WHERE do you start when it comes to telling a story about someone like Charlie Weir, or as he's affectionately known, the mangrove man?
On Friday, Charlie became the Ambassador for Landcare NSW and was announced the State individual Landcare winner for 2003.
The project into which Charlie has poured his heart and soul is saving the banks of the Shoalhaven River by planting mangroves.
It was about a year after Alan Lugg from Fisheries started the project in 1996 that Charlie became involved.
He saw an article in a newspaper calling for volunteers to help plant mangroves. That was six years ago and while planting mangroves, the seeds of an obsession were also planted.
It didn't take much to unleash Charlie's passion for the river on which the former fisherman has centred his life.
He was hooked, and the project, the river and the community have all benefited from his enthusiasm.
If you ask him how many mangroves he and his fellow volunteers have planted he can only take a guess, and if you've ever seen them you'll know why.
"Oh, I suppose we've planted a couple of hundred thousand, we average about 40,000 plants per year," he said.
"I often come down here and just look at the planted areas and think 'Gee it looks good'.
"I'm pretty proud, I never expected it to turn out this good."
Already the mangroves are doing their job, slowing down the riverbank erosion.
The quick results have impressed everyone involved and because of the project's success so far, it has been used as a model for groups in other areas.
When Charlie was rewarded for his efforts at a function on Friday he said he was flabbergasted.
"I couldn't believe it, all I could say was thank you very much, I never expected to be noticed and recognised for what I have done," he said.
He said he wishes he could cut his award into little pieces and give some to all the people and agencies who have helped him over the years.
Lower Shoalhaven Landcare co-ordinator Eric Zarrella said having someone like Charlie is crucial to the project.
"Charlie's ability to enthuse the volunteers and inspire others is amazing.
"His observation of the river and its processes, and how he designs techniques is invaluable," Mr Zarrella said.
"There has been a lot of trial and error and Charlie's observations have been the science behind it.
"It's not only the physical work he does in planting mangroves, and trees to stabilise the banks, as well as fencing, he also puts in a lot of leg work with all the landowners along the river, which is a crucial part of the project."
Charlie is always the first to admit he hasn't done it alone.
Resources, personnel and funding has been sourced from Mission Employment, Campbell Page, various Aboriginal groups, Greencorp and other Landcare volunteers, council, Fisheries, DIPNR, River Watch of which Charlie is the president, National Landcare Funding and Envirofund, and the Departments of Agriculture and Forestry.
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