Category Archives: agricultural lands

Still repairing wetlands of the Lower Murray: continuing the learning – UPDATE of EMR feature

Anne Jensen

[Update to EMR feature – Jensen, Anne (2002) Repairing wetlands of the Lower Murray: Learning from restoration practice. Ecological Management & Restoration, 3:1, 5-14. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2002.00092.x]

Key words:         Environmental water requirements, regeneration, wetlands, black box seedlings, Lower Murray Valley

Figure 1. Location of the Lower Murray Valley in South Australia (Map A. Jensen)

Introduction. As highlighted in the original EMR feature this summary is updating, in the Lower Murray Valley 1100 wetlands have been identified in 250 hydrologically-linked complexes (Fig. 1). They have undergone major changes to their water regime over the last 100 years, altering the timing, frequency and duration of floods. Wetlands at lower elevations have become permanently flooded by stable river levels and wetlands at higher elevations are ‘droughted’ by much reduced flooding. All would benefit from environmental watering, to fill gaps in breeding and regeneration cycles.

Our 2002 feature showed that, from 1998 to 2002, the not-for-profit conservation company Wetland Care Australia coordinated on-ground projects to repair priority wetlands in the Lower Murray. The Gurra Gurra project was the largest of these projects, with engineering works at 17 sites to restore multiple flowpaths through the 3000 ha floodplain complex.

Key funding from the National Heritage Trust terminated in 2002 and Wetland Care Australia relocated in 2003 to northern New South Wales, where project funding for wetland projects was still available. However, individuals involved with the Wetland Care Australia projects remained in the Lower Murray Valley in other jobs, so the intellectual property was retained and wetland conservation activities continued.

In 2002, the extent and severity of drought conditions in the Murray River Valley were just being recognised. By 2004, a survey estimated that >75% of the two main tree dominants in floodplain woodlands –  River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and Black Box (E. largiflorens)  – were dead, dying or extremely stressed along 700 km of the Murray River Valley . The Millenium Drought (2000-2010) caused extreme stress to both ecological and human communities. Government agencies commenced emergency environmental watering from 2004 through the Living Murray program to limit catastrophic damage at eight iconic sites but millions of mature eucalypts were lost from floodplain woodlands along river valleys.

The Millenium Drought changed the governance context radically, with the Water Act 2007 establishing a new Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Basin Plan. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) was able to purchase water for environmental use.

Nature delivered life-saving floods in 2010-12, which broke the drought and sent flows through the Gurra Gurra complex flowpaths, so the works completed back in 2000 finally fulfilled their function (Fig. 2). Water flowed through the pipes at Tortoise Crossing for 170 days in 2010-11 and again for 71 days in 2012.

Figure 2. The sign at the key Tortoise Crossing flow path explains that replacing three pipes with 160 pipes back in 2000 now allows 50 times more flow when the river floods, as seen at the flood peak in December 2016 (Photos A. Jensen)

The sequence of floods led to mass germination of Black Box at medium floodplain elevations, with mass River Red Gum seedlings at lower elevations. A range of studies show that the survival of these seedlings is critical to fill age gaps and replace the losses from the Millenium Drought, as survival rates from germination events in the 1970s and 1990s were very poor and the last successful mass recruitment of Black Box in the Lower Murray Valley was from the 1955-56 floods.

Following the floods in 2010-2012, conditions were dry in 2013-15 and the fields of mass seedlings began to dry out and die. A further short flood in 2016 watered the surviving fields of Black Box seedlings for at least two weeks, adding to prospects of survival and flowing through the Tortoise Crossing pipes for 75 days. However, conditions in 2018-19 and into summer 2019-20 are once again extremely dry, with stress appearing in mature trees and saplings dying off. The Lower Murray Valley is still recovering from the Millenium Drought, thus needing more frequent watering over a sequence of years to bring mature trees back to health and full seed production, so this is a significant setback.

Further works and activities since 2002. Since 2008, the environmental charity Nature Foundation SA (NFSA) has been undertaking environmental watering projects on smaller, privately-owned sites in the Lower Murray, many from the original Wetland Care Australia list. In the Lower Murray Valley, water needs to be lifted up to 3 m from the river channel to reach wetlands on the floodplain, requiring costly energy. This is done using irrigation techniques, including pumps, pipes and sprinklers. These smaller projects complement government agency projects using major infrastructure to deliver environmental water to much larger wetland complexes.

In 2008-09, the primary purpose was to acquire water and use it to limit extreme environmental damage in the drought. In 2009 NFSA provided supplementary water for Little Duck Lagoon, one of the sites from the Wetland Care Australia Gurra Gurra project.

From 2012-19, NFSA has held a contract partnered with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) to deliver up to 10 GL/y of environmental water to selected sites. A priority for the NFSA Water for Nature program has been to sustain the mass germination triggered by the 2010-12 floods, watering fields of seedlings and saplings so they can fill the very large gap in age structure of Black Box populations. Stressed mature Black Box trees are being watered to improve their condition and volumes of seed produced. While delivering water to a defined wetland is relatively simple, with water pumped to an inlet point and allowed to pool in the wetland, watering scattered fields of seedlings and saplings on relatively flat floodplain land is a challenge, especially when they are in gaps between mature trees. The solution has been to use high-throw sprinklers (simulating rainfall) and operating them at night, to allow soakage into clay soils and to avoid evaporative loss during the day.

Since 2008, NFSA has delivered almost 13 GL of water to 97 watering sites in 20 wetland complexes, covering 27 different ecological targets across 12 habitat types. A total of 4.9 GL was delivered to 15 sites in 2017-18 and 1.55 GL was delivered in 2018-19 to 25 sites covering 126 ha. Rolling 5-year watering plans have been developed for each site, able to respond to annual water availability, Basin-wide priorities, environmental water requirements, climatic conditions, site watering history and feasibility of delivery.

One of the NFSA sites is Lyrup Lagoon in the Gurra Gurra complex, being watered to reduce accumulated salinity from groundwater inflows. Importantly, the infrastructure of the Central Irrigation Trust was used to deliver water to the lagoon. Thus, local irrigators are partners in delivery of water for regional environmental benefits and river health.

Figure 3. Watering guidelines developed by the Water For Nature program for stressed and healthy woodlands, for (a) River Red Gum and (b) Black Box (Water for Nature).

Further Results. The initial watering guidelines reported in the original EMR feature have been expanded through research and monitoring of responses to watering events, developing guidelines for timing and frequency of wetting and drying cycles to promote recovery in mature trees and support germination and survival of seedlings. These have been applied for each site in the rolling 5-year watering plans, which then determine the annual list of sites due for watering (see NFSA 5 year strategy and Fig. 3).

Watering by NFSA 2013-2019 has sustained Black Box seedlings and saplings through four dry summers, with watered plants 2-3 times taller than non-watered plants (Fig. 4). The Water For Nature monitoring report shows that, at NFSA sites, mature Black Box trees that have received periodic environmental water as determined by their 5-year watering plan during 2015-2019 were 21-46% (average 36%) better in health than adjacent non-watered sites, with denser, more vigorous canopies and the relative improvement was greatest during hotter and drier periods. The watering events thus provided water between natural floods to sustain growth in saplings and crop cycles in mature trees. Watering at other NFSA sites has provided vital habitat for vulnerable and endangered fauna including the Murray Hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis), Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis), Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus) and Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii).

Figure 4. Watered River Red Gum saplings at Thiele Flat, Loxton; November 2013 (top) and March 2018 (bottom). Note 2016 flood level mark on foreground trees (Photos A. Jensen)Lessons learned and future directions.

The significant benefits of environmental water have been demonstrated at NFSA’s Water For Nature sites, for floodplain vegetation communities and in temporary wetlands. Evolving research indicates that watering in late spring-early summer mimics peak flows in the natural water regime, coinciding with highest chances of breeding and germination events and thus ecologically ideal timing (See bibliography). Benefits are increased if seasonally filled wetlands are topped up in early summer, to ensure sufficient duration to sustain frog and waterbird breeding.

As well as ideal timing, studies have shown that watering at any time of the year can be beneficial, including enhancing soil moisture storage in the unsaturated zone and sustaining volume in bud and fruit crops. A key finding has been that watering in late autumn-early winter sustains soil moisture, priming sites to give an enhanced response to watering in the following spring-summer.

However, dry climatic conditions and political pressures to minimise water recovery volumes are combining to reduce availability of environmental water, with only very highest priority sites likely to receive water in the 2019-20 water year. Environmental water cannot create floods, it can only provide water to selected priority sites during dry times and enhance the benefits of any natural floods. Current volumes can only meet the requirements of a limited number of sites, leaving many sites without the water needed to sustain them through dry times or to recover from the severe impact of the Millenium drought.

Bureaucratic processes for approvals also hinder effective delivery of environmental water. With the water year coinciding with the financial year from July to June, water delivery stops in June to allow water accounts to be finalised. Approval to water in the following year can take 2-3 months, meaning no water can be delivered during the winter months for priming, missing the advantage of low evaporation rates and higher chances of piggy-backing on rainfall events.

Funding for environmental projects tends to be short term, leading to job insecurity for project managers, loss of continuity and project knowledge, and inability to complete watering sequences. Very significant volunteer resources are required to make these watering projects happen, including inputs from landholders who have donated electricity connections to the floodplain, transported diesel to re-fuel pumps, loaned pumps, tractors and irrigation equipment, plus use of irrigation and local government infrastructure to deliver water, and physical assistance and maintenance from local volunteer groups.

Practical on-ground watering knowledge is maturing well; what is needed now is sufficient water and ongoing consistent funding to support projects to deliver minimum environmental water requirements for the wetlands of the Lower Murray Valley. The pipes at Tortoise Crossing, installed in 2000 and only flooded twice, are more than ready for the next high flows to pour through!

