Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group - the first 20 years

Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group - the first 20 years

If you visited the Yankee Hat Carpark in the early 1990s it was a very different outlook to today. Immediately to the south there was an extensive pine forest.

Today that forest has been replaced by native plantings. The removal of the exotic pines and the return of locally native plants has been achieved by a volunteer community group – the Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group (GBRG) – working with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service (ACTPCS).

It has been one of the most successful projects of its type both in the ACT and well beyond.

The so-called Boboyan Pines were planted in 1966 on 380 hectares of grazing land. The area became part of Gudgenby Nature Reserve in 1979 and then Namadgi National Park in 1984. In 1983 bushfire damaged half the plantation. The 1986 Namadgi Management Plan called for the removal of the pines and rehabilitation of the area with native species. The National Parks Association ACT (NPA) lobbied to get this work started.

The work began in 1996, overseen by Ann Connolly as the project officer from ACTPCS. ACT Forests upgraded roads and then began felling pines. ACTPCS staff assisted. Commercial quality trees were removed, and poor quality trees plus slash or waste was burnt to create a seed bed for the new plantings; CSIRO advised on the process. Water quality tests were undertaken to assess impacts on local streams. By late 1997, 255kg of native seed (nearly half of that required for the project) had been collected. Moves were being made to form a volunteer group to further the work.

Image: The former pine plantation on 3 July 1998, seen from the Hospital Hill Lookout, showing felled and burnt areas, with standing pines in the distance at far left.

By July 1998 the volunteer GBRG had been formed, largely consisting of members of NPA. Its first work party took place on 11-12 July. Alec Ellis was first president, and Eleanor Stodart secretary. Eleanor soon became president (which she remained until 2003) and made a huge contribution to the group during these crucial founding years. She received an ACT Landcare special commendation in 2001 for her work with GBRG. Eleanor died in December 2004, and a regeneration grove at Gudgenby is named after her Namadgi National Park rangers, particularly Steve Welch, and also the late Amanda Carey, worked tirelessly on the project during these years too.

Despite shortages of government funds, good progress was made in 1998. Learning from the removal of the Jounama plantation in Kosciuszko National Park, the Gudgenby project saw further burning of slash and sowing of native seed into prepared ground, broadcast sowing of seed, and planting of seedlings. The seasonal nature of the work was important to success. Exclosure fences were built to protect some of the new plants from grazing animals (rabbits and macropods) and for trial purposes.

The seed used for both methods of sowing was collected in the area. Snow gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora, a broad-leaved peppermint, E. dives, and candlebark, E. rubida were sown in roughly equal proportions. ACTPCS provided limited quantities of seed of black sally, E. stellulata. Acacia seed was also sown, including Acacia dealbata, A. rubida, and A. melanoxylon . Seed was mixed with sand in the sowing process. This early work concentrated on the Hospital Creek area of the former plantation, and areas near Bogong Creek were also treated.

Image: Eleanor Stodart broadcast-sowing seed in a section of the recently felled and burnt pine forest. (Photo by Syd Comfort as reproduced at the Hospital Hill Lookout interpretive sign)

By the end of the year seedlings were appearing in the burnt and sown areas, and a substantial number of successful work parties were held with good results apparent early in the areas sown. But weeds (briar rose, nodding thistle, St Johns Wort and blackberry) were also appearing which meant further work for the volunteers over a long period. Wilding pines in the area also had to be dealt with.

Work parties became monthly activities of planting and weeding, and open days were held to broaden knowledge of the group's activities within the community. The area treated expanded as work proceeded and soon encompassed the Frank and Jacks Hut region of the former plantation. Non-commercial pines were felled with funds from ACTPCS.

GBRG was assisted in its work in various ways and at various times by Greening Australia, the Society for Growing Australian Plants (now the Australian Native Plant Society), the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the Scouts, Green Corps, Greenfleet, and the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers. A covered , lockable trailer for carrying tools and other equipment was purchased by GBRG with Natural Heritage Trust funds in 2000, and Olympic Landcare funds were also put to good use in further planting and fencing. Contractors assisted with seed-collection and weed control at times.

