Citizen Science, On-ground

The times they are a-changing

Ian Falconer and his wife Mary welcome new faces to the Friends of Aranda Bushland, while they investigate changes in the ecosystem of their beloved reserve.

Volunteer with: Friends of Aranda Bushland ParkCare Group

Ian has been volunteering for Friends of Aranda Bushland for 24 years. In fact, the Aranda bushland was what drew him and his wife Mary to buying their current home. 

‘We specifically bought this house because it was immediately adjacent to the bush.’

Once they moved in, they quickly got involved with Friends of Aranda Bushland. 

‘Our next-door neighbours were keen members of Friends of Aranda Bushland, and suggested we come along to a work party.’

Photo: OCSE

Ian and Mary are now involved in a wide range of activities from erosion control and weeding, to researching the mysterious dieback of Stringybarks on the reserve. With a passion for education and outreach, they guide groups of students from Canberra Institute of Technology through Aranda Bushland to show them the site’s ecology and geomorphology, run an annual guided orchid walk, and are currently helping create a whole new signed walking track in an untouched area of bush.

Despite the meaningful contributions that Ian and Mary have made to their surrounding bushland, there was a period where Ian was concerned for the future of the group.

‘One problem is that the early members like us are getting old. Who will be there to keep caring for this place after we’re gone?’ 

Photo: OCSE

To ensure the longevity and diversity of the group, ‘The Originals’, as Ian affectionally refers to himself and his fellow older volunteers, have been busy focusing their attention on bringing in younger volunteers. ‘We now have two conveners in their late 20s, and at our Sunday morning work parties about a third or half of the volunteers present are young people,’ Ian proudly says with a smile.

Ian says volunteering doesn’t just help the natural environment, it helps the local community as well. 

‘We have a great morning tea every working party, which is a good way of getting to know neighbours and people that are interested in the environment.’ 

In addition to his work with Friends of Aranda Bushland, Ian has also helped set up a community fire unit in Aranda to protect against future bushfires. 

‘Immediately after the bad 2003 bushfires, myself and others pushed the ACT Government to set up community fire units for the protection of the suburban edge against fires coming out of the parks. I was the leader of the one here, and that brought in another 20 or so volunteers that were interested in firefighting.

‘It was a great way of getting to know the community.’

Photo: OCSE

Uncovering the mysterious Stringybark deaths

Ian and other members of Friends of Aranda Bushland have noticed a mysterious change in the Stringybark trees in their reserve.

The Stringybarks have canopies and limbs that are dead and dry, while the Redbox canopies are healthy. 

‘The Stringybarks are dying.’ Ian explains. ‘My wife and I have done a survey of species canopy density looking into the factors that might be affecting them, and we couldn’t pin it down.’

Is climate change contributing to the Stringybark deaths? Or perhaps it’s the 10 yearly fuel reduction burns conducted to keep Aranda’s residents and their homes safe from bushfire? 

Either way, Ian explains that ‘the ecology is changing. And with that change of ecology, the proportionality of species is also going to change.’ 

It’s hard to imagine Aranda Bushland without its furry Stringybarks. Losing them, as Ian says, will change the species distribution and the landscape.

A special thing about groups like Friends of Aranda Bushland is that volunteers notice changes in the landscape around them, and through their volunteering experiences are empowered to investigate them. 

Having people paying attention and monitoring the landscape is one of many reasons why community groups are so important to the preservation of Canberra’s natural areas.