25 years of grassroots partnership between city and country

A group of 16 participants from the Building Bridges to Boorowa 2024 trip, smiling and posing in front of rows of new planting in a paddock.

A unique urban–rural partnership dedicated to environmental restoration, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is set to continue for at least another five years.

Early last Friday morning, 24 May 2024, 29 Bushcare volunteers, six Council staff and four councillors set off on their 25th annual pilgrimage to the farming town of Boorowa, five hours south-west of Sydney.

They were headed there for three days of planting native trees, shrubs and groundcover on degraded farmland, which helps to improve biodiversity and correct salinity, erosion, stock exposure and weed competition issues.

The project, Building Bridges to Boorowa, is a partnership between North Sydney Council, Boorowa Community Landcare Group and Hilltops Council. To date, more than 73,884 local native trees, shrubs and groundcovers have been planted on public and private land across the district by 648 northern Sydney volunteers.

This year, before returning to Sydney on Sunday evening, the group had planted 5,066 trees over three properties.

On the Saturday evening, the Mayors of North Sydney and Hilltops councils, and the Landcare Group President, signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to work together for another five years.

North Sydney Mayor, Cr Zoë Baker said: “The Building Bridges to Boorowa project has been a remarkable partnership between rural and metropolitan people, enduring through drought, flood, freezing weather, bushfires and a global pandemic. The work has made landscape-scale environmental improvements that are clearly visible throughout the district. More importantly, it has touched the lives of the hundreds of people who have been involved over the years.

“For those of us from North Sydney, the partnership has opened our eyes to the challenges and the joys of rural life. Longtime participants have shared that through first-hand experience, they have improved their understanding of the environmental hurdles faced by our rural partners. And long-term friendships have been fostered while working in the paddocks through rain, wind, or sleet.”

Building Bridges to Boorowa was conceived in 1999 by a North Sydney Bushcare volunteer travelling through Boorowa. After speaking with locals, the volunteer saw an opportunity to help reverse the environmental damage caused by historic over-clearing, by connecting enthusiastic urban volunteers with landholders who wanted to repair their farms but lacked the resources to do so.

Over time, the project’s goals have become more holistic. It now takes an ecosystem-based approach to revegetation, which has widespread benefits for sustainable farm management.

As part of the 2024 trip, North Sydney Council funded a bird survey of sites that have been planted through the project. The survey is a follow-up to a 2014 survey that found that some of the more mature planted sites had become havens for local animals. It will be finalised over the coming weeks.

“Through Council’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2030, we are committed to not just promoting environmental rehabilitation and sustainability, but also engaging our community in this work. North Sydney residents have a long history of working together towards positive outcomes for the environment. There is no better example of this than the grassroots community work of the Building Bridges to Boorowa project.”

Building Bridges to Boorowa is a finalist in this year’s NSW Local Government Excellence Awards, with the winner to be announced at a ceremony scheduled for Thursday 6 June.

Published: 30 May 2024