The Black Summer bushfires devastated one-third of Kosciuszko National Park (KNP), translating to approximately 330,000 hectares of land. This inspired 14,000 volunteer firefighters in Southern Poland to raise over $150,000 AUD for FNPW to aid the regeneration of KNP in recognition of Polish-Australian relations. FNPW worked with New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to support the ongoing restoration of the region.
A year on from the fires, FNPW invited Michał Kołodziejski, the Ambassador of Poland to Australia and Andrzej Kozek, the Vice President of Kosciuszko Heritage on a formal tour to see first hand the recovery efforts funded by the Polish Community. The tour of The Rocky Plain Bog, an area south of Kiandra that was severely impacted by the Black Summer bushfires, was conducted by Rosie McVeigh, Conservation Bushfire Recovery Ranger and Mick Pettitt, Director of Southern Ranges Branch from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
In the centre, Ambassador Kołodziejski with a memorial plaque from the NPWS, on the right the Director of the FNPW, David Pumphrey, on the left of the ambassador Rosie Mcveigh and Chris Darlington. Far left: director Mick Pettitt and Andrzej Kozek
The Black Summer devastated so many of our national parks and unfortunately, KNP was no exception. Many areas of eucalypt woodlands, treeless plains, and wetlands were impacted, as well as 182 homes and heritage buildings which the local community held close to its heart.
Snow Gum, the dominant tree in Kosciuszko National Park, does not regenerate after bushfires and as a result, the animals inhabiting the area, such as native bird species and microbats, were left increasingly vulnerable.
The catchment of Rocky Plain Bog was intensely burnt, with sediment running onto the bog and water channelling with the first heavy rain after the fire. Sphagnum bogs are hugely valuable landscapes with unique plant and animal species and filter water for water catchment downstream. After fire, when there is no plant cover, rain moves sediment off surrounding slopes and into the bog system, burying remaining plants and causing water to channel.
Funding has been allocated to the survey of birds and insectivorous bats over a total of 28 heavily burnt sites. FNPW is pleased to report that insectivorous bats were present at all 15 bat sites. Unfortunately, the most recent bird survey conducted in January 2021 confirmed there has been little to no improvement in species presence across the surveyed area. This is due to several factors such as predation, loss of canopy and/or hanging bark foraging habitat, loss of habitat and food sources, and exposure.
Bats are a critical part of healthy, functioning ecosystems – small ‘micro’ bats control insect populations and large ‘macro’ bats pollinate and spread the seed of native vegetation. With over 70 species of bats in Australia, over half are considered threatened species and many use trees for roosting. FNPW installed 200 bat boxes with the assistance of these funds and NPWS.
Water holding structures were installed at Rocky Plains Bog to combat the extensive loss of vegetation caused by the recent bushfire season. Regeneration efforts concentrated on the slopes immediately above the bog, preferring to use organic material like bales of rice straw and coir logs which are light and flexible.
Recovery of Threatened Species
The regeneration of the threatened Mountain Pygmy Possum’s habitat was supported by planting approximately 3,500 plants, including 500 Mountain Plum Pines, with the aim to not only provide food, but also shelter from predators for the longer term. Natural plant recruitment is expected to be very slow and so it is important that these critical habitats are given assistance to recover as soon as possible. In addition to being able to assist with erosion control, native grass and sphagnum were planted to provide a habitat for rare native fauna such as the endangered Broad Toothed Rat.
The seeds of vulnerable vegetation and species were collected from sections of unburnt forest to create a seed bank for future planting. Alpine Ash Eucalyptus seeds were prioritised as the species is incredibly susceptible to repeated fire.