Treechange rewarded with honour

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Elders Real Estate farm sale head Malcolm French is well known for his long and distinguished career in WA's rural property scene.

But it was another of his passions - namely eucalypt trees - that prompted recognition this week within the Australia Day 2015 Honours List.

Mr French was awarded a Medal in the General Division for his service to conservation and the environment in WA.

His interest in eucalypts started in the 1980s when he realised that individual species enjoyed specific habitats from a soil assessment point of view.

He started planting eucalypts at his family's small property and began his own research on eucalypts with a serious passion.

Knowledge gathered over the subsequent decades resulted in his release of several books, including _Eucalypts of Western Australia's Wheatbelt _, published in 2012.

Within this 360-page book, 159 species are described in detail, along with quality photographs and meticulously-compiled distribution maps.

Mr French explains that this book was more than 10 years in the making.

"In 2000, I realised there was very little knowledge about our trees," he said.

"I realised we were planting the wrong species in the wrong areas. The WA nurseries had all the wrong information, mostly using Eastern States' varieties.

"Despite the fact there are 159 varieties out there, only 10 per cent of them were being used in re-vegetation works in the Wheatbelt.

"So I set about correcting that by studying them in greater detail and sharing my findings via this book."

Mr French said given the big issue for the Wheatbelt was preservation of land, his environmental work and rural property sales role at Elders were intertwined.

"A healthy environment helps to preserve the asset value of all farms and assist production," he said.

Mr French said he had no professional environmental qualifications but was totally self-taught. He has lost count of how many hours have gone into his latest book, or the costs involved in the book.

The Wildflower Society of WA helped by granting him an interest-free loan to compile the Wheatbelt book, which he's since paid back.

"I wouldn't know what it costs me - and I'm not bothered either. It's my contribution to the Wheatbelt," he said.

His 2012 Wheatbelt-focused book follows the release in 1997 of a book titled _The Special Eucalypts of Perth and the South-West _.

That has since sold out and Mr French is working on releasing an updated version.

His next big project is to compile a book on all eucalypts across the State, which he is aiming to publish in 2016.

Mr French also runs a live website called www.eucalyptsofwa.com.au .

As well as researching and supplying this important information, Mr French has property south of Tammin and grows his own eucalypt trees.

The Australia Day Honours List also recognised Mr French for his volunteer work at the State's herbarium.

A former board member of Greening Australia (WA), Mr French has also been a volunteer with the Department of the Environment and Conservation.

In 2008, he was granted research associate status by the Science Division of DEC for significant research and valuable work in the taxonomy of eucalypts.

"I don't know who dobbed me in for this award, but it's a great honour and privilege - not something I ever expected," he said.

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