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. The monitoring project was supported as part of the project Ecological Responses to Environmental Watering in the South Australian River Murray Valley, assessing the benefits of salinity interception schemes on floodplain vegetation, coordinated by Australian Water Environments for SA Water from March 2015 to June 2017. Continuing funding for monitoring in 2017-2019 was provided in a grant from the Ian Potter Foundation to Nature Foundation SA, as well as funding from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (2018-19). Water for the environmental watering projects studied here was provided through annual allocations of water from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to Nature Foundation SA.  Water delivery was managed by the NFSA Water For Nature program through Program Manager Natalie Stalenberg. Practical support and site access was provided by Steve Clark, landholder and committee member for Water for Nature program, and landholders John and Bronwyn Burford.

Contact. Dr Anne Jensen, Environmental Consultant; Volunteer member, Water for Nature Committee, Nature Foundation SA; part-time consultant Wetland Ecologist for Water for Nature Program of Nature Foundation SA (7 Ford Street, Maylands SA 5069, Australia; Tel: +61 407 170 706; Email: ajensen@internode.on.net

More than just a Long Paddock: Fostering native vegetation recovery in Riverina Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves – UPDATE of EMR feature

Ian Davidson

[Update of EMR feature – Davidson, Ian and Peter O’Shannassy (2017) More than just a Long Paddock: Fostering native vegetation recovery in Riverina Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves. Ecological Management & Restoration, 18:1, 4-14.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12247]

Roger Harris with direct seeded shrubs –  Rand TSR. (Photo Ian Davidson)

Introduction.  As described in our 2017 EMR feature, the Enriching biodiversity in the NSW Riverina project was a five-year project funded by the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming initiative and managed by Murray Local Land Services (LLS). The project aimed to maintain the condition of the highest quality TSRs and improve the condition of 10% of all other TSRs, some of which had been receiving degrees of grazing management for many decades to optimize resilient native pastures (Refer to our earlier 2005, EMR feature). Given the NSW Riverina TSR network contains over 600 reserves, a sample was first selected for inspection to identify reserves with the potential for further active management. This led to the implementation of recommended land management and works on 109 reserves covering 13,558 ha and the subsequent monitoring of those reserves. Results indicated that, of these reserves, 70 had improved in vegetation condition by 2017. This project proved that large scale protection and improvement of TSR condition was possible using existing staff and provided valuable lessons that could be applied elsewhere across the state.

Table 1 Summary of key lessons learnt from the project and recommendations for effective TSR management

Human resources ·       Use existing knowledge where available

·       Maintain continuity of leadership

Assessment and

monitoring

·       Establish broadly applicable and consistent assessment and monitoring criteria

·       Use methods which are easily understood

·       Consider seasonal effects on the timing of surveys

·       Recommended actions should be appropriate for the site condition

Project Scale ·       Larger project areas and longer project timelines increase the rate of success

·       Regular monitoring avoids major problems

Revegetation ·       Seed banks are vital to achieving large scale revegetation

·       Multiple species should be used in direct seeding

·       Exotic grasses should be controlled prior to direct seeding

·       Native species can assist in spreading shrubs over time

Land Management ·       Controlling herbivores is critical during early growth stages

·       Grazing indicators/surrogates are useful

·       Stock type impacts grazing style

·       Cattle can graze areas with shrub seedling germination under certain conditions

·       Fencing and water points offer flexibility in managing stock for regeneration

·       Noisy Miners reduce small woodland bird numbers and they are difficult to control

Unplanned Impacts ·       Human intervention in unpredictable Natural events can lead to major changes in land management focus

Stuart Watson monitoring vegetation at Narrow Plains TSR. (Photo Ian Davidson)

Subsequent developments. Since the publication of our 2017 feature ‘More than just a Long Paddock: Fostering native vegetation recovery in Riverina Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves’ the following five key developments regarding nature conservation on TSRs in NSW have occurred.

  1. Developing and applying a simple field based consistent method for assessing and monitoring vegetation condition across the TSR network – A new rapid assessment and monitoring method was developed and trialed in this project for use by land managers with limited botanical and scientific skills and limited time. This field-based method known as Rapid Conservation Assessment Method (RAM) proved useful and has the potential for broader adoption across NSW. For detailed information refer to https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/livestock/stock-routes/conservation-of-tsrs
  2. Categorizing the conservation status using an agreed method of TSRs across NSW – Using the RAM to complete assessments and collating all previously assessed TSR reports, LLS developed a consistent statewide map of the conservation status for the 534,000ha under their control (refer to https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/livestock/stock-routes/conservation-of-tsr). This enabled LLS, the statewide land manager, to better understand the overall vegetation condition, extent and distribution of their TSR assets from a nature conservation perspective.
  3. Developing a Best environmental management practice (BeMP) Toolkit for TSRs to ensure good long-term conservation objectives – Key knowledge learnt from the Riverina project, LLS ranger’s knowledge and experience and existing literature influenced the development of the NSW Travelling Stock Reserves State Planning Framework 2016–21 (the Framework), which provides the framework for managing TSRs for conservation. A Best Environmental Management Practice (BeMP) toolkit was also prepared from this collation of knowledge to assist LLS deliver land management outcomes (including grazing, apiary, native seed collection, emergency response/refuge for livestock, threatened ecological communities and species, revegetation on TSRs, weed control, pest animal control, soil disturbance and drainage changes) consistent with the Framework. The BeMP is currently in draft form.
  4. Developing a statewide plan of management (PoM) for TSRs to ensure consistency across administrative boundaries – The NSW government is finalizing the details of a PoM which provides LLS staff, TSR stakeholders, investors, partners and customers with our shared vision and common mission. It sets out agreed strategies, approaches, principles and quality system to better manage the reserves. This PoM aims to improve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes while maintaining grazing as an important economic use and conservation tool. Importantly this plan establishes the need for shared responsibility and collaborative funding. For more information refer to https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/839930/NOV-TSR-PoM-MOedits-1.pdf
  5. Attracting significant investment to assist with protection and maintenance of TSR environmental values – LLS the managers of NSW TSRs receive no recurrent funding from government for the environmental management of the TSR estate and therefore have been dependent upon the proceeds from permits and leases e.g. grazing and annual grants e.g. weed and pest animal control to maintain the condition of TSRs. Now however, based on the PoM and guided by environmental management and works consistent with best environmental management practice, the LLS is negotiating with a government investor to fund agreed long term maintenance and enhancement of selected high and moderate conservation value TSRs.

Peter O’Shannassy with direct seeded shrubs on Snake Island TSR. (Photo Ian Davidson)

Lessons learned. Together, the five developments above show how the large-scale restoration project reported in 2017 has been further developed as a model for TSR protection and restoration across NSW, enabling buy-in by LLS to better manage these invaluable natural resource assets across NSW.

Acknowledgements. LLS staff Peter O’Shannassy steered most aspects of the project from its inception, whilst Stuart Watson and Roger Harris managed most of the on-ground management and works and lately Gary Rodda the Murray General Manager who has overseen the statewide development of the PoM. Lastly, I dedicate my TSR work to my great mate Rick Webster who was lost to us recently and with whom I shared a deep, long standing curiosity and love of these special areas.

Contact.  Ian Davidson (for technical matters) ian@regenerationsolutions.com.au  or  Peter O’Shannassy  (for land management and operational matters) peter.o’shannassy@lls.nsw.gov.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is revegetation in the Sheep Pen Creek area, Victoria, improving Grey-crowned Babbler habitat? – UPDATE of EMR feature

Doug Robinson

[Update of EMR feature Robinson, Doug (2006) Is revegetation in the Sheep Pen Creek area, Victoria, improving Grey‐crowned Babbler habitat?  Ecological Management & Restoration, 7:2, 93-104.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2006.00263.x]

Key words: (<5 words): Monitoring, restoration, population ecology, woodland conservation

Figure 1. Location of babbler project works and other landcare works implemented since 1996 in the Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area and the two sub-districts used for the babbler study. (Source TFNVic)

Introduction: The Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis) (babbler) is a threatened woodland bird (classified as Endangered in the state of Victoria) that has declined substantially in overall distribution and abundance across much of its former range in southeastern Australia since European settlement.  Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area, in northern Victoria (Fig 1), was fortuitously the location of the largest known remaining babbler population in Victoria in the early 1990s (when this project began); and the focus of extensive land restoration programs from the 1980s onwards to help mitigate the impacts of erosion and dryland salinity, as well as biodiversity decline.  The original study, published in 2006, investigated the overall changes in tree cover across the district between 1971 and 1996 as a result of different land-management actions and responses of local babbler populations to those habitat changes.  The key finding was that in the Koonda sub-district which had a 5% overall increase in tree cover to 14% from 1971 to 2001, showed an increase in babbler numbers by about 30% (Table 1).   In the Tamleugh sub-district, tree cover increased by 1.3% to a total of 9%, with no change in babbler numbers.  The findings also showed that new babbler groups were preferentially colonizing new patches of vegetation established that suited their habitat needs.  Building on this research, the study concluded that future conservation programs needed to scale-up the extent of habitat restoration, target areas which were suitable for babbler colonization, and tailor incentive programs to assist with conservation of particular species.

Table 1. Changes in Grey-crowned Babbler numbers over time

Year Koonda Tamleugh
number of groups number of birds number of groups number of birds
1992 20 78 11 39
1993 20 89 10 34
1996 24 96 9 35
1997 24 102 8 30
1998 25 99 10 40
2000 26 97 10 43
2005 23 99 8 34

Further revegetation works undertaken. Since the initial study’s assessment of vegetation changes between 1971 and 1996, an additional 133 ha of vegetation has been restored or established as babbler habitat in Koonda district and 37 ha in the Tamleugh district (Figs 2 and 3, Table 2).  Extensive natural regeneration, supplemented by broadscale revegetation, has also occurred over more than 350 ha on five private conservation properties in the Koonda district,, contributing to substantial landscape change.  The wider landscape has also been identified as a statewide priority for nature conservation on private land, leading to increased conservation investment in permanent protection there by Victoria’s lead covenanting body – Trust for Nature.

