Opinion: Wild Willoughby – striking a balance

Large boroniaI have been reflecting on the uneasy balance we have struck between the wild and built environments in our urban areas. As we look around the Willoughby region it is difficult not to be disheartened by the loss of open spaces and trees due to the boom in apartment development.  Turn in any direction and multi-storied cranes dwarf the surrounding landscape. What remains of the area’s tree cover has also taken a significant hit from the ill-conceived 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code.

Over the last two hundred years and more Willoughby has turned from bushland to city. In the process almost 90% of the land has been cleared for development. Along with the loss of local forest and bushland a wide range of Sydney’s animal and plant life have become locally extinct. I have lived in the Willoughby region for 20 years and even in that relatively short time the blue wrens no longer tumble through my backyard and the Eastern Spinebills seen when I first moved here are no longer evident in my garden.

Yet I remain an optimist. Some things are working to retain and return wildlife to the nature reserves and parks across the Willoughby region.  Fox baiting, stopping dogs roaming, bush care and regeneration, the growing awareness of the need to contain cats and better pollution controls on land and in the water are having an impact.

The signs of renewal are manifest in the small and large animals returning to the area – some after absences of 40 or more years. My sister disturbed a swamp wallaby a few months ago grazing quietly in the morning on a grassy verge a few hundred feet from Eastern Valley Way. Its relatives are nibbling their way around the edges of gardens in Castle Cove and Castlecrag.  One could hardly miss the boom in brush turkey numbers over the last couple of years.  Hot on their heels and hopeful of a delicious egg or chick are the goannas which should help stabilise the growing turkey population.  In my own garden, on the edge of Ferndale Reserve, the myriad of snout shaped holes are testament to an ever increasing bandicoot population. On dusk we can pick out microbats hunting for insects between the tall trees and very recently fishing bats have been found roosting in Sugarloaf Bay.  Sugar Gliders have been reported at OH Reid Oval and Mowbray Park and we are often visited by echidnas ambling out of Ferndale.  The bays and inlets in the region have also started to impress with a Southern Right Whale in Sailors Bay in July and reports of seals, dolphins and fairy penguins increasing their visits.

On the bird front there are other surprises: Superb Lyrebirds – not recorded in Willoughby since the 1930s have been reported in the Castlecrag area.  Peregrine Falcons are roosting in buildings in the Chatswood CBD, Pacific Bazas can be seen regularly in Spring over Bicentennial Reserve, Artarmon and Ferndale.  Reports from local reserves suggest that Spotted Pardalotes, Satin Bower birds and the vulnerable Powerful Owl are resident.  Most impressive of all is news that a pair of Sea Eagles are still nesting in the region.

In order to spread the word about this renewal, and hopefully to encourage local interest and enthusiasm about nature protection, some friends and I have recently launched a “Wildlife Willoughby” community Facebook page at:  www.facebook.com/wildlifewilloughby . We are keen to have people drop in to share:

  • sightings, photos and insights about their favourite local bush animals and plants
  • local environmental news, tips and stories
  • alerts about workshops, walks and talks (including WEPA news) and
  • stories about environmental campaigns locally and further afield.

Join us online to celebrate the native animals and plants of the Chatswood and Willoughby sandstone country.

Meredith Foley

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