You can often pick a forest with a bell bird colony from the "hammered
appearance" of the trees. However, it is interesting to see them
fingered as dieback culprits. I guess the question is whether humans
have done something that may have increased the extent and impact of
bell bird colonies.
Bell Bird causing damage to forest ecosystems
The World Today - Thursday, 16 September, 2004 12:42:00
Reporter: Karen Barlow
ELEANOR HALL: It's taken a little bird with a loud, piercing voice to
bring both sides of the highly-charged forestry debate together. A
series of inquiries into what's causing dieback in Australian forests
is now zeroing in on an unlikely culprit – the native "Bell Bird," also
known as the "Bell Miner". Dieback is ruining both forestry
productivity and biodiversity.
And as Karen Barlow reports, a cull of the birds is not being ruled out.
KAREN BARLOW: Whether or not you like the Bell Bird's call, you can't
deny it's distinctive. It's also a sweet sound for a creature being
associated with the destruction of trees.
Dieback is a condition where trees die where they stand, from the top
down, through the leaves and branches, eventually consuming the whole
Ron Billyard from the National Parks and Wildlife Service says human
interaction such as weed invasions, logging and changing fire patterns
has put the forest ecosystem out of whack.
RON BILLYARD: The final expression in North East NSW is that we have a
very shrubby ground layer, under story, with high numbers of bell
minors, bell birds. And those bell birds basically drive out other
insect eating birds and the numbers of a sap sucking insect in the tree
crowns called psyllids, explodes and stresses the trees and over time
that stress will cause the trees to die.
KAREN BARLOW: The effect of the dieback is universal, adversely
affecting the environment, the forest industry, tourism and the
production of honey.
The Bell Miner Associated Dieback Working Group has been created from a
group of government agencies, universities, landholders, and being
brought together in a rare instance of solidarity, conservation groups
RON BILLYARD: Well it is a real success story. We have in Forests NSW
and the green groups we have, particularly northeast forests alliance,
they're seen as, if you like, traditional combatants.
They're often seen on the opposite side of the logging issue, but on
this one they've come together and agree that we do have to find a real
solution and are working cooperatively on that. It's been a real
wonderful experience for those groups I think.
KAREN BARLOW: I'm sure the Northeast Forest Alliance wouldn't want to
see anything like a cull of the bell bird, would they, though?
RON BILLYARD: The issue of looking at whether we cull bell birds is
extremely sensitive. As a group, we don't feel that that is a practical
KAREN BARLOW: Can a cull be ruled out though?
RON BILLYARD: I don't think at this stage we would rule out trials
being conducted in any particular area and that might be in terms of
weed control, in terms of how we go about managing fire, in terms of
what kind of disturbance might be happening in forests to contribute to
And indeed in terms of some of the ecological processes, such as the
bell minor populations or indeed the populations of the insects.
KAREN BARLOW: It's hard to imagine the bell bird as public enemy number
one or even just imagining it as the destroyer of trees?
RON BILLYARD: Absolutely, absolutely. As I say, it's iconic. I was
brought up listening to bell birds in the bush, it's not something that
anybody would have contemplated and I think for a long time it's
probably something also that people haven't really associated with a
But we now know that it is part of this syndrome and it's something we
have to basically look at, well, what do we do? The problem is that
acute and the potential ramifications are that great, in terms of
people's livelihoods, people's lifestyles, the existence of rural
communities, in some cases, I feel, that we really need to look at what
is going to be an effective solution.
ELEANOR HALL: Karen Barlow with that report.
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