Category Archives: Victoria

Aboriginal community engagement through the Threatened Grassy Woodlands Project – North-east Victoria

Key words: Indigenous Land Management, Traditional ecological knowledge transfer, stone knapping, weaving, Landcare

Richard Mc Ternan and Mary Munro

The Threatened Grassy Woodlands Project focuses on one of Australia’s most threatened ecosystems. As this ecosystem has significant value to Aboriginal people, the North East Catchment Management Authority (North East CMA) and Aboriginal Elders from the Border and North East Victoria have been working together since 2008 to increase Aboriginal engagement with natural resource management across the region.  Priorities have been to (i) help the establishment of an Aboriginal Landcare group; and (ii) conduct Aboriginal community engagement activities to facilitate knowledge sharing and capacity building between local Aboriginal communities and NRM agencies. Experiences to date show there is a strong interest from Aboriginal people in these activities, and involvement in them has increased pride within the Aboriginal community, and recognition from the wider community.

‘Bidja Bila’ (men of the river) Aboriginal men’s Landcare group.  Formed in 2010 through a Memorandum of Understanding document, the group has the support of a dedicated Aboriginal Landcare Involvement Officer. The aspirations identified by the group are to gather to rekindle traditional stories and practices, and encourage interaction between Elders and younger Aboriginal people, reconnecting with the environment.  A primary goal is to take pressure off the elders, reinforcing and carrying forward their work of guiding the community and government.

Fig 1. ‘Bidja Bila’ (men of the river) Aboriginal men’s Landcare group at first planting day July 2011. (Foreground:Dick Murray, Wayne Edwards and Desi Smith. Background: Ray Williams and Richard Kennedy).

The group’s first project was planting 500 native trees and grasses to enhance forest understories for animals (such as the Sugar Glider) reliant on threatened woodlands. Over time these plants will also be a cultural resource for the community and become a focal point for Aboriginal guided tours through the local cultural centre. Other projects in the planning stage involve further exploration of ways to reengage with grassy box woodland, through increased traditional plant knowledge and cultural fire management.

Workshops on stone tool making and weaving. From 2009, a series of stone tool making and weaving workshops, incorporating knowledge from Elders from six nations, have been conducted for the local Aboriginal community. The workshops utilised natural stone – or plant resources – -derived from the Threatened Grassy Woodlands environment.

Stone tool making workshops. Three Aboriginal stone tool-making (knapping) workshops have enabled Elders to demonstrate techniques gained through a lifetime of experience and shared these with participants. An exhibition was also held at the Albury Library Museum showcasing the array of stone tools created by the Elders during the 2009 workshops. Photos and film footage taken during the workshops by filmmaker, Jacqueline Schulz, and local photographer, Chantelle Bourne were shown at the exhibition. This footage and photos. showed the process Aboriginal people use to manufacture stone tools from the raw material right through to the finished product.

Fig 2. Weaving workshop hosted by Indigo Valley Landcare group and attended by (L to R) Ro Lavers (Indigo Landcare group), Chris Dormer (North-east Weaving Association), Sharon Edwards (Ngiyampaa woman), Cheryl Cameron (Wiradjuri woman) and Jackie Tansy (weaving facilitator). (Photo courtesy of The Border Mail.)

Weaving workshop and film. A number of weaving artists demonstrated traditional Aboriginal weaving techniques and showcased their creations at a weaving workshop initiated by Indigo Valley Landcare group and held at the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service in 2011.  Also shown was the film, “Sneaking a stitch”, made by Jacqui Schulz, which conveyed many elements of traditional weaving and pointed out the need to conserve and manage declining plant species used as a weaving resource. This film proved an effective way of communicating important messages about culture and caring for the environment between women and young girls. Further workshops on other topics have been conducted and are planned for the future.

Funding acknowledgement: We acknowledge support from the Australian Government’s ‘Caring for our Country’ initiative, together with contributions from the North East, Goulburn Broken and Murray CMAs, the Victorian State Departments of Sustainability & Environment and Primary Industries, Trust for Nature, Nature Conservation Trust and the Australian National University.

