We are all familiar with the severe and extensive bushfires of 2019-20 which impacted the lives of so many people across the country and caused widespread and devastating ecological loss. Like many across Australia, communities in the Shoalhaven region on the NSW south coast NSW were heavily impacted by the bushfires. Two years after the fires, people are recovering, reconnecting and re-creating both with their communities and with nature. The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) in collaboration with the NSW Rural Fire Service and the Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund project (through joint Commonwealth/State Disaster Recovery Funding arrangements) delivered the project ‘Fire, biodiversity and community: connecting people through nature’ for the Kangaroo Valley community in 2021-2022.
This project aimed to build community connections and develop knowledge, capacity and skills in recovering from and preparing for fires, as well as protecting wildlife habitat including threatened species in the post-fire environment. This peri-urban workshop was part of a series of community engagement events delivered in the 2019-2020 bush fire affected areas of Kangaroo Valley and Upper Kangaroo Valley and surrounds, and represented a unique cross-agency collaboration of workshops facilitated by the NCC Bushfire Program and the Hotspots Fire Project.
Following a welcome break from months of rain and flooding events, on Saturday 7th May 2022, NCC brought together 30 people for a free community workshop in Kangaroo Valley township on a crisp and clear morning. Besides local residents, NCC staff and NCC Bush Fire Committee Representatives, generous support was received by representatives from the NSW Rural Fire Service, Kangaroo Valley Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade, NSW RFS Shoalhaven District, Shoalhaven City Council, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Nowra Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) and Gaia Research. Local community groups, the Friends of the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby and the Kangaroo Valley Environment Group also gave an inspiring showcase of their work, giving other residents an understanding of how to get involved in on-ground post-fire projects.
“Having dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable experts in various fields is paramount and invaluable.”
Exemplifying this cooperation, the Kangaroo Valley Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade and NSW RFS Shoalhaven District kindly donated the use of a bus and driver, and a team of wonderfully generous Brigade volunteers cooked up a great BBQ lunch at the Brigade station.
The Workshop Day
Following an informal morning greeting of workshop participants at the local Community Hall, Bushfire Program Coordinator Dr Evelyn Chia, facilitated the day and NCC staff Lucy Tremain, Hannah Etchells, Richard Geddes and Peta Morton provided ecological expertise and invaluable technical and logistical support.
I gained a better understanding of bushfire management procedures and how they can be better implemented.
One of the highlights of the day included field visits to a local bushland reserve that contained threatened wildlife and habitat next to the beautiful Kangaroo River. A planned burn had been undertaken in 2018 close to where the bushfires of 2019-20 also occurred. Adjacent residential houses were also visited to emphasise the themes of the day. By firstly seeing on-ground examples, the presentations and ensuing discussions enabled people to learn more about:
- Preparing for fire, preparedness and property protection
- Asset Protection Zones and pre- and post fire mitigation activities
- An introduction to Cultural burning
- Impacts of the 2019-2020 fires on the environment and threatened species in the region including Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies, Greater Gliders and Yellow Bellied Gliders
- Dedicated works by local Environmental groups to protect biodiversity
- Fire ecology, including the importance of hollow bearing trees and protecting them, and post-fire monitoring
- How agencies and communities can work together for improved fire management and biodiversity protection.
Enthusiastic questions were raised, with the group debating management challenges. Both presenters and participants shared knowledge and experiences with each other to understand better how they could work toward better protection, not just for themselves and their properties, but also the local environment.
A local site story was prepared for workshop participants which described the environment, fire regimes and biodiversity of the area. A series of three great educational videos has also been created as part of the project to provide information about wildlife and habitats, and how to monitor and protect these natural assets in the post-fire environment. See the videos here.
Overall, participants were satisfied with the workshop:
- with 94% in agreement that the workshop was relevant and covered topics important to them;
- with 88% considered the workshop well organised and facilitated; and
- with 76% reported that the workshop fulfilled expectations.
Participants reported that some of the main benefits of attending the workshop included:
- connecting and networking with a diverse range of people and groups;
- learning how to better prepare properties for fire;
- learning about bushfire management processes and improvements for implementation;
- understanding more about the NSW RFS and the different roles of each organisation;
- inspiration gained by hearing from NCC and local environment groups about their work;
- understanding more about local biodiversity and its response to bushfire events.
“Gaining more insight into our local flora and fauna and response to post-bush fire events.”
This project was a great example of how communities and government agencies can be supported by independent organisations like NCC to work together on big, complex issues like bushfire preparation and protection of biodiversity. It has not just given the Kangaroo Valley community a deeper understanding of bushfire management, preparedness and recovery, fire ecology, and the unique biodiversity of the area and how it can be monitored. It has also given government agencies a better appreciation of community perspectives and needs. Perhaps the most valuable outcome is the deepening of networks, both within the community and also between the community and government agencies so that together they can help to build community resilience and ecosystem health.