Scrunchies, happy-pants and Alex Mack. We were 90s kids, my brother, sister and I. In a time when only your parents had mobile phones, nobody put ‘i’ in front of anything and hashtags weren’t a thing.
Without all the modern distractions, the outskirts of Sunbury were a pretty spectacular place to grow up if you liked wildlife. We lived in the pre-property boom phase. Huge sections of land had been opened up for purchase, but development hadn’t really taken off yet. Only the surveyor’s posts and flagging tape hinted at what was to come. There were so many amazing vacant blocks, full of grasses, weeds and wildflowers. Some streets didn’t have any houses on them at all.
It was magical. We had unlimited access to paddocks and bushland. Sure, it was weedy, and not exactly pristine. But we didn’t care. After all, that’s where we spotted the echidna.
Now, we’d moved out to Sunbury from the mean streets of Broadmeadows, so for us city kids this echidna was a BIG deal. This was a ‘Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter’-level encounter. There it was, just trundling along, past the pile of discarded concrete, through the thistle-ridden meadow down towards the next patch of gum trees.
I’ve since learned that the technical name for where we were living is peri-urban (not as delicious as it sounds). Peri-urban places are not quite the city, but not really rural. “City living, country style” is how it’s often packaged.
Peri-urban areas are unique – there’s still quite a lot of bush left AND quite a lot of people. On the one hand, it means that we can have our ‘home amongst the gum trees’, waking up to the laughing kookaburras and the magpies making whatever the hell it is that that noise is, not feeling like everything around us is so…concrete. But unless it’s carefully managed, peri-urban areas can be a hotbed of conflict. Here are just a few issues you might come across in your peri-urban zone and how you can reduce your impact on the local wildlife.
Not long after we spotted our very first wild echidna, we spotted our first squashed echidna. I’d like to think that it wasn’t the same animal, but in truth, that doesn’t make it any better. Wherever wildlife live near roads, wildlife might to try and cross roads, especially between dusk and dawn when many Australian natives are more active. In some landscapes, the only way for an animal like a kangaroo to get from the fresh water in the creek on one side of town to the beautiful pasture (or golf course) on the other, is to cross a few roads. They’re not doing it for fun (as much as it might seem like it sometimes) so keep a good look out, to make sure you, and the animals, stay safe.
Not everybody enjoys the outdoors the same way. But dirt bike riding and conserving delicate orchids do not good bedfellows make. Respect places that have been set aside for different uses – whether it’s a grassland revegetation area, off-leash dog park or the local dirt jump track. Work with your local councils and let them know that you value these spaces! And don’t forget, the local bush block is not a free tip. Throwing your grass clippings over the back fence might seem like a harmless shortcut for you, but it’s also a shortcut for weeds to quickly takeover in natural areas. More weeds in the bush block = more pests and fire risk on your back fence.
Keep your pets under control. Cats are better inside – they might be well-fed, you might not see them kill anything, but I promise you, it’s not worth the gamble. Tiny birds, lizards and marsupials are a touch too fragile to fend off your beloved pet. And if you’re out in a nice patch of bushland, think about keeping your dogs on a lead, especially if they are terrier type.
Animals belong in the wild, not in my backyard.
It’s important to keep in mind why the animals might be in your backyard now in the first place. As urban areas expand, much of the natural world that we used to think of as ‘out in the bush’ or is now the hottest new ‘burb. The wild lands of the 1980s are today’s ‘city-living, country-style’ growth zones. There’s a limit to how far we can push things out before there’s nowhere left for wildlife to go. But it doesn’t have to be us or them.
If we strike the right balance, peri-urban areas could be the ultimate wildlife-friendly developments – places where people and nature enjoy each other’s company (though, perhaps that transaction only works one way). There are a lot of things that we need to learn before we get it right, but I hope that we do. Because who doesn’t love the sight of an echidna ambling through the local park?