Contact: Richard Mc Ternan, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, North East CMA, PO Box 616, Wodonga VIC 3689 Australia. Tel:+61 2 60 249 109; Mobile: 0428 683 878. Email: richard.mcternan@necma.vic.gov.au

The use of fauna gates to facilitate the movement of Southern Brown Bandicoots Isoodon obesulus through a feral proof fence at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne

Key words: fauna gates, feral proof fence

Bronwyn Merritt

The Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB) Isoodon obesulus, once common along the coast from Sydney through to Adelaide, has dramatically declined in range and number since European settlement. Listed as an endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, SBBs are threatened by habitat loss, isolation, fragmentation, urban infrastructure and predation by introduced predators such as foxes.

The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne (RBGC) is regarded as one of the most secure remnant populations of SBBs in the Melbourne and Western Port region. The persistence and relatively high abundance of the species at the RBGC can be attributed to ongoing integrated feral animal control, feral proof fencing and vegetation management.

The RBGC is 363 hectares, with approximately 250 hectares of remnant vegetation listed as of state conservation significance. The site is bounded by an 8 kilometre ‘floppy top’ feral proof fence that has been an integral part of the fox control program. It has resulted in ongoing reduced fox numbers and the flow-on of significant benefits for the management of SBB. However, the fence also represents a barrier to the movement of native species and this may affect the viability of populations within and outside the RBGC.

It has been observed that smaller SBBs are able to pass thorough the 50mm diamond mesh cyclone wire of the feral proof fence. This activity is probably sufficient to reduce local genetic isolation for the species. However, in places the fence has been reinforced with a second or third layer of wire skirting to reduce rabbit incursions and has, therefore, become less permeable to a range of native fauna.

The RBGC has an ongoing program trialing different methods to make the fence selectively permeable to some animals, whilst limiting the movement of others. Originally, the RBGC developed custom made gates that allowed the movement of Common Wombats (Vombatus ursinus) and Long-necked Tortoises (Chelodina longicollis). More recently, the RBGC has developed and trialed the use of ‘Bandicoot gates’ that have allowed free movement of the endangered SBB through the fenceline.

The custom designed bandicoot gates were installed in the internal Australian Garden fence of RBGC through 2010-2011. The Australian Garden is an 11 hectare display garden of native plants. The aim of the bandicoot gates was to allow the free movement of bandicoots, but exclude rabbits. The gates were made using 90 mm PVC pipe. Different gate versions were trialed and the successful design included a weighted 100mm wide flap and cover to ensure the gate returned to the closed position. The gates were monitored using Reconyx™ infra-red cameras and have shown frequent bandicoot movement, with no evidence of other species use to date.

The ability of the SBBs to learn how to negotiate the gates has ongoing implications for the construction of semi-permeable feral proof fences. It may be possible that these gates could be modified and used by other conservation reserves with feral proof fencing, for the conservation of other endangered small mammals.

For the RBGC, this has implications for allowing the free movement of the SBB into the wider region beyond the boundary of the perimeter fence. Since 2002, the land surrounding the RBGC has been included in the Melbourne Urban Growth Boundary, which means the RBGC is likely to be land-locked by residential development in the near future. The development of these gates, and the implication of allowing increased movement of SBB from the RBGC into proposed biolinks, will have significant implications for the ongoing management and sustainability of this endangered species.

Acknowledgements: Terry Coates, Ollie Sherlock, RBGC Infrastructure branch, Jill Burness, Dave Hunt and Ricardo Simao.

