Category Archives: Assisted regeneration

Crowdy Bay National Park, NSW – Assisted regeneration of a littoral rainforest patch post 2019-20 summer wildfire

Figure 1. Volunteers at the initial working bee in the burnt littoral rainforest.

Introduction. Crowdy Bay National Park is located on the NSW Mid-north coast and comprises coastal landscapes, some of which have were sand mined prior to the area’s acquisition for conservation in the 1970s. Littoral rainforest remnant and regrowth patches occur within the Park and are listed at State level and as Endangered Ecological Community and at national level as a Threatened Ecological Community. The rainforest community type forms in the dune swales, protected by Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) and is dominated over time by Tuckeroo ( Cupaniopsis anacardioides) and Beach Alectryon (Alectryon coriaceus), with other rainforest co-dominants and associated shrubs, vines and groundcovers.

For over four decades,  a regeneration program has been carried out in the park by volunteers working through the National Parks Association (NPA), Mid North Coast Branch. This short summary refers to the condition of one floristically diverse littoral rainforest patch at Kylie’s Beach, half of which was burnt in a spot-wildfire in late 2019 and in which weed managment works commenced 2 years prior to the wildfire due to pre-existing weed issues (Fig 1).

The wildfire and early recovery. The wildfire burnt all the banksias on the foredune crest that were providing wind protection for the littoral rainforest, as well as 1ha of the littoral rainforest. It left the ground layer beneath both areas largely bare. In the areas burnt, all trees appeared dead. With rainfall occurring soon after the fire, post-fire coppicing of rainforest trees and Banksia commenced; with germination of native seedlings occurring with the arrival of heavy rains in December 2020 -January 2021. By mid-autumn 2020 the northern foredune section was thickly covered with colonising Blady Grass (Imperata cylindrica) that provided cover for other successional natives (Fig 2) .

Weed recovery, however, was very rapid. As early as May 2020, the site was a sea of annuals, with abundant Lantana (Lantana camara), Coastal Morning Glory (Ipomoea cairica), Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana), Crofton Weed (Ageratina adenophora) and scatterings of Cape Ivy (Senecio mikanioides) and Tobacco Bush (Solanum mauritianum). Volunteers were at a loss to see how the site could be helped to regenerate. Not having previously worked in a burnt rainforest, the first though was to take out all the weeds. Under the guidance of retired regenerator Tom Clarke from the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators (AABR) however, a different approach was taken.

Figure 2. Blady Grass has covered much of the floor.

Works undertaken. Commencing in May 2020 Sue Baker from NPA and Tom Clarke from AABR conducted monthly working bees to strategically remove weeds. The approach was to  regard the weeds as the new canopy cover and primary colonisers, providing invaluable shade and moisture retention for the regenerating rainforest species. It was agreed that the main initial objective was to see the re-establishment of a canopy, however low, to protect the ground moisture levels and any recovering herb layer. At this point any woody weeds were considered allies in that they were resprouting along with many native pioneer species. Treatment of woody weeds was selective and dependent upon direct competition with native plants. Instead, treatment of weed vines and creepers was targeted, with removal of Morning Glory and Cape Ivy a priority, at least to the edge of the burnt zone.

Subsequently, apart from preventing the spread of Cape Ivy and removing dense infestations of fruiting Cape Gooseberry, the method was to remove weeds only where they were competing with native seedlings with as much removal of their fruits and seeds as possible, followed by thinning out later where helpful. By January 2021, native ground cover had recovered sufficiently to remove the annuals, some of which were 2m high. Over time, the selective treatment of woody weeds has continued as more and more native regen appeared. By taking this approach we have left nature largely to do its own thing with minimal detrimental impact from weeding.

In addition, we have taken the view that the wildfire was not soley a negative; it has also provided an opportunity to address some of the long-standing weed issues in the broader area of Kylie’s Beach including that of Glory Lily (Gloriosa superba) and Golden Wreath Wattle (Acacia saligna) which the fire stimulated to germinate from the soil seed bank in their thousands.

