Rainforest Regeneration Project Growing Rapidly

Monica Haynes
January 25, 2017

Community tree planting day at NightWings

A revegetation project creating vital habitat for vulnerable species, supported by funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme & Terrain’s Natural Capital Fund.

One of the largest rainforest revegetation projects undertaken in the South Daintree region is creating new habitat for wildlife, by restoring 15 hectares of former cane farm back to lowland rainforest.

‘NightWings’ is a six-stage regeneration project requiring 70,000 trees to be planted on the site by mid 2019. Stage 1 planting of 12,000 trees, which is now complete, was supported by Terrain NRM’s Community Grants Programme.

NightWings co-founders Annie Schoenberger, Connie Kerr and Dave Pinson, have more than 40 years’ experience in wildlife care between them. A desire to create vital habitat was the driver behind the project.

After the final cane harvest occurred in late 2015, land owner Ms Schoenberger and her colleagues began preparing the newly acquired land for the significant work involved with restoring part of a vital Wet Tropics ecosystem.

More than 160 all-indigenous tree species which were typically present prior to sporadic logging, then a whole scale clearing event in 1963, have been used. Terrain's Vanessa Drysdale said, "The project has engaged extensively with Traditional Owners and Custodians of the country by researching plant usage and traditional knowledge of plant species which inhabited the area prior to clearing".

The new trees will grow into a 60-metre wide corridor linking the existing mature lowland rainforest to mangroves at the South Arm of the Daintree River mouth. It will be the first time in almost 100 years that the corridor is re-established.

“There is no complete connection of forest to mangroves and the reef, south of the Daintree river between Daintree and Mossman. This is the first total connection in the area,” said Ms Kerr.

Connectivity is vital to plant and environmental diversity and the connection will allow wildlife to naturally traverse land. Some species of birds such as Rainforest Doves and Cassowaries will only travel through tree covered areas.

It is expected that the land will become home for many species in need, including 11 Endangered, Vulnerable and Near Threatened listed species, as well as 65 additional species identified by government transects of the site. Notable are the endangered Southern Cassowary, the Rufous Owl (Australia’s only exclusively tropical owl), our largest echolocating bat, and the endangered Australian Lace-lid frog.

Bat rehabilitation is another focus of NightWings. Currently in the building planning phase, Ms Kerr says they are on track to opening a visitor centre that incorporates an interpretive centre, bat hospital, café and gift shop and walking tracks, within 12 to 18 months.

“This revegetation work will also contribute towards healthier waterways,” said Ms Kerr. “Pesticide and fungicide use was immediately ceased with the last cane harvest, and there will be a reduction and eventual cessation of herbicide use.”

NightWings works closely with experts in rainforest regeneration like Rainforest Rescue, Douglas Shire Council, and the Mossman Gorge Community Nursery. The site is located on eastern Kuku Yalanji land, and consultation with the traditional Kuku Yalanji people has been critical to ensuring that species mix, land preparation and timing are optimal.

Bennett Walker, a Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owner knew the area intimately as a child and his connection to the land has remained unbroken into his adult life. Ms Kerr says his knowledge has been invaluable to the project.

Of the project, Mr Walker said “Since forever, it has been a battle for the Yalanji people to be involved in projects like this and even though I have worked as a ranger, I never thought I would see the day when our peoples’ contribution and involvement like this would happen. This is a benefit to our children, grandchildren and all future generations”.

Consultation with the Kuku Yalanji community continues. The current land owner, and any future protection covenants will ensure unlimited, year round access to this area.

Stage 2 and 3 of the ambitious project is under way. “Terrain has been critical to the early success of the project. Getting the ball rolling with early funding was vital in transitioning the project from conceptual to practical,” said Ms Kerr. They are currently trying to secure funding for Stage 4.

For more information on the project, to find out how you can be involved, or to donate to their ongoing crowdfunding program, visit www.nightwings.net, email nightwings.centre@gmail.com, or phone 07 4099 3390.