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2023-12-22 2:05 pm
Two people on a walking together in a rainforest, surrounded by trees

A butterfly superhighway? Only in Queensland

March 25, 2024
August 15, 2019

Thanks to a 20+ year effort and a brand-spanking new vine superhighway project, one of Queensland’s most beautiful butterflies has been saved from extinction. Matt Cecil, from the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, talks us through it.

Matt, a project manager at the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ), has helped oversee the successful preservation of the Birdwing. The butterfly needs access to a specific vine to be able to reproduce effectively, and that vine had been at risk thanks to human activity and development.

With two populations of the butterfly now secure on both the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, the WPSQ’s next trick is to help connect them, and they do that by planting a vine corridor – essentially a butterfly superhighway. With help from a Bank Australia customer grant, the northern section of that corridor was officially launched in June this year.

We caught up with Matt to learn more about the work of WPSQ and these beautiful butterflies.

Matt, let’s start with a broad question: Why do you guys exist? Why is there a need for the Wildlife Preservation Society in 2019?

Well, it's a tough question. I don’t think governments necessarily make decisions based on what's best for particular wildlife. They make a lot of decisions based on what's best for the economy or the state, and of course they need to look after that, but there also needs to be a voice like ours advocating for continued protection of wildlife and habitat. Without that noise barking in the background, it's very easy for economically-motivated decision makers to just forget about what's important for wildlife.

Why do you feel personally drawn to these issues?

I feel really relaxed and comfortable being out in the bushland. When I'm out working on various projects sitting in the middle of the bush, without any day-to-day urban sounds, I feel at peace.

The work itself is important because even if we're expanding native bushland for urban developments, there's still a whole range of wildlife that’s completely displaced from its day-to-day life, its day-to-day habitat. I have a lot of empathy for the wildlife that is impacted due to anthropogenic (pollution/pollutants as a result of human activity) effects.

You guys recently received a Bank Australia grant to help with your Richmond Birdwing butterfly project – can you tell us a little about these critters?

Good news first: the outlook is better and better for this species. This butterfly relies on one particular vine species to lay its eggs. Unfortunately, this vine has been extensively cleared across its natural habitat.

The way we save the species is to grow and plant this vine. And thanks to over 20 years’ worth of community effort, on the Sunshine Coast and on the Gold Coast, lots of these vines have been planted and we've seen some great results with butterflies expanding back into areas where they had disappeared from. Without this work, without 20 years’ worth of dedicated community conservation, this species will probably be extinct by now.

Can you talk a bit about the vine corridor? It sounds like a mammoth project…

Yes, so the work we have been doing focused on the core population that were left, linking up and expanding core populations to save the species in the current Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast regions. Now those populations are really quite strong, it’s time to try and expand, and join them together.

What we've decided to do is split it up into two, possibly three, large vine corridors that we're going to start to develop, and these corridors are in fact 20-year plans. It takes that long to do, so we're just starting off.

Bank Australia has helped fund the northern corridor. But we’re also planting a corridor that will help the butterflies travel southwards. We’re heading south because there’s a suitable habitat growing in Brisbane right now, but there’s no way for the butterflies to get there.

In terms of what it actually looks like, the vines might be three or so kilometres from one another, like stepping stones for the butterflies, and they’ll zig-zag the whole way. It won’t just be one straight line.

So, in real terms, people that live around this corridor could expect to see more of these guys over the coming years?

Yes. If we plant a vine, we would aim to be thinking that 10 years we'd be seeing some expansion into these areas.

And, in terms of this Bank Australia grant, there’s a bit of a shift happening with brands and corporations stepping up for issues like this, often in lieu of government help. How important is that for this kind of work?

I can't stress enough just how important it is. Finding money to do this project is extremely difficult. No one appreciates the scale. Bank Australia have given us $7500. That's not a lot of money for a corporate situation, but to us that's a thousand vines we get to put in the ground. That's huge.

If Bank Australia don't give us that money, we have to fund raise it ourselves. These contributions, it may seem small to other people, but they’re just enormous for not-for-profits and small conservation groups like ourselves.

And if people want to go out and see the Richmond Birdwing butterfly for themselves, are there any good spots where they're most likely to see them?

During summer, if you're on the Sunshine Coast, there's a place called the Mary Cairncross Reserve – you can often see Birdwings there.

Alternatively, up on Mount Tamborine, there's the Tamborine Mountain Skywalk. You've got to pay to get in, but they also a lovely big skywalk and lots of Birdwing vines planted, and you always see Birdwing butterflies there during the summer season.

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