Keywords: Grassland, Themeda Grasslands on Sea-cliffs and Headlands, headland ecosystems, bush regeneration, Fingal Head Coastcare, Plectranthus cremnus
Fingal Head, whose first inhabitants are members of the Cudginburra Clan, is a famous beauty spot in the far north coast of NSW, heavily utilised for recreation such as fishing, surfing, whale and dolphin watching and family outings. It is estimated that upwards of 50,000 visitors per annum use the site. As a result of this and other impacts including unfettered goat grazing (commencing around the lighthouse in the late 19th century), the site has many management challenges, including extensive gully and rill erosion, trampling of native vegetation, wildflower harvesting and weed invasion.
Prior to treatment, the ground cover layer was almost completely dominated by a form of the exotic Buffalo Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) and a suite of other weeds including Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera ssp rotundata). Because similar headlands in the region (Norries Head and Hastings Point Headland) support the State-listed Endangered Ecological Community Themeda Grasslands on Sea-cliffs and Headlands it is assumed that Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) was native to the site and became locally extinct due to the history of grazing and weed invasion.
Project works: In 2009 Fingal Head Coastcare determined that work to address the serious weed problems should commence and that trials be undertaken to reintroduce Kangaroo Grass. Several small plots (100m² ea.) were sprayed with herbicide and slashed (Fig 1). Regenerating weed was regularly removed.
Fig 1: Trial plot 1 – Natural regeneration within patch of treated Buffalo Grass
The plots were sown with Kangaroo Grass seed collected from other headlands in the region. The material used is a genetically distinct coastal form of Kangaroo Grass that exhibits a unique decumbent growth habit. Ripe fruiting culms were distributed in quadrats as well as randomly over the plots.
In addition to the Kangaroo Grass trials, efforts were made to plant a variety of typical Grass and Forbland species, including Golden Everlasting Daisy (Xerochrysum bracteatum), Evolvulus alsinoides and Chamaechrista maritima. These were propagated in the Fingal Coastcare nursery from seed and stock sourced at nearby headlands.
Results. Regeneration of native species was extensive across the plots (Figures 2a and 2b). Regenerating native species included Prickly Couch (Zoyzia macrantha), Native Violet (Viola banksii), Angled Lobelia (Lobelia alata) Plectranthus (Plectranthus cremnus) and Beach Bean (Canavalea rosea).
Fig 2a: Typical Buffalo Grass infestation prior to commencement of trials.
Fig 2b: Example of regeneration of native grasses Prickly Couch and Blady Grass after works (Plot 1, 2011).
Both the Kangaroo Grass and the Everlasting Daisy (Figure 3) have since naturalised on the site. However, the plots revealed very poor rates of germination of Kangaroo Grass, approximately 1 in1000. Germination rates were much higher under controlled nursery conditions
Fig 3: Everlasting Daisy re-established and recruiting on Fingal Headland.
Outcomes and lessons learned The low rate of Kangaroo Grass germination is not regarded as a major impediment to the overall success of the project. As natural processes and cycles come into play, it is probable that Kangaroo Grass will become a significant part of the biota on the headland. That is, achieving the ultimate aim of a Closed Tussock Themeda Grassland is probably unlikely through reintroduction from the seed sowing methods we used, but may occur naturally over time.
The extensive natural regeneration of the threatened Plectranthus cremnus is a major success of the trials. This herb species is habitat for a local population of Blue-tongue Lizards and Bearded Dragons. It is a major food source for the reptiles, supplementing their animal diet, which may be very seasonal.
Erosion control has been significantly reduced through active intervention, using hard infrastructure in combination with ‘low key’, passive techniques such as strategic plantings and bush debris.
Local school children are involved in the plantings on an ongoing basis, and have picked up vital local knowledge and site ownership along the way. This project has been a major education experience for the Coastcare group, the Tweed Byron local Aboriginal Land Council and many members of the Fingal Head Community who were previously not aware of this Endangered Ecological Community . The trial areas are now a profusion of wildflowers almost the year round and the Coastcare volunteers receive many compliments from the passing public. During working bees on the site considerable energy is devoted to educating the public about the Grasslands in the hope that this will assist in their protection (and also because it is a lot of fun!) Anyone who visits the site will be captivated by the delicate beauty of the native flora, the awesome scale of the natural scenery and will surely agree that something special is happening here.
Where to from here?: One of the most challenging and pressing issues facing the headland is uncontrolled pedestrian traffic. Although this may be unavoidable to some extent, it is desirable for the long term health of the ecosystem that some control methods be introduced to the site. Trials have been conducted using bush debris with limited success. More permanent methods would have to be carefully designed and implemented in order to blend with the unique aesthetics of the site. Boardwalk construction has been very successful in key areas, however this type of construction is deemed inappropriate for the grassland proper. Dense vegetative barriers consisting of tussock forming species such as Spiny Mat Rush (Lomandra longifolia) and Knobbly Club Rush (Isolepis nodosa) are being planted to rationalise the trackways and guide pedestrians away from more sensitive areas.
In terms of the vegetation restoration works, ongoing and extensive follow-up weed control is required and it is envisaged that as each plot is stabilised and achieves manageable levels of autonomy, new areas will be opened up for weed control. It is recommended that a formal Restoration Plan be developed and implemented, perhaps through funding avenues or the involvement of Environmental Science students. This would greatly assist guiding the works over an extended period and help achieve the best possible outcomes for Fingal Headland and the wider community.
Partners and Investors: Fingal Head Coastcare Inc. consulted with the Tweed Shire Council, The Tweed Byron Local Aboriginal Land Council and a number of community groups to plan this project. The community groups include the Fingal Heads Community Association, the Fingal Head Public School, Fingal Rovers SLSC, local businesses and other Tweed Coast Dune care groups.
Contact : Kieran Kinney, Fingal Head Coastcare Project Manager, 28 Kurrajong Ave Cabarita Beach 2488. Tel: +61 266763002 Mob: 0457356175. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org