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    GROWTH: ‘Old Strathconon’ owner Carolyn MacDonald with plantout volunteers Bill Langcake and Christine Baines,
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    Fletcher Green and his grandfather Michael Greene help out during Project Platypus’s only public plantout for 2020.

Project Platypus conservation continues during COVID-19


Project Platypus Upper Wimmera Landcare Network has pushed on with work to restore ecological connectivity across the Wimmera during COVID-19. 

The group has managed to plant up to 17,000 trees despite having far fewer volunteers to help with plantout days during winter compared with previous years.

More than 200 volunteers helped with plantout events in 2019, planting up to 23,000 trees.   

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This year, just 25 volunteers from Stawell district and Wimmera Catchment Management Authority workers contracted through a Working for Victoria program helped with efforts. 

Group manager Allistair Stephens said in the group’s last plantout, 17 volunteers were able to get 2400 trees in the ground. 

“It was a big day, but we had beautiful weather and there was great camaraderie among all who came along – people socially distanced but worked well together,” he said. 

“It’s been a really challenging year – we’ve got 17,000 trees all up and usually we’d do all that with weekend planting with all the volunteers. It’s been really helpful having the crew from the CMA on board.” 

Mr Stephens said the volunteer workforce was a key aspect of the group’s plantout events.  

He said their participation was creating a sense of community and helping to increase overall awareness of the environment. 

“Every year we try to engage new people. Last year we did four plantouts and we had days where 20 new people participated,” he said. 

“Quite a number of people had never planted a tree in their life. It’s all about exposure to what we’re doing – having a bit of yarn and maybe opening their eyes to a few other things. That’s a really important part to what we do.”

Mr Stephens hopes state and federal governments will continue to support Landcare groups beyond COVID-19. 

He said the economic impact associated with the pandemic raised concerns about future funding arrangements for Landcare groups.
“Traditionally most funding comes from government. Since the Abbott era things have dried up and are continuing to do so – I can’t imagine it will get any better with all the money required to pay back debt and sort the economy out at the moment,” he said. 

“I would really like to see government put stimulus into the conservation sector – it always seems to be the first thing to be cut when things get tough.” 

Mr Stephens said Project Platypus, along with partnering Landcare groups, had made a ‘huge impact’ on improving the landscape over the past 25 years. 

“We’ve planted more than one million trees in that time and many of thousands of hectares of weed and rabbit control,” he said. 

“If you drive around the place, most of the trees you see growing in paddocks, we likely would have had something to do with it. 

“You can see a lot of gains around the place and adaption to climate change is also the big driver and is very important in what we do.”

The entire August 12, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!