Transforming degraded land into koala habitat
Koala habitat creation at Bongil Bongil National Park shows how an ongoing commitment to remove weeds and plant food trees can help koalas thrive.
This popular National Park near Coffs Harbour is a significant refuge for koalas. It was largely spared from the bushfires of 2019-20, adding to its importance.
Tucked away inside the park boundary were several small plots that had once been banana plantations, but in 2016 they were overgrown with weeds like lantana, crofton weed and whiskey grass. There was no room for koala trees and they provided no habitat for native animals.
Funding from the NSW Koala Strategy and Saving our Species provided the resources to turn this degraded land into new habitat that would support koalas and many other plants and animals that call the National Park home.
Project staff cleared the three sites of weeds. This was difficult and labour-intensive work. Once the weeds had been cleared or killed, planting of koala food trees such as tallowwood and grey gum could begin.
More than 3,000 saplings were planted, fertilised watered and staked. They were protected from browsing wallabies using hand-made mesh cages. The team then applied mulch and special eucalyptus fertiliser to ensure strong growth.
Early winter rain helped the trees to survive and thrive. Some trees less than six months old measured more than three metres high!
A local community volunteer group called the Tree Parents helped to look after the trees. They maintained the mesh cages, replaced dead trees, and helped with ongoing weed control.
Nearly five years into the project, the trees have demonstrated exceptional growth. Local rangers spotted a healthy young male koala in a tallowwood tree only 4 years old, much earlier than expected. This is a great indicator of success in reconnecting habitat for the local koala population.
There is still much work to be done, including removal of the wallaby-proof cages, and weed control is an ongoing battle. But the project has demonstrated that creation of quality koala habitat is possible, even on completely degraded land.
To find out more or to sign up to be a Tree Parent, contact ranger Martin Smith at the local NPWS Coffs Jetty office on (02) 6652 0907.