Image: Photos and captions from the NPA Bulletin

By the end of 2000 about 203 of the area's 380 hectares had been cleared, burnt and seeded. By June 2001 over 500kg of seed had been spread over 300-400 kilometres of seeding lines, and 24,000 seedlings had been planted. By September 2002 some new saplings were over three metres tall. Soon interpretive signs were planned to explain the project and progress to park visitors (these were eventually installed in 2008). In late 2004 the project featured on ABC TV's Stateline program.

The 2003 bushfires which so ravaged the high country fortunately did not have a major impact on the newly planted areas. Though the planned final stage of pine logging by ACT Forests began in January 2002, a substantial number of the pines were still standing at the time of the fire and were only removed by August 2004. This saw further planting of the remaining areas. By this time much valuable knowledge had been gained about seeding native plants, and surveys were undertaken to assess which methods had been most effective. Banksia was also now being planted in addition to the six eucalypts and various acacias being used. In 2006 a survey showed that seedlings were present at 2800 per hectare; given that the rate for near-forest conditions at maturity is 450 per hectare the success rate at Gudgenby was very high. The same year, Goulburn TAFE students assisted with an exclosure study to gain further information about grazing pressure on plants. Research student Chris Webb had also done an exclosure study earlier in the project's history.

Planting work parties in May-June 2009 saw 600 trees planted (the last of them with snow on the ground!), many of the seedlings having been propagated by students from Lanyon High School. As the native vegetation developed, native bird life was seen to increase in the former pine forest. In 2012 GBRG members embarked on seed collection of understorey species for planting, thus adding to the botanical and habitat integrity of the area.

Continuing work party tasks, apart from planting and seed-raising, have included work towards elimination of weeds like briar, blackberry and wilding pines (all of which will continue to demand lots of effort into the future, in some cases with ACTPCS resources), anti-erosion measures along fire trails, tending a rain gauge in the area, monitoring water quality, mapping rabbit warrens, erection of additional exclosure plots as part of experimental plant trials, removal of some kilometres of obsolete grazing fences, and assistance with preparations for Indigenous cultural burns. Work has been undertaken in parts of the Gudgenby valley well beyond the old pine plantation. A walking track has also been developed to further convey the project to the public. The social side hasn't been forgotten either, with the group having an annual party where members are able to enjoy a convivial gathering after completion of work party tasks.

Image: Regenerating forest in the fore- and middle-ground, with pre-existing native forest in the background, May 2018; old pine stumps are visible in the foreground.

NPA office holders or members like Clive Hurlstone, Syd Comfort, Fiona MacDonald Brand, Frank Clements, David Hall, Len Haskew, Martin Chalk, Sonja Lenz, Kevin McCue, Simon Buckpitt, John Waldron, Brian Slee, Ches Engram and Adrienne Nicholson have been long-term active members or office holders of the GBRG. Clive was president for many years after Eleanor became ill. Non-NPA long-term people include Doug Brown. GBRG has for some years now been led by Michael Goonrey, with Hazel Rath holding the secretary position she has occupied for a considerable time. Some members of the group (including several of those mentioned above) have been with it since its inception - an extraordinary commitment. Though strongly affiliated with NPA, GBRG is a separate incorporated organisation. Meanwhile ACTPCS rangers like Darren Roso, Bernard Morris, Dave Whitfield, Ollie Orgill, Ben O'Brien, Mark Elford, Ben Stevenson and others have continued to support the volunteers over the years. Namadgi manager Brett McNamara has a lengthy association with the project.

The GBRG membership generally numbers around 20 and work parties consist of about a dozen volunteers. Over the 20 years of GBRG's existence a camaraderie has grown between the members whose own lives have been enriched by the sense of contribution toward a very worthwhile conservation aim. The innumerable hours and person-days of work dedicated to the project have resulted in the landscape that you see today at Gudgenby. The project is testament to what can be achieved in a community-government partnership, and how an exotic landscape can be successfully returned to a native one in a national park. Gudgenby has been in many respects a ground-breaking leader in this type of revegetation project. Namadgi National Park’s natural values have been enhanced by the work done by GBRG, and Namadgi's place in the chain of Australian Alps National Parks has been heightened as a result.

Image: The view today from Hospital Hill Lookout – compare with the 1998 view seen earlier.

Volunteer at Gudgenby
Image: Volunteer at Gudgenby

Volunteers at Gudgenby
Image: Volunteers at Gudgenby

This outline of GBRG has been written by Matthew Higgins, with ACTPCS funding, for the group's July 2018 20th anniversary.