Remove Plastic from our Beaches

We’re quite lucky in Victoria to have some of the most beautiful and famous beaches in the world. Unfortunately, our beaches and marine life are under threat from our over-reliance on plastics. It’s not just soft drink bottles, shopping bags or the plastic rings from a six-pack of beer, but also the tiny nasties that are microplastics. These near-invisible pieces can be found in a range of cosmetic products and are often used as exfoliating beads. Microplastics (including other plastics) are easy to ingest and can kill a range of animals including our beloved penguins, seals and fish. Shockingly, we’re directly hurting ourselves – if we ever eat fish which have ingested microplastics, it’s possible that we could fall seriously ill ourselves.

If at the very least, plastics and general litter on our beaches looks horrible and disgusting. We all love our clean beaches and marine life. Actions at home and on the sand can go a long way to cleaning up our beloved marine environment. You can purchase products that do not contain microplastics (http://www.fauna-flora.org/initiatives/the-good-scrub-guide/), minimise your use of plastics like food wrapping by putting them in containers you’re unlikely to throw away and, simply by taking just a few bits of rubbish to the bin each time you visit the beach (http://www.take3.org/). Collectively, our efforts will go a long way and our beaches and oceans will remain beautiful for many years to come!

Spend 30 Minutes in Nature

“There’s just not enough time in the day!” – We all know that feeling… the day-to-day mad dash to tick everything off the to-do list. Finding time to get groceries done, clean the house or meeting the impossible deadline your boss has set. The modern world can stress us out to say the least. In all the hustle and bustle, it seems many of us have forgotten to literally stop and smell and roses. More and more studies are finding that making time to spend as little as 30 min per week in nature is a great stress-buster which restores mind, body and soul. http://www.sciencealert.com/just-30-minutes-of-nature-a-week-reduces-the-chance-of-depression-and-heart-disease

Simply getting outdoors regularly can lower instances of depression, reduce blood pressure, increase a sense of social well-being, and promote physical fitness. What’s not to love about getting outdoors and soaking up the natural surroundings?! Even for young children, exposure and interaction with the natural world enhances their developing sense of self-esteem, social skills, creativity and problem solving abilities (http://richardlouv.com/books/vitamin-n/). There’s no need to drastically change your routine, just start small and simply spend 30 min per week going for a walk, reading a book in your backyard, or even dusting off the old picnic rug and enjoying a bite to eat with family and friends. See you outside!

Go For A Hike

Other than the myriad health benefits hiking has to offer, a jaunt through the bush can also bring us closer to the natural world. Hiking offers us an opportunity to enjoy a world of experiences that many of us are lacking in our modern lives. As we journey up slopes, through meandering gorges, or under leafy canopies, we come face to face with nature: we see, hear, smell and feel a tapestry of phenomena too often lacking in everyday life. Importantly, “green-exercise” such as hiking can improve mental wellbeing; including self-esteem and mood (Barton, J and Pretty, J 2010): in fact, the related concept of ‘forest bathing’ or shinrin-yoku is a well established form of relaxation and stress management in Japan.   

To hike is to expose one’s self, however briefly, to the reality of the natural world. We can feel the sun warming our shoulders or test ourselves against alpine rains. We can power towards the horizon in search of new sights and landforms, or we can stop to smell the chocolate lilies and become intimate with the biology around us.  There is always the thrill of discovery and a touch of uncertainty, and it is this that brings vibrancy to our lives. 

While the term “hiking” often conjures images of snowy peaks and seasoned adventurers, hiking does not need to involve months of training to face mountainous milestones. The word is used the world over in a variety of contexts and replaced by other words of similar meaning (e.g. ‘tramping’, ‘rambling’, or simply ‘walking’). The common thread is the simple concept of walking in a natural environment, and the evidence suggests that some of the psychological benefits may be almost immediate (Barton, J and Pretty, J 2010).

