21 Mar 2022


Tanya Pritchard is WWF-Australia’s Landscape Restoration Project Manager, and she has been on-the-ground assisting with the Northern NSW flood recovery effort. From helping move debris, to looking for signs of koala life, we asked Tanya to recount her experience of the flood recovery effort so far and how WWF-Australia is responding.

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How did the floods affect the Northern Rivers?

The Northern Rivers region was hit particularly hard by the floods in early March. A lot of our partners are based in this region, many of whom have been affected by the floods. Some were trapped for weeks as the roads were damaged, covered in debris or in some cases, completely washed away. These people relied on emergency supplies, so it’s been very much an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to making sure they received their basic needs.

I’ve been to the Northern Rivers quite a few times recently to help with the flood recovery effort and to assess the scale of damage to our projects. While the water has subsided, the full recovery effort is going to take months if not longer. Many of our projects in this region are focused on koala habitat restoration. In the last three years, our partners Bangalow Koalas have planted more than 100,000 trees in the area. Some have been sturdy enough to survive, but recently planted saplings have struggled with the sheer force of flash flooding. The combination of fast-flowing water, debris, mud and being inundated for several days has affected their survival.

Tanya Pritchard visits flood-impacted partner Bangalow Koalas
© Bangalow Koalas

So much time, energy and commitment have gone into our koala habitat restoration projects, so it’s been difficult to process the scale of destruction. We know koalas in these areas need more habitat and food trees but we don’t know the full extent of damage to all of our projects. As part of our recovery efforts we will ensure our existing plantings are restored and continue planting across the region when the time is right. 

How did you feel witnessing the aftermath of the floods?

The scale of destruction from these floods has been truly devastating. People have lost their homes, their businesses - their entire livelihoods have been uprooted. It’s easy to feel helpless in these situations, but getting down there and doing my bit to help has been rewarding. Whether it’s moving debris, making someone a cup of tea, or lending a supportive ear, I just wanted to get in there and help in any way I could.

Something I found solace in was the amazing community response to these floods. So many people have lost so much, but they are all still working tirelessly to help others. It was beautiful to see the camaraderie and connection between people that have turned up to help.

Bangalow Koalas is one of our project partners based in the Northern Rivers, and they organised a community clean-up event in response to the floods. There was 40 people volunteering to help remove debris from areas of koala habitat, and it was heartening to see so many people come together to help each other and wildlife too.

I also found a sense of hope when we spotted signs of koalas out and about. Although the land is still drenched and muddy, I found footprints in the mud from where koalas have been walking. After some searching, I even spotted a few koalas in the trees. It was like a symbol of hope, and after days of tough recovery work, it was so rewarding to know there were still koalas in areas we’ve worked so hard to restore.

Koala mother and her koala joey in a tree
© Dominik Rueß - stock.adobe.com

How have the floods affected wildlife?

Many wildlife care groups have seen a huge increase in the number of animals coming into care. From swallowing flood waste to hypothermia from the incessant rain, native wildlife has taken a battering from this catastrophic flood. One of the greatest threats now is the leftover wreckage and damage to habitat. I visited some of our koala habitat locations and was saddened to see so much land covered in thick layers of mud.

But it’s not just the land that suffered from the floods. Along the banks of the Richmond River, I saw fish, prawns, eels and other aquatic animals gasping for oxygen. During flood events like this, silt, mud and debris wash into the rivers and cause a decrease of oxygen in the water, suffocating the creatures in it. It was awful to see these poor animals struggling to breathe.

Flooding does occur in the Northern Rivers, but the scale of this event was unprecedented. We know these kinds of severe weather events are directly linked to climate change. I worry that if we don’t take serious action to stop climate change, these events will become more frequent. And the more frequent these disasters are, the harder it is for our species and habitats to survive. This terrifying loop won’t stop unless we do more to stop climate change.

Assessing the damage to a koala habitat restoration site
© WWF-Australia / Tanya Pritchard

How has WWF-Australia helped with the recovery effort so far?

Thanks to the generosity of WWF-Australia’s supporters, we’ve been able to provide $45,000 for immediate wildlife rescue, care and recovery in flood-affected regions to key partners including Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital, Currumbin Wildlife Hospital and Friends of the Koala. This is in addition to the $10,000 we deployed in the first week of the floods to Bangalow Koalas. These groups are playing a critical role in helping injured wildlife affected by the floods. With the help of our supporters, WWF has provided much needed funding to help purchase resources and work at full capacity.

This is just the beginning. We’ll continue to distribute emergency funds over the coming weeks and months.

When a disaster at the scale of these latest floods happens, one thing is clear - no one organisation can meet the needs of all wildlife across the country. That’s why WWF-Australia has partnered with incredible groups in all states and territories to ensure help is received quickly and wherever it’s needed most.

Emergency funds have already been deployed for immediate wildlife rescue, care and recovery through our partners:

  • Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital, NSW
  • Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, Qld
  • Friends of the Koala, NSW
  • Sydney Wildlife, NSW
  • Ipswich Koala Protection Society, Qld.

Funds are also supporting emergency landscape project recovery with partners:

  • Bangalow Koalas
  • Border Ranges Richmond Valley Landcare Network

This is just the beginning and we will continue to direct emergency funds as the situation unfolds.