids, lilies, sundews, heath, tea tree, to name a few. I’m still building my native species list, but already I have identified forty-nine (49) different species of plants and thirty-eight (38) species of birds on our property. This feels like only the beginning as I have tens of unidentified plant photos to add to the list, and I know there are many bird species I am yet to photograph.
However, I don’t want to give the impression that our bushland is pristine when it is far from it. We have a number of exotics (weeds) across our property, some of which I have documented. Grass, in particular, has encroached into some sections, most notably the transition zone between house and bush. I guess this is to be expected when we don’t back onto bushland, but onto other properties. Wildlife will have tracked in seeds from other locations, including the roadside across many years, and the land is inhabited by us, and our predecessors. Somewhere on our property there is rumoured to be a filled in mine shaft from the 1850′s. If this is true, then mining would also have affected the land, even if the impact was minimal, and for a very short time.
On balance though, I think our bushland has survived relatively intact and it can support a wide range of native species.
The Value of Regrowth Forest
Returning to the question of whether regrowth forest has conservation value, I strongly believe that it does. The key to ensuring it has a high conservation value is to protect it from invasive and exotic species. It would help if it was difficult to access; if the passing traffic was minimal or non-existent. It seems to me that a section of regrowth forest surrounded by World Heritage listed old growth forest provides the best chance for native species to repopulate and flourish. In time, protected regrowth forest will become high conservation value old growth forest.