Developing a connection with the natural world is a deeply personal process and as such what we wish to get out of a hike is equally personal. Whatever your motivation, there are a variety of resources out there to assist you on your journey, including Wild Melbourne’s Bush Beats. 

Plant A Tree

Whether you’re in the garden or out and about, planting trees is an enjoyable way of connecting with nature and improving biodiversity. Not only valuable for the environment, tree planting can have positive effects on our mental and physical wellbeing. Indeed, there are many additional benefits associated with planting trees. 

You don’t have to be an expert either! Planting trees is easy if you use the correct materials and follow the right steps. For more information on how to plant a tree, and why it is beneficial to your local environment, head here

It’s a fantastic way to get people together to benefit our environment and gain a sense of custodianship. Whether it be with your family, friends or even a day out with co-workers or local community groups. It is often very rewarding and something to look back on and see progress in years to come. There are many outlets for tree planting volunteering.

We have enjoyed helping our friends at Endeavour Fern Gully, located on the Mornington Peninsula. This hidden gem plays a significant role in surrounding ecosystems as this is the headwaters of Stony Creek. For more information on what you can experience at Endeavour Fern Gully, check out our article on National Tree Planting day here.

If you’re looking to be immersed in nature, planting trees is certainly very fulfilling!

Put in a Bird Bath

During Melbourne’s long, hot, and dry summers, it can be tricky for our feathered friends to find a drink or shaded place to bathe and cool down. Installing a bird bath in your garden can provide just that, encouraging an array of native species to visit your yard for a splash on a hot day.

Styles of bird baths vary from pedestals, which are great for larger birds like magpies, to hanging dishes for smaller species like wrens and finches. You can also pop a heavy dish, like a terracotta saucer, on the ground for small mammals, lizards and insects to use. Ponds and other water features can also provide a good water source for birds.

When thinking about the location of your bird bath, look for a spot in your garden that is shaded, protected, and minimises the chance of predation—birds won’t use it if they don’t feel safe. Ideally, there should be trees or bushes nearby to seek shelter if they feel threatened. The birds should also be able to see what’s around while using the bird bath, to make a quick escape if they sense a predator (like the neighbourhood cat) is watching nearby. So try to place it somewhere that provides visibility but is not out in the open.

Make sure the water isn’t too deep as smaller birds can easily drown—around 5cm is deep enough. You can also put a large stone or rock in the middle to provide an island for smaller birds to stand on. It should be sturdy so that it won’t tip over if a heavy corella lands on it’s edge, and the surface should be rough, not slippery, so the birds have something to grip onto.

Once you’ve set up your bird bath in the perfect spot, turn on the tap and watch the native birdlife flock in.

Further reading:

www.livingsmartqld.com.au/homes-biodiversity-module/bird-baths-water-features-alternate-water-sources

www.burkesbackyard.com.au/fact-sheets/in-the-garden/gardening-styles-and-feature/birdbaths/#.WC-h9JL7FE4

Plant an Indigenous Garden

Gardening is a fantastic way to spend time outdoors. Nurturing a plant and watching it grow from a seedling into an established, living organism is a hobby that can foster a strong connection to nature in not only seasoned gardeners, but beginners and children alike. However, gardening with indigenous plants can be beneficial to both the gardener and the local ecosystem.

But what is an indigenous plant? Plants that are indigenous to a particular locality are species that naturally occur in that area. For example, Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) is an indigenous plant of coastal Melbourne suburbs such as Brighton and Frankston, but is not found naturally in regions such as the Yarra Ranges or Bendigo.  

Aside from the personal enjoyment and satisfaction one may gain from creating and caring for an indigenous garden, indigenous gardens can positively contribute to local biodiversity. By planting indigenous species in your garden, you are able to help boost local floral biodiversity, but also provide a range of habitats and food sources to our native animals – including not just birds and mammals, but insects, reptiles and amphibians too.