As well as the weed management work, over a kilogram of native seed was broadcast in mid-summer 2020 in the hope it might improve recovery of the ecosystem.

Volunteer visits. After a site inspection tour on 14th May 2020 there have been at least 17 visits to Crowdy Bay National Park where regeneration works has been carried out, not only in the littoral rainforest, but also in the broader Kylie’s beach area. These occurred in May (1 visit), July (3 visits), August (4 visits involving 12 volunteers), September (2 visits), October (4 visits), November (1 visit) and lately in January 2021 (2 visits).

Figure 3. Tuckeroo coppicing from the burnt stump.

Figure 4. Lillypilly coppicing.

Results to date.  The site has demonstrated itself to have high levels of native resilience, having been in relatively healthy condition apart from per-existing weed infestations. High levels of rain in the 2020-21 summer has promoted extensive and vigorous growth. At February 2021, the forest floor was a carpet of native vegetation and some areas knee-high in dense native grasses. Less care in selecting woody weeds for treatment is now required.

Much of the regeneration is from germinating seeds but some has been from re-sprouting rootstocks, resprouting stems or coppicing from the bases of trees, including rainforest trees (Figs 3 and 4) although some large trees are dead  (See Table 1). With the assisted regeneration work (i.e. strategic weed removal post-fire) the site is quickly shifting from a predominantly weed-dominated post-fire succession to one dominated by native plants.

There is no evidence that the sown seed has yet contributed to the regeneration at this stage.  Native regeneration was occurring across the area prior to the date when germination of sown seed would be expected and it is now clear that additional seed was not required.

Plans for ongoing management.  The continued wet and humid conditions in summer 2021 have provided highly favorable conditions for regeneration. During 2021 the volunteers will try to keep up with the work at Kylie’s Beach through regular bush regeneration camp outs (as organised for many years, except 2020 which was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions). Work plans for the next camp-out have been scheduled to include the Kylie’s Beach littoral rainforest site and will include follow-up treatment of vines and Crofton Weed. Full recovery is likely to take years as the recovery process moves at its own pace.

Two major issues remain – dense ground and canopy cover of coastal morning glory in the area will need meticulous treatment. Also an entire drainage line on the steep, rocky cliff face behind the dune is densely infested with Crofton Weed that must be left in place to stabilize the slope until sufficient native cover takes hold. Volunteers were able to remove flowers from the Crofton Weed for a certain distance up the slope. Contractors will be needed in 2021 to deal with the upper slope.

Acknowledgements: We thank the organisation and leadership of NPA group.  The fact that this was already in place prior to the fire, was a key to the success of the work to date. This group has an outstanding history and connection with many sites in the Park over many years. The linking of AABR to the project provided additional support in project design and facilitating additional volunteer from the ABBR network for the post-fire restoration side of the program.

Contacts:  Tom Clarke AABR 0418411785 and Sue Baker (NPA MNC branch)

Table 1. Kylie’s Beach Littoral Rainforest Post Fire Restoration  – responses of native and exotic species (Exotics marked with an asterisk)