Monitoring of outcomes: The monitoring that was carried out prior to the 2006 publication has not continued, leaving a knowledge gap as to how the population has fared in the context of the Millenium Drought and ongoing climate-change impacts. However, based on the original research’s initial findings, we conducted an experimental study with University of Melbourne to evaluate the effectiveness of habitat restoration in maintaining babbler survival. The study, published by Vesk and colleagues in 2015, compared the persistence and group size of babbler groups present in 1995 and subsequently in 2008 at a randomly selected set of stratified sites which had either had habitat works or none.  This study was conducted across a larger landscape of about 200,000 hectares which included Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area.  The study found that babbler group size decreased by about 15% over the 13 years at sites without restoration works.   At sites with restoration, average group size increased by about 22%, thereby effectively compensating for the overall reduction in numbers reported over that time.This increase also influenced subsequent demographic performance, with groups at restoration sites having higher breeding success and more fledglings than groups at control sites.

Another useful finding from this experimental study was the confirmation of the importance of particular habitat and landscape variables on babbler persistence.  In particular, abundance of large trees was a positive predictor of occupancy over time; and distance from the next nearest group was a negative predictor.

Figure 2. Changes in tree cover in the Koonda sub-district between 1971 (top),  and 2018 (bottom). (Source TFNVic).. (Source TFNVic)

Figure 3. Changes in tree cover in the Tamleugh sub-district between 1971 (top) and 2018 (bottom). (Source TFNVic)

Table 2.  Summary of additional habitat established or restored as part of the Sheep Pen Creek Grey-crowned Babbler project from 1996-2018, following the initial study period from 1971-1996.

District Number of sites Area (ha)
Koonda 62 133
Tamleugh 28   37
Other parts of landcare group and local babbler population area 29 103
Totals 119 273

Expansion of lessons to other districts: Building on the fundamental research conducted in Sheep Pen Creek Land Management Group area, similar habitat, landscape and babbler population assessments were subsequently undertaken in northwest Victoria near Kerang for the babbler populations found there.  Key results from these studies relevant to the initial Sheep Pen study were that the number of babbler groups in each sampled district was positively related to the proportion of woodland cover, especially the proportion of Black Box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) woodland habitat – the babblers’ preferred habitat in this region.  Conversely, the number of babbler groups was negatively associated with the proportion of land under intensive agriculture.  At the site scale, key positive predictors of babbler presence in Black Box habitat again included the abundance of large trees (> 60 cm dbh)

Lessons learned and future directions: The most valuable lesson learned since the initial paper was published was the power of the structured research project described above to evaluate the effectiveness of the babbler conservation program and inform future design and planning. The study further demonstrated the importance of taking a demographic approach to the species’ conservation needs, understanding what is happening across the whole population over time  and how habitat interventions can assist.  These lessons have since been applied usefully to other babbler projects  and more broadly to conservation of woodland birds.

The initial paper noted the importance of achieving landscape-scale change in vegetation extent, particularly in more fertile habitats. This has occurred to some extent within the Koonda district through a range of incentive programs, tender programs, covenanting programs and land purchase, but continues to achieve most gains on more infertile land. On fertile land, by contrast, there has been rapid land-use change to cropping over the past fifteen years, leading to reduced likelihood of those properties providing suitable habitat for babblers, as found in the study conducted in northwest Victoria.

The initial paper also suggested the benefit of developing tailored incentive programs for babblers and other threatened species with particular requirements to maximize potential conservation gains  and we suggest, based on Australian and overseas experiences,  that more specific incentive programs or more detailed criteria could assist.

Another important lesson learned was the difficulty in maintaining community-driven citizen-science monitoring, even with the best will in the world, without some over-arching organizational support and oversight.  We know that community monitoring for biodiversity conservation needs scientific input at the design and analysis stages; hence additional resources may also be required in terms of equipment or guidelines to help groups monitor effectively.  Modest government investments to conservation organisations with established biodiversity monitoring programs could usefully help address this issue.

Finally, the learnings from the Sheep Pen Creek Land Management babbler conservation project over nearly thirty years are that the landscape changes and that these changes are not always positive.  Land-use change is placing more pressure on  potential babbler habitat; and the eucalypt regrowth which was established and provided new nesting resources for a few years is now too tall to provide nesting habitat, but too dense and immature to provide suitable foraging habitat for another one hundred years.  Climate change is rapidly imposing constraints on the availability of food resources and breeding opportunities, exacerbated by increased competition for the same limited resources by exotic and native species.  For the Grey-crowned Babbler, the solution to all of these factors depends on ongoing commitment to the establishment or maintenance of their essential habitat needs and life-history requirements so that their life-cycle is provisioned for from generation to generation.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   Most of the targeted habitat works achieved for babblers in this landscape has occurred through funding support from the Australian government through its Natural Heritage Trust and Caring for our Country programs.  Broader habitat protection and restoration has occurred primarily with funding support to landholders from the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (GBCMA).  The Norman Wettenhall Foundation, along with GBCMA, was instrumental in enabling the research by University of Melbourne, which was also aided by the extensive voluntary support of Friends of the Grey-crowned Babbler.  Not least, local landholders continued to support the project and continue to protect or restore parts of their properties to assist with babbler conservation.

Contact information: [Doug Robinson, Trust for Nature, 5/379 Collins Street Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia.  dougr@tfn.org.au, (03) 86315800 or 0408512441; and  School of Life Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.

 

 

 

 

The biodiversity benefits of Greening Australia’s Saltshaker Project, Boorowa, NSW – UPDATE of EMR feature

David Freudenberger, Graeme Fifield, Nicki Taws, Angela Cailiss and Lori Gould

[Update of EMR feature – Freudenberger, David, Judith Harvey and Alex Drew (2004) Predicting the biodiversity benefits of the Saltshaker Project, Boorowa, NSW. Ecological Management & Restoration, 5:1, 5-14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2004.00176.x]

Key words: woodland restoration, monitoring, farmland rehabilitation, community engagement

Figure 1. Boorowa River Recovery project sites, south eastern NSW.

Introduction

The Boorowa catchment in central NSW, like most of the wheat-sheep belt of eastern Australia, has been extensively cleared for agriculture.  Remnant woodland cover is less than 10% and highly fragmented into small patches, often less than 20 ha. As described in the 2004 article, there has been a documented decline in biodiversity across this region linked to declines in landscape function including dryland salinity and eucalypt dieback. In response to these declines, farmers in this catchment have been involved in land rehabilitation projects for over 25 years.  Many of these projects have been facilitated by Greening Australia, a national non-governmental organisation focused on protecting and restoring native vegetation.  Pioneering projects in the 1990s were often small in scale and lacked landscape scale targets.  To address this, Greening Australia collaborated with CSIRO to develop guidelines for catchment scale “enhancement activities” for the $1.8 Million “Saltshaker Project” that carried out ground works as described in Box 1 of the 2004 article (reproduced below). The project was based on a $845,000 grant from the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust program and $1 Million in in-kind support from farmers, the Boorowa Shire, Boorowa Landcare and Greening Australia. This project ran for just two years (2000-2002), but it was hoped that the project would provide strategic guidance for decades to come.  This appears to be the case.

 Box 1. Priority ‘enhancement activities
1. Protect existing remnant vegetation by fencing out domestic livestock with a priority to protect 10 ha or larger remnants in the best condition (complex understorey).
2. Establish native understorey plants in those protected remnants requiring enhancement of habitat complexity.
3. Enlarge existing remnants to at least 10 ha.
4. Create linkages between fenced remnants and other protected remnants. Linkages should be at least 25 m wide, or 10 ha stepping-stones, particularly in those areas more than 1.5 km from other patches 10 ha in size.
5. Fencing and revegetation of at least 50 m wide along creeks and flow lines.
6. In recharge areas, revegetate in 2-ha blocks, or greater than eight row strips to intercept deep soil water moving down-slope.
7. Revegetate areas mapped as having a high risk of dryland salinity.
8. Block plantings in discharge areas with links to other saline reclamation works.

(Box reproduced with permission from the original feature]

During the Saltshaker project, bird surveys were conducted within 54 discrete patches of remnant woodland.  Bird species were identified that were particularly sensitive to loss of habitat area, simplification of habitat structure, and increase in habitat isolation. The Eastern Yellow Robin was the focal species for this catchment. It generally occurred in woodland patches larger than 10 ha that were no more than 1.5 km from other patches at least 10 ha in size, and had at least a moderate structural complexity made up of a healthy overstorey of eucalypts with an understorey of regenerating trees, shrubs, tussock grasses and fallen timber. The Saltshaker project predicted that many other woodland birds would co-occur if the habitat requirements of the Eastern Yellow Robin were met by patch and landscape scale enhancement activities.

Further works. The Saltshaker project was followed by many others since 2002. The largest project was “Boorowa River Recovery” that began in 2005 as a partnership managed by Greening Australia with the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority and the Boorowa Landcare Group.  Through a total investment of almost $2.2 million (in-kind included), this project rehabilitated or protected 640 ha of riparian area along 80 km of river including a continuous 29 km stretch of the Boorowa River above the town water supply dam (Figs 1 and 2). It involved more than 60 land managers who implemented on-ground works described in individual ten year management contracts. On-farm project size averaged 11.6 ha.

Other projects funded by a diversity of sources, particularly the Australian Government, have protected an additional 88 ha of woodland remnant, enhanced 353 ha of remnants, and revegetated 425 ha of native vegetation within the catchment.  Projects included Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR).  All project activities linked to funding have been recorded in a detailed project management database held by Greening Australia. These additional projects were consistent with the enhancement activities recommended by the Saltshaker Project and described in the EMR feature.

Figure 2 (a) Before and (b) after willow removal in the Boorowa River Catchment. After willow removal, all sites were planted to a diversity of trees and shrubs.

Outcomes. There has been no comprehensive follow-up to the 2001 bird surveys across the Boorowa Catchment.  However since then, there is now a large and comprehensive scientific literature demonstrating dramatic increases in woodland birds in the revegetation areas in this region of southeastern NSW (reviewed in 2018). Most all the conservation and restoration activities in this catchment have likely led to an increase in woodland birds over the past 20 years.

