Protecting historic South West forest proves a delicate challenge

Craig DuncanBusselton Dunsborough Times
Members of the Ludlow Tuart Forest Restoration Group Des Donnelly, Bill Biggins, Evelyn Taylor and Di Claffey.
Camera IconMembers of the Ludlow Tuart Forest Restoration Group Des Donnelly, Bill Biggins, Evelyn Taylor and Di Claffey. Credit: Craig Duncan

Once upon a time WA’s coastline would have been a forest of towering tuarts, running from north of Perth to the southern tip of Busselton.

Tuart trees towered over 110,000ha of Australia, but today only 3000 remain, in a single pocket just north of Busselton which volunteers are working tirelessly to recover.

The Ludlow Tuart Forest Restoration Group have spent the last six years working to protect and enhance the only remaining tuart forest in the world.

But their battle is proving to be an uphill challenge, with tuart trees only growing after being scorched by flames. And in a time of climate crisis, an out of control fire poses the risk of destroying the last remaining strand of a vital ecosystem.

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Ludlow Tuart Forest Restoration Group member Des Donnelly is one of the most knowledgeable heads about the local tuart trees, having run the tuart mill which the group now use as their headquarters. The mill closed in 1974.

“When we have smoke and fire, the seed pods will open and the seed falls to the ground,” he said.

“But unless that ground has been cleared by fire into an ash bed, the seeds will be sitting up on top and don’t actually contact the soil.”

Each year the LTFRG plant tuart saplings in the hope to expand their forest, but with the present fire risk too high, the group have chosen to shift their attention to Indigenous plants to grow in their shade and complement the forest.

LTFRG member Evelyn Taylor said with the history involved in the area, the members of the group know what a healthy forest should look like, and are working each day to make the tuart forest a sound ecosystem.

“If you aren’t someone who has been involved with tuart forests, you won’t know what a healthy tuart forest should look like,” she said.

“We just have to try and educate everyone, which is a huge task. But we need the community to stand by this forest.”

Through school talks, eco-walks and art gallery showings, members of the LTFRG are hoping to expand their group membership to reflect the seriousness the forest deserves, Ms Taylor said.

Chair of the Ludlow Art Prize committee Di Claffey said she it was this idea that made her join the LTFRG.

“If people could see what it is meant to look like, and compare it to what it is today, they could get quite a shock,” she said.

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