Endangered coastal rainforest inspires the Moruya micro-forest

Moruya is a small regional New South Wales town, nestled between coast and hills. In 2016, my partner and I bought land in the town to build our first home and garden. As a landscape architect I was excited to experiment with plants I couldn’t grow in Canberra.

Canberra’s Micro-forests

I had spent the last 30 years living and working in Canberra. There I knew the local plant communities well. In 2019, after experiencing the hottest and driest year on record I started The Climate Factory. The goal was to build dense native plant pockets or micro-forests in public spaces to cool the landscape.

I was influenced by the Miyawaki method of organic soil preparation and dense planting. However, I didn’t follow the method strictly. The method calls for a natural forest community to be replicated in miniature.

In Canberra, I was hamstrung. Most forests surrounding Canberra are dominated by Eucalypts or Gum trees. I was sure planting Eucalypts in suburbia would alarm citizens due to their potential bushfire risk. Instead I chose small native trees with low flammability.

Black Summer Fires

2019, Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, culminated in the Black Summer fires. The fires burned 24 million hectares, killed 33 people and millions of animals.

Smoke in the sky above Gundary oval Moruya, 31 December 2019.

As 2019 drew to a close we watched as Moruya crackled. Rainforest species looked like skeletons as they dropped leaves in response to low rainfall levels. Tree fern fronds hung brown and limp. Fire ripped through the region burning everything in its path.

La Nina follows fires

Post fires we were graced with two periods of La Nina bringing wet weather. Much of the bush regenerated. After planning three micro-forests in Canberra I was ready for a new challenge. Why not build a micro-forest in Moruya and base it on a rainforest community?

Finding rainforest examples

In my research I came across a document describing endangered ecological communities of the Eurobodalla. Listed amongst them was Littoral or Coastal rainforest. I was intrigued.

Elkhorns are an epiphytic fern of coastal rainforest.

Coastal rainforest is defined as being within two kilometres of coastal influence. With the help of Local Land Services I started visiting pockets of rainforest. Eurobodalla Shire Council manages two portions of this ecological community, one at Tomakin the other at Tuross Head.

Chatham Park, Tuross Head

This 30 acre site is a delight. It was set aside by the land developer, Hector McWilliam for the community. It’s lush and green with small pathways winding through the dense vegetation, welcome signs and simple bridges. You can hear the ocean but can’t see it.

Coachwood, Ceratopetalum apetalum in Chatham Park, Tuross Head.

Within the park are rainforest trees like the striped-trunk Coachwood, Ceratopetalum apetalum and the fruit bearing Plum pine, Podocarpus elatus. And plenty of Yellow stringybark, Eucalyptus muellerana which grows along the south east NSW coast.

Gracing the trees are the ephiphytic fern, Elkhorn, Playtycerium bifurcatum. On the forest floor are a bevy of groundcovers, including Kidney Weed, Dichondra repens and ferns like the Maidenhair and Doodia aspera.

The hand carved signs are reminiscent of drawings from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Next steps for Moruya Micro-forest

What are the next steps? We need to find land to build our 1500 plant micro-forest. Ideally it will be around 1000 square metres in area and located within walking distance from the Moruya town centre.

Micro-forest a heat haven

The Moruya micro-forest will demonstrate the importance of endangered plant communities, like littoral rainforest. It will also act as an outdoor heat haven when hotter drier weather returns.