Of all the Boorowa projects, the Boorowa River Recovery projects had sufficient funding for monitoring outcomes six years after project activities commenced. A sub-sample of 20 sites out of a pool of 47 were monitored for improvements in vegetation cover and density, macroinvertebrate abundance and stream bank stability. Planted shrub cover generally doubled at all sites as expected. Macroinvertebrate scores did not differ between treated and control sites, though activities did appear to improve stream bank stability (an indirect measure of reduced erosion).  Subsequent monitoring 12 years on showed further improvements in ecosystem function.

Since the Saltshaker Project finished, there has been no systematic monitoring of the hundreds of woodland remnants protected and enhanced by this project and subsequent ones.  However, landholders and staff anecdotally report indicative improvements in vegetation cover and wildlife habitat on the sites, and we can infer from a 2008 study that included woodland sites in the Boorowa Catchment, that significant ecological improvements are likely from fencing out livestock from woodland patches. This study found improvements included greater native floristic richness, native groundcover and overstorey regeneration within fenced sites compared to unfenced sites. Similarly, a 2009 study found that woodland sites in south eastern Australia, with livestock grazing removed, had a greater abundance of beetles and the opportunist ant functional group, a faster rate of litter decomposition, greater native plant richness, greater length of logs, and a better vegetation condition score.

Lessons learned. Long-term action with short-term funding. Natural resource management projects have been ongoing in the Boorowa catchment for over 25 years. But no single project has been funded for more than five years. This is the reality of natural resource management (NRM) in much of Australia.  Government NRM programs come and go with election cycles, but fortunately the commitment of landholders and local organisations persists.

Partnership model. All the projects before and after the Saltshaker Project have involved landholders working collaboratively with local agencies administering the diversity of funding. Most projects had a steering committee that proved a good way for stakeholders to have input through all stages of project, which was particularly important during project planning. Idealism needed to be balanced with practicality so bureaucracy was minimised while maintaining accountability. Good communication that recognised that no single view was more valuable than another was important, although full consensus was not always possible. Trust was enabled when processes were developed collectively. Skilled coordinators needed a clear understanding of their roles and care taken to not get involved in local politics.

Assessing outcomes. Developing a highly predictive understanding of ecological outcomes from NRM activities in catchments like Boorowa is a scientifically complex, expensive and long-term process. The confidence we can now claim for an increase in abundance and diversity of woodland birds in the Boorowa catchment stems from two types of monitoring. First is project monitoring of outputs like the 425 ha of revegetation known to have been established in the catchment. We know this from Greening Australia’s project management database (unfortunately there is no national database for this kind of outputs),  although satellite imagery should be able to pick up this output once plantings have a dense enough canopy. It is essential to know when and where project outputs like revegetation have occurred in order to then design scientifically rigorous studies to research ecological outcomes like increases in flora and fauna diversity and abundance. We have confidence that wildlife is colonising revegetation because research groups have conducted sophisticated statistical analyses of wildlife data from woodland revegetation in nearly 200 sites across south eastern Australia for over 15 years (summarised in a 2018 study).

Gaps in understanding. We know a lot about the ecological and social outcomes of NRM activities, but much less about improving the cost effectiveness of outputs such as revegetation and understory enhancements(see 2016 review). There are no recent published benchmarks on how much revegetation should cost in the face of variable climatic conditions, soil types and terrain.  More revegetation case studies need to be documented, but they need to include an accounting of costs.  The Australian restoration challenge is vast, funding always limited, so practical research and transparent accounting is sorely needed to reduce the cost of ecologically effective restoration.

Continuous re-learning. The many and diverse projects in the Boorowa Catchment are typical of NRM activities in Australian woodlands over the past 25 years. Each project has involved different agencies, many no longer exist or have changed their names (e.g. Catchment Management Authorities have morphed into Local Land Services in NSW). Each agency, including NGOs like Greening Australia, have a natural turn-over of staff. For example, only one staff member of Greening Australia involved in Saltshaker remains with the organisation.  Landholders tend to remain longer, but they too retire, sell out, and move on. Like education, every new staff member and every new landholder needs to learn the complex processes of successful catchment repair. This learning needs to be hands-on, hence funding for NRM activities and extension is needed in perpetuity (just like education). But experiential learning needs to be complemented with a diversity of learning resources such as the EMR journal, easily assessable reports (too many have disappeared from Government websites) and new media such as YouTube videos. Most importantly, communities of practice need to be perennially nurtured by a diversity of practitioners, experienced and less so.  There is much still to be learned and shared.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   The primary funding bodies for projects in the Boorowa catchment were the Australian Government, TransGrid, Alcoa Australia, the NSW Environmental Trust, and the former Lachlan Catchment Management Authority. These external funds were complemented by a diversity of in-kind support provided by farmers, Boorowa Shire Council, and other community members of the catchment.

Contact details. David Freudenberger, Fenner School of Environment and Society (Australian National University, Canberra, 0200, Australia, Email: david.freudenberger@anu.edu.au). GF, NT and AC can be contacted at Greening Australia, Kubura Pl, Aranda ACT 2614, Australia; and LG at GrassRoots Environmental, Canberra (http://www.grassrootsenviro.com/)

 

 

Ecological Restoration of Donaghys Corridor, Gadgarra, north Queensland – UPDATE of EMR feature

Nigel Tucker

[Update of EMR feature – Tucker, Nigel I. J. and Tania Simmons (209) Restoring a rainforest habitat linkage in north Queensland: Donaghy’s Corridor, Ecological Management & Restoration, 10:2, 98-112, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2009.00471.x%5D

Keywords: Rainforest, corridor, regeneration, disturbance effects

Introduction. Complex notophyll vine forests of the Atherton Tablelands, particularly from basalt derived soils, have been significantly fragmented and degraded by human settlement over a 100yr period. Fragment isolation results in edge effects, exotic species colonisation, loss of genetic variability and species decline. During high rainfall events, eroding streambanks on farms mobilise sediments to the receiving environment of the Great Barrier Reef. Re-connecting isolated fragments to larger forest blocks through restored riparian corridors aims to reverse these effects through adaptive management. The restoration of Donaghys Corridor is an example of adaptive management, and its establishment was a key factor in the adoption of other local corridor projects.

As reported in the 2009 features, around 20,000 plants of selected local species were established in four yearly plantings (1995/96/97/98) along Toohey Creek, creating a continuous habitat corridor between the isolated Lake Barrine fragment (500ha) and the adjacent Gadgarra section of Wooroonooran N.P (80,000ha), both being part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The corridor is 1,200m in length and 100m wide, with three rows of Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamiana) planted either side of the fenced corridor, which was established on lands largely owned by the Donaghy family. On completion, the corridor was secured through the Queensland Government’s declaration of Donaghys Corridor Nature Refuge, the State’s first Nature Refuge proclaimed over an ecologically restored site.

Ongoing recovery. In 2000, a vegetation survey of 3m x 5m plots in 12 permanent transects throughout the corridor showed regeneration had occurred upon canopy closure (Tucker and Simmons 2009).  Between 1995 and 1998, 119 native species had regenerated within the transects, mainly through vertebrate-mediated dispersal. The most recent (ongoing) survey, ca.20yrs after planting, indicates that regeneration has continued, and the majority of regenerating species are again vertebrate dispersed. There has also been a measurable increase in vegetation structural complexity, and a variety of life forms are present including ferns, orchids, vines, scramblers and canopy trees.

Restored vegetation in 2000 was characterised by vegetation of even age and size classes and only a developing canopy was present (no sub-canopy). Recruitment was limited to the ground storey. Over 20yrs, total numbers of recruiting species have increased, along with canopy height, and the sub-canopy is now a distinguishable and measurable feature. To illustrate this change, species diversity and structure in two typical transects from the oldest (1995) and youngest (1998) plantings are shown in the table below. Figures are from the most recent survey (2019) and the bracketed numbers indicate comparative values in 2000.

Canopy

height

Sub-canopy

Height

Number of species Average number of species/plot Average number of species/plot – sub-canopy Average number of species/plot – ground storey
1995 19.9 (5) 7.5 (0) 84 (53) 22.6 (12.5) 8.3 13.8
1998 14.4 (2.5) 7.3 (0) 63 (15) 14.2 (1.6) 2.2 15.8

There has also been a significant difference in the distribution of regenerating vegetation. In 2000, regeneration was negatively correlated with edge, being concentrated in the central portion of each transect. Greater structural complexity and increased shading have significantly reduced the edge effect and regeneration is now distributed equally across the entire width of the corridor. This edge-effect reduction may partially result from the three Hoop Pine rows, now ca.15m tall, planted on each side of the corridor.

Figure 1.  Part of the 18m x 250m fence crossing Donaghys Corridor

Natural and man-made disturbance. Since establishment there has been both natural and anthropogenic disturbance. Occasional incursions by cattle have occurred, entering via fences sometimes damaged by branches falling from maturing corridor vegetation. In small areas incursions have visibly damaged regeneration but surveys show this has not significantly affected regeneration. Feral pig disturbance has also occurred but does not appear to have affected regeneration.

In 2006, corridor vegetation was damaged by severe tropical Cyclone Larry. Most stems lost crowns and some waters’ edge stems were permanently bent by floodwaters, but vegetation recovery was rapid and no weed invasion occurred. This infers a measure of resilience by restored vegetation to disturbance, and the distribution of regeneration described above supports this inference.

Anthropogenic disturbance has been more interventionist and not aligned to the original concept adopted by government, landholders, scientists and the community when the project commenced in 1995.  In 2017, the corridor’s upstream neighbour, with support from the DES but without consultation with the Donaghy family or other affected landholders, erected a chain mesh fence 250m long and 1.8m high across the western end of the corridor (see Figure 1). This is part of a larger fence which completely encloses mature forest at the western end of the corridor, including corrugated iron placed across the bed of Toohey Creek. Enquiries revealed the fence is part of an enclosure for a Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) rehabilitation facility, operated by Rainforest Reserves Australia (RRA) under a commercial arrangement with the Queensland Government.

