Citizen Science, On-ground

Changing what you understand about a tree

A conversation with Wendy Rainbird – thirty years of environmental stewardship.

Volunteer with: Farrer Ridge ParkCare Group, Waterwatch, International Council of Women

Wendy has been the convenor of the Farrer Ridge ParkCare group for about thirty years. As we walk up the track from the suburban streets of Farrer to the reserve, she points out a large tree. 

‘We’re just about entering Farrer Ridge reserve, and we’re looking at a very gnarly old red gum, it’s got a whole lot of tree hollows. This is a great place to start talking about the reserve with people. One day I saw a little baby kookaburra stick its head out. It changes what you understand about a tree. Some people might say it’s a bit ugly, but it’s very useful.’

Tree hollows are essential habitat for nesting native birds. Wendy lists the different types of birds raised in it. She knows this tree so intimately because of her long, ongoing connection to the reserve.   

When Wendy started volunteering at Farrer Ridge, it had just been formerly listed as a nature reserve. ‘Friends of’ groups for each reserve were just getting started. ‘I just saw a letterbox drop and went along to a meeting.’ She has been involved ever since.

Her work has varied over the years. Tasks have included weeding, planting, installing swales to prevent water runoff and erosion, creating and installing interpretive signs, writing grants, hosting school groups, doing citizen science mapping of the reserve, seeing the reserve blackened by the 2003 bushfires, and embarking on a post fire recovery study. 

Photo: OCSE

Wendy points out changes she and the other volunteers have made to the landscape over the past thirty years.

Back in 1991, the group received a grant to restore a disturbed area. They planted trees, bushes and shrubs, and thirty years later they’re thriving. ‘After we planted them, we had a really hot, dry summer. I remember some of our members saying we’d better go collect all the tree guards and stakes because they’ll be dead – so, we got together a working party and went to go do that. But to our surprise, really quite a few were still alive, some had even died off but produced new shoots, so we left them, and you can see they’re really tall today!’

When asked what she thinks the reserve would be like if her group hadn’t got involved,

‘Very, very weedy. And ugly.’

She details how the group all but wiped out what was once a sea of invasive Briar Roses. Now, it looks like it’s always been native grassland. This transformation demonstrates just part of the important contribution volunteers make in caring for the natural environment.  

Wendy explains, ‘One of the motivations for me, is how lovely it is to look at this woodland landscape, open grassland, and across to those hills. And what it looks like now, can never be what it was in Ngunnawal times and pre-farmland, but our job is restoring it and giving it the chance to recover.’

Wendy is also a Waterwatch volunteer. Every month since 2003, she and a friend go to their allocated site at Casuarina Sands on the Murrumbidgee River to test the water. 

Photo: OCSE

Wendy has also been an Environment and Habitat Advisor to the National Council of Women Australia since 2009. At the time she got involved, the International Panel of Experts on Climate Change reports were released, she thought, ‘people need to know about this’, so she wrote reports relating the IPCC results to the Australian landscape. 

This captured the attention of the International Council of Women – Wendy went to Izmir in Turkey for a General Assembly meeting to nominate and became the environmental advisor to the International Council of Women. She has held two terms in this role. 

Wendy’s wealth of knowledge and enduring stewardship of the ACT’s environment is invaluable, and she is one of a cohort of long-time ParkCare volunteers who have a similar dedication to their local reserves. Her motivation for this long-term commitment of her time and expertise is simple. ‘It’s that feeling of doing your bit for your environment’, Wendy explains.

with volunteers here in the ACT, you can be out digging with a mattock next to someone who’s a professor, you just don’t know, it makes it very interesting.”

Photo: OCSE