Hunter Region Landcare
Dungog Common Landcare Part 2
June 15, 2020

Yesterday, Thursday 6th June 2019 at 4.15 in the afternoon my sister Jann and I were walking to the north west on a section of the Dungog Common called Pinnacle View and it occurred to me just how lucky I was to be part of our Common. Looking westward as we searched for more solanum and lantana to remove, we witnessed the dazzling light of the sun’s golden rays through a grove of spotted gums and glaucina trees. That’s when Jann (eagle eye) saw him, a giant echidna wobbling absentmindedly through the grass, from tree to tree in search of his evening meal. 

Wow! This sighting sets wheels in motion. I take a photo and find the GPS coordinates with my phone. These are sent immediately to Bill, our resident ecologist and consultant, who records this sighting on his maps and in his documents. By the time I arrive home there are three emails for more information from Bill and other members. All of these types of events on the Dungog Common deepen community interest and increase the ecological value of this tiny 270 hectares speck of land in the Williams Valley and I am fortunate to be a part of its preservation.

To think that eight months before, I was so reluctant to accept the position of secretary of the Dungog Common Landcare Group(DCLG) I almost missed out on it. After watching our past secretary set up the DCLG and struggle to gather volunteers, chase funding, give hundreds of hours of her precious time attending meetings and organising work days, I was fully aware that the position would be time consuming, somewhat thankless and fraught with frustration. So, of course I said ‘When do I start’ (Not!).

As a secretary I’ve had some growing pains, but I think I’m getting better at this. I’m not a techno head, I don’t do Facebook, it’s been years since I did reports of any kind or kept up with emails and I may have to change my mind about Facebook, but I am getting better at this Landcare and secretary thing.   

DCLG biggest problem is the same as every other Landcare group, gathering a team of reliable and willing volunteers to help with our projects and support us in our short and long term objectives. In order to make it easier for our volunteers to remember our Landcare work days we have made a commitment to having our weekly work days on the same days of the week every month. Then anyone interested in giving some time can rely on someone from our little group being at the Common on a specific day, be it rain, hail or shine.  So, we gather every Thursday morning for our weekly working bee and on the last Sunday of every month for our family day.

Another strategy is that we only work for a few hours each time we meet, and that way our volunteers don’t have to give up too much of their day. To avoid burn out with new volunteers we try to stick to two or three hours and I do bring along extra snacks and supply a morning tea on our family days. I must add here that I believe the social side of the day, morning tea, is just as important as the work getting done.

Our hard core, reliable Landcare volunteer workers number 10 to 15 but usually we have between three and five gather on any of our weekly general work days. Most of these volunteers have been on board from the beginning and can be asked to do longer hours and special work days when needed. Many of them go out to the Common and work individually on their own projects or when we have a ‘weed crisis’ or some other event.

Everyone in our group appears to have their own obsession.For Bill last summer was saffron thistle and right now it’s spiny emex. Lantana and spiny emex is a focus for Ros, Jann is constantly searching for more of a rare vine called Cynanchum elegans, Ken is keeping our latest walking track open and my obsession was and still is Solanum cenerium and S.brownii.

The Dungog Common is in a very privileged position because we  have been able to call on the assistance of Local Land Services (LLS).  In the recent past we have had planting days involving  LLS and their group of highly experienced workers and we were able to plant upwards of 400 tube-stock in one morning. With the recent rain these plants are highly likely to have a better rate of survival than some of our other plantings before the dry period last summer.

Just putting together these few passages about our DCLG has helped me to realise how good and solid our little Landcare group is. We have many more people than our regular volunteers involved with and around DCLG. Some of our members do not have time to come to workdays or even attend meetings but they give us the benefit of their professional qualifications or life experience when needed. Our group has access to an ecologist, a horticulturalist, experienced fauna carers, grassland experts, forestry managers, business managers, funding researchers, real estate and property managers, mountain bike trail builders, fencing contractors, chemical certificate holders, First Aid Certificate holders and then there’s the assistance we get from the people who use the Dungog Common for recreation. That’s a mind boggling host of talents and expertise to draw on and I am sure other groups would have similar talent lists within their groups.

It appears to me that with Landcare you can plan every workday ahead of time and have the best of intentions but the whims of nature itself make short work of your plans. For instance, last October, our focus was on lantana and saffron thistle eradication. Then the Dungog Council Pest and Weeds Ranger had a report that we had tropical soda apple on the Common and although it turned out to be the western NSW shrub called Solanum brought in with bales of western hay, the dry summer conditions had caused it to flourish all over the Common and we were asked to remove it. So far we’ve taken about six compressed trailer loads to the tip. But we are still working on it, and in the meantime lantana gets a bit of a holiday. But still it’s coming together; while walking toward the western grove of trees yesterday I could see the difference we are making. I could see the giant echidna because the lantana wasn’t obstructing the view of the forest floor.

Yes, our little Landcare group struggles at times to get new volunteers and sometimes it feels like the job is too big and it feels like we lurch from one environmental weed emergency to another but we’re getting good at this. DCLG knows that with the help of our friends we are getting bigger and better at what we do, and at what we are planning to do and I’m a lucky person to be involved.

– Clare Shrimpton 07/06/2019