Enhancing landscape permeability was the key reason for undertaking the Donaghys Corridor project, and the endangered Cassowary was a key target species; 53 Cassowary food plants were included in the original planting matrix of 100 species to encourage corridor utilisation. The Queensland Government notes that corridors are a key strategy in Cassowary conservation. In addition to blocking the movement of terrestrial vertebrates such as Cassowaries, Pademelon (Thylogale stigmatica) and Musky Rat Kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus), construction of the enclosure has inadvertently fenced in a number of animals whose territories included part of the enclosure.

DES has advised that the fence is temporary and will be removed when restoration plantings on RRA lands are ‘sufficiently well-developed’ to support Cassowaries being rehabilitated.  It is unknown, however, when or through what processes this removal will occur. Resolution of the issue is anticipated.  However, such actions highlight the pitfalls associated with single-species conservation, and potential conflicts that might arise when responsibility for management of endangered species moves from the State to the non-scientific, commercially-focused private sector. Whilst iconic wildlife e.g., the Cassowary, can be effective in harnessing community and landholder participation in restoration, here it is clear that decision making and communication has been far from optimal, which may well lead to landholder and community disillusionment. In this case, the fence has also disrupted ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Planned re-survey of terrestrial vertebrate colonisation and movement has now been cancelled, given the unknown effect of the fence on wildlife passage and the behaviour of animals inadvertently trapped within the enclosure.

Lessons learned.  The project shows that sustained regeneration of native species can be achieved in restored tropical vegetation, along with increased structural complexity and functional resilience to natural disturbance.  However, the fencing incident shows that dysfunction in a restoration project can arise from totally unanticipated causes, potentially undoing well-established partnerships between government, community, scientists and landholders.

Contact.  Nigel Tucker, Director & Principal Environmental Scientist, Biotropica.  PO Box 866 Malanda QLD 4885 ; Email: nigeltucker@biotropica.com.au; Tel: +61 7 4095 1116.

 

 

 

Restoring the banks of the Namoi on Kilmarnock – UPDATE of EMR feature

Robyn R. Watson

[Update of EMR feature – Watson R. (2009) Restoring the banks of the Namoi on ‘Kilmarnock’: Success arising from persistence. Ecological Management & Restoration,  10: 1 pp 10-19 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2009.00434.x]

Figure 1. Casuarina (Casuarina cunninghamiana), River Red Gum and a range of grasses established on river bank at Kilmarnock after restoration works. (Photo R. Watson)

Riverbank restoration began on Kilmarnock in early 1990 with fencing the river area and planting native trees, shrubs and grasses. A program of killing the weeping willows resulted in their elimination by 2000. Tree lines were planted to connect the river corridor to natural conservation areas around the farm and this has resulted in a gradual increase in native wildlife leading to great environmental benefits both for the farm and surrounding areas.

Prior to the works the riparian zones on Kilmarnock had degraded to the extent that the banks were slumping during floods, with loss of old trees. This had arisen from decades of clearing, grazing and weed invasion.  Since 2009 we can report that the fenced-off river corridor has continued to recover with native grasses  beneath the trees, particularly Phragmites (Phragmites australis)  and Vetiver Grass (Chrysopogon zizaniodes) which are growing well on the steep river banks (Fig 1).  As the trees in the riparian corridor grew, additional tree lines were planted throughout the farm to connect the riparian zone to retained native vegetation areas and other set-aside conservation areas. This has led to an increase in native birds, micro bats and beneficial insect numbers.

Wildlife have returned to the area, including Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos) and  Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) nesting in the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) trees one year. Flocks of Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) and Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)  have been observed in the trees along the riparian zones.  Pink Eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus), Musk Duck (Biziura lobata)(, Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) and Brolga (Antigone rubicunda) visited wetland areas on the farm. There has been a noticeable increase in the small birds such as three different wrens including Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) and Variegated Fairy-wren (Malurus lamberti) and Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae).

The planted irrigated cotton crop was not sprayed with insecticide for 12 years after the increase in beneficial insect and bird numbers. Nest boxes have been installed in the conservation areas for the micro bats.  Fourteen species of insectivorous micro bats have been recorded on the farm since the rehabilitation work began. Stubble quail (Coturnix pectoralis) have been nesting in the conservation areas.

Figure 2. Log groins with planted native trees established on steep river bend near Boggabri through the Namoi Demonstration Reach Project (2007-14) coordinated by the NSW Dept of Primary Industries. (Photo R. Watson)

Further works undertaken nearby.  After seeing the improvement on our farm some adjoining landholders have begun fencing off their river areas and introducing rehabilitation measures on their farms. In one outstanding collective example, 120 kilometres of the Namoi Demonstration Reach Project was established by the NSW Dept of Primary Industries both upstream and downstream of Kilmarnock, from 2007 to 2014.  This This involved contractors, working with permission of a number of landholders, planting over eight thousand trees and shrubs along the river and constructing log groins at a badly eroding river bend near the Boggabri township.  These groins have worked well and have withstood a couple of small floods.  The trees planted on the steep banks have also established well (Fig. 2).


Figure 3. – Planted Phragmites saved the river bank from bush fire in 2017. (Photo R. Watson)

A major bushfire in 2017 spread across the river to the top of the banks on the Kilmarnock side of the river.  Because of the planted Phragmites on the river edge there was no damage done to the toe of the river bank (Fig 3) and we were able to bulldoze firebreaks to protect  the planted trees affected from the fire.)  However, a number of the old River Red Gums were badly burnt. Many of the very old hollow trees were killed by the fire but less hollow ones have begun to grow again, although this growth has been slowed by the present drought.

With the 2019 drought conditions the Namoi River has dried out, exposing the river bed.  This has given me a chance to observe the river bed.  I have been able to photograph and document the debris on the sand banks and the remaining water holes and show that there are now substantial amounts of hollow logs and debris (Fig. 4)  which can  provide good habitat for fish and water creatures when the stream is flowing.

Our family has purchased more land downstream on the Namoi River and we have implemented rehabilitation on the river banks, tree planting and conservation measures on those farms.

Contact.  Robyn Watson, Kilmarnock, Boggabri, NSW 2382, Australia; Tel: 02 67434576 Email: wjwatson@northnet.com.au

Figure 4. Hollow log and debris on riverbed provide fish habitat when river is flowing. (Photo R. Watson)

 

Developments in Big Scrub Rainforest Restoration: UPDATE of EMR feature

Tony Parkes, Mark Dunphy, Georgina Jones and Shannon Greenfields

[Update of EMR feature article: Parkes, Tony, Mike Delaney, Mark Dunphy, Ralph Woodford, Hank Bower, Sue Bower, Darren Bailey, Rosemary Joseph, John Nagle, Tim Roberts, Stephanie Lymburner, Jen Ford and Tein McDonald (2012) Big Scrub: A cleared landscape in transition back to forest? Ecological Management & Restoration 12:3, 212-223. https://doi.org/10.1111/emr.12008]

Key words: Lowland Subtropical Rainforest, ecological restoration, seed production, landholder action, corridors

Figure 1a. Rainforest regenerators undertake camphor injection, leaving bare trees standing creating light and an opportunity for seed in the soil to naturally regenerate. (Photo © Envite Environment)

Figure 1b Aerial photo showing camphor conversion by injection
(Photo © Big Scrub Regeneration Pty. Ltd.)

Introduction. The Big Scrub, on the NSW north coast, was once the largest tract of Lowland Subtropical Rainforest (LSR) in Australia. It was reduced to less than 1% of its original extent by he end of hte 19th century after clearing for agriculture. Big Scrub Landcare (BSL) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the long-term ecological functionality of what remains of this critically endangered ecosystem –  lowland subtropical rainforest.  Our 2012 EMR feature reported on remnant restoration and revegetation works overseen by BSL to 2012. At that time, 68 remnants were identified as significantly affected from the impacts of environmental degradation including weed invasion and cattle access. These remnants had been undergoing treatments, with 20 substantially recovered and on a ‘maintenance’ regime.  Approximately 900,000 trees had been planted to establish 250 ha of young diverse well-structured rainforest.  A comparatively small area of forest dominated by the highly invasive exotic, Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) (Camphor), which  has colonised much of the Big Scrub landscape had been converted to early phase LSR by skilled removal of a range of weeds and facilitating natural regeneration. 

Progress since 2012. Substantial progress in restoring critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest in the Big Scrub has been achieved over the past seven years in the following areas.

  • Assisted regeneration of remnants has continued and become more focused
  • Re-establishment of LSR through plantings has expanded
  • Camphor conversion has developed in scale and techniques
  • Greater security of funding has been achieved
  • Community engagement has greatly improved and expanded
  • Genome science is being applied to produce seed with optimal genetic diversity for rainforest restoration.

Assisted regeneration of remnants. This work continues to be the major focus of on-ground restoration work. About 2000 regenerator days (9 years Full Time Equivalent) of work has been undertaken in 45 remnants. BSL’s remnant restoration program has become more strategic, with more focus on Very High Conservation Value (VHCV) remnants, particularly those in the NSW National Parks Estate, including the VHCV sites in Nightcap National Park (NP) including Big Scrub Flora Reserve, Minyon Falls and Boomerang Falls; Andrew Johnston’s Scrub NR; Snow’s Gully Nature Reserve (NR); Boatharbour NR; Victoria Park NR and Davis Scrub NR, plus the Booyong Flora Reserve. Rehabilitation work at these sites is prioritised in the major new four-year Conservation Co-funding project funded jointly by BSL and the NSW government’s Saving our Species program. Big Scrub Foundation (BSF) funding has enabled BSL to continue maintenance work in remnants that have reached or are approaching the maintenance stage.

Monitoring outcomes has become more rigorous and has demonstrated ongoing improvements in vegetation structure, with decreasing levels of weed invasion and improvements in native species cover.

