The tall Tuart (Eucalyptus Gomphocephala) forest located in between Busselton and Capel in Western Australia’s picturesque south west, is one of the rarest forest ecosystems in the world. The trees are named after the local Wardandi aboriginal people’s name Too-art, and the forest is a diverse ecosystem and home to over 80 species of birds, reptiles, frogs, bats and many animals including number of endangered species, such as the Western Ringtail and Western Brushtail Possums, Chuditch or Native Cat and the Quenda or Southern Brown Bandicoot.
Before white settlement of the south west, Tuart woodland stretched 400km from north of present-day Perth to Dunsborough near Cape Naturaliste. Now after 175 years of white settlement, less than 30,000 hectares remain and in that, less than 10% of the original understorey.
The reasons for the decline are many, but 3 in particular seem to dominate:
Clearing. In a settlement of poor soils and only seasonal rainfall, the Tuart forest was at once one of the most fertile and so was cleared for farming and town sites and
Logging. Tuart was highly prized for its hard timber which was widely used for ship building, railway trucks, bridges, cog wheels for mills, flooring, stair treads and so on. By 1904 only 40,000Ha remained
Grazing. Begun as early as the 1830’s most of the Tuart forest was leased and fenced by the early 1900’s. Clovers and grasses were introduced whilst native plants thought to be poisonous to stock such as Zamias were cleared. Even after the Tuart forest was protected in 1918 in what became State Forest No 1, the grazing of cattle was still carried on under the tall trees. Although cattle have now been removed since the declaration of the 2049Ha National Park in 1987, Western Grey Kangaroos have taken their place multiplying to large numbers. High on their list of menu favourites are young Tuart trees!
Early in the 2000’s there was a lot of protesting about a proposed mineral sands mine within the Tuart forest, with the predictable bumper stickers “Save the Tuart forest” and sit-ins, etc. Eventually the mine went ahead, but under strict guidelines and conditions (including re-forestation), one of which was that the miner undertake a comprehensive study to establish a list of, and to re-plant native understorey, as well as replacement Tuart trees. Mining has now been completed and rehabilitation has begun.
An observant visitor to the forest today might notice the absence of young Tuarts and the proliferation of weeds such as Arum Lily, and be tempted to draw the conclusion that once the old trees eventually die off, the Tuart forest would cease to exist.
So both the mining company on its old minesite, and the Department of Conservation (DEC) have begun programmes of replanting not only young Tuart trees, but also the range of understorey plants which the research indicated were endemic to the forest. The programmes would be a waste of resources if that was all there was to it, but the areas of rehabilitation have been fenced off with high fences to keep kangaroos out until the young trees and the other vegetation reach sufficient size to be able to survive the kangaroos appetite.
A new section of this can be seen on the site of what was an old Forests Department pine plantation near Inn the Tuarts Guest Lodge, the only accommodation in the Tuart forest, at the end of Rushleigh Rd, just off the Tuart Tourist Drive, about 7km north-east of Busselton city centre. Another visible rehab site is near the bird hide on the Vasse-Wonnerup estuary, accessed from the Spotlight Possum Walk near historic Wonnerup House, off Layman Rd.The old minesite is visible from Tuart Drive around 12 km from Busselton, but is not accessible to the public at this stage, although inspections may be possible by prior arrangement.
So by removing a pine plantation, clearing and sand mining and excluding the native kangaroos, the future of the Tuart forest is a little more assured.