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  • Annabel Sides

Rewilding Central Victoria + Newham Landcare + Linking into Sport

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

I attended a great local event a few months back - Rewilding Central Victoria, A Panel Event. As a member of my local landcare in Newham, I was asked to provide the membership with some information about the event. Here is what I wrote...I hope you enjoy it and the connections I have made between sport and the land - the industry I love and the amazing place that is planet earth, the same place that provides us with our unique places of play. For each game we love there is a uniqueness to the environment we are beholden to.

Rewilding Central Victoria: An Expert Panel Event

I have been using the term rewilding for a long time and to me it has meant to try to bring back to the landscape that once was.

This expert panel event gave new insights to the term rewilding, to wilderness and to caring for country. I feel fortunate that this type of event is available in regional Victoria and that I can share information about it via a connected community group like Newham Landcare.

The panel:

Chris Hartnett: Threatened Species Program Coordinator Zoos Victoria

Darren Grover: Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes WWF Australia

Paul Foreman: Conservation Strategist and Ecologist Biolinks Alliance

Amos Atkinson: Cultural Fire Practitioner

Dr Tristan Derham: Research Associate, University of Tasmania (UTAS)

Moderator: Dr Sophie Bickford, Biolinks Alliance Executive Director

The questions posed to the panel included everyone’s point of view of the term rewilded and the language we should use as a ‘hook’ to bring more people into the conversation about ecological restoration, as well as more people to take action to restore landscapes and their ecologies.

All panellists suggested that rewilding, ecosystem restoration, regeneration and a multitude of other terms were not meeting the need to ‘catch’ more hearts and minds (and more funding) to restore landscapes at the speed and scale required. And, that because of the diverse ecosystems and challenges to these ecosystems around the globe that there was tension between using some definitions and that there was debate over the definition of some terms and what they suggest will be achieved via their application in varying landscapes around the globe.

Dr Tristan Derham noted that Rewilding is a term that may be attractive, however it may not be the right term (from a research point of view) to suit Australian landscapes, the aspect of rewilding including reintroduction of large herbivorous mammals or apex predators (like the well-known story of the re-introduction of wolves to Yellow Stone National Park) is met with complexities of Australia’s landscape and species distribution. Helping restore ecosystems with ecosystem engineers or keystone species like our small digging mammals (bettongs, pottaroos, bandicoots…) is a good example. Much of Australia’s landscapes are held privately and this is a barrier to restoration work.

You can find some definitions of rewilding via the links below:

- European context : HERE.

- North American Context: HERE

- Australian Context: HERE

All panellists were in agreeance that language and ‘hook’ were a challenge to accelerating action, as was funding. The amount of funding available for managing threatened species of plants and animals and restoring biodiversity and habitat is far below what is required.

There was discussion on how it is easier to mobilise action to low effort activations like urban communities and regional communities planting shelter belts, pollinator plants or nature strip gardening and roadside conservation. However creating large scale landscapes and infrastructure that allows for our species to access ‘tree to tree’ movement and access place to place food sources was a much larger challenge. Examples of barriers to landscape restoration for species included roads, private holdings and urbanised segmentation of land and populations for breeding, feeding, seed dispersion and escaping climate change hazards like extreme heat, flooding and bushfire.

Another term discussed was wilderness. It was noted that Australia has not been a wilderness for many, many thousands of years. Wilderness refers to land without human habitation. In Australia the landscape has been a managed by First Nations people for many thousands of years so supporting First Nation people to care for country in the ways that they aspire to, providing spaces to care for country on country and for elders to share and keep knowledge of how to care for country alive is essential. Re-introducing cultural practices, like fire management, learning from traditional owners and having first nations led restoration was acknowledged by all panellists as a key strategy.

It was noted that the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is terminology and program that seeks to guide restoration across all ecosystems, and all parts of the globe, but that it ‘misses’ the mark in being a term that inspires people to act for nature. The hashtag #generationrestoration is better than the Decade name. Everyone agreed that finding a term in Australia that is sexy enough to move the masses to protect nature and strong enough to use in advocacy at a political level to garner policy, legislative and funding support is required. They are open to suggestions!!

