The Ring of Figs in Tempe Reserve is quite a beautiful space & perfect for large gatherings

This is how it looked the day after a festival & after 11-hours of cleaning

Last Saturday 14th April, a festival was held in the Ring of Figs at Tempe Reserve.  This is great.  Parks should be areas that bring people together.  It’s what is done in the park & most importantly, the condition the park is left in that concerns me.

Tempe Reserve - 4pm the day after a festival

At 4pm Sunday 15th April we went to Tempe Reserve for a walk & what we saw shocked us.  The area around the picnic kiosks at the western side near the boat harbour had more litter than we have ever seen.  It was strange to see children & adults playing cricket on the pathway literally surrounded by litter.  My pet hate, string, was everywhere & I am not exaggerating.

We walked to the Ring of Figs & were greeted by an even more shocking landscape.  It is hard to describe.  Imagine a huge circle of grass & everywhere you looked was litter.  Great piles of plastic food containers, some with left over food spilling out of them, plastic cups, plates, cutlery.  Hundreds of plastic electrical cable ties were everywhere.  I saw an Ibis trip & went over to see why. Lengths of string & tinsel were scattered around.

Two women armed with plastic garbage bags & gloves were working incredibly hard picking up the litter.   I spoke to them & learnt that they had arrived at 10pm the night before, picking up litter until 3am.  They had returned at 10am & it was now 4pm.   That’s 11-hours picking up litter & they were likely going to continue until sunset.  In my estimation they would have needed to work another few hours to remove all the bits of tissue, plastic cable ties (I think these held the tents together) & other bits of garbage, much of which had scattered outside the Ring of Figs area.

We returned on the following Wednesday 18th & there was a still lot of mess, though most had been mown over. An issue of concern for me is the sharp bits of plastic as these can hurt bare feet so if you use this area, I’d recommend wearing shoes. Gone are the days when we can take off our shoes in the park.

Every week a surprising number of local residents spend some time picking up litter, discarded fishing line as well as string from food, birthday presents & party balloons from Tempe Reserve.  Each week there is more.  I’ve come to accept that many of the users of this park do not respect the park, the river or the environment. This will not change until Marrickville Council employs a couple of Rangers to educate & fine people if necessary.  Once people learn that their behaviour can cost them money, they will stop treating the park like the dump it once was.

Seeing the condition of Tempe Reserve last Sunday was like the last straw for me.  How can the community keep up when the park is trashed like this?    How can wildlife cope when the park becomes a dangerous place for them? If you leave any park in a mess like this, there are very likely to be consequences for wildlife.  Surely, improving biodiversity means providing safe environments for wildlife?

Today is Earth Day & possibly the right time to talk about what has been happening for months at Tempe Reserve.  Last October 2011 we noticed an Ibis in trouble.  On inspection we saw that she had string netting caught around & under her foot.  See photo below.

The arrow points to string that has imbedded into the skin of an Ibis with the bulk tangled around her back toe.

Then we looked at the feet of the other Ibis & what we saw was very distressing.  Many of the Ibis who hang about Tempe Reserve every day have string or fishing line wrapped around their feet.  They hobble around in obvious pain.  The worst was a male who would come near us & show us what was wrong by nipping at the fishing line that had shackled both legs together.  Somehow he or another Ibis managed to break the shackle (they do help each other), but 4 months later he is still in terrible pain with line tightly embedded around his toes & ankle.  The photo is too bad to publish.

Not having any experience in catching wild birds we called government & wildlife agencies for help. We even contacted TV animal rescue programs.  No one, including Marrickville Council could help.   Their unwillingness to help was threefold: wild birds, lack of resources & the fact that they were Ibis. We eventually got lucky because the local WIRES women came.

Another example of string injury in Tempe Reserve. This is totally preventable.

Our local WIRES group are volunteers who work countless hours with extremely limited funds rescuing birds, reptiles & bats & other urban wildlife from all sorts of situations.  They spend a lot of time rescuing bats from barbed wire. Many have to be euthanized because their wings are so badly torn.   Often they have babies with them & these babies are hand-reared by WIRES volunteers until they can be released.  I’ve seen home videos that had me sobbing because of the sweet, loving actions of a mother bat dying just after giving birth, loving her baby until her last breath. You can call me weird.  I have no shame being an animal lover.

The WIRES women came to Tempe Reserve on many occasions.  They also used their contacts & brought in a wildlife rescue officer from the RSPCA.  Volunteers from Seabird Rescue came as well. Together we have caught some birds & removed the string or fishing line, but there are more to go & new injuries happened over summer.

This length of fishing line had 2 full bags of poo tied at each end telling me that this was a deliberate act meant to cause harm to birds.

The clean up of Tempe Reserve on Clean Up Australia Day happened as a result of learning about the state of this park & to try & make it safer for the wildlife.  We will do it twice a year from now on.

Last Thursday 17th April 2012 a Mayoral Minute was included in the Council Meeting agenda. This was a request from the same organization that held the event in the Ring of Figs on 14th April.  They were asking for financial assistance of $1,000 from Marrickville Council to help pay the hire fee of $1800.  This was granted as it has been in previous years.

I downloaded the application form to hire parks in Marrickville LGA. In it Marrickville Council says – “Page 2: The cost to restore any damage to the reserve/park area as a result of the activities of the event will be borne by the hirer/organiser.  Any damage caused to turf surfaces as result of use during or shortly after inclement weather or inappropriate use will be charged to the hirer/organiser at cost.  Page 5: b) Please outline the cleaning management strategy in place to ensure the event site is clear of waste following the event. (if the site is not left clean the organiser will be charged cleaning expenses).  Page 15:  All facilities, amenities & area MUST be left in a clean & tidy condition at the conclusion of the event devoid of all rubbish & debris. A fee will be charged for any cleanup works required following the event.”

This may be well & good. But it does not seem to have worked in this case & in our observations has not worked in other cases. Where communities that use our public parks choose to behave in such appalling ways there needs to be actual enforcement of the threat inherent in the conditions of hire. To have that, Council needs to have Rangers who will visit the park during such events, & after, in order to check the state of the park & actually enforce proper standards.

More importantly, it is incumbent on Council to make it a condition on the hirers they make announcements through the day their communities use our public facilities about respect for the facilities, respect for wildlife & ensuring the facilities are left clean.  Education of the disrespectful sections of the community is Council’s responsibility on behalf of all ratepayers.  Our Council should show leadership by actually taking real measures for positive change.

Imagine what Marrickville Council would do if a community group left the lovely timber floor of Petersham Town Hall covered in masses of filth & litter after their event.  Why should our parks be treated differently?  Today is Earth Day – we should care about these things.

A small part of the litter near the picnic kiosks last Sunday.

The Hire Form mentions damage to turf surfaces

Another pile of garbage in the Ring of Figs - photo taken around 4pm the day after the festival. You can imagine how bad the park looked before the 11-hours of cleaning.

Kristina who left a comment below sent this photo she took at Manly recently.