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Sutherland Shire Council's Bushcare programs

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Kevin Seymour, Team Leader from Sutherland Shire Council’s’ Bushcare program, reveals aspects of a successful volunteer program that produces positive results for the local environment and community. Sutherland Shire Council has been working alongside its Bushcare volunteers for over 25 years, a time span which has seen volunteer numbers grow to its current 700 strong.

Sutherland Shire Council also operates a community nursery in The Boulevard, Gymea, producing some 60-70 thousand plants each year. The nursery is run by permanent horticultural staff, supported by volunteers who go along every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month to collect seed, sort and catalogue, propagate plants and pot them up ready to be sold to the public. All of the plants produced are locally collected native species suitable for local gardens. Plants can be bought direct from the nursery which is open from 7am to 3pm Monday to Friday. 

The nursery can also supply stock for landscaping and revegetation works on community and private projects. The nursery operates as a community service so making a profit is not the prime consideration

As Team Leader, Kevin Seymour oversees some 700 Bushcare volunteers. With the help of dedicated Bushcare and Bush Regeneration teams the 3,000 hectares that they manage include areas of bushland, beaches, waterways and wetlands, many of which have been degraded over the years by rubbish dumping, weed invasion, changed fire regimes and inappropriate land uses such as four-wheel drives and motorbikes. Bushcare also runs many activities to encourage people out into their local bushland.

These activities which include bushwalks, kayaking and bird watching are an ideal way for people to get an appreciation of their natural areas. Often this awareness inspires an interest in Bushcare. Most volunteers contribute regularly and while most are retired people, all ages are encouraged. The council’s website, www.sutherlandshire.nsw.gov.au/environment/bushcare, provides all the details of activities as well as a link for people to log an expression of interest to join Bushcare. These details provide Bushcare the opportunity to match their interests and availability to existing volunteer programs.

Bushcare also runs an Introduction to Bushcare program four times a year. The free course covers the identification of native species and weeds, bush regeneration techniques and weed removal, along with land management issues. Bushcare also engages extensively with schools and community groups to help facilitate environmental and tree planting programs. In one recent program, volunteers received a rock concert ticket each after four hours of volunteer contribution.

This initiative engaged these young people in Bushcare for the first time and they enjoyed it immensely. Bushcare is involved with Sutherland Shire Councils’ partnership program with Local Land Services on the Kurnell peninsula. This program aims to improve the environmental outcomes on the peninsula after years of inappropriate land management. Of the many problems at Kurnell the biggest by for is the noxious weed, Bitou Bush originally from South Africa.

The economic value volunteers contribute to Sutherland Shire Councils’ Bushcare program equates to $800,000 to each year, work that would get be done otherwise. Bushcare is not new and across NSW incorporates more than 30,000 people who are involved in 50-60 organisations, volunteer efforts that amount to almost $6 million annually. The benefits of such an approach reflect the values of its contributors - Bushcare.

Kevin Seymour was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images provided by Kevin Seymour. Summary text by Victor Barry, March 2014.

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