Koalas lured back to woodlands

KILGIN cane farmer Mark Sawtell has a soft spot in his heart for the few remnant woodlands on his riverfront property, and the colony of koalas that lives there.

Recently, he and his son Patrick took steps to enhance those woodlands by planting a 10m-wide corridor of koala food trees between two of them.

Lending a hand was Judy Henderson, of the Catchment Management Authority, and Michael Woods, of the Richmond River County Council, and others from both organisations.

The two authorities both chipped in to help fund the enterprise. Included in the $20,000 project were laser-levelled dish drains, replacing deeper drains that previously encouraged production of acid sulphate run-off. A variety of koala food trees were also planted, including forest red gums and swamp mahogany.

“When I was a kid I used to ride my horse out here and see koalas in these woodland remnants,” Mr Sawtell said.

But in subsequent years there were no sightings of the iconic wildlife, until recently.

So it is with determined effort that Mr Sawtell is working to enhance these woodland areas.

“They were just areas left for cattle that escaped clearance,” Mr Sawtell said.

“I know my father Keith wanted to knock them down, and my neighbour wanted to knock them down. But my mother, Dot, always loved it,” he said. “She grew up at Kilgin and went to school at the little Kilgin schoolhouse.”

Mr Sawtell said the joining of the woodlands by planting corridors of trees would be along-term project.

“But you've got to start somewhere,” he said.

“The drain reconstruction was a professional job.

“And that's an issue we're all facing now. We've identified acid sulphate problems and we're trying to fix them.”

Mr Sawtell said more trees surrounding his cane paddocks might also help temper the effects of frost, based on some observations of his own.

Meanwhile, Judy Henderson, of the Catchment Management Authority, said the move to plant koala food trees was a positive one.

“So much original vegetation was lost on the floodplain,” she said. “Remnants are precious and any project to connect remnants with wildlife corridors is a good one.”



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