After taking up the posting of Ranger in Charge at Stawell in 1994, John embarked on an ambitious plan to revegetate as many as possible of the hundred and fifty native reserves across the region. The agricultural area of Western Victoria is 85% cleared of its original vegetation and the remnants are found only in these scattered reserves. John and his team have revegetated 110 of them.
His approach was methodical; each site studied for its history and original vegetation, then seed collected from local species for propagation and replanting. One of the major reasons behind this remarkable achievement was his success in dealing with landholders who held leases on these reserves. Reclaiming land that has been used by farmers for many years can be very tricky. John always took a conciliatory approach to their loss of grazing land and offered to share fencing costs. He also says it helped having grey hair!
John is keen to point out that his methods of restoration weren’t just about planting trees and shrubs, but creating whole eco-systems, which bring back the surviving local native birds and animals. He says it always surprised him that even when the local native species were considered to be gone, they always re-appeared when the reserves were restored.
John is particularly proud of two projects.
One is the Lake Linlithgow Wetlands project near Hamilton, which was nothing but bare ground and a few trees when he started. Replanting and restoration began after the area was fenced off, and now this wetland is a thriving habitat for native birds and animals.
The other is Tabor Swamp near Penshurst, which was a cleared paddock which had been drained for grazing purposes. Earthworks were done to keep water in the swamp for longer periods, and create deep and shallow pools. The restored wetland now attracts hundreds of native birds, 77 species of migratory waterbirds, and native swamp rats and wallabies.
John Harris always saw himself as a restoration expert of a different kind; taking on something in poor condition and bring it back to its former glory, just like people do with cars! The difference he says is that these restored reserves just keep getting better over time. And as they do so, they will be a reminder and a visual legacy of his passion for environmental restoration.
Written by Sally Nowlan, Parks Victoria
Post Script: Sadly, John is no longer with us. He passed away in early January, 2010. Environment Victoria extends its condolensces to John’s family and friends.