June 5 marks the launch of the UN’s ‘Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’, a worldwide initiative aimed at preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems.

The initiative emphasises the link between ecosystem destruction and the health of livelihood of humankind:

“Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction.” 

On the eve of the program’s launch, Big Scrub Landcare paused to reflect on what’s been achieved over our 25-plus years of caring for the Big Scrub, as well as to look forward to the decade ahead. 

Much has been achieved. Since its inception in 1993, Big Scrub Landcare has cared for over 50 remnants of the Big Scrub rainforest, as well as facilitating expansion of the area of subtropical lowland rainforest in the region by 75% (or 600 hectares) through facilitating the planting of over 2.5 million trees.  

Protecting remnants from the major short-term threat of weeds has been achieved at over 45 remnants, and we continue our work at these sites to keep the weeds at bay. We’ve had great success getting the community involved through our main participation event Big Scrub Rainforest Day, and will continue the event’s proud 23-year history in October this year with a range of exciting events. Stay tuned for announcements of the event’s program. 

Looking ahead, Big Scrub Landcare founder and president Dr Tony Parkes AO believes the outlook for local ecosystem restoration is excellent, if the Northern Rivers region continues to innovate.

“The outlook for ecosystem restoration over the next decade is excellent, particularly for forest ecosystems, such as rainforests, in our region,” Dr Parkes said. “In addition to continued community and government support, we anticipate that the emerging biodiversity conservation credits market will generate new opportunities to fund ecosystem restoration.

“Now that weeds in the remnants are largely under control, the major long-term threat to the survival of the Big Scrub is the lack of genetic diversity in many tree species. This has occurred both among the remnants and nursery stock used in restoration.” 

To address this threat, Big Scrub Landcare is working with the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney to establish a genetically diverse seed plantation to produce stock of key structural and threatened species with optimal resistance to threats like pests, disease and climate change. Comprehensive genome analyses of each species will be undertaken to establish the best specimens to use as the mother trees for a new generation of robust rainforest that can thrive in the face of future threats.

Our Science Saving Rainforests program will see genetically viable populations of 30 threatened plant species and 23 key structural species incorporated in large, genetically sustainable rainforest plantings. The structural species contribute to the closed canopy and mid-story structure that characterises lowland subtropical rainforest. These structural species will be widely distributed across the plantings to help ensure their long-term viability. The threatened species will be incorporated as discrete, genetically sustainable populations within the large plantings.

This new approach has worldwide application and potential value in the generation of biodiversity conservation credits. Our plantation in Wollongbar is currently in the site-preparation phase, with soil improvement work underway in the form of temporary plantings of nitrogen enhancing legumes and other species planted along the rows where trees will be planted in a Macadamia-style plantation. 

We welcome the UN’s fantastic initiative and look forward to amplifying the message of restoration of the  critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest of the Big Scrub and ecosystems around the world.