The Old Tree Blues

August 26th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Blog


Blue Tree picture by Bob Beale

Story by James Woodford

Recently a former colleague of mine, Bob Beale, sent me this amazing photo he took of a tree painted blue.

Bob, who is the author of the recently-published If Trees Could Speak, is a renowned environmental and science journalist and distributor of internet funnies. When I opened the attachment I was waiting for the punchline.
But there was none. In fact there was nothing humorous about the picture at all and that is what makes it such a powerful image. In his e-mail to me Bob explained:
It’s a dead tree at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Mt Annan – it’s not a Photoshop trick, they painted it this way to draw visitors’ attention to the value of dead trees as habitat and bird perches.’
He continued: “Old trees are cut down for firewood, old paddock trees are falling down, feral bees and Indian mynahs are taking over the dwindling number remaining. In some cases it takes 200 years plus for an old gum to get decent hollows – what do these critters do in the meantime?”

Study after study has recently highlighted just how important old trees with hollows are for native wildlife – for ringtail possums at Jervis Bay, squirrel gliders in south east Queensland, Leadbeaters possums in the central highlands of Victoria. The list of species who live in holes in trees is as long as the list of excuses people put forward to push trees over.
In spite of all the scientific evidence of how important an elderly tree is they are still being felled to make way for houses, because of the threat they pose to fences and other infrastructure or they are seen as a fire hazard.
In rural areas one of the saddest sights is to look into the paddocks where grand old gums stand on their own as glum as an Easter Island rock god.
Few of these old paddock trees are being replaced. This means that, across large sheets of the continent, once these trees (many of which first sprouted before Europeans arrived) die then there will be nothing but treeless plains, devoid of anything but kangaroos, foxes and farmers fighting against the hot winds of climate change….
So that’s the gloomy part of the story.

But Bob also included a link to the Tweed Valley Wildlife Carer’s website:
“We cannot possibly hope to replace the countless natural hollows lost in the bush, our towns, cities, and farms that were once forest. As a result, there is an awful lot of displaced wildlife competing for an ever decreasing amount of this prized real estate. This is where we can all really make a difference; in our suburban gardens, and rural properties.
A single well placed nestbox which survives say 10 years, can see a pair of Rosellas raise 10 generations of chicks. A slightly different box could provide a secure home to 6 adult Sugar Gliders. Different shape again could provide a luxury home to that ‘trouble-some’ Possum in your roof. Whilst yet another shape provides five star accomodation for up to 50 Microbats. And, when you consider that a single Microbat can consume one half it’s own weight in insects a night. That’s an awful lot less crawlies in your veggie patch. And, they provide this service completely free.
Nestboxes also provide priceless education for your children. Watching wildlife on TV is wonderful, but there is something very special about watching native animals coming and going, feeding, and raising their young so close to your home. If you’ve ever seen a Mountain Brushtail Possum looking out of her box at dusk, pink nose resting on front paws – you’ll know what I mean.”

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Nanette

    My experiences when dealing with the approximate 20% of landholders who are involved in rehabilitation of their properties where I live follows:
    When they learn of the value of the old trees and resident populations of animals nestling in their hollows they can then appreciate the importance of caring for those trees.
    Raising Awareness is a vital key to the preservation of old trees and the many animals that aid biodiversity in the environment.
    Many would say they have already written on this topic, that they have already done a workshop on the problem. So why bother to do the same thing again. This is another key.
    The message needs to be repeated and repeated and repeated over and over and over.
    Same circle, same teaching.
    Different people are ready to hear the message at different times.
    Never give up.

  • Bernadette

    Hear, hear Nanette! Thanks for the reminder to be optimistic and to keep talking to people. I live in the central west of NSW and I honestly believe that the hype about country people & farmers caring for environment is a myth. I don’t see or hear much evidence of this. They might appreciated a brightly-coloured parrot but they don’t have much idea of the web of life and that they are part of it. eg there aren’t many native food trees/shrubs around (I could go on…)
    I feel very depressed about that but I do talk to people and have met some who know the truth or are on the right track. We don’t have to know it all, just have to light that inner spark that will set us off on the path to find out & to open our minds.
    It’ s a hard subject when you want to say to the majority of folks where I live: “Snakes have a right to live, just like you do, you’re bigger than them, they run away when they see us etc…’
    Most of them would view this as the opinion of a crank!

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