Private and public funding for bush regeneration opens more of lecturer’s gift to community
Hunter students competing in cross-country championships at Avondale today can thank a lecturer’s 10-year commitment to bush regeneration on the Lake Macquarie campus.
A donor and a $17,000 government grant has enabled Dr Jason Morton to do more weed eradication, revegetation and maintenance along historic Girls Walk and along Sandy Creek Walk on the north and east of the Avondale Estate.
The NSW Government’s Biodiversity Grant Program, administered through its Local Land Services, approved Morton’s application for weed management in 2016. Morton, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Science and Mathematics, then recruited professionals who completed eradication along Sandy Creek Walk this past year. He uses funding from the donor to employ student workers, who help him continue small-scale eradication.
“It’s one thing to learn how quickly weeds take over an area, it’s another thing to see how they take over,” says Ashley Steele, a communication graduate who completed Morton’s Environmental Issues unit in 2017. Steele helped clear lantana. She remembers seeing nothing growing underneath it. “The lantana had muscled out any other native plant that should have been growing naturally in the area.”
Before eradication began in 2008, weeds dominated the area along what is now Sandy Creek Walk. They were more than three metres high and so dense you could not see the creek adjacent to the walk. Eradicating them not only enhanced the value of the natural habitats—especially for wetlands, riparian corridors and other threatened species—but also improved water quality in the wetlands and introduced a new recreational opportunity.
Morton and brother Darren, also an academic at Avondale, opened Girls and Sandy Creek Walks in 2009 and the historic Boys Walk in 2011. The tracks form part of a new seven-kilometre loop of the estate and are the Mortons’ gift to the community. “Every time I run or ride around the tracks, I see different people, which tells me there are lots of people who know of these tracks,” says Morton.
Perhaps this is partly because Hunter Region Independent Schools has been using the tracks for its annual Cross-Country Championships since 2012.
“The walks are some of the nicest runnings tracks around,” says Ken Tosen, who convenes the championships in his role as Head of Personal Development, Health and Physical Education at Avondale School. He loves the natural environment and the physical space. “The tracks are flat but go through a variety of terrains, they’re wide—good for safety—and they’re very well kept. They help give the championships the feel of a nice, relaxing fun run.”
Eradication of weeds, particularly lantana, along Boys Walk on the west of the estate will be one of Morton’s next projects. He also has plans to install exercise stations, information signs and new seating. But his first love is regenerating the bush. “I like removing weeds,” he says. “I see the fight the natives have with the weeds, and they just need a bit of help. Where we’ve helped remove the weeds, the natives then take over and win the fight. And the bushland just looks beautiful.”
Avondale School Year 9 student Isaac Ashton competes in the 2018 Hunter Region Independent Schools Cross-Country Championships on Avondale Estate’s historic walks. Credit: Colin Chuang.