ReForest Now co-founder Maximo Bottaro.
ReForest Now co-founder Maximo Bottaro.

How a search engine will help to replant burnt forests

THOUSANDS of native rainforest trees and shrubs will be planted in the Byron Shire thanks to a partnership between a search engine and an Australian non-profit.

Berlin-based search engine Ecosia has been involved in the planting of 81 million trees worldwide but has launched its first Australian project, focused on restoring fire-affected forests on the Northern Rivers by partnering with non-profit ReForest Now.

Ecosia is channelling all profits from searches made on January 23 to the project, expected to see at least 20,000 trees planted in Wilson's Creek, at Mr Nardi or in Nightcap National Park.

ReForest Now co-founder Maximo Bottaro said the agreement would help to fund seed collectors, support volunteers with materials and to employ paid volunteer co-ordinators.

Mr Bottaro said the group would work with landholders, be that the State Government, National Parks or private owners to identify suitable sites.

Upcoming community planting days will be timed with forecast rainfall.

"(Rainfall) hopefully is going to be more steady this year," he said.

"2019 was just brutal; we were hit by weather systems that took a continent to the edge and just wouldn't stop pushing it, month after month, towards devastation."

Mr Bottaro said the Byron Shire was "much luckier" than Mt Nardi and other areas further south where he said fire was affecting ancient rainforests that shouldn't burn.

But he said recent fires locally had brought about a great opportunity.

"There were fires here, even on rainforest sites of ours where the RN crew fought fire, it's worse than I've seen in my lifetime in this area," he said.

"What we've actually seen is a number of areas that burnt that were weed-infested prior.

"A lot of lantana burnt during these fires in various parts of the Byron Shire as fire came down from the higher, drier regions and burned into swathes of lantana weeds that dominated areas that were formerly cattle or banana farming and were let go."

He said this meant reforestation of those areas was now more accessible and these burnt areas, like the cleared expanses of the Big Scrub rainforest, would be an "ideal candidate" being replanted with rainforest species.

"Rainforest cultivation, in land that was previously rainforest, has a very high potential to absorb and hold water and retain and recycle that water throughout the year," he said.

Ecosia chief marketing officer Hannah Wickes said as an Australian living overseas, she'd viewed the recent fires with horror.

"This new project allows us to plant trees that will not regenerate naturally following the devastating fires, it will also prioritise native and endangered species under threat," Ms Wickes said.

"We're hoping for a record day of searches so we can overshoot our target of 20,000 trees substantially.

"This would allow us to build forest corridors that connect remaining patches of rainforest."

Mr Bottaro said the partnership would "increase the resilience of Australia's rainforests (which are) "under threat from climate change and already suffering from fragmentation".

"By partnering with Ecosia, we hope that this will increase water accumulation in the region as biodiverse areas are restored," he said.

"This is one tactic we can deploy in the fight against extreme climate change, repairing the areas with the highest rainfall as one priority to benefit the continent on a larger scale."

Byron Shire residents will be able to join community planting days, to be scheduled soon.

ReForest Now has meanwhile this been announced as a recipient of $5000 in federal funding through the Stronger Communities grants program, to expand its nursery volunteer capacity in Mullumbimby.

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