VOLUNTEERS from Newcastle University brought youthful energy - and tree hugging enthusiasm - when they rolled up to help the South West Rocks Community Dune Care group in July.
They joined locals in weeding public bushland to restore native plant communities along the beach dunes, on council land and in Hat Head National Park, where they couldn't resist giving one huge gum tree a big hug.
This month, local volunteers plan to follow up their work in the dunes at South Smoky Beach on Sunday August 22 from 9am-1pm.
"The students did some great work scrambling up and down the hind dunes to tackle the hard-to-reach bitou bush," SWR Community Dune Care secretary Alan Hill said.
"So, on Sunday, it will be good for our more energetic volunteers to follow up any new weed seedlings there. Other volunteers can find less challenging work plucking bitou bush seedlings on the flatter beach dunes."
This volunteer work at South Smoky Beach is part of South West Rocks Community Dune Care's three-year grant from the NSW Environmental Trust, which funds contractors to spray heavy infestations of this invasive weed.
"We're moving further south down the beach from the four-wheel-drive access track, and the native beach vegetation is thriving," Alan said. "After we remove the bitou bush, plants like coastal wattles, banksias and pigface recolonise and stabilise the dunes."
This is the eighth year SWR Community Dune Care has hosted a group of visiting volunteers from Newcastle University Student Environmental Club (NUSEC) for a week. Many are keen to return regularly, but the Newcastle lockdown means they can't join in this month.
Of course, COVID restrictions may yet mean the event has to be cancelled. "If it does go ahead," Alan said, "we can only invite existing Dune Carers, as it's difficult to train new volunteers with appropriate social distance.
"Our volunteers need to bring their own morning tea and lunch, keep our distance and wear face masks while collecting tools and during the briefing. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for any updates."
Existing volunteers are asked to meet at 8.45am on Sunday at the beach access track in South Smoky Campground off Lighthouse Rd, Arakoon.
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