Thinking decades ahead with dam and habitat restoration

News article |

If you asked Sinclair and Janet Gould a couple of years ago about property restoration following bushfire, they might have told you about the hard work and the tough road ahead. But four years since the Cudlee Creek fire, they are more likely to speak about the enormous satisfaction and wellbeing benefits of helping the land heal and regenerate.

When the Cudlee Creek bushfire tore through the region in December 2019, over 1,500 private properties were directly affected, requiring varying levels of recovery and support. Sinclair and Janet’s 150-acre property at Woodside took a big hit, and while their house and sheds were saved, much of the pasture and fencing, and natural assets, including large trees, were lost. The three-quarter hectare dam was also seriously impacted.

Having lived at the property for over 40 years, the Gould’s resilience and work ethic shone through after the fire, as they set to work supporting regeneration and restoring the natural balance – not for themselves, but for the future wellbeing of the natural environment.

“It was a close call, and we were very lucky not to have lost everything, as many did,” said Sinclair.

Sinclair walks around his property, pointing out landmarks that bear evidence of just how close it came to their house, but also how hot and unrelenting the fire was. An old fence post relic, burnt out and still suspended in fencing wire, is a stark reminder.

Thinking decades ahead with dam and habitat restoration

“Restoring our dam, rebuilding fences and getting on the front foot with woody weed control was our first priority. The place was in pretty good shape before the fire and we knew that things would spiral out of control pretty quickly if we didn’t act.”

With some grant funding and expert advice provided through Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu’s Bushfire Recovery Project, Sinclair and Janet were able to undertake a control program to manage the opportunistic fire-germinated gorse, and direct their attention to their dam.

“Our dam is a special part of this property - the biodiversity surrounding it - reeds, sedges, birds, fish, and reptiles – it’s fascinating. The fire filled it with silt and took out a lot of the vegetation surrounding it, so bringing back the habitat and restoring the water quality has been a real focus.

“The dam restoration field day was inspiring and very helpful, it enabled us to understand the priorities and plan accordingly.

“Janet and I, with the help of our friend David Burnett, have spent the past three and half years restoring life to our dam. We have planted the perimeter and adjoining block with taller gums and mid-storey natives, and focussed on sedges around the riparian zone. We’ve planted about 2,000 trees and shrubs around this dam and another smaller one since the fire, and a lot of gums and acacias have also naturally regenerated. The sedges have also begun re-sprouting on their own, but we’ve also divided several larger clumps of sedges, and in doing so increased the coverage ten-fold.

Thinking decades ahead with dam and habitat restoration
Sinclair and David reflect on the work done over the past four years

“It has been hard work, and I know I may not be here to see the trees grow and the revegetation fully come to fruition, but we get a lot of satisfaction in knowing that we are doing our bit. I’d love to see what this place looks like in fifty years’ time and hope that the work we are doing now will help it be more resilient to bounce back harder and faster next time a fire comes through,” he said.

Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu Senior Stewardship Officer, Will Hannaford, praised the Goulds on their initiative to take the lead and plan their restoration project with a clear strategy in mind.

Thinking decades ahead with dam and habitat restoration
Sinclair and Will take a good look around the dam and adjacent wetland to assess the progress of restoration following the Cudlee Creek bushfire.

“Sinclair and Janet have done a great job here. The three key elements of dam rejuvenation and restoration are to exclude livestock with fencing, to plan a revegetation program using the right local plants to stabilise the banks and provide different storeys of habitat, and to set up a system where excess flows are passed down the catchment to support water-dependent ecosystems. This project is ticking all the boxes.

“By doing so, nature is finding its way back to this dam and the restoration will begin to take on a life of its own. Over on the eastern side of the dam, there are a couple of large patches of native swamp wallaby grass (Amphibromus species), that’s a really unique species. It’s exciting to see it emerge and be nurtured by the Goulds in the recovering landscape - it’s a great outcome.

“They’ve also planted 3,000 native species along a section of the Inverbrackie Creek running through the property as well, their effort and dedication is phenomenal,” said Will.

Thinking decades ahead with dam and habitat restoration

Sinclair and Janet have taken on the responsibility of land stewardship whole-heartedly – not for their own benefit, but from the position of ‘temporary stewards’ of the dynamic ecosystems that call their property home.

To learn more about caring for the land, water and nature on your property, take a look at the new Stewardship Program on the Landscapes Hills and Fleurieu website – landscape.sa.gov.au/hf/stewardship

The Cudlee Creek Bushfire Recovery project was delivered by the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board in partnership with the Department of Primary Industries and Regions between 2021 and 2023. This Local Economic Recovery project was jointly funded by the South Australian and Australian Governments under the National Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.

Listed to Sinclair and Will speaking with Brooke Neindorf from ABC Country Hour

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