Wild swans and seagrasses at our 2021 AGM

Members of the Swan Bay Environment Association at the 2021 AGM.

More than 30 members of the Swan Bay Environment Association attended our 2021 AGM on Friday 26 March.

After the formalities were over – the existing committee was re-elected – members were treated to a wonderful performance of Wild Swans by William Vyvyan Murray on his 400-year-old viola. William performs throughout the world as a chamber musician, with his musical arrangements played in concerts in Japan, Singapore, Amsterdam and Berlin. His father, John, is a Swan Bay Environment Association member who lives in Queenscliff.

Before playing Wild Swans, William Vyvyan Murray spoke of the music’s origins.

Associate Professor Craig Sherman followed with a fascinating presentation on seagrass research and restoration in Western Port. Craig is a marine ecologist and one of the group leaders of the EcoGenetics Lab at Deakin University. He spoke of the tools his team are developing to restore Victoria seagrass meadows. Through collaboration with researchers in Europe, he and his team have trialled several techniques for seagrass restoration, however, all require increased knowledge of seagrass biology.

Craig Sherman presenting on seagrass research and restoration.
Swan Bay Environment Association President, Greg Parry, thanks Craig Sherman for his presentation.

President’s report

2020 has been a year in which Swan Bay Environment Association has been quietly busy despite limitations due to Covid. Last Year’s AGM was necessarily held via Zoom and most of the year our committee also had to meet remotely. The Commonwealth Government’s covid “cash flow boost” provided the nursery with a handy $20,000, some of which was spent upgrading our website and upgrading the irrigation system at the nursery. 

A notable outcome this year was threefold increase in plant sales. This outcome may be difficult to repeat as there were many local revegetation projects underway in 2020 and lockdowns may have focused more people’s minds on their garden … or perhaps, our nursery is just becoming more widely known. Let us hope our outstanding sales continue into 2021.

Sarah Roberts, our nursery coordinator, and our nursery volunteers did an extraordinary job during this year. Sarah in consultation with the volunteers and the SBEA committee coped remarkably with the year’s changing circumstances. Many decisions needed to be made. To open or close the nursery? And, if we opened, what needed to be in place to keep volunteers and the public safe? Volunteers managed to keep up the supply of healthy plants by working alone or in pairs when lockdowns prevented larger groups coming together. These were often difficult decisions that I think were well negotiated. They kept our volunteers safe and provided the public with confidence we were taking all the precautions to keep them safe.

Special thanks go to Chris Smyth, who helped Geelong Media develop a much-improved website. I hope you have all now looked at this site (https://swanbayenvironment.org.au/). It provides an attractive source of accurate information on many aspects of Swan Bay and contains detailed information on local indigenous plants on sale at the nursery. Robyn Curtis spent many hours creating beautiful photos of our plants and Sarah Roberts provided descriptions of more than 100 of these plants. 

The upgrade to our website, the many interesting articles by Pauline Nunan in our local papers, and Chris Smyth’s continuing efforts with our newsletter have raised our profile and attracted several new members. 

The committee organised a ‘planning day’ to better identify our community role, to develop a consensus on the major threats to Swan Bay and develop a more focussed and strategic approach to direct our limited resources. There are so many local environmental issues that we need to prioritize them to ensure we impact the more important ones. Geoff Mutton generously facilitated the planning day, but Covid delayed it till December, the earliest we could meet in person. We now have a draft plan, which we hope to finalise soon after the AGM so that any new committee members can also be part of finalising the plan. 

I have taken a special interest in achieving better outcomes to reduce woody weeds in the Borough. In my view this is the most serious and difficult environmental problem around Swan Bay. In many places woody weeds are more than 50% of the vegetation and better coordination between council, BCN and us would be a good start. Once this is sorted, I am hopeful SBEA can mount an increased effort in coastal weeding and encourage council to provide more resources to address this ongoing problem. 

I would urge all new members to consider joining our committee, or if they have a special interest to join one of our sub-committees.  We envisage expanding these this coming year and a G4W (Gardens for Wildlife), grant application, coastal weeding, seagrass monitoring, shorebird liaison sub-committees will develop during the year if we have enough interest.  Our current committee need extra support if we are to continue to increase our influence on environmental issues in and around Swan Bay.

Greg Parry

Treasurer’s report

Key financial highlights:

  • Despite the pandemic, we had a bumper year of plant sales with total income amounting to $52,721 – a 291% increase over the previous year.
  • This was largely driven by some significant sales for several major revegetation projects which accounted for over half of the income. But we also saw a major increase in cash sales to individuals (spending more time in their gardens at home during lockdown)
  • The sales were supported by the production of a large stock of plants helped by the expertise of our nursery coordinator and the hard work of our volunteers who were able to continue their work during lockdown on a roster system.
  • We were also a fortunate beneficiary of the government’s cash flow boost to support employment during the pandemic in the amount of a $20,000. 
  • We took the opportunity of our increased income to invest $4,066 in a new upgraded irrigation system for the nursery as well as a total of $7,790 in the design and implementation of a new website, logo and brochure as well as increased spending on ads and publicity of approximately $1,200.
  • Despite the significant increase in costs of employing a nursery coordinator for the whole year we produced a surplus for the year of $23,436 compared to a loss of $5,039 in the previous year.
  • If we take out the exceptional items of the year such as the $20,000 cash flow boost and the one-off design fees, the net surplus for the year would be $11,225. This gives us a more representative net income figure to compare with other years.
  • Thanks to the large surplus for the year, total net assets of the Association at the year-end increased to $90,877 with net cash assets amounting to $71,744 – a strong financial position to support our activities in 2021 and beyond.

