Australian Government Funds Backyard Biodiversity

CANBERRA, Australia, August 16, 2001 (ENS) - Australians are about to begin building backyard havens for the continent's unique birds, butterflies, frogs and lizards by putting in attractive plants and creating the right habitat.

Environment Minister Robert Hill today announced half a million dollars in government funding for a national program to encourage native flora and fauna in Australia's urban gardens.

"Australians want to play a part in protecting our local wildlife and this new national project gives them a practical way to contribute," said Senator Hill. "These gardens will provide the vital native plants our local creatures need to survive, and they give every household a way to enhance and protect Australia's unique biodiversity."

Planned by Australia's nursery and garden industry as a national marketing program, the Flora for Fauna project has won support through the federal government's $2.5 billion Natural Heritage Trust.

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The endangered Richmond Birdwing butterfly (Photo by Don Sands courtesy CSIRO)

One potential beneficiary of the new program is the endangered Richmond Birdwing butterfly which has come under increasing pressure from the clearing of remnant rainforest verges in southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales. If backyard gardeners plant the native Australian vine Aristolochia praevenosa on which the butterfly normally lays its eggs, they will contribute to its survival.

"Over time," says the trade organization Nursery and Garden Industry Australia, "the program will influence peoples attitudes in relation to their garden and what they plant, resulting in increased purchases of Australian plants and associated products."

Industry will contribute funding for the project, and it will involve partnerships with botanic gardens and zoos, councils, environment groups and plant societies. Research institutions and Environment Australia will also participate.

"Most of Australia's almost one million homes have a backyard and this national project will encourage all Australians to use these areas to create their own Flora for Fauna gardens," Senator Hill said.

Australia is unique for the huge variety and number of species it contains. Scientists at the federal government research branch CSIRO estimate that Australia has 475,000 of the earth's 10 to 30 million species. "Australia is one of only 12 'mega diverse' countries and the only one which is considered a developed country," CSIRO says.

In an attempt to preserve the country's biodiversity, CSIRO along with the Australian National Botanic Gardens has established the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. It has more than a million plant specimens, and a whole new concept in biodiversity monitoring. Documenting Australia's botanical diversity, 80 percent of which is found nowhere else in the world, is the main function of the herbarium.

The knowledge about Australian plants that originates at the research facility can be put to practical use by backyard gardeners who participate in the Flora for Fauna program.

Flora for Fauna displays are being planted in participating garden centers throughout Australia. Plants most suited to particular areas as different as moist, tropical Queensland is from arid southwestern Australia will be identified and accompanied by specific planting information.

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Cabin in a Sydney backyard (Photo courtesy Backyard Cabins)
"People can do as much or as little as they like," Senator Hill said. "They might plant some banksias opposite the rose bushes to attract honey-eaters or they may choose to completely overhaul their garden with a completely new native design."

The Flora for Fauna program will encourage plantings by local councils, property developers, schools and other community groups while discouraging the domestic planting of environmental weeds.

A website featuring an extensive database of plants and animals and their prime habitat locations will be launched later this year. The database lists, by region, climate type, and soil type, a range of appropriate Australian plants as well as the animals, birds and insects they attract, feed and shelter.