Scientific name Common name Response of the species at this site Notes
Grasses
Imperata cylindrica Blady Grass Resprouted Dominating burnt floor devoid of canopy
Oplismenus aemulus Basket Grass Resprouted and germinated Near edge of existing canopy
Ehrharta erecta* Panic Veldtgrass Germinated Hillside on open ground near crofton weed
Eriochloa procera Spring Grass Germinated Near edge of existing canopy
Scramblers and Climbers
Marsdenia flavescens Hairy Milk Vine Resprouted and germinated At edge of existing canopy
Senecio mikanioides* Cape Ivy Resprouted Remnants creeping through grasses, has been heavily targeted.
Ipomoea cairica* Mile-a-minute Resprouted and germinated Existing condition taking advantage, targeted for weeding
Desmodium sp. (varians?) Desmodium Germinated Carpeting over slope to dune swale
Glycine sp. (tabacina?) Love Creeper Germinated Carpeting over slope to dune swale
Sarcopetalum harveyanum Pearl Vine Resprouted and germinated Near edge of existing canopy.
Stephania japonica Snake Vine Resprouted and germinated Near edge of existing canopy or large remnant structures
Dioscorea transversa Native Yam Resprouted Near edge of existing canopy or large remnant structures
Passiflora edulis* Blue Passion Flower Resprouted and germinated Single isolated plant. Previously overlooked?
Rubus parvifolius Native Raspberry Resprouted and germinated Creeping through rank grasses
Cayratia clematidea Slender Grape Resprouted and germinated Creeping through rank grasses
Cissus antarctica Kangaroo Grape Resprouted Mostly at edge of existing canopy.
Tetrastigma nitens Three-leaved Water Vine Resprouted Near edge of existing canopy
Flagellaria indica Whip Vine Resprouted Isolated individuals searching for structure
Geitonoplesium cymosum Scrambling Lily Resprouted Creeping through rank grasses
Smilax australis Austral Sarspariila Resprouted Moving into grass floor plus climbing burnt structures.
Ground Covers and Herbs
Hydrocotle bonariensis* Pennywort Resprouted Associated with commelina in low swale
Commelina cyanea Scurvy Weed Resprouted Feature of low swale within open floor area; also underneath grasses.
Melanthera biflora Melanthera Resprouted Carpeting top of rise from dune swale
Tufted Plants
Crinum pedunculatum Swamp Lily Resprouted Seaward edge to dune swale
Dianella congesta Coastal Flax Lily
Lomandra longifolia Mat Rush Resprouted and germinated Isolated individuals, seedlings and survivors
Ficinia nodosa Knobby Club-sedge Resprouted Seaward side pushing up from dune swale below
Cyperus sp. (sanguinolentus?) Sedge Resprouted Associated with commelina etc in swale near False Bracken
Alocasia brisbanensis Cunjevoi Resprouted Scattered near edge of existing canopy or structures.
Ferns
Doodia aspera Rasp Fern Resprouted Mostly near edges of existing canopy
Pellaea falcata Sickle Fern Resprouted Mostly with grass at edge of existing canopy
Calochlaena dubia False Bracken Fern Resprouted Dense patches on floor adjacent to Blady Grass
Dicksonia antarctica Treefern Resprouted Unaffected individuals near edges
Shrubs
Acacia longifolia (var. sophorae?) Golden Wattle Germinated Seedling growth mostly seaward edge of floor.
Breynia oblongifolia Coffee Bush Germinated Isolated individuals from seedlings
Banksia integrifolia Coastal Banksia Resprouted and germinated Coppicing from burnt stumps plus seedlings
Physalis peruviana* Cape Gooseberry Rampant pioneer exotic targeted for weeding
Solanum nigrum* Blackberry Nightshade Germinated Rampant pioneer exotic targeted for weeding
Lantana camara* Lantana Resprouted Rampant pioneer exotic targeted for weeding
Poyscias elegans Celerywood Germinated Scattered seedlings
Trema tomentosa var. viridis Native Peach Germinated Pioneer from seedlings; competing well
Conyza sumatrensis* Tall Fleabane Germinated Rampant pioneer exotic targeted for weeding
Notelea venosa? Mock Olive Resprouted Coppicing from burnt stump.
Bidens Pilosa* Cobbler’s Pegs Germinated Rampant pioneer exotic targeted for weeding
Phytolacca octandra* Inkweed Germinated Isolated patches
Ageratina Adenophora* Crofton Weed Resprouted and germinated?? Isolated patches on floor plus large, dense infestation covering hillside soak
Chrysanthemoides monilifera* Bitou Bush Resprouted and germinated Isolated individual plants
Trees
Cupaniopsis anacardioides Tuckeroo Resprouted and germinated Coppicing from burnt stumps plus seedlings
Wilkiea huegeliana Wilkiea Resprouted Coppicing from burnt stumps
Homalanthus populifolius Bleeding Heart Germinated Pioneer from seedlings; competing well
Alectryon coriaceus Beach Tamarind Resprouted Coppicing from burnt stumps.
Solanum mauritianum* Tree Tobacco Germinated Pioneer exotic targeted for weeding
Ficus rubiginosa Port Jackson Fig Resprouted Coppicing from burnt stumps
Laurel type Coppicing from burnt stumps
Synoum glandulosum Scentless Rosewood Resprouted Coppicing from burnt stumps

