When this particularly devastating bushfire season is finally over, renewal and rebuilding of habitats across the country will be the work of the months and years to come.
But in the here and now, there are already things we can do to help in our own backyards, providing relief to wildlife and strengthening the habitats found in our surrounds, says the University of Canberra’s Professor Ross Thompson. And we need to build better habits and resilience for the future.
The Director of the Centre for Applied Water Science at UC’s Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), Ross is a freshwater ecologist, with particular specialisations in the study of biodiversity and the restoration of landscapes.
“Keeping habitats in good condition is a crucial measure to moderate climate change,” he says.
“The most important and immediate thing you can do is put out shallow trays of water for the birds and reptiles – a large number of small birds are really struggling, so this will be a huge help.”
“You can also set out buckets of water, but please put branches in them so the birds don’t fall in and drown. These water sources should be set away from plants and other cover, to reduce hiding places for cats and other predators.”
Canberra is also home to a large number of habitat trees – as the moniker suggests, they provide an important habitat for local birds and other wildlife. “They also work to moderate the temperature and keep the climate cooler,” says Ross, and in high temperature conditions, they need a little extra help.
“Please water any of these larger trees showing signs of heat stress, especially if you have access to a stormwater tank, or use buckets of water from the shower,” he says. Heat stress occurs when too little rainfall results in trees being unable to produce the sugars they need for growth; signs can include leaves and branches that droop and seem wilted, scorched or dead.
“Trees suffering from heat stress also sometimes drop their branches, making this a safety issue as well,” Ross says.
Water your trees as far out as the canopy extends, to provide hydration for the entire root system as much as possible.
In addition to supporting bushfire relief efforts and volunteering with affected communities, incorporating small everyday changes can make a huge difference. “I know many people are extremely upset and feeling very anxious about the bushfires over the past few months, and understandably so,” Ross says. “Being able to do these little things in a practical sense is even more valuable in the face of that – it helps to take charge of the situation and reduce that feeling of victimhood.”
We also need to look to the future, Ross says. “The reality is that this prolonged, intense bushfire season is part of the new normal, and so it’s really important that we increase our own resilience – as well as that of our surroundings – as much as possible.”
It’s important to cultivate good water usage habits. “Canberrans are pretty good about being cautious around water use, against the national average – but I think we still need more awareness around this,” Ross says.
“Install rainwater tanks, and plant gardens that need as little watering as possible – native plants like wattle, myrtle and bottlebrush varieties need little water. If you use air conditioning, seriously consider installing solar panels to power it, reducing the load on the national grid and your carbon footprint.”
These are just some of the measures to consider in both an immediate and future-focused sense, as we collectively look to face a changing climate – “Small behavioural shifts and changes will collectively make a difference when you add them all up – every little bit helps, and there is hope in that,” Ross says.
Words by Suzanne Lazaroo, photo: stock