Cuddly koala Claud Claws, who broke into a north NSW nursery and gobbled thousands of tree seedlings, has brought unexpected but deserved attention to a grassroots non-profit that protects the marsupial.
The actions of kleptomaniac Claude were first brought to Wood Central’s attention by senior editor Jim Bowden’s daughter Jessica, who works in a plant nursery near Lismore.
The seedlings were part of a goal to plant 500,000 trees along a wildlife corridor by the World Wildlife Fund and its Bangalow Koalas project.
Nursery secretary Humphrey Herington first noticed some of his seedlings were being chewed off.
“I thought it was probably a possum,” said Humphrey, who didn’t expect to face the real culprit.
He estimates Claude chewed through $6000 worth of seedlings before his identity was revealed.
Linda Sparrow, president of Bangalow Koalas, who was awarded the 2022 Australian Geographic Society’s Conservation Award, is enthusiastic about the community group formed in 2016.
“Bangalow neighbours banded together to protect a 400-metre stretch of koala habitat, which evolved into a dynamic environmental organisation committed to creating a koala wildlife corridor,” Linda said.
“The biggest threat to koalas is habitat loss, so the wildlife corridor will stabilise and increase koala populations by expanding and linking sections of habitat from Byron Bay and surrounds.”
Despite their initial goal to plant 100,000 trees by the end of 2025, this figure was replaced by 500,000 after the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.
Now, with the backing of community volunteers, landholders, NGOs, and local, state, and federal governments, the Bangalow Koalas wildlife corridor has expanded west towards Tenterfield, south towards Grafton and north towards the Queensland border.
Since 2019, Bangalow Koalas has planted 215,160 trees on 63 properties across four shires in northern NSW.
“Considering that we’re just a tiny community organisation, we never envisioned we would be where we are today,” Linda said.
“It’s been a tough year, with La Niña rains flooding properties and destroying tree saplings. Despite these obstacles, the organisation will plant 80,000 trees this year.
“Over the next three years, we must plant 90,000 trees yearly to reach our goal by the end of 2025.
Linda added: “Koalas don’t have the liberty of time. We’ve only got a short period to turn this around, so we’ve got to work hard to do it now.”
She says the koalas are the most iconic animal in Australia, known worldwide.
“If we can’t save koalas, then there isn’t any hope for other wildlife,” she lamented.
Although koalas are the poster child of the organisation, the wildlife corridor is creating an ecosystem that will support up to 15 significant species and ecological communities.
Linda Sparrow and her team are planting trees supporting glossy black cockatoos, grey-headed flying foxes, native bees, reptiles, possums and other native fauna, including critically endangered trees.
After the Black Summer bushfires, there has been a surge in volunteers. Linda says the community support is there; funding is the only thing stopping them from putting more trees in the ground.
“We’re just trying to get people to be more aware of koalas,” she said.
“The more you involve the community, the better chance koalas have.”
Linda organises everything from sourcing trees and seedlings to weed control, maintenance and arranging community plantings. She runs workshops with landholders, presents at conferences and hosts educational seminars.
With her weekends spent at fundraisers and community plantings, Linda admits it’s more work than a full-time job.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” she says.
“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But it’s also rewarding to stand atop a hill and look down at all the corridors you’ve created.
“You’ve got to be passionate and dedicated and not be afraid of hard work. But you can make a difference. We can all make a difference.”