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A leafy legacy

When it comes to something as important as biodiversity, it is uplifting to hear a local hinterland high school is creating a leafy legacy.

by Rebecca Mugridge

Burnside State High School is already known for academic achievements (and for building an aircraft!) but what the community may not know is it is also teaching its teenagers the importance of biodiversity. One of the people behind this is inspirational teacher, Mr Ken Cross.

Along with teaching Geography, English and History, Ken encourages students to learn about biodiversity. Alongside his teaching career Ken has an impressive portfolio, he is the co-founder of Backyards for Biodiversity SEQ, the author of a book, and leads birding tours in Australia and overseas.

“I am currently convenor for Birdlife Australia, Sunshine Coast and, as that suggests, I am keen on birding, bird conservation and encouraging others to learn about Australia's birdlife.

“Growing up on the Sunshine Coast, a region of sub-tropical forests, I enjoyed discovering a rich diversity of species. As a teenager I found great interest in snakes and other reptiles, in addition to bird keeping. However, I found a new passion in Birding while studying at the University of Queensland.

“Birding has taken me to every continent except Antarctica. I have led birding tours within Australia and to the United States, Canada, Taiwan, Malaysia and Borneo, Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Europe, East Africa, South Africa and Costa Rica. In 2023 I am travelling to Thailand, and in 2024 I am keen to return to Costa Rica and Malaysia.”

Ken says biodiversity loss is one of the greatest concerns facing us all, but there are practical things that we can all do to help.

“One simple and doable solution is to plant locally native plants. Local native plants provide the ecological base for every insect, every frog, every lizard and every bird. Every animal, including humans, ultimately rely on plants for their continued survival.”

It is this passion to be active citizens on important issues that has seen Ken work on several projects. Burnside State High School, with help from the Sunshine Coast Council, has begun a programme of planting local trees, shrubs, ground covers and vines to re-establish a local ecology.

“Grade 12 students, for the second year in a row, readily contributed to a tree planting event that was stimulated by the annual National Tree Day. So far, some 200 plus native species have been planted by student’s hands within the school grounds,” says Ken.

A lasting, leafy legacy.

While it is easy to become overwhelmed with alarming statistics and news articles on the state of our environment, the act of taking action— any positive action— also helps people to feel less anxious towards environmental issues that we all face today.

Ken says being involved in events like tree planting at their high school is a positive experience that will stay with young people.

Burnside High Principal, Kerri Dunn, says, “It is very pleasing to make this an annual event for our Year 12 students. It is important that they can learn about sustainability and, with a small effort, contribute a lasting legacy to their school.

“Perhaps in a decade or so they can return and see, and take pride in, the small forest that they and their peers created.”

Ken, who organised the tree planting event, believes strongly in the old, but still relevant phrase, ‘Think Globally and Act Locally.’

“Understanding the issues of habitat loss and deforestation should mean that we are compelled to act – to plant local plants and restore as much of our local biodiversity as possible.”

Ken, with other concerned citizens, recently started an environmental not-for-profit, Backyards for Biodiversity SEQ, which exists to educate all about biodiversity and its importance, and to encourage everyone to plant for biodiversity in all the lands that they manage.

“The main priority is getting local plants, in the ground.

“In South East Queensland alone can you imagine the amount of land that could be converted into biodiversity if every single resident said they would convert 30 percent of their yard to native plants?

“If you add to that public parks, traffic islands, nature strips that are currently all just growing some version of lawn, it would be a big enough area that we shouldn’t ignore it.”

Ken says the more you learn about biodiversity and how important it is, the more you start seeing that there is huge potential to improve it, right where we live.

“Once you start putting the plants back, that’s part of biodiversity. The thing is if we don’t have native plants, we can’t have all the native creatures that come with them.

“Many butterflies, for example, have very specific plants, unless we have the host plant, unless we have the food plants, we don’t have the butterflies.

“If we want ecological abundance, we need to create an ecological abundance of plants in the hopes that our local insects can find them and breed up. And once we have that basis of plants and then insects then we can hope to have the frogs and lizards and everything that goes above it on a food web.

“I tell people to look back to their childhood and grade 8 high school where they learnt about this. This is a fundamental scientific truth and yet we still seem to think we can protect our biodiversity by having 15 percent of our state under National Park, or whatever, when 85 percent remains unprotected, bulldozed, built over. “Every single time we reduce the population of a plant or animal, some genetics are being lost. It’s about maintaining biodiversity at its highest levels.”

Ken points out that a lot of conservation efforts are about protecting endangered species, which is important, but we need to also be protecting the ‘common things’ before they become endangered.

“It’s relatively easy, relatively inexpensive and a very sensible thing for us to be doing.”

For more information about Backyards for Biodiversity and Ken’s work and talks on biodiversity there is a dedicated local Facebook group, with over 2100 members (and growing). Visit:



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