March 6, 2020

In Australia, Adventist Conservation Group Works to Restore Sensitive Bushland Area

The South Pacific Division (SPD) is the custodian of a precious jewel, the “Jewel of Lane Cove,”  as it is called — a beautiful reminder of God’s amazing handiwork.

The 31.4-hectare (78-acre) environmental conservation zone adjoins Lane Cove National Park in Sydney, Australia. It is a significant component of the 66-hectare (163-acre) Wahroonga Estate, an area of land acquired by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1898. The estate also includes Sydney Adventist Hospital, Adventist Aged Care Wahroonga, two churches, Wahroonga Adventist School, and the SPD headquarters.

The SPD takes its responsibility of caring for the bushland seriously, allocating almost AU$500,000 (US$331,000) annually to its maintenance and regeneration. The environmentally significant site features a diverse array of flora and fauna, including two critically endangered ecological communities: Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest and Blue Gum High Forest. Bandicoots, echidnas, and sugar gliders are among the residents. It is also home to around 70 bird species, including the powerful owl. 

The site is cared for by staff from the grounds department at Adventist Aged Care (AAC) and a number of community volunteers who have formed the Wahroonga Waterways Landcare group. They are led by AAC grounds and project manager Graham Wegener, who took on the project 16 years ago, and Jayden Streatfeild, the site’s dedicated environmental scientist. When Wegener first began working the site, much of it had been overtaken by invasive privet and lantana. This had resulted in an increase in feral animals like rats, rabbits, and foxes.

Regeneration has involved a lot of hard work, with the goal of returning the bush to its original pristine condition. Along with weed management, the group focuses on plantings, erosion control, and native seed propagation, the latter helping to preserve the genetic integrity of the site. With Australia experiencing a long period of drought and recent devastating bushfires, another critical aspect of their work is preventing vegetation or “fuel” build-up.

“We maintain all the asset protection zones right around the edge of the site because we are fully surrounded by urban areas, so it's critical that we do this as a good neighbor,” Wegener said.

Their work is having a significant impact, with the delicate balance of nature being restored. Over the past eight years there has been a noticeable increase in insects and birds, including a large influx of native bees, said Jillian Nolan, the resident volunteer naturalist and photographer. Plans are now underway to set up bee “hotels” for the community to add to, which will provide nesting places for the bees.

Bushwalkers, bird watchers, and mountain bikers are among those who enjoy the beauty and serenity of the regenerated site. Environmental education sessions are conducted for local schools, community, and corporate groups. 

“We are able to share with these groups the intricate marvels of nature that speak of a Master Designer, a Creator God,” Wegener said.

While not a typical form of church outreach, the program helps to generate conversations about God. For example, 26 different species of orchid and bush tucker signs installed at various points along the bush trails not only help visitors identify plant species but also draw attention to God’s creative power, as each sign features a Bible verse.

“We share a Bible verse as a way of sharing God's amazing creativeness, goodness, and grace,” Wegener said.

“The bush regeneration program has turned out to be a real mission opportunity and helps to raise positive awareness of the church. People who walk through the valley and see all the regeneration work that’s being done say it’s the best public relations for the church.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.

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