Stotts Island & The Bruce Chick Conservation Park

Stotts Island is located on the Tweed River northeast of Murwillumbah and visible from the Tweed Valley Way. The island measures 2.25 kilometres in length and is 1.25 kilometres wide and lies about a metre above king tide level. About 140 hectares in area, its vegetation includes a mosaic of original floodplain vegetation types, the climate is sub-tropical and there is usually a pronounced summer-autumn wet season. The Tweed Valley is the deposited plain of the erosion caldera of the Mount Warning Shield volcano in an area rich in a diversity of flora and fauna including a disproportionate share of endemic species.

Important vegetation associations on Stotts Island are the tall fringing sub-tropical Rainforest borders visible from the surrounding area, large areas of Bangalow Palm forest with a significant Hoop Pine presence, vine thickets, Casuarina glauca (Swamp Cypress) formations, Melaleuca quinquinervia (Paperbark) swamps. Crinum Lilly dominated areas and reedy swamps.

There are also old billabongs normally denied access to the currents of the Tweed; except in flood time. This island is the last major lowland Rainforest component of its type in the sub-tropical east coast and as such has enormous environmental importance. It is only a tiny part of the vast flora that once covered the flood plain of the Tweed River but is the only significant part left.

The natural vegetation is the positive side. There are also infestations of exotic Madiera Vine and Cats Claw Creeper to be dealt with, problems associated with the acid waters that flow from the drainage canals that intersect the sea of surrounding sugar cane plantations, erosion and silting problems – the usual casual destructive by-products of our human society that is only now beginning to see itself as part of nature’s overall larger community. Unfortunately Mother Nature also contributed the ruddy mosquitos. The island was apparently lightly logged for Red Cedar and Hoop Pine years ago although sadly much of the Cedar was never used and eventually was washed out to sea. An island oasis in a sea of pressure and nearly literally so anyway if dire prophecies of global warming are to result in the tide coming in more than we are used to.

Thankfully, Stotts Island was gazetted a nature reserve in 1971 and is now managed by the National Parks (NSW) whose basic policy is to preserve the area as a wilderness. Unless there is a catastrophe on a major scale one would expect things to improve and efforts to eradicate the exotic weeds are indications of steps in the right direction. The greatest surviving grace has of course been that in being an island, access requires some foresight and planning. To observe the forest at first hand one actually has to walk through it and normally this is not encouraged as the powers that be realise in their wisdom that not every member of the human race has woken out of their destructive sleep. As part of the policy of awakening people to their plight through giving them immediate access to what their forefathers so recklessly destroyed, the Rainforest is being shifted to the mainland. Fortunately the Rainforest produce its own blueprint – in the case of trees they are called seeds.

In 1980 The Tweed Shire Council authorised the Tweed Valley Conservation Trust to restore Rainforest between the old Pacific Highway (now Tweed Valley Way) and the back channel beside Stotts Island on degraded land that lay fallow producing exotic weeds, lantana and vines growing on a diet of ancient highways, There were practical problems associated with the concrete and bitumen that these relics were made from but with grunt and determination and the intelligent use of herbicide sprays, the Bruce Chick Conservation Park is now well and truly established. The wealth of young trees there have begun producing their own blueprint.

There was an information bureau built and walking tracks established but these have been damaged by subsequent floods and have now been removed. Visitors can still walk along the edge of the planting and see what a diverse flora is contained in our heritage.

There have been two main lessons learnt from this exercise. The first is that success comes slowly and persistence is a necessary component. This is self-evident in most worthwhile projects.

The other is that EXOTIC WEEDSCAPES CAN BE RESTORED TO NATURAL FOREST.

Perhaps a third lesson is that humanity needs people like Bruce Chick to show the rest of us what we are capable of achieving.

Views are beautiful beyond description

John Oxley - 1823 Explorer
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