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Tree Habitat Hollow Creation Programme

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Never like today Australia needs to focus on protecting and preserving its wildlife and diversity of animal species.

A pilot Tree Habitat Hollow Creation Programme started in Queensland in 2015, thanks to the joined effort of Local Government and Habi-Tec. A few years into it, not only success rates are exceeding expectations, but the whole community has come on board.

The Gold Coast Tree Habitat Hollow Creation Programme began as a pilot programme in 2015. It began by a chance site meeting between UK climbing arborist Steve Collom and I pruning a big old Euc tereticornis. Steve introduced himself and we discussed our shared interest and passion for arboreal habitat trees and urban Eucalypts. Steve carried a box of coring drills and a CCTV eel to explore tree cavities during his working day, just for the love of it. I was immediately struck by his knowledge and love for wildlife and knew I wanted to work with him.

Both Steve and I discussed habitat loss and ethical pruning, the movement beyond the Australian Standards, excessive deadwooding for hazard risk, and over-pruning generally. Following some early conceptual work, we began on an ideally located and prominent Eucalyptus grandis in Currumbin, and the programme was born.

I was able to target hardwood trees that fit the criteria in form, volume, and location. We also targeted for habitat creation those occasional Eucs allegedly poisoned by an adjacent resident. This is a notable win in terms of strategy and for lack of any real recourse against offenders in legal terms or within policy. A nice tree blocking your view might not seem so bad when instead you end up staring at a hatstand full of critters and noisy birds.

Each inherently unique tree offered opportunities to create an array of artificial hollows with the most favourable features, configuration, dimensions and protection against predators, to be ideally habitable for their intended recipients. We were spoiled for choice in many ways with tree after tree lending itself to the cause.

Through a slow-burn operation Steve and the Habi-Tec crew (partners Ash Sandercombe and brother Dan Collom), developed a wealth of expertise in creating artificial arboreal habitat hollows, while

I captured hearts and minds within the organisation and private industry, working to ensure the programme was understood and supported by the those within the broader fields of arboriculture, ecology, natural areas, urban design, town planning, and even developers.

In hindsight the programme took on a momentum and life of its own. It wasn’t until we completed about a dozen trees that we began to realise the scope for the practice to be extended further beyond the established urban areas of the Gold Coast and into the natural areas and surrounding new estates in the ‘northern growth corridor’ towards Brisbane.

The City of Gold Coast spans 1,300km² and our urban tree population exceeds 800,000 in public open space, with no shortage of potential candidates we could retain and activate. In context of the wider region the programme seemed like only a small gesture to our native wildlife as an offset, but like a ripple in a pond, the impacts spread far and wide.

At the programme’s two year mark we began auditing the early trees we created via aerial inspection, with Habi-Tec capturing data with CCTV, fixed motion-activated wildlife cameras, and visual inspection of the artificial hollows for evidence of activity to determine which species of birds or wildlife had taken up residence.

Not surprisingly the iconic Rainbow Lorikeets were most prolific, having made homes within most trees in several hollows, but we also documented uptake widely by squirrel gliders, galahs, cockatoos, corellas, possums, wood ducks, and in some of the pipes we installed the micro-bats were moving in too. The Habi-Tec team have also taken initiatives in transplanting native beehives delicately into new pipes and cavities.

The more trees we audited the more our expectations of success rates were exceeded and this only spurred us on.

Only isolated trees outside of connective corridors showed low rates of uptake but still had some activity. In the more wooded areas like Robina a big old Euc pilularis we created had corellas literally moving in as the crew packed up their equipment on the day. These critters are desperate for housing and we were building wildlife high rises to rival the famous Q1 in Surfers Paradise!

Steve, Ash and Dan were developing a deeper understanding of success and failure rates in whole trees and individual hollows. I learned that the community and City tree officers were more than receptive to the cause and we gained more and more participation from residents in monitoring and reporting on wildlife movements.

“This was a success in human terms, educating those who’ll inherit the earth in the science of biodiversity, and awareness of their natural surrounds.”

Adjacent residents received a Habi-Tec brochure in their letterboxes and would phone Steve’s better half Louella and gleefully report their kids enthusiasm for this newly built wildlife hotel in the park next door. This was a success in human terms, educating those who’ll inherit the earth in the science of biodiversity, and awareness of their natural surrounds.

Each tree is fixed with a plaque that designates the tree as habitat and warning against access, alteration or disturbance. There are 71 trees and more than 350 hollows within public open space city wide created by Habi-Tec – and counting! We aim to continue our work in this field and further promote ethical pruning.

For more information visit www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au and www.habi-tec.com

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