The difference between the approach of restoration organisations was highlighted. Focusing on iconic and ‘cuddly fluffy’ species gets a lot more traction for funding and public support than a space like a grassland. Chris and Darren both agreeing that a pygmy possum and a koala are better marketing material than a moth or a manna gum so promotion of the cute and cuddly or the weird and wonderful can inspire and mobilise the public to join lobbying of government to invest in saving species habitat (for example saving or restoring Koala habitat), or, inspire and mobilise behaviour change that saves a species (for example switching off lights so the bogong moths reach the pygmy possums in time to stop them from starving).

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the day:

“We need collaboration from all walks of life, all people, all institutes and governments” …we need to “think bigger, bolder, stronger” …” If we don’t work together now, we are losing the game, losing the raceAmos Atkinson, Cultural Fire Practitioner in reference to what we need to do to accelerate at speed and scale. Rewilding Central Victoria, An Expert Panel, Biolinks Alliance, May 2023

Never Underestimate the power of a vision”. Darren Grover, Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes, WWF Australia, Rewilding Central Victoria, An Expert Panel, Biolinks Alliance, May 2023

My biggest takeaway – time is ticking to save our biodiversity – yet there is hope – this lies in as many of us doing as much as we can in our sphere of influence so that we have more people, more often and in more places acting for nature. This could be at political, large scale, local or backyard level.

So we (Newham Landcare folk) should all give ourselves a hi-5 because we are all part of that everyday action. So, keep planting, keep writing letters, signing petitions and meeting people where they are at to tell your story of contributing to repairing nature, it might just inspire them to do the same.

With that sentiment in mind I am sharing two organisations that are working to save our high country snow gums. I thought this may be of interest as it connects to the work many of you (Newham Landcare folk) have been involved in as part of MRSC citizen science project that has located individual snow gums and stands and recorded their health. (Information is available on the Newham Landcare website. Helen Scott, Editor of the Newham Landcare Newsletter notes that this project found that the lowland sub--

pecies - Eucalyptus paucifora pauciflora in the Macedon Ranges is in fact in robust health, in contrast to the dieback occurring in the alpine species of the following two sites)

2. Save Our Snow Gums:

And just because its winter...another thought for you all...sign the petition by Protect Our Winters AUS (POW), calling for Snowy Hydro to continue monitoring snow depths. POW AUS is the local chapter of POW, the international advocacy agency that was founded by and for those who love the alps, the high country, the snow and winter, be they a local or an international snow sports athlete:

And lastly on the topic of 'rewilding' as a global or not so global term... This week the FIFA Women’s World Cup Football Rewilded: Playing on Natures Team project launched. Perhaps the term, as outlined by the Rewilding Central Victoria Panel, is a little off the mark, but when it is being adopted by the biggest sporting organisation outside of the International Olympic Committee, it is seen as having global leverage. The FIFAWWC is being held across two nations (AUS and Aotearoa-New Zealand). The event is being held in 10 different stadia, all of which were Green Building Certified for the event. Football Rewilded is an installation on display at all stadia – this is a first for FIFA or any other major event.

The project is expected to have a large reach “With an estimated viewership of 2 billion and an expected attendance of 1.5 million, FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 is a significant international event with a diverse, wide-reaching audience. On this world’s stage, we have an opportunity to address issues that impact us all, and to demonstrate how sports can actively contribute to the preservation of our global biodiversity.”

It gives ideas for every day actions including getting in touch with your local land-care group.

Football Rewilded is just one of a host of sustainability initiatives that examine the intersect of Football with Environment, Human Rights, Accessibility & Inclusion and Safegaurding and the positive role that football can play in creating a better world.

You can find our more about the Rewilding Central Victoria event and listen to the podcast here:

Thanks to Helen Scott Editor of the Newham Landcare newsletter for providing me with the following links that may also be of interest to those wishing to leanr more about restoration in the Australian landscape.

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