When asked what his motivation is, the answer from Mike Norman comes quickly: “There’s a gap between what should be done and what is actually being done – that’s my motivation”
Mike is the Treasurer of Joondalup Community Coast Care (JCCCF) and the coordinator for Friends of Sorrento Beach & Marmion Foreshore, Friends of Porteous Park and Deputy Coordinator for Friends of Harman Park.
In the case of JCCCF, Mike has been there since the beginning. Founded in the year 2000, JCCCF was created out of necessity.
“Until the early 2000’s, there were no dedicated bush care initiative being undertaken by local government, at least in the City of Joondalup”, says Mike.
“The City thought there needed to be more community input on the coastline – most of the focus up until then had been on the parks, verges and ovals, like it was for most councils in the metro area.
“Between the city, me, and others like Keith Pearce, Don Poynton, Tony O’Gorman, Steve Magyar, Marilyn Zakrevesky and Mitch Sideris – names which will be familiar to many in the northern suburbs – we realised that if we were going to have the resources to tackle this issue, it would need volunteers. So that’s what we did.”
JCCCF began by making comment on City policies which affected the coastline, such as placing stormwater sumps in the dunes, something Mike describes as ‘a whopping great hole in the ground, full of weeds’.
“They’re not allowed to do that anymore”, he says.
“We’ve kept that involvement in helping to guide policy – recently we commented on the city’s Weed Management Plan, advocating for a reduction in the use of glyphosate. We always try to keep the lines of communication and cooperation open, whether its with local government, other groups or even developers. We’ve developed a reputation for being reasonable and approachable – pragmatic – which helps us a great deal.”
The group’s first hands-on project focussed on the revegetation of the dunes at Sorento Beach. The methods used there have been the basis for the its work over the subsequent 22 years.
“I’ve been involved in revegetation for 40 years. I had some experience from planting trees out in the Wheatbelt and running the Farm Tree Help Scheme”, says Mike, “But that’s a completely different beast compared to revegetating dunes.
“Our aim is ecological restoration – to try and recreate what once was, using appropriate local species.
“If the area is completely degraded - that is to say very dense weeds or no natives at all – we get the City to use herbicides initially, but we switch to manual weeding as quickly as we can. The key to getting everything under control is to interrupt the weeds’ reproduction cycle as quickly as possible.
“Today, of the 30 weed species we initially found on Sorrento, 11 have been completely eliminated.”
The results of the group’s work are plain to see. Native flora now thrives on Sorrento Beach and Marmion Beach foreshore, going from 70 per cent degradation to nearly 35,000 newly planted seedlings, of approximately 40 different species, across 2.5KM of coastal reserves.
“We go down to these areas once a week – anything from ten to 15 people working across areas of up to nine hectares, depending on the site”, says Mike.
“We have a mix of people involved – we’re volunteer led but we also have a team of contractors which we have trained up to use our techniques. We get some younger members through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, but the majority are retired older people.”
Reflecting on an issue which faces a number of similar groups – namely attracting younger people to get involved in conservation – Mike believes more needs to be done in making younger generations more aware of biodiversity.
“We used to get many more young people involved, but in the past ten years something has changed.
“Volunteering isn’t paid work, but it’s a great way for a young person to get practical, on the ground experience, particularly if they’re looking to go into conservation as a career. I was a volunteer myself from a relatively young age, even when I was working.
“I think part of this issue is that kids aren’t getting taught about their own local biodiversity at school. They don’t understand the issues affecting biodiversity in their area, and you can’t value what you don’t understand.
“Even at the most basic level – I’ve asked a classroom full of children to name the tree right outside the window. It was a tuart tree – the most common tree on the Swan Coastal Plain, but not one child, nor the teacher could identify it. That’s a problem!
“One of the coast care groups affiliated with JCCCF recently ran an event for the local communities and families which included a biodiversity walk and activities, all paid for and run by volunteers. It’s a start, but we need more biodiversity and environment content in the curriculum. We try to get school groups involved as much as possible for this very reason.”
Indigenous involvement is also of great importance to Mike and JCCCF.
“Many of the challenges we face in restoring these areas relate to invasive plants, animals, soil pathogens and clearing which did not exist prior to European settlement, so we’re conscious of the need to fuse traditional knowledge and modern science to deal with that.
“We welcome Aboriginal participation and interest in our projects to the extent that they feel appropriate. We’re also very respectful of the wishes of the Traditional Owners of that land – such as the request from the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council that there be minimal disturbance to the ground and that we minimise the use of herbicides.”
With 40 years of focus on biodiversity in the dunes of Perth’s northern suburbs, does Mike ever switch off?
“Some of my volunteers have said that I have ruined their experience of walking in natural areas around Perth – they see weeds everywhere!”, he laughs.
“That in itself is worrying, but we try to stay focussed on what’s in front of us and fight the battles we can win. There are huge state, national and global issues relating to loss of biodiversity and climate change – all these things are linked.
“Getting involved at a local level is a window in to those much bigger issues. By understanding what’s going on in your own back yard, you can begin to understand the big picture issues that are happening right across the world.”
For more information about Joondalup Community Coast Care Forum, visit jcccf.org.au.
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing nearly 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 9420 7291 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]