Wildlife on the edge

Jon Christopher with a boot-load of food for the wildlife.
Jon Christopher with a boot-load of food for the wildlife.

Behind a trolley with a poster asking for food donations suitable for wildlife there's a network of people who go to the burnt out edges of the fire fronts to provide food and water for the wildlife suffering the after effects.

Wildlife Stations started as a volunteer group at Shoalhaven and has moved south along the coast and now there are volunteer groups covering Towamba, Pericoe, Kiah, Lochiel, Nethercote, Wonboyn, Timbillica, Pambula and Eden according to one of the key driving forces behind the southern stations, Jon Christopher.

Mr Christopher has got Woolworths Merimbula and Tura Beach, IGA Eden, Theo's Pambula Fruit Market and Mitre 10 on board too with the supermarkets providing the pick up points for donated fruit and vegetables. Mitre 10 has helped with the provision of water stations made from drain pipes.

"Even before the fire the wildlife was disappearing because of the drought," Mr Christopher said.

"Animals were leaving their young behind because they couldn't feed them."

He said that the animals were pushed out of vegetated areas by the fires and came looking for food and water. The drain pipes with an elbow at one end provide a watering station with volunteers going out to top up the supply.

Water stations and feed heading for distribution.

Water stations and feed heading for distribution.

Then there are the food donations including carrots, apples and watermelon. Some of which has to be placed in trees.

"We started the group early in January. A number of people had the same idea at the same time.

"Initially we were trying to find where the animals were; in some areas there's nothing, you won't even hear a bird. There's concern that in some places the fire was so hot it killed the microbes and the ground has become sterile," Mr Christopher, who was an organic diary farmer, said.

Every three to four days he collects the donated food and then that afternoon will organise collection by various volunteer groups.

Lumen Christi Catholic College students were busy helping cut fruit and place on wires to hang in tress.

Lumen Christi Catholic College students were busy helping cut fruit and place on wires to hang in tress.

"I'm trying to secure more produce; we need it in pallets to be honest. There's about 30 distributors and some are buying their own food. We've also helped Potoroo Palace with food too."

He said it was good to see the community getting involved but there was always the need for more donations.

"The main area of where animals need to be fed is right on the edge of the fire."

He said in some areas birds were starting to return but he is concerned about small eco-systems such as small areas of rain forest that are home of particular species.

He is hoping to work with National Parks and the community using Nature Mapr, the citizen scientist software that can be downloaded onto a mobile phone.

The Atlas of Life on the Coastal Wilderness has just announced a fire recovery project using Nature Mapr and is asking people to upload photos of flora and fauna, with particular emphasis on some that are considered to be struggling.

The Atlas of Life said many animals were killed during the fires but the numerous uninjured survivors have struggled to find water or enough of the right kind of food. The organisation has suggested artificial housing such as roosting and nesting boxes can help adding that for many people these activities have been an important part of their own survival and coping strategies.

Jon Christopher at Tura Beach Woolworths where the community and staff have been donating regularly.

Jon Christopher at Tura Beach Woolworths where the community and staff have been donating regularly.

It is something Mr Christopher found too.

"It's helping the communities. They're sitting wanting to do something and they're keen on animals and some of the people who come in (to collect animal food) are quite traumatised," he said.

"I was an organic diary farmer and I tend to look at things in a holistic way and I think the recovery has got to be done in that way too."

Anyone interested can contact Jon Christopher through Eden Wildlife Stations Facebook page.

In its information on the impact of fires on plants and animals the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the large extent of the fires in some areas can mean that it takes time for animals to disperse from unburnt habitats back into burnt areas.

"High severity fires means the loss of more plants and animals at those sites, potentially less refuge areas for wildlife, and the need for longer recovery times. Drought conditions increase plant and animal stress, and if droughts persist, it delays recovery further. Any short intervals (mostly less than 15 years) between the 2019-20 fires and the previous fires may lead to declines in some species," the department said.

The department also offers the following advice:

"Although it's always best for the health of wildlife to forage for food and water naturally, in times of natural disaster when natural food resources are scarce, you may want to help by providing food.

"Only supplementary feed until nature begins to recover. If there is still vegetation, providing water only is the best way you can help. Remember: What can be offered to one animal in small amounts may be harmful to another and could result in debilitating disease or even death. Also, over feeding can be fatal to starving animals.

"Remove uneaten food. Wash your hands before and after cleaning and drying all food and water containers to reduce the risk to you and the wildlife you want to help. Change them daily to prevent the spread of disease and attracting unwanted pests. Always offer fresh water.

"Secure food containers in trees. Never throw food, including bird seed, directly onto the ground.

"Never feed wildlife bread, honey, sugar, avocado, chocolate or dairy products as they are very harmful. Mixtures of peanut butter, honey and rolled oats, also known as bait or wildlife balls, are also harmful to some animals," the department said.

Water stations for wildlife.

Water stations for wildlife.