John Muir: When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
The naturalist Joan Bradley wrote her final book Bringing Back the Bush:The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration chronicling the recovery of Australian plant communities based on regeneration principles proven not just effective but generalizable to a variety of settings. After the ‘gentle art’ proved itself over time, education and training in the ‘Bradley Method’ spread locally and abroad.
My sister and I had for years been pulling up seedling weeds growing near the walking tracks in Ashton Park, and had looked despondently at the big ones scattered through the bush further in. We had always found these widespread invaders particularly offensive, and longed for the strength we believed was needed to cope with them. We felt that, because of their threat to the whole of the bush, these should be the first weeds to be destroyed, and were therefore delighted to see unsightly walls of tall lantana fall to the mattocks and brushhooks of the park staff.
We had never thought it possible that such very bad areas could be restored by anything other than this sort of clearing followed by replanting. The clearing was mostly confined to very heavy lantana infestations, where the few native seedlings that came up were quickly swamped by an explosion of assorted weeds, but in a few places work was extended into areas of mixed weeds and natives. Here, where they were not hopelessly outnumbered, the natives responded magnificently. Shrubs, despite disturbed roots and broken branches, put out new shoots, and seedlings of many species germinated along with the weeds
With growing enthusiasm, we began to understand that there might be another way to fight the invaders. Given half a chance, the bush would fight back on its own behalf… systematic hand weeding, carefully done, was a spectacular success…
…The turning point for bush regeneration came in 1975when the National Trust commissioned Joan, Toni May and their small team of regenerators to demonstrate their techniques in Blackwood Reserve, Beecroft. While regenerating Blackwood, Joan also proved to herself that the principles established in Hawkesbury sandstone bushland could also be applied to the moist schlerophyll woodland growing on the richer shale-derived soils and, ultimately, rainforest. With the support and sponsorship of the National Trust… the demand by local councils for the services of trained regenerators grew rapidly…
With demand for regenerators outstripping supply, a school was established to teach the Bradley Method to conservationists keen to assist in bringing back their local bushland. Joan was commissioned to provide tuition and gradually that small band of previously unpaid workers grew – former pupils became teachers, and the Bradley Method is now being used throughout Australia and in some countries overseas…
In Joan’s words, ‘As a very old-fashioned scientist and former chemist, I had a thorough grounding in what was then the simple scientific method of experiment and observation. Repeatability still remains for me the acid test. This method is repeatable anywhere as long as the three principles are followed’.
Inspired by witnessing ample effort in restoration practices with questionable long term effectiveness, Joan Bradley and her sister Eileen experimented with a naturalistic method, eventually shifting well-intended yet damaging restoration efforts into a more nuanced, bio-centric approach.
In this current millennia marked by the advent of agriculture and shuffling of species, eventually nature loving humans and organizations heard and heeded the call from suffering ecosystems and galvanized enormous efforts to reverse the damage. While modern humans struggled with their place and purpose in the natural world to which they lost their indigenous connection, the call for stewardship grew ever clear. The meme ‘natives are good, nonnatives are bad’ slowly crept into the mindset of the masses. In Cascadian metropolitan localities, plentiful acres of nonnative plant species were removed, with native species planted in their stead. As the focus now shifts increasingly into maintenance and monitoring modes, long term outcomes of these efforts are yet to be learned. To what extent will these installed plantings regenerate, and revive former rich and diverse plant, animal and fungal communities?With inspiration from Joan and Eileen Bradley and the scientific stories of innovative stewards in the field, the gentle art and field science of the here named Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery (FER) approach is now presented. This method centers on 1. native plant species regeneration, 2. soil stability and 3. habitat recovery.