Contact: Bronwyn Merritt, Coordinator Land Management and Infrastructure, Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, 1000 Ballarto Road, Cranbourne, Victoria 3977. Ph (03) 5990 2221. Bronwyn.merritt@rbg.vic.gov.au

Yarrilinks: a vital bridge between city and country

Key words: community volunteers, environmental repair, revegetation, multiculturalism

Rae Talbot

A successful one-off revegetation project in the Yarriambiack Shire, Victoria, has led to ‘Yarrilinks’ – an annual revegetation event that combines environmental benefit, community involvement, cultural exchange,  lots of fun and friendship. Yarrilinks is one of several Wimmera Biolink Plantout events which happen throughout the year across the region. The plantouts build on broader biolink programs coordinated by Wimmera Catchment Management Authority as part of the Federal Government’s Caring for our Country program.

Betty Barry of Minyip is a regular host of volunteers at Yarrilinks. Mrs Barry is pictured with Adut Chol, one of the chefs from the not-for-profit restaurant chain ‘Lentil As Anything’ who help cater the Saturday night feast at Yarrilinks each year.

The unique feature of Yarrilinks is its partnerships with the Melbourne-based Adult Multicultural Education Services and Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning programs. This offers an opportunity for new residents of Australia, often refugees from wars in their own countries, to engage with local families closely working within a rural Australian environment.  Through this event, held each August, local families and new arrivals learn from each other, experiencing new cultures whilst building up the environment.

The project works by local families hosting the visitors.  Between 30 and 40 local families participate each year, with about 500 visitors being hosted from 24 different nationalities over the past 12 years.  The weekend community events have enabled the planting of 120,000 plants on 40 different sites on farms and roadsides.

On 6-7 August this year, paddocks in the Yarriambiack Shire came alive with volunteers from the local area and the Melbourne-based Adult Multicultural Education Services and Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning programs. The 2011 weekend was the 13th Yarrilinks event.

Contact: People wanting to find out more about Yarrilinks can phone Rae Talbot at Wimmera CMA on (03) 5382 1544 or email wca@wcma.vic.gov.au

Wimmera CMA Catchment Tender model – evaluation after 5 years demonstrates significant improvements in efficiency and value for money

Key words: ecological sustainability, incentives, market-based instruments, salinity

Robert Moir

Wimmera Catchment Management Authority (WCMA) helps manage natural resources across 2800 square kilometres of land in western Victoria. In 2005, the WCMA teamed up with environmental economic researchers from CSIRO to design and implement an innovative market-driven model to address salinity problems in key parts of the catchment. This has resulted in a $4.6 million investment in environmental projects on farms in the past six years, in turn, delivering a dramatic increase in on-ground works such as fencing, weed and pest animal control, revegetation and protecting waterways compared with traditional incentive programs of the previous decade.

Through this initial Catchment Tender model, the CMA invited farmers to submit tender proposals and be paid for establishing and maintaining vegetation on their farms. The model, an alternative to grants, targeted specific farms where revegetation work would help reduce salinity problems across the catchment. The computer-based model assessed the costs and benefits of the tenders and selected the ones which offered the best value for money of terms of salinity benefits per dollar of public funds invested.

Participation in this first round of Catchment Tender far exceeded expectations, with more than $730,000 invested into salinity management across 762 hectares of land in just 10 months. This is the equivalent of at least the previous five to six years of revegetation achievements through the CMA’s previous grants scheme. There have been efficiency gains of up to 160% in delivery, and 69% of the project’s total budget has been paid to landholders; this includes development costs dating back to 2002. Based on an evaluation done with the CSIRO we found that by comparison, traditional incentive projects would on average require a budget 60% higher than Catchment Tender to generate the same outcome. Because of this result, the CMA extended this market-based approach to other programs including biodiversity conservation and protecting wetlands and riparian corridors along waterways, and since the first round in 2005, Wimmera CMA has helped invest $4.6 million across the region.

The CMA has completed 12 tender programs including River Tender, Habitat Tender and Buloke Tender. These programs help protect our region’s waterways, wetlands, plants and animals. Six years down the track, the CMA and the CSIRO are now evaluating these market-driven programs as well as other natural resource management investment programs such as grants and Landcare group support.

