action-story | 2nd May, 2016

Roger & Rohan Bilney: Keeping nature in the family

Respected ecologist Roger Bilney has spent much of his recreational and working life involved with the environment. For Rohan, Roger’s son, his father’s influence has been instrumental and has led his to study the Mitchell River catchment as part of his PhD.

ActionStory_Bilneys_topRohan believes it was inevitable he followed this path and says his dad’s influence “has been huge”.  “I haven’t really known anything else. I grew up with books on nature and wildlife and often went camping in the bush. Dad would teach us about things and I was always inquisitive asking what that bird was and what that plant was,” Rohan says.  Roger chuckles when he recalls a time he was with his sons searching for rock wallabies. “Yeah I nearly killed the boys chasing after rock wallabies! I was scrambling up a steep slope with the boys behind me and I was dislodging large rocks that were rolling down the hill towards them, almost cleaning them up!”

The Bilney family live on their Wy Yung property near Bairnsdale and enjoy spectacular views of the Mitchell River running through their backyard.

Roger says in his youth he travelled throughout most of Victoria with his parents but thinks East Gippsland is unparalleled compared to the rest of the state. “It has everything here…it’s close to the snow and the ocean with a beautiful river to boot.”

“The Mitchell is the most important river in the lakes system…it’s a big wild river and the water quality is still generally pretty good.”

“The catchment supports a range of amazing habitats including dry open forests and dense temperate rainforest. It’s a real overlap of the species…you get the best of both worlds.”

Roger and Rohan both believe they have seen the river change over time with a lack of rain being a major issue.

“Back in ‘78 the river broke its banks eight times in one year. We’re not seeing the river break its banks like that anymore…we only get local easterly rain floods, we don’t get the snow floods anymore,” Roger says.

Rohan agrees with his father and says the river’s water quality has changed too.

“There’s a lot more sediment and erosion in the river now and every time we get half decent rain the river turns muddy. A lot of it must be coming from the logging or track making,” Rohan says.

“Wildfires and fuel reduction burning also create a huge amount of sediment and sediment affects fish feeding patterns and gets into their gills. We had huge fish kills with all of the sediment that came down with the last fires.

“It’s difficult to understand exactly how things have changed, mainly because of the lack of historical ecological research conducted in the area. Without this information it’s difficult to understand how land management practices have really impacted upon the environment.

“There are heaps of things that could be done to improve the river quality. Getting rid of cattle grazing at the edges of the river for one and removing the willows and replacing them with native vegetation. Clear-fell logging in the catchment areas is a major issue, not only due to its impact on biodiversity, but the regrowth takes a lot of water.”