Like a wine-making venture, the simultaneous appreciation and preservation of Wadandi Boodja is a matter of balance.

The unique terroir is a jewel in Western Australia, and for this reason, admirers flock to enjoy the wonder of its delicate composition. Caring for it means walking the line between pleasure, intervention, and restraint. The well-intentioned adoration of any natural setting comes at a cost, resulting in death by a thousand individually invisible cuts, be they footprints, emissions, snapped saplings, plastic waste or any other traces we tend to leave, no matter how careful.

Gradually, and now with some momentum, our collective realisation has occurred. Sustainability practices ingrained in Australian Indigenous culture, in fact the oldest known civilisation, for thousands of years, now has a modern name – regeneration. So, in the face of climate change and the ever-increasing tourism traffic, how do we ensure our jewel remains pristine while enjoying what’s on offer?

Images and words by Taya Reid.

Sustainable Wine Making

Winemaker Vanya Cullen’s parents paved the way for an energetic pursuit of environmental preservation, and Vanya strives to maintain that legacy. The Cullens were instrumental in halting the bauxite mining and oil drilling threatening the coast between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in the late 1960s.  Since then, the family has progressed ahead of the curve in soil health science, pioneering organic agriculture in the region.

Today, Cullen Wines is a certified biodynamic, carbon neutral winery, and has offset its emissions since 2006 by funding and implementing the planting of trees.

Sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. Australia has lagged, but we are seeing now that neglect can be irreversible, so it’s begun to change in a positive way.

Vanya tells the story of the land in wine, with a mantra of giving back, rather than taking away from the abundant resources and beauty. Cullen wine is the product of the family’s deep reverence for the near-perfect maritime conditions the region offers.

Putting the big vision into practice

Valuing nature as a number is a sentiment that echoes through conversations about sustainability in the region. Funding and resources are scarce, but a mindset shift to factor in the environment when crunching numbers is helping. Likewise, breaking down the seemingly insurmountable task of protecting the land and its treasures into practical, achievable goals is another way we’ve improved.

Drew McKenzie from Nature Conservation Margaret River Region is putting that concept into practice with locals, organising and facilitating working groups so that those who want to help can do so in an effective and organised manner. Residents gather on beaches and in the national park, combining forces as a community to tackle the devastation of bushfire, human negligence, or environmental hazards.

An example of this targeted specificity is the battle against the Arum Lily, an introduced environmental weed Drew says is outcompeting the native understory, transforming the structural habitat with its dominance.

We now have 1500 land holders taking ownership on their own properties, while simultaneously working with the national park and the shire to create a coordinated response. It’s about creating a culture of custodianship.

One of the emerging struggles Drew sees is the increased visitation of tourists in social media “go to” spots, hosting hundreds of visitors a day in places previously considered local secrets. The parking, pathway and facilities infrastructure is not in place to support the traffic, and with each photo-seeking traveller treading their own track to access the more remote vistas, there is a devastating toll. Together with a vast and porous national park – no official entry points or ticketing offices – the access all areas mentality is a distinct and contemporary problem.

Drew McKenzie, Nature Conservation Margaret River Region.

Cape Foundation's Shift in Approach

To combat the illusion of an always pristine tourism landscape, the Capes Foundation have flipped their attitude to restoration and maintenance around the region’s caves. Where once such projects were hidden from public view, the vacuuming and cleaning is now in plain sight, and conservation discourse is an integral part of the foundation’s communication strategy. Visibility serves as a reminder to the public that every dust particle, fibre and skin cell has an impact, and it takes careful work to reverse that.

With similar transparency, visitor dollars are being put to use by the Foundation in tourist-tangible ways, such as the Eagle’s Heritage birds of prey sanctuary, receiving and caring for injured and orphaned birds. Entry fees to the sanctuary are fed directly back into the care of the wildlife, with the ultimate goal of release back into the wild. Steve Harrison from the Capes Foundation shares his insights:

It shows a direct relationship between tourism and local conservation. It helps when people connect to a story and can relate to it through their enjoyment of nature.

Eco-stays in line with nature

In order to tread lightly during your stay “down south”, it helps to have an environmentally conscious place to stay. Margaret River Retreat is one such offering, an eco-accredited glamping and chalet hideaway nestled on the edge of breath-taking national park. The owl-friendly retreat is in the heart of a wildlife corridor with two creek systems flowing to the Blackwood River. Wedgetail eagles, red-tailed cockatoos and possums frequent the organic, untouched land. There is a communal kitchen and recreation area, and plenty of space between the tents for privacy and tranquillity.

Margaret River Retreat.

Owners Nick and Sonia Edwards apply best practice agricultural and waste management systems beyond the bottom line. Nick says not only are guests appreciative of being secure in the knowledge they are leaving a minimal footprint during their time in the region, but it’s also almost an expectation that accommodation providers will be conscious of that impact.

It seems clear that what has previously been an effort to maintain the quality of the natural environment of Wadandi Boodja has stepped up to a loftier goal – to improve upon it for the future. Like vine fruit left to display its own intrinsic qualities, with specialised nurture and care but minimal intervention, it is better equipped to age well and bloom.

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