Life and death: what readers see in Australia after a forest fire | Living environment | Instant News

Ffrom the absence of green trees to green trees that grow from burning trees, Guardian readers in Australia have shared their stories and natural pictures after the devastating forest fires in the country.

‘Total silence leaves a deep impression’

Tallowa Dam, New South Wales. Photo: Simon Ross / GuardianWitness

I went driving to Tallowa Dam when I heard the fire there was bad. Bad doesn’t even begin to describe total destruction. Road signs are melting, rocks are split, and skeletons tell me that for several days it really was hell on Earth. However, the speed and power used to start regrowth is amazing and the way some buds break through scorched stems reminds me of labor. There are shoots that come from everywhere – and quickly. However, the deepest impression that remains for me is total silence. The Australian bush is usually a noise commotion. I can only hear strange drops of water and insects, and I don’t see marsupial life at all.

Simon Ross, Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales

The forest fires that plagued many parts of Australia between July 2019 and February 2020 are unimaginable scale and size. By the end of February, they had burned at least 32,000 square miles (85,000 square km) of Australian forest, an area as large as Ireland.

Nearly 3 billion animals have been killed or displaced by forest fires. The habitat is around 143 million mammals, 180 million birds, 51 million frogs and 2.5 billion reptiles burned.

The fires came during the hottest year in Australia on record and in a country that already has in between highest extinction rate in the world due to non-invasive species such as cats, foxes, deer, horses and various pathogens, along with habitat clearance and fragmentation.

But one year since the beginning of the fire, what is the landscape like today? With the state boundary closed due to Covid-19, the Guardian made a virtual journey through the blackened path of summer forest fires in Australia, talking to those who were investigating the state of the flora and fauna that still live on the continent.

‘Tragic and beautiful but haunting’

Lake Conjola, New South Wales

Lake Conjola, New South Wales. Photo: Vyvian Wilson / GuardianWitness

At the end of February, we returned to camp at our “special place” on Lake Conjola. It was shocking and I contradicted my response to destruction – the sight of all the dead trees, tragic and lifeless but beautiful but haunting. I’ll never forget the smell – it tastes like toast, only worse. There are signs of life around the lake. The bushes began to grow and most of the trees looked rather disheveled and not the best – as if they were still wearing pajamas, with lacy green buds growing above and below their bodies.

Vyvian Wilson, Wombarra, New South Wales

‘Green shoots appear everywhere’

Peregian Beach, Queensland

Peregian Beach, Queensland. Photo: Ingrid / GuardianWitness

This photo was taken five weeks after the forest fires that began on September 9, forced hundreds of residents to flee. I was amazed at how within a few short weeks and heavy rain, fresh green shoots began to appear everywhere in front of and below the burning forest. I want to capture this particular picture because it tells the story of the power of nature to rejuvenate so quickly after a disaster. When taking this shot, there is still a frightening silence in the burning area, usually full of birdsong.

Ingrid, Peregian Coast, Queensland

‘The ground resembles a giant slag heap’

Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Blue Mountains, New South Wales. Photo: Patrick Manley / GuardianWitness

On my way to Mount Wilson on January 11, I stopped to take a small portion of the damage. It was a cold and foggy morning for January, silent, with no signs of life. My dog ​​Finn trampled embers. A raw smell hurts my nose and makes my eyes water; it must have been a strange experience for him. The ground resembled a giant pile of slag with ghost tree remains. There are no insects or birds. The only color other than black, brown or gray is a faint hint of faint green from the base of the fern where new shoots appear. Regrowth is very good, but science reminds us that diversity will not return.

Patrick Manley, Manly, New South Wales

‘Not even ants or spiders’

Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Blue Mountains, New South Wales. Photo: Patrick / GuardianWitness

A good friend and I recently spent a day in the Blue Mountains, off the beaten track. Small signs of renewal are everywhere – buds in cloaked trees, thick ground cover in ditches and knee-high grass in places – without fires – the most difficult road. We did not see animals or insects. Not even ants or spiders. We only heard a few birds near the stream, although we saw animal tracks on several muddy, thick slopes with decaying and decaying vegetation. Fires have made it possible to see extraordinary distances into very dense bushes. It was very quiet. Spending a few hours in the bush working very well for our mental health, like what 2020 is.