BSL’s partner Envite Environment, with some assistance from BSL, is creating an important linkage between Nightcap NP and Goonengerry NP by the restoration of rainforest through the progressive removal of weeds that had dominated the 80 ha Wompoo/Wanganui corridor between these two NPs.

 Re-establishment of rainforest by planting. The area of LSR is being re-established by planting on cleared land has also continued to expand.   In the last 7 years  more than 0.5 million rainforest trees have been planted in the Big Scrub region, contributing to the restoration of another 175 ha of LSR, expanding total area of re-established rainforest by another 13%. While landscape-scale landholder driven work is inevitably opportunistic rather than strategic, the establishment of new patches of LSR enhance valuable stepping-stone corridors across the Big Scrub. Since 2012 the number of regenerators working fulltime in the Big Scrub region has increased by approximately 50%.  Another trend that has strengthened in the last 7 years is that larger plantings are now being carried out by well-resourced landowners. This is accounting for about 40% of the annual plantings. Offsets for residential development account for another 40% of trees planted. The remaining 20% is made up by small landowners, cabinet timber plantations, large-scale landscaping, and other planting of Big Scrub species. This is a significant change from the more dominant grant-based small landowner/Landcare group plantings prior to 2012.

 Camphor conversion. Larger areas of Camphor forest are being converted to rainforest, with project areas increasing substantially from less than a hectare to ten and twenty hectares. BSL estimates that more than 150 ha of Camphor forest are currently under conversion. Some landowners underake camphor injection which leaves bare trees standing, creating light and an opportunity for existing native seedlings and seed in the soil (or seed dropped by perching birds) to naturally regenerate (Fig 1). Others are choosing the more expensive option of physically removing the Camphor trees and carefully leaving the rainforest regrowth (Fig 2).  Improved techniques and landholder capacity building continue to progress and camphor conversion is now a significant component of rainforest restoration.

BSL alone is facilitating the conversion of almost 40 ha of Camphor forest to LSR funded by two 3-year grants from the NSW Environmental Trust, together with contributions from the 19 landholders involved in these projects. The ecological outcomes being achieved are significant and less costly than revegetation via plantings.

Figure 2a. Camphor forest under conversion using heavy machinery leaving rainforest regrowth intact (Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Figure 2b. Aerial photo showing camphor conversion by removal
(Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Greater security of funding. Australian Government funding for biodiversity conservation is at a very low level. Competition for existing NSW state government funding is increasing. BSL therefore has continued to  develop new strategies for fund raising to ensure continuity of its long-term program for the ecological restoration of critically endangered LSR in the Big Scrub and elsewhere. Ongoing funding of at least $150,000 annually is needed to ensure the great progress made  over the past 20 years in rehabilitating remnants is  maintained and expanded to new areas of large remnants. These funds finance weed control and monitoring; weeds will always be a part of the landscape and an ongoing threat to our rainforest remnants.

Establishment of the Big Scrub Foundation in 2016 was a major development in BSL’s fund raising strategy. The Foundation received a donation of AUD $1M to establish a permanent endowment fund that is professionally invested to generate annual income that helps finance BSL’s remnant care program and its other activities. Generous donors are also enabling the Foundation to help finance the Science Saving Rainforest Program.

Figure 3a. Australian gardening celebrity Costa Gregoriou at a Big Scrub community tree planting (part of the 17th annual Big Scrub Rainforest Day) in 2015 (Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Figure 3b. Founder of the Australian Greens political party Bob Brown and Dr. Tony Parkes at the 18th annual Big Scrub Rainforest Day in 2016. (Photo © Big Scrub Landcare)

Community engagement. The  Big Scrub Rainforest Day continues to be BSL’s  major annual community engagement event, with the total number of attendees estimated to have exceeded 12,000 over the past 7 years; the 2016 day alone attracted more than 4000 people (Fig 3). Every second year the event is held at Rocky Creek Dam.  A new multi-event format involving many other organisations has been introduced on alternate years.

BSL’s Rainforest Restoration Manual has been updated in the recently published third edition and continues to inform and educate landowners, planners and practitioners.

BSL in partnership with Rous County Council produced a highly-commended book on the social and ecological values of the Big Scrub that has sold over 1000 copies. BSL’s website has had a major upgrade: its Facebook page is updated weekly; its e-newsletter is published every two months. BSL’s greatly improved use of social media is helping to raise its profile and contribute to generating donations from the community, local businesses and philanthropic organisations to fund its growing community education and engagement work and other activities.

Science saving rainforests program. BSL, the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, the BSF and their partners have commenced an internationally innovative program to apply the latest DNA sequencing and genome science to establish plantations to produce seed of key species with optimal genetic diversity for the ecological restoration of critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest. This program will for the first time address the threat posed by fragmentation and isolation resulting from the extreme clearing of Australia’s LSR, which is estimated to have resulted in the destruction of 94% of this richly biodiverse Gondwana-descended rainforest.

Many  key  LSR species are trapped in small populations in  isolated remnants  that  lack the genetic diversity needed to adapt and survive in the long term, particularly faced with climate change Necessary  genetic diversity is also lacking in many key species in the 500 ha of planted and regrowth rainforest. The first stage of the program, already underway, involves collecting leaf samples from approximately 200 individual old growth trees in 35 remnant populations across the ranges of 19 key structural species of the ‘original’ forest. DNA will be extracted from the leaf samples of each species and sequenced. The  latest genome science will be applied to select the 20 individual trees of each species that will be cloned to provide planting stock with optimal genetic diversity for the establishment of a living seed bank in the form of a plantation that will produce seed  for use in restoration plantings. As the individual trees in the restoration plantings reproduce, seed with appropriate genetic diversity and fitness will be distributed across the landscape. The project focuses on key structural species and thus helping the survival of Australia’s critically endangered Lowland Subtropical Rainforest in the long term.

Lessons learned and current and future directions. A key lesson learned some five years ago was that BSL had grown to the point where volunteers could no longer manage the organisation effectively. BSL took a major step forward in 2015 by engaging a part-time Manager, contributing to BSL’s continuing success by expanding the scope, scale and effectiveness of its community engagement activities and improving its day to day management.

The principal lesson learned from BSL’s on-ground restoration program is to focus on rehabilitation of remnants and not to take on large planting projects, but rather support numerous partnered community tree planting events. Large grant-funded multi-site tree planting projects are too difficult to manage and to ensure landholders carry out the necessary maintenance in the medium to long term.

Acknowledgements.  BSL acknowledges our institutional Partners and receipt of funding from the NSW government’s Saving our Species program, NSW Environmental Trust and Big Scrub Foundation.

Contact:  Shannon Greenfields, Manager, Big Scrub Landcare (PO Box 106,  Bangalow NSW 2479 Australia; . Tel: +61 422 204 294; Email: info@bigscrubrainforest.org.au Web: www.bigscrubrainforest.org.au)

Long-term restoration in the Box Gum Woodlands of south-eastern Australia – UPDATE of EMR feature

David Lindenmayer, Mason Crane, Daniel Florance, David Smith, and Clare Crane

Update to article published in EMR – Murray Catchment habitat restoration: Lessons from landscape level research and monitoring doi: 10.1111/emr.12051

Keywords: Revegetation, biodiversity recovery, monitoring, birds

Figure 1. Revegetated woodland near Wagga Wagga in the South West Slopes of New South Wales. (Photo courtesy of the Sustainable Farms project at The Australian National University. Australia).

Introduction

This project encompasses a major set of large-scale, long-term integrated studies quantifying the response of various groups of biota to replanted woodlands in the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands of south-eastern Australia. The work has been underway since 2002 and contrasts revegetated areas with regrowth woodlands and old growth woodlands on multiple farms nested within landscapes with varying amounts of native vegetation cover (Fig 1.). The responses of birds, arboreal marsupials, terrestrial mammal, reptiles, frogs and native plants to these different kinds of broad vegetation types (and within-site and landscape-level attributes) have been documented over the past 17 years.

Further works undertaken

Since the inception of the original project and associated monitoring, an array of additional studies have been completed (https://www.anu.edu.au/about/strategic-planning/sustainable-farms). These include investigations of the impacts on birds and reptiles of livestock grazing in plantings, the benefits for birds of understorey plantings within old growth woodlands, the impacts of a control program for the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) on other woodland bird species, and interaction effects between long-term climate, short-term weather and revegetation programs on birds (Figs 2 and 3). Further work aims to quantify the biodiversity and livestock production benefits of enhancing the ecological condition (and associated water quality) of farm dams.

Figure 2. Flame Robin and Rufous Whistler – two bird species of conservation concern that respond positively to revegetated woodland. (Photos by Robin Patrick Kavanagh.)Further results to date

Research and monitoring in the past six years have resulted in a number of key new insights of considerable importance for restoration programs. A small subset of these findings includes:

  • The conservation benefits of replanted areas for bird and reptile biodiversity are undermined by intensive livestock grazing in these revegetated areas.
  • The bird biodiversity values of old growth temperate woodlands can be enhanced by underplantings of shrubs and other non-overstorey plants, although it can take many years for such benefits to manifest. Importantly, the occurrence of hyper-aggressive species such as the Noisy Miner is diminished in woodlands where underplantings have been established.
  • Experimental efforts to reduce populations of the Noisy Miner were largely unsuccessful; sites where this species was culled twice were rapidly recolonized by the Noisy Miner.
  • Replanted woodlands provide critical refugia for woodland birds, especially during prolonged drought periods.

Collectively, these findings indicate that restored woodlands have important conservation values (especially for birds but also reptiles), with restoration being valuable to conduct not only in existing old growth woodland (through establishing underplantings) but also in previously cleared sites. The conservation value of woodlands can be particularly critical during climate extremes such as droughts. Efforts to control the Noisy Miner will likely be most effective through targeted revegetation efforts rather than direct culling of birds. Finally, there is a need to limit grazing pressure in revegetated woodlands and this can require the repair or replacement of fences around replantings, especially when such key infrastructure begins to deteriorate.

Figure 3. Noisy Miner – a reverse keystone species for which experimental culling programs have proven to be ineffective. (Photo by Pete Richman.)