Post-wildfire recovery at a wet sclerophyll/rainforest ecotone close to housing at Wanganui NSW

Joanne Green

Introduction. The Mt Nardi fire, on Wed 13th Nov 2019, provided an opportunity to observe the effects of a relatively low intensity burn at a wet sclerophyll/rainforest ecotone on an 18 acre rural residential property at Wanganui, NSW.

Prior to the fire the vegetation had not been burned for 50 years and was dominated by Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus), Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummifera) and Forest Oak (Allocasuarina torulosa) –  with a mesic understory of rainforest species including Red Bopple Nut (Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia ), Jackwood (Cryptocarya glaucescens), Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana)  and  Tree Heath (Trochocarpa laurina).  The forest was on a trajectory from wet sclerophyll towards a palm-dominated forest.

Since the fire,  the recovery has reset the ecosystem to a wet sclerophyll community with a diversity of heathy species in the understorey, although there is also massive germination and resprouting of rainforest species that indicates that the rainforest understorey will return over time. Table 1 at the end of this summary shows the recovery of both sclerophyll and rainforest species, and their presence or absence above ground prior to the fire.

Figure 1. Dead Bangalow Palm amid a sea of Brown Kurraong seedlings post fire. (Photo: J. Green)

 

Figure 2. Resprouting saplings of (a) Bolwarra and (b) Creek Fig (Photo J. Green)

Mortality and recovery.

Resprouting:  The fire varied in intensity as it burned downslope. The highest intensity was at the edge of the National Park at the highest elevation above a rocky face. Turpentine (Syncarpa glomulifera), Lomandra (Lomandra longifolia), heath species and younger trees appeared to be killed by fire. While Turpentine has not yet resprouted, Lomandra has resprouted and heath species such as Acacia and Zieria have regrown from seedlings.  Bangalow Palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana) are completely dead wherever the fire burned to their tops (growing points) and perhaps many more are dying, indicated by the presence of a fungus on their trunks. One tall Brushbox (Lophostemon confertus) is completely dead.

A community with old growth Forest Oak (Allocasuarina torulosa) is further downslope closer to the rainforest lined creek. The roots system of these trees, burned under the ground and the fire could only be doused by digging out the peat-like root system. Some of the Forest Oaks died but most have recovered.  Taller canopy trees of rainforest and sclerophyll species died back but are resprouting. Midstorey trees, less than 8m, are largely dead, dying or resprouting from the base (coppicing).  The trunks are completely dead but there are many root suckers of species such as Jackwood (Cryptocaryia glaucescens), Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina), Grey Possumwood (Quintinia verdonii) and the rare Red Bopple Nut (Hickbeachia pinnalifolia).

Treeferns such as Cyathea australis, C. cooperi and C. leichhardtiana were the first resprounters and ground ferns such as Soft Bracken (Hypolepis muelleri) are proliferating following the  rain since the fire event.

Figure 3. Proliferation of rainforest pioneers germinating after fire including Poison Peach (Trema aspera), Pencil Cedar (Polyscias murrayi) and Bleeding Heart (Homolanthus populifolius). (Photo J. Green)

 

Figure 4. Heath species such as Zieria (Zieria smithii) pictured at the right. germinated alongside rainforest species despite not being in the previous above-ground flora. (Photo: J. Green)

Seed germination: Rainforest species germinating included: Red Cedar (Toona ciliata) , Pencil Cedar (Polyscias murrayi), Brown Kurrajong (Commersonia bartramia), Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) and Corkwood (Duboisia myoporoides).  Heath species recruiting included: a large amount of Tree Pea (Daviesia arborea), Zieria (Zieria smithii), Prickly Acacia (Acacia ulicifolia), and Hibbertia spp. Herbaceous species included: Forest Lobelia (Lobelia trigonocaulis),  Kreysigia (Tripladenia cunninghamii), Hairy Tree Foil Desmodium rhytidophllum and other vines of the pea family are covering large areas of the ground.

