Keywords – landscape, connectivity, restoration, revegetation, NSW southwest slopes
The Slopes2Summit (S2S) Bushlinks project commenced in August 2012 and is in the first stage of implementing on-ground works to build landscape-scale connectivity across private lands in the southwest Slopes of NSW – from the wet and dry forest ecosystems of the upper catchment and reserves to the threatened Grassy Box Woodlands of the lower slopes and plains (Fig 1.).
The increasing isolation of plant and animal populations in “island” reserves scattered through an agricultural landscape is a recognised threat to the long term viability and resilience of ecosystems under potential impact of climate change. If we can increase the viable breeding habitat through off-reserve remnant conservation, and increase the habitat for dispersal by increasing connectivity, we may be able to influence the trajectory for some of our species – the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis)) and threatened woodland birds in particular.
The S2S Bushlinks Project is attempting to address connectivity issues through the following approaches:
1. Cross property planning. Foster and encourage cross property planning for habitat connectivity between neighbours, community, Landcare and/or subcatchment groups resulting in more integrated on-ground works projects, and raising awareness of the benefits of connectivity for wildlife.
2. On-ground investment in connectivity. The project is partnering with farmers and land managers to support and encourage fencing and revegetation in strategic places in the landscape with the objective of increasing habitat connectivity. S2S Bushlinks applies scientific principles to the site assessments and evaluation, which then sets the level of investment in a site. High scoring sites receive the highest rates of rebate, but the provision of low levels of public investment in sites that may not be of high priority is important for fostering participation in revegetation of any sort to encourage the culture of caring for the land.
Site assessment and scoring for funding level uses the following criteria:
- Connectivity and landscape value – Does the site link to or create new patches of habitat according to principles of habitat connectivity? (Fig 2) Is there existing vegetation in 1000ha radius around the site in an optimal range of 30-60%?
- Area : perimeter ratio – Bigger blocks of revegetation are more cost-efficient and better habitat than linear strips of revegetation, and the project scoring encourages landholder to go bigger and wider in order to qualify for a higher level of funding.
- Habitat Values – Does the site have existing values like old paddock trees, rocky outcrops or intact native ground layer, and therefore become a more valuable site? Is it in the more fertile, productive parts of the landscape and therefore of more productivity benefit for wildlife as well?
- Carbon value – The scoring is based on the size of the revegetation and rainfall zone. The CFI Reforestation tool is being used to value the collective potential carbon sequestration of the Bushlinks project.
The emphasis on cross-property planning flows through to the implementation of on-ground works. Landholders are encouraged to work with neighbours and the site evaluation system is used to assess site value without the property boundaries – cooperation makes the site bigger and usually increases the connectivity value, and therefore scores higher.
3. Review and adaptive management process. The site assessment is to be reviewed in July 2013 against the objectives – did it work to prioritise sites well – did we invest wisely? The scientists and experts are then able to work closely with Holbrook Landcare to adjust the project eligibility, assessment and evaluation criteria to continually improve the outcomes in subsequent funding years.
4. Monitoring framework. As part of the in-kind contribution to the project, S2S partners Dr Dave Watson, CSU Albury and Dr. Veronica Doerr, CSIRO are working towards a framework for the long-term monitoring of landscape scale connectivity for continental-scale initiatives like Great Eastern Ranges (GER). As part of a GER Environmental Trust Project in 2013, an expert panel workshop will be convened to begin this process in 2013.
The framework will then be used to pilot a project-scale design for Bushlinks, which will allow us to measure ecological outcomes.
Bushlinks will contribute to the Slope2Summit portal of the Atlas of Living Australia, supported by the Slopes2Summit facilitator. To develop community participation in monitoring and evaluation, participants and the wider community will be encouraged to contribute wildlife sightings and other data to the atlas.
The S2S partnership applied for funds through the Australian Governments Clean Energy Futures Biodiversity Fund in 2011 and was successful in the 2011/12 funding year for a six year project. Holbrook Landcare Network is managing the S2S Bushlinks Project on behalf of the Slopes2Summit and the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, in partnership with Murray CMA.
Contact: Kylie Durant, Bushlinks Project Officer, Holbrook Landcare Network, PO Box 121 Holbrook, NSW 2644 Australia. Tel: +61 2 6036 3121