Saturday, June 16, 2007

One Day on the River

Bush turkeys. Ravens. White Cockatoos. Galahs. Ibis. Plovers. Whip birds. Mistletoe Birds. Magpies. Kookaburras. Currawongs. Welcome swallows. Noisy Miners. Wille Wagtails. Butcher Birds. Lorikeets. Parrots. Striated Pardalotes. Crested Pigeons. Ducks a' quacking.

These are the birds that accompany me along the river, that sing, laugh, dance, squawk, whistle, chirp and fly. But while it's mainly the big birds that are visible, the ravens, turkeys, cockatoos, currawongs and kookaburras, the LBBs, the little brown birds, are almost never to be seen. Are they there and I just can't see them? Or have they disappeared too?

After human interference, cats and foxes are the number one taker of birds and small mammals. The small mammmal population, in many areas, has been decimated by these predators. Then I think about the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger, of the debilitating disease that is devastating the Tasmanian Devil population, and of the endangered Quoll.

With development, with tree and bushland clearing, the small animals and birds disappear. Cars and other human infrastructure can also cause harm.

As I walked home today, a flying fox which had been caught in the overhead electricity wires fell to the ground. It had been lying in the wires for several days, electrocuted, but today I was able to bury it in a garden nearby.

Recent research on the disappearance of birds and small mammals in Australia shows that when places are developed and trees cut, the animals disappear. It was previously thought that they would move elsewhere, to another place, but green corridors and blue spaces have been fragmented, strangled to such an extent, that the creatures are left homeless. Eventually their numbers dwindle, their food sources dry up or are too far to find, and they disappear......

Habitat destruction is a major problem for animals and birds. For example, Bentley, Catterall and Smith (2000:1075), found that after thriving forests were converted to agriculture and pasture production, 'none of the forest mammal species persisted'. While this study was conducted in a specific regional area, it is indicative of the fate of myriad fauna and flora throughout Australia, including here along the Brisbane River.

Bush Heritage Australia tells us the problem is dire. 'Australia has lost more plants and mammals to extinction than any other country and has more threatened animals than 98 per cent of the world's countries.'

'Over 5 million parrots, honeyeaters, robins and other land birds are killed each year by land clearing. For every 100 hectares of bush destroyed, between 1,000 and 2,000 birds die from exposure, starvation and stress. Half of Australia's terrestrial bird species may become extinct this century unless habitat destruction is rapidly controlled. Nearly half our mammal species, including some wombats, wallabies and bandicoots, are either extinct or threatened with extinction as a result of land clearing, habitat destruction and other threats.'

This pitiful litany suggests why LBBs along the Brisbane River are all but invisible. While the media talks climate change and the need, in Brisbane currently, to take shorter showers, land clearing, tree felling and urban development - especially along the river and coast - continues unabated. As economics paves over nature's spirit, the demolition creeps up and creeps up and creeps up until it overflows.

When development is mooted, governments recommend environmental impact statements but often act solely on economic impact. They conduct environmental audits and perform social impact assessments, but there is something lacking; they overlook the spiritual connection to land and place. When development is mooted, a new form of impact assessment should be conducted - a spiritual eco-audit or spiritual impact statement which recognises the intimate and reverential relationship people have with place and country. It is a two way or recipirocal relationship - the one in the other and the other in one.

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Bentley, Catterall & Smith, 2000, Effects of Fragmentation of Araucarian Vine Forests on Small Mammal Communities, Conservation Biology, 14, 4, 1075-1087.
Bush Heritage Australia, 2007, Land Clearing and its Impacts,