Hunter Intrepid Landcare adapts to COVID to cleanup Ironbark Creek

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Words by Kara Agllias & Lauren Hughes

2020 was to be the year when Hunter Intrepid Landcare would make a real impact in one of Newcastle’s most underrated creeks. Ironbark Creek flows from a rapidly expanding urban area, through Hunter Wetland National Park before eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean. After a tipoff from a good friend about how much litter was in the creek, we worked together to successfully get a federal grant to do paddle clean-ups.

In February, six-weeks out from our first paddle event and COVID-19 was yet to really hit us, the event reservations filled up instantly! Hunter Intrepid Landcare’s first paddle clean-up event would see 20 keen paddlers explore the mangroves and pick-up rubbish, after a pre-start breakfast of pancakes.

“Looking back I imagine we would have all been touching the same jam jars, sitting closely together and eating with our hands”, said Kara Agllias who helps coordinate Hunter Intrepid Landcare.

“The plans were set and we were so organised – ready to personally check-in with each participant to confirm their commitment. We had even discussed how to manage COVID-19 risks with our hosts at Hunter Wetlands Centre, to ensure the safety of participants and the older volunteers helping to facilitate our event”.

One day before the event, all Landcare activities were cancelled in the Hunter region. Despite their best preparations, the event had to be cancelled.

Over the following months, Hunter Intrepid Landcare dedicated their Landcare efforts to backyard weed-pulling, solo nature walks and getting inspired online. There was some good news, that their grant was extended for 6 months! By August, the Hunter region had minimal to no COVID cases and was cautiously getting back to business. 

“With a dynamic public health situation, we took our time to make an adaptable plan for delivery. Our target was to have the same level of impact and expenditure to match our grant. It was decided that we would hold smaller and more frequent events, which required additional trip leaders. This plan meant volunteers would be empowered to step up into leadership roles for this project, with opportunities to learn new skills, deepen connections and share the effort among the team”. 

Finally, on the first weekend in September, a small group of trip leaders and volunteers paddled the Ironbark Creek to clean up the creek! It was a great morning. Each person collected at least 1 large bag of litter from the mangroves. We recorded the type of litter and its location, and we are hoping we can use this information to help inform broader strategies for pollution reduction in the region. It is also a fair amount of waste successfully stopped from making its way further down the catchment and into the National Park.

It was a smaller event to reduce COVID risks and include changes such as individually packaged food, hand sanitizer and having a contact tracing sign-in sheet. Overall the event was a good start to run more events in a COVID world. 

“Although it was frustrating at times waiting for restrictions to end, we know that Landcare will always be there, and that  the health of the community and those undertaking the activities is our number one priority”, said Kara.

Kara’s advice to other young people trying to run Intrepid Landcare events in 2020+ is to be adaptable but most importantly be kind to yourself and look-out for your community. 

Hunter Intrepid Landcare is looking forward to learning more about Ironbark Creek through their clean-up activities and improving the community’s appreciation of the unique area.

Follow Hunter Intrepid Landcare’s adventures on Facebook.

For more information on how to run a COVID-safe event check out our resources page.

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