Interview with Brian Bainbridge – Part 1

The Merri Creek flows 60km from the Great Diving Range through Melbourne’s northern suburbs to the Yarra River near Collingwood. The Merri Creek Management Committee (MCMC) formed in 1989 to preserve and restore the natural and cultural values of the creek. In that time they have done some amazing works.

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Merri Creek planting day. Source

In this post, I catch up with Brian Bainbridge from MCMC to learn more about what they do.

BB portrait

Brian Bainbridge

Hi Brian, thanks for catching up. Let’s start with how you got interested in nature…

Thank you. I was a bit of a nature boy from a very young age – I was always walking around looking at nature. My parents can remember me looking at things, insects and stuff, before I could talk. I was lucky in the first place that I lived in Greensborough, because the block still had some remnant native plants. Down the street we had a neighbour, Vince Pettigrove, who’s now an accomplished ecologist, and he was someone I could take interesting things to. My mum was interested in birds and we had a collection of Tuckfield’s tea cards which was a constant source of fascination.

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Tuckfield’s tea cards. Source

As I got older I went out into the street where we had some beautiful old Yellow Box trees and I use to see Swift Parrots in them. From about the age of 12 I would get down to the Plenty River and began exploring up and down the river. I remember around this time, I was walking along the Plenty River in Greensborough, looking at all the elm trees and the weed trees taking over the bushland, and I thought:

wouldn’t it be great to have a job where I was removing the weeds and putting back the native bushland

At that time in the early 1980s I hadn’t heard that any job like that existed. I thought that would be the best thing in the world to do.

When I did come to study, I chose to do a Bachelor of Forestry at Melbourne University in the late 80s/early 90s. I thought it would be great to be a ranger, but at that time a lot of the departments were slashing jobs. As I went through the course, I realised that maybe a park ranger wouldn’t be an option when I got to the end of the course.

As a result, I spent quite a bit of time unemployed, but I did work in my parents’ bookstore.  I had always been into artwork and drawing nature, and at that time I began to pick up freelance illustration work – this was a great way to explore and learn about nature because you have to research your project.

How did get into the environmental industry?

I got asked to do some illustration work for MCMC, for a book called Plants of the Merri Merri in 1992. I then got employed as part of a job-skills program in the mid-90s for 6 months, again to do illustrations for a flora and fauna guide (Creeklife). That was a great job as it meant that I spent a lot of time exploring the creek and learning about it all. So when I was unemployed again and a job came up with MCMC, they knew I could identify things and I joined the bush crew in 1997.

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Creeklife illustrated by Brian.

With my skill set in bird and plant identification, as well as a good understanding of the ecology of the Merri Creek, my role gradually changed to do more of the survey work and contribute to ecological knowledge and research. Gradually that’s turned into a role called the Ecological Restoration Planner. Over the last few years I’ve been working on implementing the monitoring programs; this was seen as a real need for a long time and we’ve recognised how important it is to keep monitoring over multiple years.

What are some main projects that you’re currently working on?

Two of my main projects are focused on the Plains Yam Daisy and the Golden Sun Moth. With the Yam Daisy we’ve been looking at the remnant populations to understand their ecology better, as there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the species, in particular the different forms and their environmental requirements. We’re using this information to help locate the best areas for reintroduction and I think we now have a reliable technique for reintroducing the species into natural grasslands.

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Plains Yam Daisy. Source

Alongside that, we’ve being doing another project on Golden Sun Moth to try and fill in a few questions. A lot of the previous monitoring just looked at presence/absence, but we really needed some answers about the maintenance of the grassy habitat that they occur in. We’ve recognised that their habitat becomes unsuitable very quickly if the biomass isn’t reduced, but people had concerns that burning the habitat at a different times may damage the moth’s caterpillars.  We’re coming to the end of this project and the results are on our website.

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Golden Sun Moth. Source

I’ve noticed that at some sites along the Merri there are still large patches of weeds right next to revegetated areas. Why doesn’t MCMC remove all the weeds at once?

MCMC has for a long time held the principle of staged restoration works, of not removing all the weeds at once. This is because along the Merri there’s so little bushland remaining that we’ve had to stage our work, otherwise we’d risk losing some of those native fauna that relied on the weeds as habitat.

Native animals actually use weeds as habitat?

Yes they do. For example, in some urban areas we observed that White-browed Scrubwrens only remained  in the blackberries and boxthorns. Blue Wrens are an archetypal species that loves to hang out in weedy blackberries and boxthorns, Silvereyes feed on boxthorn berries and New Holland Honeyeaters on the nectar of boxthorns.

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Blue Wren in Boxthorn. Photo by Brian Bainbridge.

Melbourne Water were doing a lot of Willow removal on the Merri Creek and sometimes we would have to say “you can’t remove that particular Willow as it’s known as a Tawny Frogmouth roosting area or nesting area”. We had one willow on the creek that was a nesting site for Sacred Kingfisher. Given that we have so few large native trees with hollows, and we’re still many decades away from having that resource, the only place the kingfishers could find nests along the Merri creek were in the soft rotting old Basket Willows and Weeping Willows.

The other place they found to nest was in the Canary Island Palms, and they can actually tunnel into the trunks of the Palms. We’ve had to moderate our campaign against Willows and Canary Island Palms to make sure there’s some alternative habitat available. Melbourne Water have recognised that too, and tend to retain some Willows which are less prone to invading. They just keep a few in the landscape while we wait for the other trees to grow bigger, and so willows may be in the creek landscape for a few more decades at least.

You can learn more about the Merri Creek Management Committee on their website: http://www.mcmc.org.au/

Stay tuned for part 2…..

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3 thoughts on “Interview with Brian Bainbridge – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Interview with Brian Bainbridge – Part 2 | The Bushlander

  2. Pingback: The importance of pollen pathways in Fawkner | Sustainable Fawkner

  3. Pingback: 2017 FOBIF AGM | Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests

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