Navy helicopter crew helps to sustain wildlife as burnt-out bush regenerates

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), CPOIS Cameron Martin (photographer)

Location(s): Moreton National Park, NSW

Topic(s): 808 Squadron, Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST

Leading Seaman Aircrewman Bradley Thomas of 808 Squadron dropping carrots from an MRH-90 helicopter to feed local wildlife in the fire ravaged Moreton National Park near HMAS Albatross, NSW. (photo: CPOIS Cameron Martin)
Leading Seaman Aircrewman Bradley Thomas of 808 Squadron dropping carrots from an MRH-90 helicopter to feed local wildlife in the fire ravaged Moreton National Park near HMAS Albatross, NSW.

Shoalhaven Mayor Councillor Amanda Findley got a ‘birdies’ eye view of the devastation caused by the recent bushfires when she joined 808 Squadron in an MRH-90 helicopter to conduct a fodder drop for wildlife whose primary food sources had been depleted.

Councillor Findley said seeing the damaged bushland from the air was a sobering experience.

“The amount of soil erosion within our catchments was mind blowing, water is such a powerful vector.

“But it was good to see so many puddles and rivulets watering the land.

“Recovery is such a slow and pain-filled journey, in many areas the bush has been burned so hot in some parts there is no regrowth at all,” Councillor Findley said.

Leading Seaman Aircrewman Bradley Thomas of 808 Squadron surveying a fire ravaged Moreton National Park to find a safe landing spot to distribute food for the local wildlife.

Leading Seaman Aircrewman Bradley Thomas of 808 Squadron surveying a fire ravaged Moreton National Park to find a safe landing spot to distribute food for the local wildlife.

Personnel from 808 Squadron are very familiar with the impact of the fires, having played a key role in the emergency response to Australia’s bushfire crisis, not only in the Shoalhaven, but also assisting with evacuation operations in Victoria, delivering liaison teams into isolated areas, dropping food, water and medical supplies into Mallacoota, and resupplying HMAS Choules with everything from nappies for the children of the evacuees to food for the galley.

808 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Hannigan said it had been a demanding time for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA).

“Since November 2019, the FAA Squadrons have flown a total of 640 hours in support of Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20.

“Of these 640 hours, 808SQN flew a total of 310 hours.

“We were the smallest unit with the highest output,” he said.

Commander Hannigan described the scale of destruction as “daunting.”

“I flew over the Western Training Area a few weeks back and it was a moonscape of black ash and bare tree trunks."

Pilot, Lieutenant Commander Jack Wadey, flew Councillor Findley out to Moreton National Park in the New South Wales Southern Highlands to conduct the forage drop of carrots and sweet potatoes.

“It was encouraging to see some signs of regeneration.

“I noticed a lot of the gum trees are starting to grow some green foliage and there is some greenery starting to come through on the ground close to the rivers and waterways.

“Otherwise there is nothing on the ground outside of this,” Lieutenant Commander Wadey said.

Despite the normal protocol being not to feed wildlife, these are exceptional circumstances.

An estimated 1 billion animals lost their lives in the bushfires and it is hoped that food drops such as this one will help to sustain wildlife while the bush regenerates.

Commander Hannigan said the MRH-90 flight over the area allowed Councillor Finley to see the extent of the fires in real time and appreciate just how lucky the Nowra/Shoalhaven area was as it could have been significantly worse.

“Additionally, I hope she got an appreciation for the MRH-90 as a capable platform and for the professionalism of 808 Squadron’s aircrew,” he said.

Councillor Findley described the experience as an honour.

“Thank you so much to all of our wildlife feeders, carers, medical assistants and to the ADF for doing amazing remote air relief for our animals - it was such a privilege to be able to join the Navy Team yesterday afternoon on the MRH-90,” she said.

Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library: https://images.navy.gov.au/S20201134.