Patrick, Kirrawee, New South Wales

‘It feels sacred here’

Sarsfield, East Gippsland, Victoria

Sarsfield, East Gippsland, Victoria. Photo: Hilary Stripp / GuardianWitness

This is Sarsfield, where I have been for nearly 40 years. Grieving for me is the clash between memories of who I should meet when I leave (lyrebirds, treecreepers, yellow-bellied gliders) and the harsh and silent reality that confuses my senses. Landscapes, hills and ditches, and where water needs to flow, are left open. The silence is difficult to accept. My ears are still ringing with hope but in a secret ditch, rain in the ash allows the most beautiful growth. Ancient plants that grew from spores appeared. It feels sacred here.

Hilary Stripp, East Gippsland, Victoria

‘The view of the baby is very pleasant’

Woodside, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Woodside, Adelaide Hills, South Australia. Photo: Felicia Bulman / GuardianWitness

I almost stepped on two blue female babies in a scorched garden when I started cleaning. They must have hatched around during the Cudlee Creek fire in Adelaide Hills last December and seeing them was the most exciting thing I’ve seen since then. Luckily, I noticed them on time. They and their families survived hell and barren and are now hovering in the garden. They are like little mice with wings – tiny, always alert and mostly moving. Since the fire I have given them food, as well as local crows and firetail finches. Their growth has been reflected in the garden, as much (but not all) has been revived and recovered. It is a privilege and excitement to see the little birds survive into adulthood.

Felicia Bulman, Woodside, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

‘A real demonstration of climate-driven change’

Kings Highway, New South Wales

Kings Highway, New South Wales. Photo: Laurie / GuardianWitness

We drove along the Kings Highway today. After seeing the extent of damage along the coast, we believe we are immune to further shocks. We know that the vast interior has been badly burned but knowing something and seeing it are very different things. Change is eternal. Nobody returned to what it was. How much the return will resemble what was previously unknowable and this is very likely just the beginning. Even after real demonstrations of climate change and the extraordinary difficulties that may occur in future generations, our leaders hold fast to fossil fuels. We are at the beginning of a long era of climate-based change. This is now a simple fact.

Laurie, Ulladulla, New South Wales

‘Echidnas makes our hearts soar’

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Photo: Evan Quartermain / GuardianWitness

In the early weeks of the search and rescue effort the Humane Society International took place Kangaroo Island we see very little wildlife that is alive or healthy. Death and suffering are very confrontational, but every few days we seem to find an echidna that roams the plantation, seemingly careless in the world, and it never fails to make our hearts soar. Echidnas are very well adapted to fires and their aftermath. Their strong limbs and hind legs facing back mean they can dig straight down and handle obstacles quickly. Tolerance to high carbon dioxide and low oxygen levels means they can squat to breathe through the ground until they are safe. They then use torpor to reduce their energy and activity needs in the post-fire landscape.

Evan Quartermain, Sydney, New South Wales

‘Less parrots and owls are gone’

Newnes Plateau, New South Wales

Newnes Plateau, New South Wales. Photo: Gina Richter / GuardianWitness

Fire rages in this beautiful valley at the southern end of the Newnes Plateau near Lithgow in December. We have been visiting this place for 30 years and are very sad to see it so diminished from its original state. The bushes are struggling to recover – it’s mainly ferns, grass and ferns are growing back. We have experienced two hot fires in six years, and have lost all old trees. What I noticed the most was that many birds left and slowly returned when the tree canopy disappeared. There are still white cockatoos and sometimes black cockatoos, but fewer parrots and owls have left. Smaller birds such as wren and honeyeaters also left, because the place where they usually shot off had disappeared. The last time we visited, there were many kangaroos on the way to the valley because grass is now abundant. I think there are wombats too because I have seen their poop. That’s good to see.

Gina Richter, Sydney, New South Wales

‘The color scheme slowly shifts from gray’

Club Terrace, East Gippsland, Victoria

Club Terrace, East Gippsland, Victoria. Photo: George Boyer / GuardianWitness

I passed Club Terrace, in Victoria, four to five weeks after the fire, when the road was opened, and the view looked like empty land. Canopies and bushes have all disappeared, and you can see for miles through the husks of trees that seem to die. Six months later, the landscape cannot be recognized. In a good way. The fern returned, growing out of the soil and blackened stems and the ground was once again shrouded in moss, bushes and native grass. These shoots (above) are called male fern. The color scheme slowly shifts from gray, black and brown to the full spectrum of green that I always associate with that part of the world. It’s amazing how quickly it gets back up – a testament to the resilience of nature. Although I’m sure a lot of it is shallow. It takes years for the ecosystem to completely recover.

George Boyer, Melbourne, Victoria

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