Greening Trinity Inlet: Community Action Makes a Difference
Give people ownership of a project and it will take off like trees in the wet season – that’s one of the many learnings from 84-year-old Yvonne Nicoll who’s spent three decades caring for the creeks, swamps and hillslopes of Cairns.
A focus on harnessing the enthusiasm of residents highly successful
Yvonne is part of the Trinity Inlet Catchment Management Association, which celebrated a milestone in recent years with the completion of a project in the Wrights Creek sub-catchment that has seen more than 18,000 trees planted over three years.
The group has been working with landholders, restoring native vegetation between the creeks and headlands, and preventing exotic plants from taking a hold.
“When we first started it was all farmland, now some is going to be residential. We created a wetland in a detention basin from a defunct barramundi farm as part of this project, and we progressively took out African tulip trees. We’ve grown Melaleuca dealbatas in our nursery for the area.”
A focus on harnessing the enthusiasm of landholders has been highly successful, she says.
“We’ve had projects over the years from Buchan’s Point all the way south to Gordonvale. In the early days, we relied on community planting days and a workforce through government-funded employment programs. We worked mainly with cane farmers.
“As many areas became fully developed urban sites, we worked with engineers and developers, then new residents. It’s as much about reducing exotic plants on creek banks now as stabilising banks, restoring native vegetation and connecting up with world-heritage areas.”
The association made a conscious decision to involve as many residents in homes backing onto creeks as possible.
“We began by letterboxing, inviting new residents to plant riparian trees behind their homes. We’d get one or two residents responding and then once neighbours and passers-by saw what was happening, the requests for individual sites soared.
“We’ve been able to build up networks of landholders along waterways. We worked closely with Cairns Regional Council so we could help residents with approvals and drainage questions and give them trees propagated in our nursery.
“It has worked because they have ownership of their projects, but they also knew they could call us for more advice and help, especially after events like floods and cyclones.
“Some people have slowly and steadily worked on projects, going down and planting trees in the early evenings or spending many months working their way along a creek to remove exotics that are choking out the natives.
“Anyone can plant a tree – it’s the long-term maintenance to bring that tree to maturity that takes a commitment. As our original helpers left areas, others moved in and we loved that they’d call us.”
Yvonne says the groundswell of support for activities that help with erosion and weed control, water quality and wetland protection has buoyed volunteers.
“We were lucky to see a single bird when we started at some of these sites. Then the trees went in. The excitement for people when they saw their first Cairns Birdwing or Ulysses butterfly…”