The next Friends of Wooditjup Bilya event run by Nature Conservation Margaret River Region will feature a guided walk with a riverfront landholder who has turned his property into a nature and wildlife haven.

Nature Conservation’s Friends of Wooditjup Bilya (Margaret River) program features a packed 12-month calendar of events to inspire and educate locals about our iconic waterway. Each monthly event, held on the first Thursday of the month from 9.30am-12.30pm, includes a different guided excursion followed by hands-on conservation work so volunteers can help make a real difference in the catchment.

At the next event on Thursday, May 2, participants will meet Ray Swartz and tour his property, which was once choked with arum lily, blackberry and other weeds. For more than a decade, he’s worked tirelessly to eradicate weeds, boost soil life, create habitat and restore the Margaret River shoreline that adjoins his land.

Also on the program is Nature Conservation’s biodiversity officer Genevieve Hanran-Smith, who developed the Margaret River Action Plan back in 2002 and who will discuss the “big picture” as the river faces growing pressure from population, tourism and climate change. That will be followed by valuable hands-on conservation work as volunteers get stuck into weeding and watering at Dallip Springs nearby.

This event is free but numbers are limited, and registrations are essential by CLICKING HERE. Children must be accompanied by a parent and must be over the age of eight.

Friends of Wooditjup Bilya program coordinator Lauren Scanlon said everyone is welcome at the monthly gatherings, which are a “fantastic opportunity for locals to learn more about the Margaret River, hosted by cultural custodians, scientists or local experts”. She said Mr Swartz’s unique take on conservation would make for a fascinating guided walk, while there were few people with Ms Hanran-Smith’s intimate knowledge of how the condition and management of the river has changed over two decades, the current threats, and actions needed to protect the river into the future.

Mr Swartz takes a holistic approach to conservation and says waterways are one of the best indicators of overall ecosystem health. “The entire ecosystem is interconnected and the riparian zone along the Margaret River is an especially unique place,” he said. “There are very few places like it in Australia – or the world – so it’s important we protect it.”

His philosophy is to think globally and act locally, tackling one piece at a time with dedication and persistence. His motivation is simply love of country. “I have such an appreciation for the river, the bush and the natural world, so what I’m doing along the Margaret River is bigger than the waterway. It’s about treating country right,” he said.

As well as weed control and revegetation, Mr Swartz has been advocating for the river at a local government level. He and fellow conservationist Rick Ensley were instrumental in getting a local law put in place that makes any activity posing a threat to the river a fineable offence. “It means anyone undertaking work nearby has to safeguard against erosion, silt run-off and things like that,” he said.

Another, albeit gradual, win has been a shift in attitude towards water quality and the importance of a healthy shoreline. “There seems to have been a recalibration in the community and within the shire, and people are starting to revisit the way they relate to the waterways,” he said. “There’s also a bigger focus on the cultural value of the river, which is great to see.”

Throughout his time advocating for the Margaret River, Mr Swartz says he’s come to recognise how powerful it is when all corners of the community – including individuals, groups and all levels of government – come together with a common goal of prioritising the environment. “We need to keep working because this is ongoing,” he said. “Eventually we’ll nail it, but we have a long road ahead and it takes everyone working together to create a long-lasting impact.”

The Friends of Wooditjup Bilya program is funded by the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River through the Environmental Management Fund.