A visit to the 40-acre property of John and Sandra Childs at West Bellthorpe left HT writer, Gay Liddington in awe of what can be achieved when one has a mind to make a difference to the environment and its inhabitants.
by Gay Liddington
I went walkabout with John and Sandra Childs and immersed myself in rainforest heaven: Leaves crackled underfoot while I breathed in forest fragrance…wet, woody and enlivening. I saw fungus fanned on sapless branches, fronds reached out as I ambled by. A scurrying sound in the undergrowth drew my attention. Mesmerised I was drawn deeper into the experience.
John’s career was primarily in Queensland’s Department of Primary Industries. Then, a move to the Northern Territory saw him take up a position as director of a research centre for tropical savanna.
“At that point, I became more interested in ecology. Instead of just animals, grazing, and plants, I turned my attention to eco-systems. That was a rewarding development in my life.”
John and Sandra moved into their Bellthorpe home in 2002. John reflected: “Going back over old aerial photos, the earliest 1940, we could see at one stage about 85% of this area had been cleared. It’s recovered by itself but is only 40-60 years old.
“Our block had been extensively logged. So, a lot of recovery needed to happen.
“Originally, one third of our place was covered with lantana. It took me about five years of a systematic approach to clear it. The native bush then recovered.
“In a broader sense, my aim was to be rid of weeds and get the plants going. But plants by themselves aren’t enough. I became curious about the mammals and birds and the health of the ecology.”
It was when Susie Duncan from Hinterland Bush Links and wildlife ecologist Barry Trail brought an ecology course to Bellthorpe that they visited John’s property. The idea was to assess it, checking for hollows and the possibility of installing nest boxes.
John elaborated: “They said the bush was in good shape with rainforest species growing through. However, you have to have very old trees to get hollows. Good glider country but nowhere for them to nest. It was suggested that we could put hollows in the trees and that’s where it all started.”
John was made aware of a variety of nest boxes and man-made hollows. A grant from Moreton Bay Regional Council helped facilitate this endeavour.
“Matt Roy the arborist came out in May and did a workshop on creating hollows in living trees. Matt is an aerial acrobat. I’m in awe of his skills.”
I’m told that while dangling from the heights and wielding a chainsaw, Matt cut a faceplate from the branch then carved out the timber below. The faceplate was replaced with a small, round opening. Matt then chiselled out a hollow and finally, screwed the ‘door’ back on. A hole enabled access to the hollow. Obviously, a master of his craft.
“We did a couple of those and then something quite left of field – wheelie bin nest boxes. These provide big hollows for the likes of black cockatoos and the bigger gliders.”
Local builder Paul Luthje is the brainchild of the wheelie bin nest boxes. His creative thought process took him from scrutinising an old wheelie compost bin to the idea of transforming it into a nest box. With the support of Hinterland Bush Links and Remondis, a recycling company who offered their reject wheelie bins, this new and innovative project was born.
These man-made nest boxes sport a timber landing pad, woodchip nesting material, chewing posts and mesh that feeds into the bin to assist young birds to climb out.
According to Susie Duncan, if successful, these tree-bound nest boxes could be significant for larger species such as the declining Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos and Powerful owls. Hollows required for these birds take 200 years or more to form.
In a time when accommodation shortage is at a premium and there’s much talk of ‘tiny houses’, only time will tell if wheelie bin nest boxes will be welcomed by prospective tenants. Perhaps on a wing and a prayer!
Paul Luthje has said that each box can be crafted in around half an hour. This makes the idea of them popping up around the country a possibility.
“We want to cater for everything from small animals and birds to the larger species.” said John.
“We’ve put in a total of 16 nest boxes and have two motion sensing wildlife cameras recording the activity.
“There are two wheelie bin nest boxes on trial. When it comes to nesting season we’ll see whether they like them or not.”
The list of hollow-dwelling species at Bellthorpe is vast and includes threatened species like the Sooty owl and Masked owl. Gliders, micro-bats, birds and possums depend, in various ways, on hollows. The mammals and Lace Monitor use hollows for roosting every day/night as well as raising their young.
The large proportion of mammals, birds and reptiles that shelter or breed in tree hollows are desperate for homes.
John concludes: “There are lots of ways you can look at your block. Things to be interested in are almost never ending. You might start off weeding and then there’s animals and birds to consider.
“I would encourage people to ask questions. Talk to those with knowledge like Barry and Susie and then give it a go. It’s always interesting.”