20 February 2024

Community urged to 'protect the precious patches' of our suburbs as grant scheme grows

| Claire Fenwicke
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paper daisies around a tree

A garden bed of ACT natives form a protective ring around mature trees at Violet McKenzie Park in Campbell. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

When you arrive at Violet McKenzie Park in Campbell, it almost sounds like you’ve entered an aviary.

Magpie warbles overlay squarks of superb parrots, Gang-gangs and galahs and, if you’re lucky, you could spot the endangered swift parrot as well.

The revitalisation of the park has been made possible by the efforts of the Campbell ParkCare Community Volunteer Group, which had the aim to save the mature hollow-bearing trees.

Co-coordinator Margaret Dudley said group members had noticed the number and variety of tree species had been declining as development ramped up in Campbell.

“We thought this [park] was a really good area where we could counteract some of that loss of habitat in the mature gardens and with the loss of trees,” she said.

“We [eventually] want to provide an area of vegetation significant enough that it actually acts as a bit of a wildlife corridor between Ainslie and Mount Pleasant Reserves.”

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The project wasn’t without its speed bumps, with volunteers navigating the grants process to secure funding.

They ended up receiving one of the first Adopt a Park grants, then secured Nature in the City funding from the ACT Government.

Then came a hiccup no-one expected.

“The day before we went into COVID lockdown, we were marking out areas in the park where we were going to be putting our first plantings,” Ms Dudley said.

“So that put a bit of a hiatus on things.”

The first of more than 5700 plants were eventually put into the ground around September 2022 to protect the mature eucalyptus and black cypress trees.

“We did that by planting around the base of the trees and trying to introduce a layered understorey under the trees, instead of just the mown exotic grasses,” Ms Dudley said.

“We wanted to allow the limbs to fall off the trees without endangering anybody and allow that timber to rest where it fell … in the garden bed.

“We hope to eventually take over [the rest of the grass] and protect the rest of the mature trees in the park.”

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The Nature in the City funding (which have been around for 25 years) scheme has had a revamp, with subsidies now referred to as the Cooling Your Suburb grants.

There’s also now $150,000 in grants available for 2024 and 2025 – the money previously had been for $100,000.

Up to $50,000 is available for projects and up to $10,000 is on offer for feasibility studies.

Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the changes were made to reflect future challenges.

“We really know that, with our changing climate, we really do need to focus on cooling our city and ensuring that we’re using living infrastructure and other mechanisms to make sure our city continues to be the bush capital and be liveable for us as we see a hotter and drier climate,” she said.

“As our population grows and more people live in the suburbs, we need to support environmental hotspots which cool our suburbs and keep us protected from extreme temperatures.”

group photo of environment volunteers

Volunteers and ACT Government representatives come together at Violet McKenzie Park to launch the revamped Nature in the City: Cooling Your Suburb grants. Photo: ACT Government.

Ms Vassarotti hoped the increase in funds would inspire more community groups to “protect the precious patches” of their suburbs.

“Our goal is for the community to be empowered to take direct action, to identify projects in their neighbourhoods, and to make these projects a reality,” she said.

“Now more than ever, urban cooling projects are needed to ensure we are putting effort into building our green spaces, not just preserving them.”

Applications for round five of the Nature in the City: Cooling Your Suburb grant program close on 9 April.

There’s also an optional information session being held on 27 February from 6:30 to 7 pm.

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