Neil Mathison

Nursery report

Two COVID lockdown closures and unprecedented sales

2020 started off well for the nursery with favourable growing conditions over January. By Feb/March we had significant plant stock and were considering having an Easter Plant Sale. But then lockdown struck, the nursery closed to the public and volunteer working bees were cancelled. This was a tricky period for all involved in the nursery and it was unclear what would unfold.

The nursery was closed to the public between the 8th of April and 13th May. Customers could still order plants via email or phone, with pick up via appointment or delivery. After consulting the Borough of Queenscliffe, it was established that the work of the volunteers in the nursery was permitted and considered essential, but only 2 people maximum were allowed to work in the nursery at any one time. So, a roster system was implemented where volunteers worked across the week for a morning or afternoon (just one or two at a time). This ensured volunteers remained connected to the nursery and the nursery was maintained and propagation continued.

What occurred next was unprecedented demand for plants. It seemed that people were getting back into their garden during lockdown! This high demand for plants persisted right through till the end of the year.

The nursery closed a second time for 6 weeks in September due to another lockdown. Again, volunteers went back to a roster system working in groups of 2-3 throughout the week. Larger working bees resumed later in the year, firstly split across two days (Wed and Thurs) and finally late in the year back to the normal Wed and Sunday groups. The year was finished with two Christmas celebrations for the Sunday volunteers and the Wednesday volunteers.

Plant sales

Total plant sales for the year were $52,721, including invoices of $37,667. Many of the latter were for revegetation projects. Nursery plants were used for revegetation projects at Bellarine Rail Trail, Bonnyvale Wetland, Bunnywoods, Point Lonsdale Cemetery, Planting by Queenscliffe Environment Forum, Swan Island Golf Course and The Point.

Adjustments due to COVID

Many adjustments were made in the nursery during the year to increase hygiene:

  • an eftpos machine was purchased
  • the tea room was not used for most of the year and morning teas were dramatically altered to a ‘bring your own’ situation instead of the usual sharing of food and utensils
  • increased cleaning and sterilisation of tools and equipment
  • decreased sharing of tools with secateurs purchased and distributed to volunteers
  • social distancing always with limits on numbers in the nursery
  • hand sanitiser stations positioned around the nursery
  • limits on the numbers of customers browsing at once

Volunteer activity

A big thanks to all the volunteer efforts and support throughout 2020. The nursery was well maintained and productive thanks to all the hard work and dedication of the volunteers. It was not a highly social year for the volunteers in 2020. Many remained involved and volunteering, but for most of the year limited numbers attended working bees and during lockdown just one or two volunteers worked at once. Some volunteers undertook seed cleaning or washing pots at home. Towards the end of the year there was a chance for the volunteers to be involved in a few other activities connected to the nursery including:

  • a series of weeding days at Arilpa (a property in Point Lonsdale)
  • community weeding days at the Narrows and Point Lonsdale Lighthouse.
  • Christmas Celebrations in December.

New irrigation system

A significant infrastructure development in the nursery involved the installation of a new irrigation system. The company, Reid Irrigation, installed the system across three days in early November. This included a new controller, solenoids, pipework and emitters. The upgraded irrigation is operating well.

Plant labels and website gallery

Deep in lockdown, one of the nursery volunteers, Robyn Curtis, worked hard on developing a wonderful photo collection of plants that are grown in the nursery. Descriptions were developed for these photos and together they have been used to form a plant gallery on the new Swan Bay Environment Association Website. The photos have also been used to create a series of colourful labels with associated descriptions and growing information for the nursery customers.

A big thanks to all the volunteer efforts and support throughout 2020. The nursery was well maintained and productive thanks to all the hard work and dedication of the volunteers. It was not a highly social year for the volunteers in 2020. Many remained involved and volunteering, but for most of the year limited numbers attended working bees and during lockdown just one or two volunteers worked at once. Some volunteers undertook seed cleaning or washing pots at home.  Towards the end of the year there was a chance for the volunteers to be involved in a few other activities connected to the nursery including.

  • A series of weeding days at Arilpa (a property in Point Lonsdale)
  • Community weeding days at the Narrows and Point Lonsdale Lighthouse.
  • And finally, the Christmas Celebrations in December.

Sarah Roberts

Gardens for Wildlife report

The Gardens for Wildlife program was severely impacted in 2020 by COVID-19, as Garden Visits were unable to take place for most of the year.

Unfortunately, our G4W coordinator Felicity Thyer also resigned from the position in October. We are very grateful for all the work Felicity did in her role as program coordinator and previously as a volunteer. Gardens and residents throughout the Borough have benefited greatly from her knowledge and experience through many garden visits and helpful advice. We appreciate her offer to continue as a volunteer Garden Guide into the future.

The Committee was very keen to rebuild the Gardens for Wildlife Program and give it a greater profile in the community. We are pleased to announce that Sandra Nowland-Foreman has been appointed as the new G4W coordinator. Sandra is relatively new to the area, relocating to Point Lonsdale from the Macedon Ranges where she has been a Ranger at Hanging Rock and involved in community environmental education. 

Residents who are interested in the Gardens for Wildlife program are now able to make contact directly through the website and we were pleased to begin the year already with five requests for garden visits.

Eva Mutton

Election of Committee

The following members were elected to the Committee: Neil Mathison; Eva Mutton; Pauline Nunan; Roel Wasterval; Sue Wasterval; Chris Smyth; Greg parry (past President).

Other business

The AGM approved an increase in annual membership fees: Individual membership is now $20, Concession membership $10 and Family membership $30. The annual fee is due at the time of the AGM.