Weed regeneration

Alongside the natives,  diverse weeds are proliferating after fire, representing all growth forms. Some weed species may be playing a facilitation role for rainforest recovery, while others should be  targeted to reduce their inhibiting effect on native regeneration. Given the level of regeneration across functional groups, this community is likely to benefit from assisted natural regeneration focusing on removal of weed that is competing with native regeneration.  Where possible it is desirable to use the opportunity of the wildfire to deplete populations of weed at the site to increase the community’s resilience to future fire. No reintroductions or seed input is needed at the site.

Future directions.  Consideration needs to be made as to which ecosystem will be the target for future management.  Retaining a sclerophyll overstorey is desirable for habitat values and hence allowing replacement of those individuals that died will be important for future forest dominants.  The use of fire as a control method to control the massive germination of rainforest seedlings and Bangalow Palm dominants is under consideration. For the healthy understorey elements to remain in the soil seed bank for future regeneration would at least require their retention until they have flowered, fruited and recharged the soil seed bank.  But consideration will be given to retaining more fire-resistant rainforest vegetation on the side of the forest closer to the house to act as a fire buffer to supplement the existing 50m fuel free zone.

Contact: Joanne Green, Email jogreen909@gmail.com

Table 1.

SPECIES HABITAT TYPE PRESENCE /ABSENCE BEFORE FIRE RECOVERY MODE
Botanical Name Subtropical Rainforest = STRF, Wet Sclerophyll = WS, Dry Sclerophyll = DS P /A Seed = S, Epicormic growth = EP, Coppice = COP, R = Resprout
TREES AND SHRUBS      
Acacia ulicifolia DS P S
Acacia melanoxylon STRF P S
Acmena smithii STRF P COP
Allocasuarina torulosa WS P EP
Alphitonia excelsa STRF P S/COP
Alphitonia petrei STRF P S
Archirhodomyrtus beckleri STRF P COP
Archontophoenix cunninghamiana STRF P S/Dead
Breynia oblongifolia STRF P S
Commersonia bartramia STRF P S
Cordyline rubra STRF P COP
Corymbia intermedia WS/DS P EP
Cryptocarya erythroxylon STRF P COP
Cryptocarya glaucescens STRF P COP
Daviesia arborea WS/DS A S
Diospyros pentamera STRF P COP
Diploglottis australis STRF P COP/Dead
Duboisia myoporoides STRF P S/COP
Elaeocarpus reticulatus STRF P COP
Eucalyptus microcorys DS P EP
Eucalyptus pilularis DS P EP
Eupomatia laurina STRF P COP
Flindersia bennettii STRF P COP
Ficus coronata STRF P S/COP
Glochidion ferdinandi STRF P COP
Hickbeachia pinnalifolia STRF P COP
Homalanthus populifolius STRF A S
Jagera pseudorhus STRF P COP
Leptospermum petersonii DS P COP/S
Lophostemon confertus WS P S/COP
Macaranga tanarius STRF A S
Melicope elleryana STRF P S
Myrsine variabilis STRF/WS P S
Nematolepis squamea DS A S
Neolitsia dealbata STRF P COP
Ozothamnus diosmifolius WS/DS P S
Persoonia media WS P S
Pilidiostigma glabrum STRF P COP
Polyscias  murrayii STRF A S
Polyscias sambucifolia STRF A S
Quintinia verdonii STRF P COP
Schizomeria ovata STRF P COP
Solanum mauritanium Non – Native A S
Syncarpia glomulifera WS P COP/Dead
Synoum glandulosum STRF P COP
Trema tomentosa STRF P S
Trochocarpa laurina WS P COP
Wilkea huegeliana STRF P S
Zieria smithii  WS A S
       
