Local, Independant and Effective

Regent Honeyeater Project - sweet work from local environmentalists

Posted June 17, 2015


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (21:19):  Hidden away in the Lurg Hills, between Glenrowan and Benalla, in north-eastern Victoria, is a wonderful example of community conservation: the Regent Honeyeater Project. Since its inception in 1994, this remarkable, independent, not-for-profit project has established itself as one of the most active volunteer conservation projects in the whole nation. It has engaged a whole farming community in bringing real change to our landscape and environment.

Let me share a few statistics with the House. In the last 21 years, 23,000 students and 10,000 community volunteers have worked tirelessly to protect and restore significant remnants of box and ironbark habitat. This habitat provides a more secure future for threatened bird and animal species such as the critically endangered regent honeyeater, the grey-crowned babbler, the squirrel glider and the brush-tailed phascogale. Over this time, volunteers have propagated and planted an incredible 586,000 seedlings, covering more than 1,500 hectares, at over 530 sites. They have put up 260 kilometres of fencing, have installed hundreds of nesting boxes providing crucial habitat for rare mammals and continue to provide ongoing monitoring of the boxes every autumn.

These are impressive statistics and are a testament to the tremendous work of volunteers. And, as their project coordinator, Ray Thomas, told me, the entire project would not be possible without the 150 landholders—that is over 95 per cent of the people who own land in this area—who have made their land available for this project.

Thank you, Ray, and thank you to your project team and the many volunteers who have contributed. But thanks also, for continued financial support, to the many corporate sponsors, charitable trust donations and the Victorian and federal governments. Thanks to the Goulburn Broken CMA; to Caring for our Country, the grants for environmental and heritage organisations and the Natural Heritage Trust, of the Commonwealth government; to Telstra; to Exetel; to Rockwell Collins; and, importantly, to the Norman Wettenhall Foundation for their long-term support, particularly to employ the project officer.

The Department of Sustainability and Environment, as it was then known, also provides office space for the project management.

Other self-generated funds come from the 40,000 to 45,000 seedlings that are propagated and planted each year by project staff and volunteers. The Goulburn-Broken CMA supports the on-ground work and provides revegetation grants after the sites are planted out. Students from 23 local schools help with the propagation and planting, along with wider community volunteer groups, including bushwalkers, cyclists, scouts, church groups, bird lovers, shooting clubs and 4WD clubs. Valuable help is also contributed by Work for the Dole schemes for unemployed, and from out 'Land Mate' crew from Corrections Victoria. Thanks, guys.

Education is vitally important for the longevity of any conservation project. I know that Ray and the project staff are dedicated to educating the landholders, school groups, university students and community volunteers on the importance of threatened species habitat restoration. I think it is safe to say that with 33,000 volunteers and counting, they are doing a great job of convincing people.

The Regent Honeyeater Project is doing wonderful work in my electorate, but it is only part of the National Regent Honeyeater Recovery Project that is seeking to preserve habitat, and release and monitor birds right across the country. In April this year, in the Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park, the fourth and largest release of captive-bred regent honeyeaters commenced. This release adds to the wild population in north-east Victoria and southern New South Wales. Three previous releases of captive-bred birds in 2008, 2010 and 2013 have confirmed relatively high, post-release survival and this round will provide a further boost to the species.

For the Regent Honeyeater Project and other conservation projects like it to succeed, the government needs to commit to ensure that habitat across the whole of Australia is protected by continued conservation funding and through sensible planning laws that take the habitat needs of our precious flora and fauna into consideration. Well done, guys. Thank you very much for all your work.

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