Scientists build six-bedroom cardboard homes for Aussie animals after devastating bushfire - and they've got water views Sydneysiders would die for

Devastating bushfire tore through Sydney's North Head in October 2020Native marsupials and reptiles were hit hard but survived the blazeScientists now using cardboard structures so animals can hide from predators 

A new housing development made from cardboard is taking shape on a blackened fireground with spectacular views of Sydney Heads.

The cutting-edge, six-bedroom homes, surrounded by bushland, are affordable, quick to assemble and perfect for blended families.

There are no kitchens or bathrooms but that shouldn’t bother the native marsupials, reptiles and insects scientists hope will soon move in after surviving the devastating North Head bushfire in October last year.

Ever since a planned burn got away and tore across 54 hectares of land that shouldn’t have burnt, they’ve been largely homeless.

The fire that ripped through 54 hectares of bushland along Sydney Harbour in October 2020 (pictured) left many native animals at the mercy of predators

The fire that ripped through 54 hectares of bushland along Sydney Harbour in October 2020 (pictured) left many native animals at the mercy of predators 

It's hoped the cardboard structures will give animals like the eastern pygmy possum (pictured) - which was locally extinct on North Head for a time - the means to flourish

It’s hoped the cardboard structures will give animals like the eastern pygmy possum (pictured) – which was locally extinct on North Head for a time – the means to flourish

The blaze incinerated the vegetation the animals relied on for protection, leaving them at much greater risk of being picked off by predators such as birds, cats and foxes.

But Macquarie University mammal ecologist Alex Carthey has come up with an ingenious solution with the help of Melbourne designer Alex Goad, who usually spends his time making structures for artificial reefs.

Their habitat pod is a teepee-like shelter made from flat-pack cardboard that will biodegrade and vanish once it’s done its job.

It’s cheap, light and takes about five minutes to press out and assemble. It has six internal compartments, with doors of various sizes to let in everything from bandicoots, possums and bush rats to reptiles and beetles.

The smallest holes towards the top let in enough light to allow vegetation to regenerate.

If the pods are popular with the creatures of North Head, they might soon be a familiar sight in areas ravaged by bushfires, or blackened by hazard reduction burns.

Dr Carthey says predators are quick to move in after large fires because they know their prey has nowhere to hide.

“There is some shift in thinking towards maybe it’s not so much that most of them die in the fire, it’s that really dangerous post-fire period when we might lose the most animals,” she says.

“It would be awesome to be able to get that cover out immediately.

“Once we are confident in them, they could even go out with the people doing the hazard reduction burns and be dropped in the wake of the fire as it goes through.”

About 200 of the pods will be field tested at North Head, which is the site of an ambitious mammal reintroduction program run by Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Three small mammal species that were locally extinct on North Head have been restored since 2017, including the Eastern Pygmy Possum.

Thankfully all three species have been spotted since last year’s fire, and might end up making themselves at home in the habitat pods.

Native animals like the long-nosed bandicoot (pictured) can use the cardboard pods to take cover from predators. The pods will biodegrade and vanish once they've done their job

Native animals like the long-nosed bandicoot (pictured) can use the cardboard pods to take cover from predators. The pods will biodegrade and vanish once they’ve done their job

Ecologist Angela Rana has been busy assembling the pods and getting them into position and will monitor how effective they are over the next year or so.

After last year’s fire, she spent days getting refuge tunnels made from chicken wire and shade cloth into position but it was hard going. It took a lot of manpower and the devices are heavy.

She’s hopeful the habitat pods will be the lightweight, mobile, and cost-effective solution Australia needs at $25 each, a cost likely to come down with mass production.

“We could deploy them in places that are really hard to get to. There’s the potential we could use drones to deploy them,” Ms Rana said.

“If they work they could be used for bigger bushfires which, with climate change, are bound to happen.”

Last week, CSIRO scientists warned climate change was fuelling the risk of more “mega fire years” covering more than one million hectares of forest.

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