Lessons learned and future directions

The ongoing work has clearly demonstrated the important new insights that are derived from long-term ecological research and monitoring. Indeed, long-term changes in patterns of occupancy of restored areas could not have been quantified without rigorous monitoring of a wide range of sites of different sizes, ages and other attributes. Key manager-researcher partnerships have been fundamental to the ongoing success of the array of projects in this restoration initiative. Indeed, some research and monitoring studies were prompted by  questions posed by natural resource managers (such as if there were vegetation cover thresholds for birds in temperate woodlands). Close working relationships with farmers have also been critical to the persistence of the various projects. Field staff in the project, who are based permanently in rural Australia, are key points of outreach and communication with farmers and other natural resource managers. Their presence has accelerated the rate of knowledge transfer and adoption of new practices (such as widening shelterbelts so that they have multiple production and conservation values).

Stakeholders and funding bodies

Ongoing work has been supported by many funding bodies and partners. These include the owners of more than 250 private properties (whom have allowed access to their land and undertaken major restoration works). Funding for the work has been provided by The National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), the Australian Research Council, Murray Local Land Services, Riverina Local Land Services, Central Tablelands Local Land Services, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, The Australian National University, and the Calvert-Jones Foundation.

Contact information

David Lindenmayer, Sustainable Farms Project, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 2601, david.lindenmayer@anu.edu.au

The Tiromoana Bush restoration project, Canterbury, New Zealand

Key words: Lowland temperate forest, animal pest control, weed control, restoration plantings, public access, cultural values, farmland restoration

Introduction. Commencing in 2004, the 407 ha Tiromoana Bush restoration project arose as part of the mitigation for the establishment of the Canterbury Regional Landfill at Kate Valley, New Zealand. The site lies one hour’s drive north of Christchurch City in North Canterbury coastal hill country (Motunau Ecological District, 43° 06’ S, 172° 51’ E, 0 – 360 m a.s.l.) and is located on a former sheep and beef farm.

Soils are derived from tertiary limestones and mudstones and the site experiences an annual rainfall of 920mm, largely falling in winter. The current vegetation is a mix of Kānuka (Kunzea robusta) and mixed-species shrubland and low forest, restoration plantings, wetlands, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and European Broom (Cytisus scoparius) shrubland and abandoned pasture. Historically the area would have been forest, which was likely cleared 500-700 years ago as a result of early Māori settlement fires. A total of 177 native vascular plant and 22 native bird species have been recorded, including four nationally threatened species and several regionally rare species.

Before and after photo pair (2005-2018). showing extensive infilling of native woody vegetation on hill slopes opposite, restoration plantings in the central valley, and successional change from small-leaved shrubs to canopy forming trees in the left foreground. (Photos David Norton.)

 

Project aims. The long-term vision for this project sees Tiromoana Bush, in 300 years, restored to a: “Predominantly forest ecosystem (including coastal broadleaved, mixed podocarp-broadleaved and black beech forests) where dynamic natural processes occur with minimal human intervention, where the plants and animals typical of the Motunau Ecological District persist without threat of extinction, and where people visit for recreation and to appreciate the restored natural environment.”

Thirty-five year outcomes have been identified that, if achieved, will indicate that restoration is proceeding towards the vision – these are:

  1. Vigorous regeneration is occurring within the existing areas of shrubland and forest sufficient to ensure that natural successional processes are leading towards the development of mature lowland forest.
  2. The existing Korimako (Bellbird Anthornis melanura) population has expanded and Kereru (Native Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) are now residing within the area, and the species richness and abundance of native water birds have been enhanced.
  3. The area of Black Beech (Fuscospora solandri) forest has increased with at least one additional Black Beech population established.
  4. Restoration plantings and natural regeneration have enhanced connectivity between existing forest patches.
  5. Restoration plantings have re-established locally rare vegetation types.
  6. The area is being actively used for recreational, educational and scientific purposes.

Day-to-day management is guided by a five-year management plan and annual work plans. The management plan provides an overview of the approach that is being taken to restoration, while annual work plans provide detail on the specific management actions that will be undertaken to implement the management plan.

Forest restoration plantings connecting two areas of regenerating Kānuka forest. Photo David Norton.

 

Restoration approach and outcomes to date. The main management actions taken and outcomes achieved have included:

  • An Open Space Covenant was gazetted on the title of the property in July 2006 through the QEII National Trust, providing in-perpetuity protection of the site irrespective of future ownership.
  • Browsing by cattle and sheep was excluded at the outset of the project through upgrading existing fences and construction of new fences. A 16 km deer fence has been built which together with intensive animal control work by ground-based hunters has eradicated Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and helped reduce damage caused by feral pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus).
  • Strategic restoration plantings have been undertaken annually to increase the area of native woody and wetland vegetation, as well as providing food and nesting resources for native birds. A key focus of these has been on enhancing linkages between existing areas of regenerating forest and re-establishing rare ecosystem types (e.g. wetland and coastal forest).
  • Annual weed control is undertaken focusing on species that are likely to alter successional development (e.g. wilding conifers, mainly Pinus radiata, and willows Salix cinerea and fragilis) or that have the potential to smother native regeneration (e.g. Old Man’s Beard Clematis vitalba). Gorse and European Broom are not controlled as they act as a nurse for native forest regeneration and the cost and collateral damage associated with their control will outweigh biodiversity benefits.
  • Establishment of a public walking track was undertaken early in the project and in 2017/2018 this was enhanced and extended, with new interpretation included. Public access has been seen as a core component of the project from the outset so the public can enjoy the restoration project and access a section of the coastline that is otherwise relatively inaccessible.
  • Part of the walkway upgrade included working closely with the local Māori tribe, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, who have mana whenua (customary ownership) over the area. They were commissioned to produce a pou whenua (land marker) at the walkway’s coastal lookout. The carvings on the pou reflect cultural values and relate to the importance of the area to Ngāi Tūāhuriri and especially values associated with mahinga kai (the resources that come from the area).
  • Regular monitoring has included birds, vegetation and landscape, with additional one-off assessments of invertebrates and animal pests. Tiromoana Bush has been used as the basis for several undergraduate and postgraduate student research projects from the two local universities.
Vigorous regeneration of Mahoe under the Kānuka canopy following exclusion of grazing animals. Photo David Norton.

 

Lessons learned. Important lessons learned over the 15-years have both shaped the approach to management at this site and have implications for the management of other projects:

  • Control of browsing mammals, both domestic and feral, has been essential to the success of this project. While domestic livestock were excluded at the outset of the project, feral Red Deer and pigs have the potential to seriously compromise restoration outcomes and these species have required additional management inputs (fencing and culling).
  • Since removal of grazing, the dominant exotic pasture grasses, especially Cocksfoot (Dactylis gomerata), now form tall dense swards. These swards severely restrict the ability of native woody plants to establish and herbicide control is used both pre- and post-planting to overcome this. During dry summers (which are common) the grass sward is also a significant fuel source and the walkway is closed during periods of high fire risk to avoid accidental fires which would decimate the restoration project.
  • Regular monitoring is important for assessing the biodiversity response to management. Annual photo-monitoring now spanning 15-years is highlighting significant changes in land cover across the site, while more detailed monitoring of plants and birds is strongly informing management actions. For example, seven-years of bird monitoring has indicated an ongoing decline in some native birds that is most likely due to predation (by cats, mustelids, rodents, hedgehogs). As a result, a predator control programme is commencing in 2019.
  • Simply removing grazing pressure from areas of existing regenerating native woody vegetation cannot be expected to result in the return of the pre-human forest because of the absence of seed sources. Permanent plots suggest that Kānuka is likely to be replaced by Mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), with few other tree species present. Gap creation and enrichment planting is therefore being used to speed up the development of a more diverse podocarp-angiosperm forest canopy.
Kate Pond on the Tiromoana Bush walkway. The pond and surrounding wetland provides habitat for several native water birds. Photo Jo Stilwell.
The pou whenua on the coastal lookout platform looking north up the coastline. Photo David Norton.

 

Looking to the future. Considerable progress in restoring native biodiversity at Tiromoana Bush has been achieved over the last 15 years and it seems likely that the project will continue to move towards achieving its 35-year outcomes and eventually realising the long-term vision. To help guide management, the following goals have been proposed for the next ten-years and their achievement would further help guarantee the success of this project:

  • The main valley floor is dominated by regenerating Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) forest and wetland, and the lower valley is dominated by regenerating coastal vegetation.
  • At least one locally extinct native bird species has been reintroduced.
  • Tiromoana Bush is managed as part of a wider Motunau conservation project.
  • The restoration project is used regularly as a key educational resource by local schools.
  • The walkway is regarded as an outstanding recreational experience and marketed by others as such.
  • Tiromoana Bush is highly valued by Ngāi Tūāhuriri.
Kereru, one of the native birds that restoration aims to help increase in abundance. Photo David Norton.

 

Stakeholders and funding. The project is funded by Transwaste Canterbury Ltd., a public-private partnership company who own the landfill and have been active in their public support for the restoration project and in promoting a broader conservation initiative in the wider area. Shareholders of the partnership company are Waste Management NZ Ltd, Christchurch City Council and Waimakariri, Hurunui, Selwyn and Ashburton District Councils.

Contact Information. Professor David Norton, Project Coordinator, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand. Phone +64 (027) 201-7794. Email david.norton@canterbury.ac.nz

The ecological restoration of Te Motu Tapu a Taikehu, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

The Motutapu Restoration Trust 

Introduction. Te Motu Tapu a Taikehu (Motutapu Island, 1509 ha) is located in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, situated on the east coast of the north of New  Zealand’s North Island. It lies immediately adjacent to Rangitoto Island which is a volcano that last erupted approximately 500-550 years ago. This, and previous eruptions would have regularly devastated the forest and wetland ecosystems on Motutapu.

After a history of Maori settlement, European clearing and farming and use for military purposes during WWII, the Island was transferred to what is now the Department of Conservation (DOC) in 1970. The island is now designated a recreation reserve, open to the public.

