Restoration grant for upper Bellinger River rainforest

Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. Photo Shane Ruming
Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. Photo Shane Ruming

Bellinger Landcare has received a $100,000 grant from the NSW Environment Trust to improve the condition of the rainforest along the upper Bellinger River.

Committee member Chris Ormond said the project would target about ten properties in the Thora valley, from past Chrysalis Steiner School up towards Brinerville.

Stock management and weed control will be used to encourage natural regeneration and this will be supplemented by plantings.

“The money will all be dedicated to on-ground works,” Chris said. “All of the properties in the area that have been surveyed will have bush regeneration, and where tree planting is required they’ll have trees planted, and where fencing is required, fencing will be done.”

He said professional bush regenerators would be engaged and that landholders often add their own volunteer labour.

The funding helps defray the high cost of broad scale restoration work.

“These grants are available because ultimately it’s benefiting all of us. It’s a riparian area, it’s our drinking water supply,” Chris said.

The project is also designed to benefit the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. 

Riverbank rainforest is essential habitat for the turtles and a number of other threatened species, providing them with windfall food, woody debris for shelter, and shading the channel to limit increases in water temperature.

Bellinger River Snapping Turtles, which as their name suggests are found in only one place on Earth, were almost wiped out by disease in 2015.

Seventeen turtles were retrieved from the last remaining section of the river to which the disease had not spread, and they became part of a captive breeding program at Taronga Zoo with the long-term aim of raising and releasing hatchlings back into the Bellinger River.

The project to rehabilitate their habitat will start within the next six months and run over five years.

“The money is distributed over a prolonged period of time because it includes primary work and then follow-up work for bush regeneration and planting,” Chris said. 

“When there’s no money for follow-up, what happens is the weeds end up coming back.”

The project area is along the Upper Bellinger River adjacent to the New England and Bellinger River National Parks and Baalijin Nature Reserve, which connect to the Gondwana Rainforest World Heritage Area.

Vine weeds will be targeted to stop the smothering of native vegetation

Vine weeds will be targeted to stop the smothering of native vegetation

It includes lowland rainforest and lowland rainforest on floodplain, and the endangered ecological communities they support.

“While the project certainly has a focus on improving habitat for the snapping turtle, a dual focus is on improving the condition of these very rare, exceptionally biodiverse vegetation communities,” Chris said.

Bellingen Landcare Inc is working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to implement the project, with involvement from Western Sydney University, University of Canberra, the Taronga Conservation Society, North Coast Local Land Services and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

To stay in touch with developments, go to www.bellingerlandcare.org.au or contact Landcare Coordinator Sandy Eager via office@bellingerlandcare.org.au

Following best practice bush regeneration techniques, the project will target areas adjacent to native vegetation in good condition

Following best practice bush regeneration techniques, the project will target areas adjacent to native vegetation in good condition