June 7th 2008
Workshops hosted by Wildlife Tourism Australia and the Logan and Albert Conservation Association, funded by Beaudesert Shire Council.
The role of the amateur naturalist in science and conservation
Amateur naturalists have a long history of contributing useful observations that have helped to progress science and assist in gathering facts relevant to conservation issues. The fifth in a series of wildlife workshops funded by the former Beuadesert Shire Council was held last Saturday and discussed ways in which local nature enthusiasts can contribute to basic natural history, ecological and behavioural research, and information relevant to conservation management.
Dr Ronda Green, local research ecologist and vice-president of Wildlife Tourism Australia, convened the meeting and spoke on various kinds of contributions amateur naturalists can make, and the fact that the more experienced ones have often researched their favourite animal groups so well they are on a par with professionals when it comes to identifying species. All local residents can also make important contributions of observations of wildlife in their area that may go un-noticed by others, especially in sites that have not been well studied. “Beginners” she said “shouldn’t be put off by a current lack of knowledge – every expert started as a beginner.” Attendees were encouraged to send any reports of wildlife sightings to WildNet, a database held by EPA, which can also be accessed via the internet by any member of the public wanting to know what has been previously seen in their locality. Their email is email@example.com. Information on particular species can also be sent to the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ), Birds Queensland and other organizations, and it also would be useful to set up a local database of information for our Shire.
Volunteers, she said, are often called on by universities, conservation groups and amateur naturalist societies, sometimes for practical conservation work such as pulling weeds and planting native trees and shrubs, but also for assistance with monitoring the presence or behaviour or animals or habitat quality. WPSQ for instance is conducting a number of projects that interested members of the public can become involved in, such as monitoring of quolls, echidnas and platypus. A couple of opportunities for local involvement with Lamington Natural History Association at Binna Burra are lyrebird monitoring in July and a wildlife weekend in late August. Interested non-members are welcome to join in: contact secretary Darren Green firstname.lastname@example.org for information or phone the LNHA Visitor Info Centre on weekends on 5533 3584.
There are also many opportunities for enthusiasts to contribute to research for short spells while traveling to exciting places, through enterprises such as Earthwatch (which includes Australian sites as well as Africa, South America and most other world regions) and Conservation Volunteers Australia.
One of the issues discussed at the workshop was the importance of recording fauna and flora in local areas as a baseline for comparisons when unexpected events occur, such as high-intensity fires, prolonged drought, severe flooding and human-induced changes to the landscape.
Tweed wildlife artist Andy Reimanis, who is raffling one of his own paintings of a juvenile wedge-tailed eagle ‘with attitude’ at Beaudesert’s ‘Wildlife Expo in September, spoke on the role of wildlife artists in alerting people to not only the beauties and dramatic features of wildlife but also to conservation issues. He showed us a poster sponsored by Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary using well-researched illustrations of the Richmond Birdwing butterfly by artist Magdi Gregurich who made herself such an expert on this butterfly while doing her background studies for the artwork that she now gets phone-calls even from universities for information. Her painting also won first prize at the Tweed Naturally art competition last year, partly because of the quality of her self-taught knowledge of her subject.
The meeting concluded with a discussion on the possibility of forming a local network of people in the Scenic Rim (some projects involving children as well as adults) interested in learning more about local wildlife and contributing to basic natural history, monitoring current occurrence of wildlife throughout the Shire (and neighbouring regions), monitoring habitat restoration sites, and contributing to research projects. Possibilities discussed included starting a formal group or informal network. forming a local branch of an existing statewide or nationwide organization, or extending the range of a existing local organization such as LNHA. These options will be discussed further at the Wildlife Expo and the final workshop in the series, both to be held in September in Beaudesert.