VINES AND CLIMBERS      
Billardiera scandens WS A S
Geitonoplesium cymosum STRF P S
Desmodium rhytidophllum WS/DS A S
Hibbertia dentata STRF P S
Hibbertia scandens STRF/WS P S
Kennedia rubicunda STRF A S
Morinda jasminoides STRF/WS P S
Rubus moluccanus STRF/WS P S
Smilax australis STRF/WS P S
Stephania japonica var. discolor STRF P S
       
FORBES AND GROUNDCOVERS      
Alpinia caerulea STRF/WS P R
Dianella caerulea STRF/WS P R
Entolasia stricta WS P S
Gahnia appressa WS P S
Lepidosperma laterale WS P R
Lobelia trigonocaulis STRF/WS P S/R
Lomandra longifolia WS P R
Oplismenus aemulus STRF/WS P S
Oplismenus imbecillis STRF/WS P S
Oplismenus undulatifolius STRF/WS P S
Pimelea ligustrina subsp. ligustrina STRF/WS A S
Tripladenia cunninghamii STRF/WS P S/R
Viola banksii STRF/WS A S
       
FERNS      
Adiantum hispidulum STRF/WS P R
Blechnum cartilagineum WS P R
Blechnum nudum STRF P R
Cyathea australis STRF/WS P R
Cyathea cooperi STRF P R
Cyathea leichhardtiana WS P R
Doodia aspera STRF/WS P R
Hypolepis muelleri STRF P R
Pteridium esculentum STRF/WS p R
Sticherus lobatus STRF p R
       

 

Regenerating and planting of rainforest buffers to protect homes and rainforest from future fires

Joanne Green, Rainer Hartlieb and Zia Flook

Introduction. The wildfires of November and December, 2019, burnt over 5,500 hectares of Nightcap National Park and the surrounding areas, including the rural communities of Huonbrook and Wanganui inland from Byron Bay in NSW, Australia. The fires occurred during a period of extreme fire risk after 2 years with below average rainfall. They mainly burnt the sclerophyll forest along the ridgetops, but the extreme conditions also saw fire burn the edge of the rainforest where it was eventually extinguished.

This summary reports on actions on one multiple occupancy property in Huonbrook, NSW after an ember attack from the Mt Nardi fire entered the property in the early hours of the 9th November 2019. During the fire, residents evacuated.  Their homes were saved but they returned to find that the fire burnt an area of eucalypts  – mainly Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus grandis) and several bamboo species that had been planted during the late 20th century to reforest an area where subtropical rainforest had been-long cleared for dairy farming. The plantings had also become infested with weed including Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) and Lantana (Lantana camara), the latter increasing their combustibility under dry conditions. After the fires, the landholders sought solutions that could provide a more fire-resistant barrier to reduce potential fire threat to homes and the nearby remnant rainforest. As a result they opted to restore the buffer zone with the more fire-retardant subtropical rainforest that had been the original native vegetation of the area.

Figure 1. Multiple native and weed species germinated after fire. (Photo Rainforest 4)

Figure 2. Prolific germination of the wind-dispersed Red Cedar (Toona ciliaris), among many rainforest species germinating and resprouting on site. (Photo Joanne Green)

Works undertaken. Starting in March 2020, with support from Madhima Gulgan’s Indigenous bush regeneration team, Huonbrook residents and landowners commenced work on the site. The first task in any zone to be treated was to clear the debris sufficiently to allow access for weeding and planting. The second task was to identify any subtropical rainforest species (germinating after the fire) that were to be retained and to note areas that were bare and would be suited to plantings. (No planting was done where there was any natural regeneration.)  The third task was to remove prolific exotic weeds, while protecting the natives, with the final task involving planting, staking and tree guarding.

The main weed species on site were Lantana, Running Bamboo (Phyllostachys spp.), Kahill Ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), Winter Senna (Senna x pendula), and Inkweed (Phytolacca octandra). A total of 12 rainforest tree species germinating included the secondary species Red Cedar (Toona ciliaris) and Celerywood (Polyscias elegana) and the pioneers Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa), Macaranga (Maccaranga tanarius) and Bleeding Heart (Homolanthus populifolius). A total of seven native rainforest understorey species  resprouted including Dianella (Dianella caerulea), Native Ginger (Alpinia caerulea.) and Cordyline (Cordyline petiolaris).

