Project Phoenix: Rising from the ashes
By Gabrielle Stannus
Greening Australia is leading an ambitious program to regenerate a country scarred by the Black Summer bushfires, creating opportunities for suppliers of native seed and seedlings.
Black Summer bushfires
The 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires have left an indelible scar on the Australian landscape and indeed the national psyche. Nearly 80 percent of Australians were affected either directly or indirectly by these bushfires 1 . 33 people died and more than 3,000 homes and 7,000 outbuildings were destroyed 2 . Many people were affected by bushfire smoke or had their holiday plans disrupted.
An estimated one billion animals were killed by the bushfires 3 as more than ten million hectares burnt across the county 2 , including 5.8 million hectares of mainly temperate broadleaf forest in New South Wales and Victoria 4 . Researchers at Western Sydney University's Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment estimate that around 21 percent of this forest biome, typified by eucalypts and acacias, was burnt. In Australia, typically below 2% of temperate broadleaf forests burn annually, even in extreme fire seasons.
“Restoring the landscapes and these huge fire scars through the country will take years,” says Greening Australia’s Samantha Craigie. Together with the Director of Seed Services Paul Della Libera, Samantha is leading Project Phoenix, a strategic program to build and secure native seed and plant supply for restoration after the devastating Black Summer bushfires.
As part of the national response to the 2019-20 bushfires, Greening Australia received $5m in initial funding from the Federal Government to build and secure native seed and plant supply for landscape restoration, recovery and resilience in bushfire-affected areas and other vulnerable landscapes. “The most important part of Project Phoenix is developing a 10-year roadmap for the Federal Government so that it can respond to future disruption, be it fire, flood or climate change, and make better decisions about the type of landscape restoration required” says Paul.
Mapping the sector’s capacity
Over its 16-month life cycle, Samantha says that Project Phoenix aims to address some of the immediate native seed priorities following the fires, such as collecting from identified threatened species and communities, and undertaking critical steps in the capacity building and mobilisation of the sector.
“One of the first tasks we are undertaking is to map the sector’s capacity,” says Samantha, “We want to understand which people can do what, whether that is collecting, cleaning or storing seed or propagating native plants. We are really interested in working with Greenlife Industry Australia to better understand the native plant management capacity of your members across the country.”
Involving the nursery industry
Peter Vaughan, Greenlife Industry Australia CEO, is a member of Project Phoenix’s external steering committee. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, this committee has been kept busy planning key activities associated with each of the project’s eight strategic priorities.
“Project Phoenix is a very ambitious program, but an important one to help the build the capacity of the native seed and nursery industry,” says Peter, “There will be opportunities for nurseries to get involved in this project as many native plants will need to be propagated and available for planting in the bushfire-affected areas. This project could appeal to those nurseries that are already heavily involved in native seed and/or plants or perhaps those looking for a different market that they could become involved in.”
Creating a green economy
“There are separate conversations already happening with government about how the conservation sector can contribute to job creation and regional economies,” says Paul of plans for a greener economy, “With Project Phoenix, we are taking time to develop detailed economics behind the sector. We want to understand what the native seed and plant sector means now, what it is going to mean in the future, how many jobs that it would support and where it would support them.”
Paul claims that this green economy is largely going to be based on the Paris Agreement climate change targets. The Climate Council claims that the Black Summer bushfires likely released between 650 million and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere4, an amount far more than Australia’s annual emissions of around 531 million tonnes5. “We need to start building very significant carbon sequestration and fundamentally that is built on plants and seed,” says Paul.
Project Phoenix seed network
Greening Australia are aiming to create a network of seed collectors and practitioners across Australia to provide input into Project Phoenix, thereby helping to shape the future of Australia’s seed sector. If you would like to receive updates on this project and details of upcoming consultations, complete this short online form on their website.
1.Biddle, N, Edwards, B, Herz, D & Makkai, T 2020, Exposure and the impact on attitudes of the 2019-20 Australian Bushfires, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, viewed 22 June 2020, https://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/docs/2020/2/Exposure_and_impact_on_attitudes_of_the_2019-20_Australian_Bushfires_publication.pdf
2.Kontominas, B 2020, 'Bushfire Royal Commission into Australia's harrowing 'Black Summer' begins in Canberra', ABC News, 16 April, viewed 22 June 2020,
3.University of Sydney 2020, ‘More than one billion animals killed in Australian bushfires’, News, 8 January 2020, viewed 22 June 2020,
4.Climate Council of Australia Ltd 2020, Summer of Crisis, viewed 22 June 2020,
5.Commonwealth of Australia 2020, Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: September 2019, viewed 22 June 2020,