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A tornado that wiped out more than 300 trees cleared the way for university makeover

By Kemii Maguire, Monday November 22, 2021 - 23:41 AEDT
ABC image
More than 150 destroyed trees have been discovered to be mature natives. - ABC

A tornado that swept through Armidale in early October left a trail of destruction tearing through homes, buildings, as well as flora and fauna habitats. 


In an unusual coincidence, it has been a silver lining for the region's largest university.


"We were in a great position for the storm to come through, if that is such a thing," Associate Director of Estate and Built Environment Patrick Crick said.


The University of New England (UNE) campus has assessed the damage caused by the freak-weather event, with more than 300 trees destroyed. 


Out of those, 150 have been confirmed as native trees, half mature. The majority of those were white gums.


700 tonnes of green-waste has also been removed.


The natural classroom


Mr Crick said the trees amongst Armidale's campus were used heavily for botany, ecology, and environmental research from students ranging from beginners to PhD studies. 


The impact on historical and current research is yet to be completely quantified by UNE, but has at this stage been classified as "high significance".


"When we've been assessing the damage, we account for the physical infrastructure obviously, but also the research history of these trees," Mr Crick said. 


The damage has been confirmed to be inside a well-known koala feeding corridor, creating issues for animal and ecology studies. 


Fifty trees were also inside a registered endangered ecological area.


"We've had research of how animals feed and behave, ecologists have studied and mapped these trees on campus," he said. 


"It's an issue for us."


Turning over a new leaf


The natural destruction hasn't come as completely bad news.


The UNE landscape management plan was due in early 2022, but has now had a re-think. 


Tree clearing on the Armidale campus has allowed heads at the engineering, ecology and design faculties to join in a small group to design more research-specific planting.


Professor Jeremy Bruhl is an ecologist at UNE and on the newly created landscaping group. 


He said the tornado has already created an opportunity for students to research the impacts of severe weather on flora and fauna.


"The tornado certainly crystallised how important what is planted where, and how large those plants are near buildings."


"All sorts of insects, birds, and marsupials, including koalas, were calling this area home," Mr Bruhl said.


"We're hoping we will come up with a campus-wide botanic gardens, it's our opportunity to more fully integrate research training in the nature surrounding us."


The draft will be completed before Christmas this year.


Students, university staff and volunteers have been collecting plants, seeds, and cutting from across Armidale to propagate the area. 


"We're pressing and drying the specimens as a point of reference in our herbarium, adding a scientific value to them."


Volunteers from the Australian Plant Society have also come on board to rejuvenate the site. 


Although planting is set to commence in the next six months, the university hopes it will become a landscape that is developed by students and local First Nations people for years to come. 


"The damage is devastating, but the opportunity is exciting."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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