Winners and losers in a Tasmanian suburb

Several related wildlife themes have surfaced in the recent past: ways in which our cities and suburbs turn some animal species into winners or losers (Low 2002); a trend for some species to adapt to habitat or landscape-scale changes (TPC 2010) and how landowners might best manage the major problem of browser impacts (Greening Australia 2003). Are we creating winners and losers by appropriating wildlife habitat? What is the current position? The Hobart suburb of Fern Tree may be an instructive example here.

Fern Tree is a small mountain foothill suburb of 8km squared. Residential pockets for 666 people (2011) sit within extensive, wildlife-occupied bushland (Figure 1). Change, which is characteristic of all places, is sometimes swift here, as when the 1967 bushfires devastated Fern Tree. Other change is incremental: virtually all burnt-out properties have been resettled and additional dwellings constructed in the forest. Besides people, two possum species returned in the 1970s, and wallabies in the late 1980s. They and others are edge-dwellers, winner animals that alternate between daytime forest shelter and nocturnal garden browsing, ousting other species – the losers. Winners attracted to my garden include marsupials, browsing Bennett’s wallabies and brush-tailed possums, which seem increasingly abundant (Figure 2).

The marsupials target pasture, lawn, vegetables, herbs, flowering plants and shrubs and do considerable damage. Another winner is the sulphur-crested cockatoo (Figure 3), a forest species first noted at a Fern Tree property dam in 2000, a drought year. The flock regularly inspects local gardens for grass seeds, grain and berries, and destroys shrubs, lilacs, daffodils and outdoor furniture. Omnivorous forest ravens and flocks of black and clinking currawongs are also winners; they poach pet and fowl food and hens’ eggs, scarify lawns in search of invertebrates, and beg handouts from residents.Fern Tree’s forest-and-settlement intersection also hosts losers, whose food sources the winners increasingly plunder. Feral rabbits, bees and their summer swarms, spring – summer butterflies and some small bird species now find little grass, nectar or pollen in my floral desert.

The marsupial eastern-barred bandicoot is a likely loser, un-sighted for some time except as road-/dog-/cat-kill. Winners prosper, losers relocate or perish. How do we answer Low’s plea that we do more to accommodate species that must now live among us because we have encroached upon their habitat?  My first instinct was to foil the ‘trespassers’. Electric fences debarred wallabies but not wily possums. Thus I trapped a brush-tailed possum (Figure 4) and released it three valleys distant, only later learning that, for the animal’s sake, it was not best practice. I have since rethought my relationship with garden visitors. Winners are now free to browse on remaining garden vegetation. However, I actively support losers: my food and ornamental plants will be greenhouse and windowsill grown while I attempt to trace flowering bee and butterfly attracting plants that winners find unpalatable – one small but positive step toward answering Low’s difficult question.