The first step in creating an indigenous gardening is to determine which plant species are indigenous to your area. This may sound daunting, but there are many fantastic resources that will assist you in this challenge. For example, visit your local council’s website. Many council websites provide an indigenous flora guide for their region, which will help you to start planning your garden. Paying a visit to your relevant indigenous nursery is also a must, as they will be able to help you select appropriate species for your garden.  

Further Reading:

Costerman, Leon. Native Trees and Shrubs of South-eastern Australia. Reed New Holland, 1981.

Bull, Marilyn. Flora of Melbourne: a guide to the indigenous plants of the greater Melbourne area. Hyland House, 2014. 

Draw Some Nature

There is something about creating art that draws you into the immediate moment. Pairing art creation with the natural world can be a truly immersive experience that can help deepen your appreciation for your natural surroundings.

People have been recording nature for millennia, whether to pass on knowledge, to accurately record species or simply because they are drawn to capturing beauty. Some record it in fine detail whereas others make many quick sketches to try and capture the essence of a subject.

The thing is, there is no right or wrong way to capture nature, and when creating art, the old adage “practice makes perfect” couldn’t be truer. The most inexperienced of drawers will find that the more they sketch, the more detail they notice, and the more accurately they are able to capture the essence of their subject. This is because drawing teaches you to observe.

Find a small, unlined notebook and a good pencil. Carry these with you everywhere, and allow yourself time to sketch the wild about you. In a way, the productive nature of the art will entice you to spend more time in nature, looking for things to draw. When you can’t get outdoors - draw from your memory, books or the internet. Squeezing in a ten minute sketch over lunch or over a drink can be immensely relaxing. Sketch at whim or start a nature journal. If you have little kids, start them early by teaching them to journal nature. The more you draw, paint or sculpt, the more you will want to discover about your subject matter, and the more you will notice about the life around you. Try it!

Read a Book of Fiction

Taking action doesn’t always mean participating in a practical activity – it can also be about learning, discovering, and imagining in order to make the world a better place. Fiction can sometimes allow us to escape to a better place, but it can also teach us about the reality that we live in. How can we as humans become better connected to the environment? What similarities are there between us and other animals? What are the possible impacts of climate change and how can we alleviate them now?

Although these are questions that can also be answered by science, literature can often help us to empathise with others and inspire imaginations in regards to conserving our natural world. Often termed ‘eco-fiction’, more and more authors are highlighting issues of the modern environmental crisis through their work in the hopes that more people will take notice of the nature around them.

So why should you read eco-fiction? Firstly, reading is good for you! Studies show that reading for pleasure can socially benefit children, teenagers and adults, improve parent-child relationships, and provide mental health benefits to adults. Secondly, it’s fun – works of fiction can inspire, delight, surprise or encourage you to understand something that you’d never realised before. Lastly, it is easy to take a book with you on a walk, hike, camping or beach trip, or simply into your own backyard to relax and immerse yourself in both a good story and the wonder of nature.

Below are some suggestions for those wanting to delve into eco-fiction as either adults, teenagers or children. They are a mix of Australian and international titles that in some way explore themes of nature and the human connection with it.

 

Adult Literature

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Clade – James Bradley

Loosed Upon the World – John Joseph Adams (ed.)

The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K. Le Guin

The Wind-Up Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

The Swarm – Frank Schatzing

Galapagos – Kurt Vonnegut

Only the Animals – Ceridwen Dovey

Young Adult Literature

Green Valentine – Lili Wilkinson

As Stars Fall – Christie Nieman

Watership Down – Richard Adams

Exodus – Julie Bertagna

Walking the Boundaries – Jacqui French

Hoot – Carl Hiaasen

The Carbon Diaries 2015 – Saci Lloyd

Children’s Literature

The Lorax – Dr Seuss

Rivertime – Trace Bala

A River – Marc Martin

Fox – Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill – Dorothy Wall

The Rabbits – John Marsden & Shaun Tan

Magic Beach – Alison Lester

The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie – May Gibbs

Where the Forest Meets the Sea – Jeannie Baker

Zobi and the Zoox – Ailsa Wild et al.