Saving Place: A visit to Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve

Tasmania, 1990. Two blocks of land adjacent to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area are listed for sale, marketed as ‘ideal for woodchipping’. Local resident, politician and environmental activist Bob Brown puts a deposit on the land, borrowing the balance from friends and the bank.

A fundraising campaign to pay off the debit is launched, and the land is paid off. Soon enough, more funds are raised and more properties are purchased. The group is formalised, calling itself Bush Heritage Australia.

Thirty years later, Bush Heritage is a national not-for-profit organisation that protects and preserves over 11.3 million hectares of land across Australia – from the ancient Gondwanan forests of Tasmania to the rugged Western Desert region of Western Australia. Their approach is multi-faceted, and their projects are many. Purchasing land, partnering with farmers and Traditional Owners, undertaking research projects, managing threatened species populations, and planting trees. Lots of trees.

Wurmbea dioica (early Nancy) flowers at Scottsdale Reserve.

In spring 2020, photographer Daniel Shipp and I visited Scottsdale, a 1320-hectare Bush Heritage reserve on Ngunnawal country, 45 minutes south of Canberra. Much of the land is comprised of relatively intact ecosystems but around 300 hectares, predominantly river flats, have been severely degraded by over a century of farming. The ecological community displaced – Yellow Box Grassy Woodland – is now critically endangered. One of Bush Heritage’s many projects at Scottsdale is to restore this land, helping to re-establish the once dominant ecosystem. It’s a hugely ambitious and important project involving invasive plant and animal control, lots of planting (42,000 trees so far), and many, many hours of hard labour by volunteers and Bush Heritage staff.

Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve.

We meet with Phil Palmer, who manages Scottsdale and soon find ourselves bumping around the property in his ute. Phil tells me about the many experiments he and the Bush Heritage team are undertaking at Scottsdale – African lovegrass eradication, creating seed orchards for the production of forb and herb seeds, specialised tree planting techniques and cropping native seeds for use in converting exotic pastures to native grasslands.

Ecological restoration is quiet, yet incredibly important, work. Ecosystems like Grassy Box Woodland are typically found on relatively flat, fertile land. Good agricultural land, in other words. As a result, farmland now takes the place of this particular ecosystem in many areas. The flora and fauna endemic to this ecosystem are less likely to be protected by national parks and reserves as a result.

The projects undertaken by Bush Heritage at Scottsdale touch on big questions around care for land and people. How do we best protect endangered flora and fauna species and ecological communities? How can conservation organisations work with and support Traditional Owners and their connection to Country? What are the ways in which degraded land can be transformed into functioning, biodiverse native ecosystems? There are no easy answers. But Bush Heritage are doing the hard yards – testing, growing, experimenting, recording. For Phil Palmer, it’s simple and sobering: ‘There’s not enough good country left to preserve, we have to get good at restoring what we’ve lost.’

In each issue of Wonderground, the Planthunter print journal, we partner with a not-for-profit organisation in order to support and raise awareness of their work. Bush Heritage Australia is Wonderground’s inaugural Community Partner.

Read more about Bush Heritage’s work at Scottsdale Reserve in Wonderground Issue One.

Tree planting at Scottsdale Reserve.
Scottsdale Reserve was affected by the Black Summer bush fires in early 2020. Many species, like this hakea, are re-sprouting after being burnt.
Phil Palmer, Scottsdale Reserve manager

Leucochrysum albicans var. tricolor, an endangered daisy species growing at Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve.