Just 15 km northeast of the historic goldfields town of Bendigo is the Wellsford State Forest. Dominated by eucalypts, wattles and wildflowers, it’s a place to explore and enjoy Victoria’s box-ironbark forests as they recover from a long history of logging.

The Wellsford State Forest sprawls across 7,122 hectares. That’s 1,000 times larger than the MCG.

The forest provides important habitat for threatened wildlife: brush-tailed phascogale, diamond firetail, grey-crowned babbler, speckled warbler and the nationally endangered swift parrot.

It’s also home to rare and threatened plants including the state-listed and vulnerable Ausfeld’s aattle Acacia ausfeldii and dainty phebalium Phebalium festivum. The rare small-leaf goodenia Goodenia benthamiana, sand rush Juncus psammophilus, whirrakee wattle Acacia williamsonii and buloke Allocasuarina luehmannii have also been found at Wellsford.

Adjoining Wellsford on its eastern flank is Mount Sugarloaf Nature Conservation Reserve, and immediately to its west is Longlea Commonwealth Land and Bendigo Regional Park. The Wellsford also has good links to Axe Creek and the Campaspe River.

The forest has a long history of logging. Its protected areas offer excellent examples of recovering forest, particularly in the understorey and trees with developing hollows. It also contains native bushland of high conservation significance linking patches in the north and south.

However, trees across the forest are showing signs of stress, and four habitat zones within the Wellsford have been identified as being particularly deficient in logs.

In our Better Protection for Special Places report and summary report we identified Wellsford State Forest as having high conservation significance and therefore worthy of better protection under the National Parks Act.

Apart from individual pursuits such as walking, horse-riding, trailbike riding and cycling, organised recreational use of the forest includes car rallies, dog-sledding, orienteering and army cadet training.

Most of the area is still subject to timber harvesting, mainly for firewood and other low-value uses. Prescribed burning has been carried out in 1,400 ha of the Wellsford Forest since 2011. Local ecologists say these fires burnt too hot and were possibly inappropriate for the forest ecology.

Rubbish dumping is a problem, and trailbikes increase fragmentation and localised erosion.

The VNPA and local conservation groups like the Bendigo and District Environment Council (BDEC) have been advocating for many years to have the forest independently assessed by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC), and protected in perpetuity under the National Parks Act.

Draft terms of reference for a VEAC study were announced in November 2016. VEAC will assess the forests’ values and make recommendations about future land use, including which parts should be made national park.

Bendigo residents now have an opportunity to create better relationships with their ‘bushland neighbours’ through a new book Living Next to Nature and a website www.bendigonature.org.