Pollen records suggest that after the Rangitoto eruptions ceased around AD 1500, Motutapu recovered to be covered by a patchwork of lowland podocarp/broadleaf forest typical of that found in the Auckland region, and presumably was habitat to birds, reptiles, bats, fish and invertebrates similar to those on other Northland islands and the mainland.

Habitat loss through anthropogenic disturbances including fire, clearing for farming, and the introduction of mammalian predators saw many species of native bird, reptile and plants extirpated. Prior to restoration started in 1994, Motutapu was almost entirely covered by pastoral grassland dominated by exotic species, except for a few, very small forest remnants, and a depauperate native faunal communities.

Motutapu Island is a 40-minute ferry journey from Auckland City. Map: Department of Conservation

Restoration project

Planning of the ecological restoration program is undertaken by the Natural Heritage Committee of the Trust, a group of some 15 volunteers who meet monthly to plan, and discuss implementation. Members are highly qualified, skilled and enthusiastic practitioners. Together the committee  brings sound ecological theory and practice to the  restoration of flora and fauna. Published plans they work from include the 1994 Motutapu Restoration Working Plan and subsequent 2010 audit.

The objective is to return the island forest and wetland ecosystems to a post-eruption state, with a goal of reaching 500 ha of restored forest and wetland over coming decades. Although this area is far less than the full area of the island, it allows the conservation of cultural and archaeological sites, such as pā, WWII infrastructure, and farming landscapes. The post-eruption state can be described as lowland mixed broadleaf/podocarp forest, with a suite of seabirds, waders, forest birds, reptiles, bats and invertebrates interacting with each other so that natural evolutionary processes can once more resume for these taxa on the island.

Implementation of the ecological restoration of Motutapu has been underway for 23 years, since the formation of the Motutapu Restoration Trust (MRT) in 1994. To date,  in excess of 100 ha of pasture has been converted  to pioneer forest representing an estimated 450,000+ trees  planted. Volunteer hours total 21,462 between  2005 and 2015, and is currently in excess of 3,200 hours annually.

The major activities of the ecological restoration are:

  • Seed collecting from the island and wider Auckland region
  • Plant propagation in the island nursery – year round
  • Planting in the winter months
  • Weeding year round
  • Fauna translocation and monitoring (birds, reptiles, fish and crustacea) in conjunction with DOC

Planters in action: Photo: MRT

15,136 plants went into Hospital B paddock; one of the most difficult planting sites on the island.
Photo: MRT

Home Bay forest, with Motuihe Island and the Auckland mainland in the background. Photo: MRT

Revegetation. The original strategy (1994 – 2009) was to initiate successional processes by planting pioneer phase species, which would later give way to mature phase species dispersed naturally by birds. However, it was realized that mature phase species would be slow to arrive, as the island is isolated from native forests on nearby islands and seed dispersal from them is unlikely. If seed is dispersed from its own remnant forests, any new forest will continue to reflect the depauperate nature of these remnants.

In 2010, the planting strategy was updated to include enrichment planting of mature phase forest species into the forests planted up to 15 years earlier. Seeds for this were eco-sourced from the wider Auckland region, within boundaries agreed with DOC, and brought to the island nursery for propagation. This was an opportunity to return species to the island that are currently absent, including Swamp Maire (Syzygium maire), Tree  Fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata),  Pigeonwood (Hedycarya  arborea), White Maire (Nestegis lanceolata), Black Maire (N. cunninghamii), Turepo (Streblus  banksii) and a number  of podocarps including Matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia), Miro (P. ferruginea) and Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum).

The project has a large nursery, operated by one full time volunteer and supported by other volunteers during the week and weekends. The nursery provides all the plants for the planting programme. Seed is collected by a small team of collectors who travel Auckland’s and the Island’s forest remnants for seeds all year round. Growing media is supplied pro bono by Daltons and Living Earth and delivered by DOC boat. The risk of importing the introduced pests Rainbow Skink (Lampropholis delicata) as eggs and Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile) precludes bringing potted plants onto the island.

Weeds such as Woolly Nightshade (Solanum mauritianum),  Moth  Vine (Araujia  sericifera), Evergreen  Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), Apple of Sodom (Solanum linnaeanum), pampas (Cortaderia  spp.), and Boneseed (Chrysanthemoides monilifera) have been  present on the  island for many years, and in pasture had been kept in check by grazing. However, when pasture is retired, populations of these weeds  explode and threaten the plantings on not only Motutapu  Island, but also by dispersal to neighbouring Hauraki Gulf Islands. In particular, Rangitoto Island is threatened by invasion of weeds from Motutapu.

Weeding of the planted forests takes place in a strategic and planned way year round. Volunteers routinely grid search the plantations and control the infestations (using the hip chain method). Sources of reinfestation on other parts of the island are addressed by contractors who have the training to get at inaccessible weeds (e.g., cliff faces). New drone technology is in the process of being recruited to  identify infestations of weeds  from the  air, where they cannot be seen from the ground, or where access is particularly hazardous (e.g., cliff faces).

Pest species management. The suite of mammalian predators and herbivores on the Island prior to 2009 were detrimental to both flora and fauna, and their continued presence would have meant that neither locally extinct bird and plant species could be reintroduced, nor palatable plant species thrive.  These pests included: rats (Rattus rattus,  R. norvegicus, R. exulans); House Mouse (Mus musculus); Stoat (Mustela erminea); feral Cat (Felis catus); Hedgehog  (Erinaceus  europaeus occidentalis) and the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

The successful eradication of pests from Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands was undertaken by DOC in 2009 using helicopters to disperse broadifacoum. DOC employs a biosecurity ranger on the island who responds to any new rat, stoat or other incursions.

Recent arrivals of North Island brown kiwi bring the total to 26, closer to the target of 40 required for a founder population. Photo: MRT

Further releases of takahē will bring the breeding
pairs to a total of 20, the largest total outside Fiordland. Photo: MRT

Faunal translocations. A major milestone was the declaration in 2011 of pest-free status for the Island, and the subsequent re-introductions of birds and aquatic taxa that this allowed.

The island’s pest-free status gives safe refuge to some of New Zealand’s rarest bird species. Since it became pest-free, the following rare, endangered and non-threatened species have been translocated:

  • Coromandel Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)
  • Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri)
  • Tīeke (Philesturnus rufusater)
  • Shore Plover (Thinornis  novaeseelandiae)
  • Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla)
  • Pāteke (Anas chlorotis)
  • Redfin bully (Gobiomorphus huttoni)
  • Koura (Paranephrops planifrons)

Survey and Monitoring.  Annual surveys of terrestrial birds and shorebirds by the Ornithological Society of New Zealand have been undertaken since 2007. As well,  a survey of seabirds nesting on the island is underway, and monitoring of translocated birds by MRT volunteers in association with DOC is ongoing. Stream fauna and reptiles are surveyed and reported on annually by DOC.

The Island’s native and exotic plants are also being surveyed to ascertain progress of the recovery over time, and plant survival rates have been monitored informally via regular tours of the plantings to assess what is working and what is not.

Evidence that recovery processes are securely occurring on the island

It is clear that the 100ha of restored vegetation has resulted in natural processes of vegetation recovery occurring, with natural regeneration evident for many species. Once the fruiting forest is fully established on Motutapu Island we envisage that it will be fully self-sustaining via seed dispersal by frugivorous birds.

Populations of fauna, with four exceptions, appear to be self-sustainable on Island. Many of the reintroduced bird species are clearly reproducing on the island and populations are growing without human intervention as evidenced by our bird surveys. The exceptions are Shore plover and Pāteke which naturally disperse away from the Island, necessitating several translocations to ensure the populations build to create a resident population, and are viable. Kiwi and Takahē populations are still being built up to founder population size.

 Bird species (terrestrial diurnal including waders):

  • an increase from 50 species in 2010 to 60 in 2015
  • Re-introduced populations expanding: Takahē, Whitehead,  Tīeke
  • Self-introduced or now detectable: Kākāriki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), Bellbird (Anthornis melanura), Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis), Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor), Banded Rail (Gallirallus phillipensis), Grey-faced Storm Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera  gouldi).

Reptiles: Population and range expansions of the four native and one introduced species. The following are the natives:

  • Common Gecko (Woodworthia maculatus): up to ten-fold at some sites since 2008
  • Suter’s Skink (Oligosoma suteri): up to a hundred-fold at some sites since 2008 baseline
  • Copper Skink (Cyclodina aeneum): up to ten-fold at some sites since 2008 baseline
  • Moko Skink (Oligosoma moco): up to ten-fold at some sites since 2008

Fish:

  • Giant kokopu (Galaxius argenteus) now

Secure engagement with local  stakeholders.

There are a number of stakeholders that are fully engaged in the project through the MRT,  including:

  • Department of Conservation – MRT’s partner since the inception of the Trust in 1994, which has been responsible for some of our biggest milestones, such as the eradication of mammalian predators 2009-2011.
  • Motutapu Farms Ltd – leases the pasture from DOC to farm beef and sheep, becoming Auckland’s largest Another long-standing partner, helping the ecology of the island and wider Hauraki Gulf by farming organically.
  • Ngāi Tai ki Tamaki – the iwi who have mana whenua on the island and give their blessing to reintroduced fauna
  • Ngāti Paoa & Ngāti Tamaterā – Coromandel iwi who are kaitiaki of the North Island Brown Kiwi (Coromandel  subspecies) on
  • Motutapu Outdoor Education Centre (MOEC)  – use the island for accommodation of school groups gaining outdoor
  • Pāteke recovery
  • Takahē recovery group
  • Auckland Zoo – monitoring the populations of Redfin Bully ( Gobiomorphus huttoni) and Koura (Paranephrops planifrons).

Contact : Liz Brooks, Manager, Motutapu Restoration Trust, Newmarket, Auckland 1149, New Zealand.  Tel: +64 9 455 9634; PO Box 99 827; Email:  liz@motutapu.org.nz