Michelle Ward and her husband Peter, are original residents of the River Downs Estate in Helensvale. They are shining examples of how we can protect and care for our resident wildlife who share our homes.
The position of their property, near the entrance to the estate, in my mind makes them the gatekeepers, which is quite interesting, when we think about their surname.
Having visited the couple a number of times to drop off koala-food trees for them to plant on their property, I have had the pleasure to get to know them and soak up their energy and passion for resident wildlife. Their property is home to an abundance of wildlife including koalas, water dragons, the occasional kangaroo, and numerous bird species.
Often we think of the word ‘warden’ in a negative sense, such as a prison warden that keeps watch of over prisons. Yet when we think of the role of wildlife wardens, or rangers, as we more commonly refer to them in Australia, their roles is to protect and care for wildlife.
River Downs Conservation Estate
Chatting with Michelle, it was fascinating to discover that River Downs was developed as a conservation estate.
The covenant, when it was under Albert Shire Council meant that the trees on residents properties had to be retained except for where the building envelope was. Many years ago, this area became part of the City of Gold Coast Council and the regulations have been relaxed.
The Wildlife Guardian
The word ‘warden’ can mean to watch or guard, and over the years Michelle has seen the suburb slowly change as trees and habitat had been cleared. Noticeable has been the decline in kangaroo and wallaby populations. She expressed her sadness as new residents would buy into the estate because of the leafy natural setting and abundant wildlife, and then go about cutting trees and clearing habitat.
Part of being a wildlife guardian is to simply observe.
Michelle had for many years also recorded the koala population in the area keeping detailed accounts.
On one of the visits to her place we were privileged to see a koala high up in a tree. Another time we missed out on seeing a big male that was making quite a din the night before.
Caring For Nature
Part of being a good warden or guardian is to be a custodian and take care of our natural environment. Michelle and Peter are amazing examples of this in practice.
Conscious Environmental Custodians
Here’s just a bunch of actions that shows their care and passion for where they live and all the animals that they share it with:
• Caregivers: Michelle has been actively looking after native wildlife for years, taking in sick, injured and ophaned wildlife and nursing them back to health.
• Habitat for Koalas: at the back of their yard they have many casuarina trees. With recent council drainage works, the soil has begun to dry out and many of the trees are dead or dying. We offered them trees, and to date they have planted the 45 koala food trees that we have given them. What an amazing effort and the resident koalas will have lots of habitat and food sources in their yard.
• Saving our Trees: they have a magnificent old eucalypt tree at the front of their property. It is possibly 200 years old. Koalas frequent this tree and it has many hollows that birds use. It drops limbs and rather than chopping the whole tree down, they regularly bring in an arborist who removes any dead branches.
• Nature Nurturers: each year they are visited by a couple of tawny frogmouths. These birds build a nest on a small flimsy looking branch of a casuarina. Every year they have the privilege of watching a new generation of tawny frogmouths fledge and start their own families.
• Nature Conscious: the fences around their property are low fences that koalas can easily cross and enter and leave their property. They have also fenced an area close to the house so that their dogs have a place to exercise. The rest of the yard is safe for wildlife to wander. At night time they bring in their dogs to ensure that the local koala population is safe to roam.
• Tree Consious: Rather than cut down a tree to create a straight fence, Michelle explained how they simply built the fence around the tree. By thinking outside of the square, the tree was spared and could provide oxygen, shade, food and shelter for wildlife. Often we take the option to cut down trees rather than change our thinking.
• Home for Wildlife: Michelle and Peter have dotted throughout their property nest boxes where possums, birds, and other wildlife can use. Often hollows don’t form in a tree until the tree is 100 years or older. Couple this with the loss of trees and land clearing, wildlife have experienced a massive housing shortage. Installing nesting boxes is something that can have a big positive impact for our wildlife.
Michelle and Peter have created a haven for wildlife where creatures can feel safe and protected. Being a good wildlife guardian, protector or warden begins at home through conscious decisions and actions we take.
We all have the opportunity in little ways to help our struggling wildlife and become better custodians of the land.
Wildlife conservation really begins at home and Michelle and Peter are living proof of what many of us can do to protect and care for our unique precious wildlife.