With numbers of the coastal emu continuing to rapidly decline, the community of the Clarence Valley met last week at Grafton to discuss strategies to help save this endangered population. Members of the Coastal Emu Alliance pulled out all options to support the recovery of this local iconic species.

“With the last community survey identifying less than 50 birds, without intervention and action the extinction of the coastal emu is now imminent. This would be a tragedy given the birds’ status in the community and their important role in seed dispersal across the coastal corridor, with many of these plants being threatened. But the good news is that members of the community are coming together to help find a solution for the recovery of the emu as part of the Coastal Emu Alliance.”

Josh Keating, Coastal Emu Alliance Coordinator

Adopting rewilding and nature-based solutions was identified as being urgent priorities to not only address the recovery of the coastal emu but to also sustain and protect the other vast wildlife and land values across the Clarence coastal corridor.

Rewilding is a different approach to conservation. An approach that focuses on enhancing ecological processes to result in self-sustaining ecosystems rather than, for example, targeting the conservation of single species. The advantage of this approach over more ‘traditional’ conservation techniques is that rewilding does not aim to replicate a fixed point in time or a defined suite of species. Instead, by increasing the diversity of ecological processes, the diversity of interactions between species is also increased and, as a result, so is biodiversity. International rewilding examples of where this focus on processes has resulted in positive change include the use of giant tortoises to restore ebony seed dispersal and reintroduced beavers influencing aquatic biodiversity in Scotland. Because we know that ecosystems with high biodiversity are more resilient, increasing the diversity of interactions is a good way to make sure ecosystems can cope as well as possible with climate change.

“By focussing on processes, rewilding seeks to restore control to nature. The thinking behind this is that, due to the complexity of ecosystems, humans can’t possibly predict or manipulate every interaction or process that occurs. But by seeking to maximise processes and interactions, we assume that we also maximise biodiversity, because we’re creating more opportunities for species. In turn, because we know that diverse ecosystems are most resilient, this approach can help ensure that ecosystems are as well prepared as possible for climate change.”

Oisín Sweeney, Rewilding Ecologist National Parks Association

Rewilding programs are rapidly becoming common practice across North America and Europe where significant conservation outcomes have been achieved in addition to the many other co-benefits communities receive in terms of boosting community wellbeing and building local economies. Importantly, although it hasn’t yet caught on in Australia as it has elsewhere, there is lots of interest among the academic, government and non-government sectors here because of the demonstrated success and benefits.

People and their communities are the key elements in rewilding, because humans are the ultimate ecosystem engineers and have a huge influence on nature and ecological processes. By embracing and supporting the efforts of whole of community land stewardship approaches, communities can work in collaboration to achieve far-reaching outcomes that are simply not attainable when working individually or in isolation. Rewilding approaches seeks to link ecological outcomes with social and economic ones, thereby better ensuring lasting success of conservation programs and fostering stewardship of nature.

“Rewilding does not seek to exclude people. In contrast, rewilding recognises the influence of humans on nature and seeks to capitalise on this. For example in Europe, rewilding programs include funding to provide loans for local individuals and businesses to set up new initiatives to capitalise on the conservation work. So nature and humans benefit together from the conservation actions. For the Clarence this could include a wildlife spotting business, guided walks, cultural tours, guest house accommodation, production of local foods for sale and bushtucker education. We’re limited only by our imagination”

The Clarence coastal corridor is an area of NSW that holds immense ecological significance and is supported by a “shovel-ready” community, made up of hundreds of landholders. Although the corridor holds a diverse range of properties – in terms of their size, land use, economic value, ecological significance and restoration potential – all landholders engaged across this corridor are aware, willing and ready to commit to being better land stewards.

Achieving whole of landscape conservation for this region will rely on joint public land management approaches across National Parks and State Forests and the many adjoining private landholders that buffer and extend this important vegetated corridor. Using the endangered coastal emu as a flagship species, a diverse collaboration of people, communities and agencies can work together across an area comprising over 8% of the NSW coastline. Building a solid foundation for this region to be a flagship for conservation efforts in Australia.

With adequate investment in this program, the Coastal Emu Alliance can improve the capacity of landholders to become skilled, knowledgeable and active in on-ground land stewardship. An established rewilding program has the ability to build a highly capable network of hundreds of land stewards focusing on restoring key ecosystem processes across tens of thousands of hectares, positively influencing hundreds of threatened species and enhancing diverse ecosystems.

Learn more about what the Coastal Emu Alliance is doing to Save the Coastal Emu

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