Wildlife Lands Special Feature: Trish Kelly

Written by Evan Quartermain

Soon after starting out with the Wildlife Land Trust back in 2010 I had the pleasure of hearing from Trish Kelly, who was interested in making the 1,847 hectare Dilladerri in southern Queensland a WLT sanctuary. Along with the impressive size of what ended up being our 61st Australian refuge (at the time the second largest in the membership), I can remember being very happy to hear Trish mention the possibility of adding another property, Lockhart, to the WLT ranks.

It was the start of something special, with Lockhart quickly becoming our 67th member sanctuary only to be followed by Wilga Park, The Brothers, Shark Creek Conservation Area and Whilalloo as the 179th, 252nd, 253rd and 308th respectively. There are now six WLT sanctuaries covering 7,380 hectares owned either by Trish or TJM Select Investments, of which she is the sole Director.

 Coolibah black-box woodlands at Wilga Park Sanctuary

Acquisition of the sanctuaries has been strategic, with Wilga Park, The Brothers, Dilladerri and Whilalloo, all former sheep grazing properties, now forming a contiguous 7,124 hectares of conservation land. Great news for the wildlife of the region, and also WLT staff hoping to see as many sanctuaries as possible in a short time! A campaigning trip to Brisbane combined with a generous reshuffling of Trish and Conservation Program Manager Jailene Santana’s commitments meant that, many years after becoming acquainted with them, I was finally able to get out to these special places.

 Replanting efforts have transformed the landscape

They were of course well worth the wait, with Trish and her family’s dedication to ecological restoration on full display (along with spectacular views of Cunninghams Gap) at the first stop of Lockhart. Just months earlier they had hand-planted hundreds of native seedlings in an ambitious connectivity project aiming to link remnant and riparian vegetation through the aptly-named Wren Gully, with plenty of woodland birds enjoying the shelter the thriving trees were already providing. These seedlings were in addition to over 1,500 trees already planted along Warrill Creek on the property, and with the speed of the transformation Lockhart is set to be a conservation gem of the region in no time at all.

Director Trish and Manager Jailene are dedicated to regenerating habitat on the sanctuaries

As impressive and important as the Wren Gully project is, there’s no denying it pales in comparison to what’s taking place at the block of properties that began with the purchase of Dilladerri. A few years ago I was contacted by CO2 Australia’s Chris Ewing (coincidentally a high school biology classmate, taught by WLT member Mary Rowland!) about potential properties for planting through the 20 Million Trees program. Trish’s sanctuaries ticked all the boxes, and having put Chris and Trish in touch it was an absolute privilege to see nearly 500,000 seedlings thriving across formerly cleared land.

The plantings are expanding and helping to buffer White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland Critically Endangered Ecological Community, a remnant of which is also being actively managed and studied on Trish’s properties through a partnership with the now defunct Environmental Stewardship Programme.

Endangered Ecological Communities  benefit from conservation programs in the area 

Trish’s conservation efforts are clearly having a positive impact on local wildlife, especially birds. Emus were darting through the bush, double-barred finches and superb fairy-wrens flitted about the relative protection of old farm buildings, squatter and common bronzewing pigeons bobbed their heads as they scurried away, a spectacular whistling kite took flight from an old paddock tree in search of a meal, and a yellow-billed spoonbill kept silent watch as a pair of black swans (the first to be seen on the sanctuaries) cruised through the water under the tree it was perched in. Astonishingly nearly 170 bird species have now been recorded on the sanctuaries.

Native birds such as the whistling kite thrive in the sanctuaries' habitats

We also had a successful search for the rare and Endangered Macrozamia cranei, a cycad with a very limited distribution just west of Stanthorpe, finding individuals at multiple stages of coning as a bonus. They weren't easy plants to find in the vast woodlands of these WLT sanctuaries, and I was amazed to hear that Trish and Jailene had recently GPS tagged more than 400 Macrozamia cranei - they were quick to point out that this was just the beginning!

To top all of this fantastic work off, Trish and Jailene were rightly proud that they have managed to protect the natural values of three of these properties forever, having Nature Refuge status established on Wilga Park, Dilladerri and Whilalloo since purchasing them. With good environmental news not exactly in abundance of late witnessing such good work occurring at scale thanks to the dedication of caring people was just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the best thing about the WLT is that people like Trish are far closer to the rule than an exception.

The Endangered Macrozamia cranei is just one of the floral species being preserved at Dilladerri