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Friends of Wilson Reserve - Local Wildlife Hero’s


Friends of Wilson Reserve have been caring for the local bushland in Ivanhoe since 1996. They are a volunteer conservation group dedicated to restoration of degraded bushland on the north bank of the Yarra: Wilson Reserve and Horseshoe Bend.  

Established by local environmentalist Robert Bender OAM, the group have spent countless hours removing invasive weeds, rubbish and other debris and replacing it with indigenous plants, shrubs, and grasses which in turn support the local wildlife. The bushland is home to up to 130 species of native birds, Sugar Gliders, bats, echidnas, skinks, spiders and insects and the group also actively monitors frogs, recording their seasonal behaviour and general wellbeing. It has had a project monitoring 20 bat roost boxes since 2005, recording six bat species, their breeding and community behaviour. 

We caught up with Robert to find out a little bit more about himself and his conservation program. 

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why/how you started the Friends of Wilson Reserve group nearly 30 years ago. 

RB: Initially I became involved in conservation volunteering at Organ Pipes National Park in Sydenham, eventually becoming its leader. After I moved from Pascoe Vale to Ivanhoe, I discovered Wilson Reserve, and the Organ Pipes had both been dairy farms in the early 1900s, as a result similar problems of large weed invasions and indigenous plant species that had disappeared and I began to tackle them on my own. In the mid-90s, Banyule Council invited me to start a group and we quickly got into a pattern of monthly working bees and soon took on the monthly frog survey, set up several bat boxes, which became the focus of a very long-running bat study project, and began a long-term program of litter clean-ups in the Yarra. It has been a terrific growth opportunity for me, learning about the ecology of the area, park management, growing a team of regulars, watching the growth of the thousands of plants we’ve put in at many sites that have all grew to be bigger ones. It’s terrific exercise and great for connecting with the natural world and learning about its complexity, as well as, over the long term, achieving quite substantial restoration of what had been a very degraded area 

Q: What difference does the work of the group make to the local environment and wildlife? 

RB: >span class="NormalTextRun SCXW103260735 BCX0"> has a fairly healthy tree canopy of River Redgum, and Wattles: Silver and Black, and a great density of two shrubs that recovered from the dairy farming decades: Tree Violet and Prickly Currant Bush, but about 10 other shrub species had disappeared and all the ground flora of grasses and flowering herbs had vanished under very dense weed invasions. In 28 years we have removed tonnes of weeds and made a very good start on re-establishing the vanished grasses and shrubs. This has greatly improved the habitat for the insectivorous birds, frogs and skinks of the area as well as for the pollinators of the reintroduced plant species. The semi-restored ecosystem is now more balanced in the relative abundance of its species. 

Q: Why is it so important to re-establish native and indigenous plants and shrubs? 

RB: Plants and animals go together. A mapping of the indigenous flora of Melbourne shows a diameter of about 50 km, that is almost bare, as the suburbs have become filled with serious environmental weeds – many of them garden ornamentals – and are garden escapes. Restoration of the ecosystem has made life much better for the birds, insects, spiders, reptiles, frogs – wombats moved in about 15 years ago, echidnas have been photographed in the bushland – having such a relatively healthy ecosystem only 10 km from our CBD is just wonderful. We found that very little was known of the area’s fauna, so our weeding, planting and monitoring activities have very much increased knowledge of what is there, which has included some surprises. 

Q: Tell me about some of the more unusual plants and species the people of Banyule might not realise live in and around our local rivers and reserves? 

RB: A snake enthusiast sent me video of an echidna he encountered wandering around the bushland, searching for reptiles. We often find wombat poo sitting on logs (territory markers) and have seen the odd one especially after floods. The birds include many resident and breeding species, seasonal visitors, (such as the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos that come down from the hills in winter to feed on grubs they find under wattle bark) and I have found a family of Buff-banded Rails (flightless ground-dwelling insectivore) as well as one great day when there was a Yellow-billed Spoonbill and a Royal Spoonbill on Ivanhoe Golf Course. The big flock of Welcome Swallows that cruises all spring and summer around the neighbouring sports fields emigrates far to the north in winter but always returns in spring. A member of our committee spotted a platypus in the Yarra last year. 

Q: Sadly litter is a major problem for the local waterways and parklands, and you are always looking for new volunteers to help remove and clear rubbish, how can people get involved?  

RB: Litter is a major problem after flooding rains – after the October 2022 flood we spent about six weeks collecting shredded plastics wrapped around trees along the riverbanks. I have no trouble filling my kayak with litter along the water’s edge within 2-3 km of my launch site in the reserve. The Clean Up Australia day effort since 2001 has been at nearby rail stations and we never have any trouble filling many bags with bottles, cans, coffee cups, plastic bags, shredded cellophane and discarded dog-poo bags. There is clearly work that can be done year-round. So there is always a need for more volunteers – there are far more people who drop litter than the number who pick it up. 

Miles are proud to be partnering with the Friends of Wilson Reserve sponsoring the cost of indigenous shrubs, the first batch of which were planted last weekend: Prickly Moses, Sweet Bursaria, River Bottlebrush, Long-leaf Cassinia, Burgan, Swamp Paperbark, Snowy Daisy Bush, Tree Everlasting and Hazel Pomaderris from @vinc_nursery. 

If you would like to find out more about The Friends of Wilson Reserve or join the volunteer group please email Robert on or visit their social channels at Facebook or Instagram.



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