Contact: Robert Moir, Program Manager- Catchment Operations, Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, PO Box 479, Horsham, 3401, Tel: +61 (03) 5382 1544 or email wca@wcma.vic.gov.au.

Restoring the Winton Wetlands in north east Victoria

Key words: wetland restoration, ecosystem function, Mokoan, woodlands, hydrology

The 8,750 ha Winton Wetlands Reserve is located near Benalla within the Goulburn-Broken Catchment in north east Victoria. The restoration project is one of the outcomes of the former Victorian Government’s decision to decommission Lake Mokoan, previously Victoria’s fifth largest water storage, and to allocate resulting water savings for environmental flows to the Snowy and Murray rivers (Lake Mokoan previously lost over 50 GL annually in evaporation).

The decision to decommission Lake Mokoan was controversial and at the time there was considerable local and regional opposition to the project. Dramatic improvements in wetland condition since de-commissioning have now engendered considerable community support for the project.

Figure 1: Location of Winton Wetlands within the Goulburn-Broken Catchment in North East Victoria

Prior to the establishment of Lake Mokoan in 1971, the Winton Wetlands consisted of a series of more than 11 interconnected redgum and open cane grass wetlands covering more than 3000 ha, interspersed with areas of remnant box grassy woodland and surrounded by farmland with a long history of sheep and cattle grazing. From 1971, the wetlands and surrounding woodlands and farmland were regularly inundated to create a 375 GL water storage covering an area of more than 7000 ha.

The original wetland and surrounding woodland ecosystems and associated ecological drivers, (particularly the local hydrology) have been substantially modified as a result of regular inundation and a long history of agricultural use in the surrounding terrestrial areas.

The aim of the project is to restore the wetlands and surrounding terrestrial areas by encouraging the recovery of ecosystem function rather than necessarily attempting to return the site to exact pre-European condition. The project will be one of the largest wetland restoration projects undertaken in Australia.

With the decommissioning completed in mid 2010, the Winton Wetlands Reserve was established in August 2011 and so the restoration project is still in its early stages.

Progress to date:

  • Completion of a Future Land Use Strategy with considerable community input and consultation.
  • Installation of an extensive pipeline system to provide alternative source of local water supply.
  • Decommissioning of the water storage to reinstate more natural inflow and water levels regimes.
  • Establishment of a skills based community management committee to manage and restore the wetlands.
  • Government commitment of $20M to restore the wetlands and implement the Future Land Use Strategy.
  • Development and implementation of Fire Management and Pest Plan and Animal programs.
  • Completion of flora and fauna, pest plant and animal and cultural heritage surveys.
  • Scientific & Technical Advisory Group to guide development of Restoration and Monitoring Plan.

Results to date: The Wetlands dried out completely in late 2009 due to the severe 2005 – 2009 drought. Substantial rainfall from September 2010 has reinvigorated wetlands (see figures 1 and 2), with water levels from natural inflows at 145% (45 GL) in early December 2010 overflowing into the Broken River system. The wetlands have made a remarkable recovery greatly assisting to build local community support for the project.

Figure 2: Winton Wetlands during the 2006–09 drought

Figure 3: Winton Wetlands after rain (November 2010)

Lessons learnt & future directions:

  • Wetlands are remarkably resilient (as, unfortunately, are carp)
  • Community engagement, understanding, and support is essential for the success of the long term restoration project.
  • Focus on immediate land management issues has assisted greatly in the Winton Wetlands Committee gaining credibility as a land manager.
  • Rapid conversion of land with a long history of agricultural use and inundation to areas of high ecological value is not feasible, so a transitional approach to ecological restoration will be required.

Stakeholders: The $20m in initial funding has been provided by the Victorian Government with the project aiming to be financially self-sustaining within 10 years. The Winton Wetlands Committee of Management is committed to working with traditional owners, the local and regional community, and government agencies to restore the Winton Wetlands.

Contact: Tim Barlow, Restoration Ecologist, Email: Tim.Barlow@wintonwetlands.org; Website: http://wintonwetlands.org.au