Barely an hour’s drive from Melbourne you will find the ancient Mountain Ash forests of the Central Highlands. The mighty Mountain Ash is the world’s tallest flowering plant, and the dominant tree species of these forests. It defines the ecosystem of the area, with billions of lives unfolding under its canopy.
But this ecosystem is under threat. Logging practices and increasingly frequent bushfires are, bit-by-bit, undermining the future of these spectacular forests. Scientists predict that the entire Mountain Ash ecosystem, and the suite of species it supports, could collapse by mid-century. Rare species that call the Mountain Ash forests home are forecast to disappear, including the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum – Victoria’s faunal emblem. These possums, along with many other tree-dwelling species, rely on hollow-bearing trees to survive. However, Mountain Ash need more than a century to produce suitable hollows. In the past this wasn’t a problem, but as a result of continued clearfell logging and severe fires, big old trees are becoming rarer by the day.
The gravity of all of this is not lost on the volunteers of Wildlife of the Central Highlands – or WOTCH – who feel at home as they traverse these forests in search of threatened species. Using thermal imaging cameras, they are able to locate our increasingly rare faunal emblem and – in a flurry of flashlights, GPS coordinates, and video cameras – collect forest-saving data. By proving that threatened species are resident in a given patch of forest, these Community Conservationists are able to have the patch protected. In just four short years, they have already preserved more than 1,500 hectares of our precious Mountain Ash forests and the creatures that live in them.