I guess you could have described me as an urban-dwelling, wilderness-loving child. But it never crossed my mind that some people might differentiate the two - the ‘wilderness’ from the ‘urban’.
My first concern when I learned of the Light Rail project was not the impacts on trees. I hadn’t imagined that these trees of such great significance would ever be seen as ‘removable’, let alone so callously. My first concern was the impact of the kilometres of extra electrical wiring on grey-headed flying foxes. So I felt somewhat naïve when I learned of the shocking tree removal plans, and grew even more concerned about our shared future.
This urban-dwelling, wilderness-loving child, although now supposedly a ‘grown-up’, never expected that anyone would think
that such destructive plans are acceptable.
For as long as I can remember I have known flying-foxes. I was captivated each night to see them fly out through the sunset sky to forage in the large fig trees just across the road from my home. And I was enchanted when I got to meet one up-close when Richard Morecroft was promoting his book, Raising Archie, at the Australian Museum.
Archie, a juvenile grey-headed flying-fox, came into the news-broadcaster’s life after he had become a WIRES volunteer, and Archie’s mother had been electrocuted on power lines and killed. Archie - clinging to her - survived, and Richard took care of him until he became independent enough to re-join his ‘own kind’. It was a life-changing experience for them both.
What we know - really know -, changes us.
Knowing grey-headed flying-foxes, and the fact that they are listed as a vulnerable species should change the way they are treated. Unfortunately, many people continue to turn blind-eye to the plight of this uniquely important animal.
Grey-headed flying-foxes are a keystone species. That means that without them, whole ecosystems start to collapse. They depend on trees, and trees depend on them. They pollinate flowering trees and spread the seeds of the native fruits that they eat, encouraging the spread of new trees.
But the Environmental Impact Statement of the current Light Rail project consisted of one daylight survey, and concluded that the impact of losing over 400 trees across Randwick to grey-headed flying foxes would be insubstantial.
Clearly, knowing can’t always be based on such ‘facts’ and ‘figures’. That kind of knowing depends too much on who has done the figuring, and on what has been factored in. There is always at least something that is left out, and unfortunately, grey-headed flying-foxes are continuing to lose their habitat everywhere.
Deforestation along the East coast of Australia is occurring at one of the worst rates in the world. These native animals who made this land their home long before our cities did, do not choose to live such a dangerous life navigating power lines, combating traffic and flying ever longer distances between food sources because urban trees keep getting removed. They make their home here because they are running out of other options.
Sometimes it seems as though it is difficult for us to look after the ‘wilderness’ that appears to be distant from us. But one of the best places to start can be to care more for our ‘urban wilderness’. Often it can become, incidentally, much the same thing.