I can’t imagine a life without the many varied sounds of wildlife, in particular the bird varieties so many of us have come to love and enjoy. But in order for us to have these feathered friends close by we need trees, food and water for them.
I recently decided to have a bushfire assessment by the Country Fire Authority (CFA); a promoted, free ‘Defendability Advice for your Property’ visit. I was keen to get the professional opinion of a Wildfire Officer to see how he would assess our rating in a wildfire.
Our property is in a CFA designated high danger zone for bushfires. I assumed as much because of the number of State National Parks in the region. These parks form corridors of woodland, and Narrawong would be in a precarious position with north-west and west winds raging through the area.
As much of our property is covered with large eucalypts – Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus viminalis as examples, with coarse and peeling bark, I knew that our assessment would not be favourable. We also knew when we purchased the property, that a property such as ours would need good insurance coverage.
Many of the ideas covered were what I would call ‘wise’. Suggestions like removing fibre door mats from outside the doors on severe fire days. I had never considered this, but of course it makes sense when you think about it.
Covering external vents was another good suggestion, as well as overhanging branches of the roof. Keeping gutters clear, paint work in good condition – these are all good suggestions.
But I was very disappointed to hear the suggestion that I have no garden abutting the house. The recommendation to me was that “any garden area [minus the plants] should have river pebbles for mulch and not my recycled material that I generate from my own compost or garden prunings”. So much for habitat creation and biodiversity!
We have large windows; all the better for viewing the wonderful bird-life outside. They also provide us with ventilation with the north-south factor and the easterly windows following a hot day are vital to a good night’s sleep without air-conditioning.
I am concerned that because of bureaucratic fear following the Black Saturday bushfire that garden lovers are going to be encouraged to dispense with their gardens, or if not that entirely, to not grow any trees in their gardens. The assessor who visited my property wasn’t concerned whether it was indigenous or exotic. Being plants meant that they had no place near the house within 45 metres on our north-western side he stated, even succulents and geraniums in pots was discouraged. How could anyone assume that these would burn and provide embers?
I do accept that we have too many large gums close to our house, on our property and adjacent properties within the 45 metre zone. But I am not keen to have recommended to me river pebbles as a garden, when they are totally unsustainable to where I live. They are also inert and trendy, and I avoid trendy at all costs.
The unfortunate issue of the whole visit is the fact that our house is well built – as the assessor acknowledged. Our neighbour’s house, on our north western boundary, [a weatherboard with peeling paint on just about every surface] has a roof line only about 2 metres from the main bedroom of our home which is built up on stilts. This home is surrounded with litter which we would take to the dump, but they collect in random piles on site. This is our problem – which the assessor overlooked, even though he looked over the fence.
The assessment was worthwhile. But I am disappointed with the advice about removing all vegetation close to our house and replacing this with nothing other than river pebbles – not even plants growing in the pebbles. What is the sense in following out these procedures, when our neighbour’s home is more of a threat on a high fire danger day than any vegetation? We can only do our best to keep our maintenance up to a high level, while also deep watering the garden in dry periods. This then helps with the movement of water through the shaft of the big trees, making them less vulnerable to wildfires.