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50 years ago the Sydney Basin had extensive habitat for urban wildlife. There were Sydney Blue Gum High Forests along the ridges from Crows Nest to Hornsby. Today this species of tree is on the critically endangered list. Despite being on this list, I know that 4 x 61 metre (200 foot) Sydney Blue Gums were chopped down for a development at Wahroonga last March.
The woodlands of the Cumberland Plain between Parramatta & Penrith are almost gone with the community fighting Blacktown Council unsuccessfully to prevent the removal of more 100 plus-year-old critically endangered trees for 2 football fields in Glenwood last April. Not to be left out, Penrith City Council recently approved the removal of more than 300 hectares of the critically endangered Cumberland Plain woodland from the ADI site for a new suburb to be named Jordan Springs. The community are protesting this too, yet 10 hectares of trees have already been removed.
There were salt marshes & fresh water swamps on the western side of Botany Bay. Most have been filled in & developed for the airport, for golf courses & for housing. Even our back yards have changed with a trend towards paved, concreted gardens or covered with decking.
Anyone aged 50 & over who grew up in Sydney will know just how much Sydney has changed. I played in a natural creek in amongst thick bush where there is now a 6-lane highway. In another family home, a horse lived 5 doors down. Many people owned chickens & grew their own veggies. Most ¼ acre blocks had multiple tall trees & they were not looked upon as a threat to life & property. Admittedly, there are still suburbs where gardens are heavily treed, but I maintain the do-it-yourself renovation trend has been to remove these trees & neaten gardens. Leaves are a problem for many people.
Our governments are pushing for massive population growth & demanding more development for housing. As the population increased, our green areas decreased as well. I think it is likely that these remaining green areas will also come under threat of development. I remember reading last year that the proposed light rail through Rozelle & Leichhardt intended to use parks along the way for stations. There was an outcry from the community & I think the parks have been left alone in the final plan. As I write this post the TV news is talking about the loss of Sydney’s ‘green belt’ to development of high-rise units. It’s non-negotiable despite opposition from great chunks of the community & many Councils.
Housing developments are generally not built with significant green areas & space, like they are in London & New York for example. When trees are used, they are often ornamental & of small stature.
Tree species such as Prunus & Ornamental Pear are being planted as street trees because they have a straight growth habit, have thin branches which can be easily pruned & do not have a shade canopy. However nice they look, especially in autumn, they do not provide food or homes for birds & native animals.
Urbanisation has removed much of the food sources our wildlife depends upon to survive & has made many species of birds & animals extinct or placed them on the vulnerable, threatened or endangered species lists. For most wild birds & animals, it is not as simple as finding somewhere else to live as each has their own territory & do not take kindly to interlopers arriving as they are a threat to the limited food sources. Generally they fight until one either dies or leaves.
Yesterday I read an article about possums in last weekends Sunday Herald 23rd May 2010 – “There is an epidemic of possum napping as an increasing number of residents illegally trap the troublesome marsupials then dump them in city & suburban parks.” Unfortunately, because of territories, this is usually a death sentence for the possums. People who are caught can be prosecuted under the Cruelty to Animals Act.
If a possum has set up home in your roof space, WIRES can humanely trap them for you & take them outside to an appropriate tree. This is not something which should be attempted by anyone but trained experts. Not only is a terrified possum quite capable of putting you in hospital for a few weeks, you may inadvertently leave possum babies behind leaving a bigger problem for you to deal with later.
The thing is, if there are decent trees for possums to live in, they are happy to do so & won’t be looking to live in your roof. Making roof space secure against possum invasion is easy & quite cheap with the benefit that birds like Indian Mynas won’t use it either & rats & mice are also kept out. Snakes too.
Last year a very young Ring Tailed Possum moved into a street tree near us. No one but us knows where it is & we only do because it visits us occasionally. It causes no trouble in the neighbourhood other than eating a few petals. There is no noise, no poop on cars, no damage to property. The only evidence is the occasional collection of small branches. My neighbour is pleased with what she thinks is my cleanup work.
Just today a good friend said, “Why would you want possums in the area?” My answer was because this is their home too. Living next to a park, he undoubtedly has many possums scampering through his garden & street at night & he sleeps through it. They make no negative impact on his life. Possums are only a problem if they set up house in your roof & this is something easily & cheaply managed.
It is my opinion that Councils should be planting street & park trees that provide food & good homes for urban wildlife. Not always, because certainly there are some streets & roads where another type of tree is more appropriate, but on the whole, trees should be chosen for their ability to provide food & homes for our wildlife. I don’t think Councils can rely on the residents to do so. However, I also believe Councils have a role in encouraging residents to plant bird & wildlife supportive trees/shrubs/plants on their property via education & community programs.
Developers should not be able to have DAs passed without significant green spaces as a requirement. It would be nice to see real creativity in new buildings. Glass & brick blocks do very little for the landscape. Roof gardens, gardens on different levels, buildings which are set back from the street so there can be green space in front where cafes/restaurants can set up tables or where shoppers can meet, have a rest etc. Research has shown shoppers spend an average of 11% more in green leafy shopping strips, so this change in design has a real potential to make significant money for businesses.
I digress. Suffice to say, there is going to be a lot more development, especially high-rise residential. As this will decide what the city will look like for the next 100 years, now is the time to say no to the ugly blocks, the cold modern glass. We should demand apartment buildings that provide a good lifestyle. We also have a responsibility to design developments with urban wildlife in mind. It doesn’t take much. Plant the right trees, ensure they flower & plant so that something is in flower for each season. Plant undergrowth at different levels, use both shrubs & native grasses & dispose of the wall-to-wall, corner-to-corner cement.
Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen unless the community make it really clear this is what they want. In time, I believe we will all want it because global warming & the Heat Island Effect is going to bring this to the forefront of the mind of the majority. Essentially, it’s going to get very hot. Then we will notice that most of our street trees give little shade & there is a proliferation of cement.