Figure 3. Madhima Gulgan’s Indigenous bush regeneration team assisting  landholders with post-fire weeding.  This work revealed where understorey natives were regenerating and where gaps required planting. (Photo Rainforest 4)

Some  300 rainforest trees (around 30 species) and another 300 understorey plants have been planted at the site to date from May-Sept 2020, with a total of 3600 plants proposed to be planted on additional fire affected sites as part of this project. Locally occurring tree species planted to date include Lillipilly (Acmena smithii), Native Tamarind (Diploglottis australis), Firewheel Tree (Stenocarpus snuatus), and Long-leaved Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis newmanii) Understorey species planted included Dianella, Lomandra, Native Ginger and Cordyline.  All required tree guards to protect them from browsing by the native Red-necked Pademelon (Thyogale thetis).

After the planting, more natural regeneration of weed and natives occurred, particularly of the ground ferns; Harsh Ground Fern (Hypolepis muelleri), Binung Fern (Christella dentata), and Soft Treefern (Cyathea cooperi). Since the rain in autumn 2020 and the above average rainfall year that has followed, the landholders are managing weed in the regeneration and plantings together and work is now extending into the unburnt buffer zone.

Figure 4. A total of 300 containerised plants were installed to reinstate lowland subtropical rainforest on the site and provide a less fire prone vegetation buffer to protect residential dwellings. (Photo Joanne Green)

Figure 5. Diagram of location of the buffer plantation in relation to dwellings. (Diagram. Joanne Green)

Results to date: Nearly 12 months after planting has seen a nearly 100% survival rate and many of the planted trees have grown to an average height 1-2m. The number of native rainforest species on site now is approximately 25 tree and 23 understorey species and vines.  Ferns cover 40% of the site. The difference between the number planted and the number on site (18 species) can be attributed to natural regeneration.

Further colonisation of rainforest species is expected over time. Whilst, in hindsight, we see that much of the site could have been captured by natives as a result of  weed management alone, the planting has added a broader diversity of species, and will accelerate the process of succession to a more mature rainforest stand.

Acknowledgements: The Madhima Gulgan Indigenous bush regeneration team was funded by the inGrained Foundation and the Rainforest 4 Foundation. See https://www.rainforest4.org/. Technical advice was provided by Joanne Green.

Contact: Rainer Hartlieb, Huonbrook landholder, rainerhart@aapt.net.au and Zia Flook, Rainforest 4 Foundation Conservation Program Manager, zia@rainforestrangers.org

Second trial of watering device design to facilitate seed dispersal into revegetation sites

Amanda Freeman

Figure 1. Watering device on stand with camera above.

Introduction. This summary reports on methods and results of a trial to improve the design of a watering device. (See preliminary trial in EMR summary). This trial drew upon lessons learned In the “Kickstart” pasture conversion project,  (see https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1bhz81L%7EGwOHhQ) where perches and water basins were installed on two private properties in the upper Barron, Queensland, with the aim of catalysing rainforest regeneration.  The seeds of 31 species of bird-dispersed forest trees and shrubs were deposited in water basins, largely due to Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) using the water to regurgitate seeds. The Kickstart Project demonstrated that there is potential for supplementary water to enhance seed dispersal into revegetation sites; however, the seeds regurgitated into basins in that study were not deposited in sites suitable for germination, limiting the basins’ usefulness as restoration tools.

Our 2016 EMR Project Summary described a watering device designed to overcome this problem of seed being deposited in water receptacles.  The trial was conducted at the School for Field Studies property near Yungaburra, Queensland and this summary reports the results of our trial which aimed to identify whether frugivorous birds would use our watering device. We also assessed the amount of maintenance the watering device required to function effectively.

Figure 2. A Lewin’s Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii) at a watering device, May 2017.

