Life Science Environment Ancient Wollemi pines forest gets bushfire protection

Ancient Wollemi pines forest gets bushfire protection

A Wollemi tree sapling grows on the forest floor in the Wollemi National Park. Photo: AAP
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NSW’s secret Wollemi pine forest miraculously survived destruction in 2020’s devastating black summer bushfires.

Now, it will be better protected from any future similar disasters.

The ancient Wollemi pine, nicknamed the dinosaur tree, has been declared an “asset of intergenerational significance” in NSW, bolstering efforts to shield the species from future bushfires.

For thousands of years the tree was thought to be extinct, until the Wollemi pines forest was discovered in 1994. Its exact location still remains a closely guarded secret.

Some of the adult trees are estimated to be up to 1000 years old, and the species may be up to 90 million years old.

The secret site in the Blue Mountains where the Wollemi grow is the first to receive the NSW government’s protection label.

The designation means the government can take extra measures to protect the “living fossils” from bushfires, protecting them for future generations.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the declaration recognised the “extraordinary global significance” of the trees.

“This declaration enables us to take existing protections up another notch, and set specific legislative requirements including a dedicated fire management strategy to secure the survival of the species,” she said.

The destructive 2020 bushfires threatened the Wollemi pines, with the NSW Rural Fire Service and National Parks leading an elaborate operation to save them.

“Despite the incredible efforts by the NPWS and RFS teams last summer, several hundred juvenile trees in the protected site were impacted and are yet to resprout,” Environment Minister Matt Kean said.

“That’s why we need to act now to put long-term protections in place that reduce the risk of fire exposure and allow the slow-growing juvenile trees to thrive.”

The “asset of intergenerational significance” label was part of a suite of legislative changes passed by NSW parliament late in 2020 in response to the deadly bushfire season.

The label can be given to sites of environmental or cultural significance, allowing the government to make regulations to manage the land, including to protect it from bushfire risks.

The government said this included setting a dedicated fire management strategy, ecological monitoring and ongoing conservation management.

Travelling plants

Sir David Attenborough with his Wollemi pine at Kew Gardens.

The significance of the ancient Wollemi pine has given it a licence to travel, with high-profile fans around the world photographed planting the Australian native in their homelands.

In 2005, a Wollemi pine made its way to Britain, with naturalist Sir David Attenborough planting a juvenile tree at Kew Botanical Gardens in London.

Not to be outdone, Prince Albert of Monaco was snapped planting a Wollemi pine in the Saint-Martin garden of his principality in the following year.

The royal’s tree was a gift from Wollemi Pine International and Act for Nature as part of the conservation effort for the precious species.

Prince Albert plants a Wollemi pine tree in the Saint-Martin garden in Monaco.

-with AAP