Back from the brink

Thirty-one landholders from Baynton, Sidonia, Pastoria, Mia Mia, Barfold and Glenhope are assisting Baynton Sidonia Landcare group with its project, Saving our Local Species, by planting out 900 Banksia marginata trees on their properties.

Almost a decade ago, Baynton Sidonia Landcare group became concerned about the future of banksias in the area when one of the two sites where it was then known to grow was vandalised and several trees were cut down.

The landcare group collected seed from the remnant trees, had them grown on as tubestock and distributed them to members who promised to look after them. That was when the drought was at its worst, so many trees did not survive in spite of landholders' best efforts. And then more were wiped out on Black Saturday.

But the landcare group persisted and in response to the publicity surrounding the program, eventually seven other sites where banksias grow were identified. Each time the landcare group would collect seed from the sites (even though at one, the trees are perched on a cliff overhanging a creek that can only be reached by abseiling) and distribute the ensuing young trees around the district.

The aim of the program was not just to increase the number of banksias growing in the district to make them less vulnerable to being wiped out by fire, or vandalism or any other ill fortune. The aim was also to mix the trees from different provenances to overcome potential genetic impoverishment. The remnant banksias are so geographically isolated that they are prone to inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity. Planting together trees grown from seed from the various sites makes it more likely that we will retain genetic breadth which the plants will doubtless need in the face of climate change.

The landcare group was planning for this, the 2013 distribution, to be the end of the work on this particular species, but last autumn, one of the group's members happened to notice some yellow flowers poking up from the middle of an eroded gully on a Baynton property. On investigation, it turned out that they, indeed, belonged to a banksia tree. So the whole cycle of banksia seed collecting, tubestock growing and distribution will have to be undertaken again to include the genetics from this new banksia site into the mix. These trees will be ready for planting out next winter. Then the landcare group will turn its attention to some other indigenous plant that is in danger of becoming extinct, trusting that now, though still low in numbers, banksias will have stepped back from the brink of local extinction.

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