Bootawa property receives conservation grant

Regenerating Rifflerun: Dr John Harris and his wife Thelma, with their overseer Maggie the fox terrier. Picture: supplied
Regenerating Rifflerun: Dr John Harris and his wife Thelma, with their overseer Maggie the fox terrier. Picture: supplied

“One of our main aims in coming to live here was to enjoy a closer connection with the natural world,” Dr John Harris  says.

John, a biologist who specialises in river ecology and freshwater fisheries, and his wife Thelma, are being helped build that connection with a grant of $6000 over three years awarded to them recently from the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife.

The couple moved to the 38 hectare property in Bootawa in 2002 and christened it RiffleRun. They soon began the tremendous task of returning the property to its pre-agricultural state.

“We are keen to do what we can to restore some of the environmental values that have been lost from this area. This area has a long history of cattle grazing, originally mostly for dairying, and there has also been some cropping,” John says.

“Firstly we excluded livestock and stopped grazing on the property. We’ve discontinued any agricultural activity and instead we’ve been controlling weeds and we’ve been planting trees.

“It has become, in practice, a conservation area, but we just call it RiffleRun. We don’t distinguish it by any particular title like conservation area but that’s what it is in practice,” John says.

The largest chunk of labour and finances spent on the bush regeneration work goes into weed reduction and planting trees. It’s a big task, as John and Thelma are contending with a variety of different landscapes.

“It’s basically a dry rainforest area in nature, plus the riparian strip along the river, and the dry eucalypt distribution along the higher country ridge tops and hill tops,” John says.

The couple’s overarching aim is to begin the re-establishment of forest canopy over the land that is representative of forest communities in this region.

“It’s pretty hard to determine just what that really was, because the sorts of forest communities that you see around here are mostly pretty much manipulated by forestry practice and they don’t really represent what used to be the natural distribution.

“We had to go back to the original survey records of the first surveys on the place to get a better understanding of what condition it naturally had,” John says.