July 29, 2018 06:45:40
Tucked away in a corner of Western Australia’s south coast lives a tiny, mouse-like animal called the honey possum.
The unique creature is endemic to the area and is the only marsupial in the world that feeds solely on nectar and pollen.
Habitat loss is the biggest threat to the honey possum and while it is not listed as endangered, it has been thrust into the spotlight in time for National Tree Day today.
Planting for the future
A planting session to create a vital habitat for this species kicked off near the small rural town of Wellstead.
Students from the local primary school joined forces with farmer and conservationist Sylvia Leighton to plant more than 8,000 banksia plants on her farm.
Ms Leighton has been establishing a network of bushland corridors across her property to encourage wildlife to move freely from all directions.
She believes every person in Western Australia should see a honey possum in their lifetime.
“We are so lucky to have this animal in our part of the world,” she said.
“A honey possum is the same size as a mouse, but it has three distinctive stripes down its back. It also has a lovely long nose that sticks into the flowers and an amazing tongue that darts in and out with the pollen.
“This species is a very important pollinator in our native bushland.”
From farmland to bushland
Ms Leighton’s parents purchased the farm when land was released for agricultural production. Much of the block was covered in native bush.
Her mother had a passion for nature that had been passed on to the next generation.
“When you live out in the country it can be quite a hard life sometimes,” Ms Leighton said.
“You have to work on a lifestyle that keeps you interested and excited.
“My mum was definitely my inspiration and it has always been important to me to learn more about the species that live in this area.”
Honey possums were not the only animals she hoped to encourage back onto the farm.
“The honey possums have become the icon animal for this revegetation project because they are so cute and quite human-friendly, but there are many more animals in these corridors that are just as important,” she said.
“The western brush wallaby is a species that was here when I was a kid but unfortunately is almost completely gone.
“We want to bring those back as well as bandicoots, pygmy possums, dunnarts and also many birds, frogs, lizards and snakes.”
Community gets behind fund to protect native species
The honey possum requires a variety of nectar-producing plants that flower at different times of the year for its diet.
Ms Leighton and her helpers will be planting about 10 different species of banksia trees in the hope of meeting their needs.
The trees have been supplied through community donations into the South Coast Environment Fund, a project managed by the Albany-based South Coast Natural Resource Management group.
South Coast NRM chief executive Justin Bellanger said the fund had been established to provide people with a way to help protect and care for species in the region that were not being looked after by other groups.
“We are thrilled to have had such great support from the community,” he said.
“We have the ambitious goal of raising $1 million by 2021, which I am confident will make a real and lasting difference to unique and amazing species who call the South Coast home.”
ABC Radio gardening expert Sabrina Hahn is the patron of the South Coast Environment Fund and recently got up close and personal with a honey possum.
She said it was important to preserve the species that lived in one of the world’s special biodiversity hotspots.
“It is a privilege to be involved in this work. Most of the south-west used to be beautiful bushland, so now we must preserve and extend what we have left so that our grandchildren can experience the beauty.”
A day for trees
National Tree Day began in 1996 and is now the largest tree-planting event in Australia.
Students and community groups around the country will today pull on their gloves, dig out their shovels and plant thousands of seedlings as part of the annual event.
“We grew up in a very human-centric world, and it was easy to forget that there are other kingdoms of organisms living on this planet,” Ms Leighton said.
“Plants are so integral and they supply us with the oxygen we need to survive.
“I will get behind any special day or occasion that calls for us to connect back to nature and give it the respect that I think is due.”