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Barraba: birthplace of Australia’s “Bird Routes”

Russ and Jenny Watts developed the concept of “Bird Routes” in the 1990s starting with Barraba. Barraba became the “Birthplace of Australian Bird Routes” as a result of the Wattses partnership with the former Barraba Shire Council. Today Bird Routes can be found across Australia.

Last week the Tamworth Birdwatchers group, in conjunction with Tamworth Regional Council, dedicated a commemorative plaque to celebrate this achievement. Mayor, Col Murray, unveiled the plaque after a short ceremony on Monday 18 October at the Bicentennial Riverbank park. Fittingly, the date was the first day of National Bird Week. The dedication was also attended by Councillor Helen Tickle and Jim Maxwell, and by Kristy Peters from BirdLife Australia. Tom O’Connor, General Manager of Barraba Shire Council when the Bird Routes were first established, was also present.

Russ Watts, the Birdman of Barraba, died last year at the age of 92, his wife Jen having predeceased him in 2011. Russ and Jen created Barraba’s famous bird routes and also compiled a native flora trail of the Woodsreef area. Russ and Jen made considerable efforts to save the white box woodlands along the Travelling Stock Routes around Barraba that are critical habitat for many bird species. They lived for 12 years at “Deenderah”, south of Barraba on Tarpoly Creek. Russ was awarded an AM in 2008 for his service to conservation and the environment, particularly for the preservation of native birds.

Councillor Murray said, “It’s very important that Tamworth Regional Council is able to follow the footsteps of the Barraba Shire in recognising and acknowledging the benefits of something as basic  as birdwatching and what that can translate to in terms of tourism and people’s well being and happiness. We’re very pleased to carry on that.”

Jean Cody, President of the Tamworth Birdwatchers, recalled, “Russ was so concerned about the environment. He really got in there, and he had the gift of the gab and was able to persuade, as we found out, that things like Bird Routes of Barraba was a really, really good idea”. 

Birdlife Australia’s Woodland Bird Project Officer Kristy Peters also spoke at the dedication. Birdlife Australia is Australia’s national bird conservation charity. “Russ was a life member of Tamworth Birdwatchers, a committed conservationist and a lifelong environmentalist,” said Kristy. 

“From Nundle to Tamworth, to Manilla and Barraba, the bird routes consist of sites along our 180 kilometre corridor where many of the 238 species of the region can be seen. Many of these sites are part of TSRs which contain and protect some remnants of native habitat. Russ was instrumental in raising awareness of the conservation value of our woodland bird habitats, particularly the grassy box Ironbark woodlands. Sometimes these habitats were merely roadside vegetation or what remained within the TSR. Russ saw the value it held for biodiversity and for what we now call ecotourism,” said Kristy.

There are now 22 signposted Bird Routes over the Tamworth Regional Council area. The dedication plaque is located in the park on the corner of Fitzroy and Bridge Streets, Barraba. A new garden bed has been installed there which now features a plaque mounted to a rock. There is access from this park to a walking path that runs along the Manilla River.

By Jane Harris