Watering Device Trial. In July 2016, three 3 x 3m plots were established in an approximately 120 x 30m area of disused pasture at the School for Field Studies property. The site was located 15m from the edge of primary rainforest on one side and adjacent to a mosaic of scattered trees, restoration plantings and secondary forest on the other three sides. Each plot had a perch, 3-4m high, cut to standard form from Sarsaparilla (Alphitonia petriei) trees. Each plot also had a watering device placed close to the base of the perch. These were commercially available automatic water dispensers used for poultry set on a 1.5m high base with a perch that allowed birds of different sizes to access water from several angles and for expelled seed to fall to the ground (Figs. 1-3).

Motion-activated cameras (Ranger Compact 2 MP) were installed above each watering device to monitor visits to the water. Apart from a total of 37 days when the cameras were removed for maintenance, the three watering devices were monitored from 22 July 2016 to 13 December 2018 when the trial ended. In the analysis, continuous series of images of one or two birds at a watering device were treated as one visit by that species.

The three plots with a perch and watering device were interspersed with plots that only had a perch or had no structures at all. Apart from within the plots and a narrow access track between them, grass and woody vegetation were not controlled in the surrounding disused pasture.

Figure 3. A Victoria’s Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae) at a watering device, October 2016.

What we found. Eighty-six visits by three frugivorous bird species were recorded across the three watering devices over the course of the trial. Ninety percent of visits were during the late dry seasons (September-November). One watering device was visited much more often than the others, receiving 70% of all visits. The other two watering devices received 20% and 10% of visits respectively (Table 1).

One bird species, the generalist Lewin’s Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii), was by far the most frequent visitor to the watering devices, making up 80% of frugivore visits (Fig. 2). Victoria’s Riflebird (Ptiloris victoriae) was the next most frequent visitor (14% of visits, Fig. 3) and Little Shrikethrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha) was the least frequent visitor (6% of frugivore visits). The only other species that used the watering devices was the Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) for which five visits were recorded. All species were recorded drinking from the watering devices. Only the Olive-backed Sunbird could bathe in the small water outlets and were recorded doing so on three occasions.

The watering devices required little maintenance over the 2.5yrs they were deployed. Water was replenished when needed at roughly six-monthly intervals and the water outlets, which collected debris and algae, were cleaned monthly. The devices had no noticeable deterioration at the end of the study.

Table 1. Number of frugivorous bird visits to three watering devices in disused pasture, 22 July 2016 to 13 December 2018.

  1 2 3 Total
Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii 51 8 10 69
Victoria’s Riflebird Ptiloris victoriae 6 0 6 12
Little Shrikethrush Colluricincla megarhyncha 3 1 1 5
Frugivorous bird visits 60 9 17 86

Conclusions. Our watering devices were only used by three frugivorous bird species, most frequently by the Lewin’s Honeyeater a dietary generalist. Generalist avian frugivores tend to move mainly in more open habitats enhancing the dispersal of pioneer or non-forest trees across the landscape rather than carrying seeds from remnant forest into pasture.

Bird use of the watering devices was highly variable and largely confined to the late dry season when rainfall is low, and temperatures are warm to hot. These are poor conditions for germination and plant growth and likely limit recruitment of dispersed seeds.

Despite these limitations, watering devices are a low-cost intervention that may augment perches and attract frugivorous birds, thereby accelerating forest regeneration. The watering devices deployed in this trial did not collect seed, preserving the potential for seed to be dispersed. They required little maintenance and proved suitable for prolonged outdoor use. Watering devices warrant further investigation. 

Acknowledgements. Thanks to William (Bill) Johnson and John Hall for designing the watering device stand and camera attachment and preparing and maintaining the plots. The School for Field Studies funded the trial.

Contact. Amanda N. D. Freeman. Nature North, PO Box 1536, Atherton, Qld, 4883 Australia. The School for Field Studies, Centre for Rainforest Studies (PO Box 141, Yungaburra, Qld 4884 Australia; Tel: +61 (0) 438 966 773; Email: amandafreeman@naturenorth.com.au).

See also EMR project summary on the preliminary trial of this project: https://site.emrprojectsummaries.org/2016/11/02/a-water-point-design-to-facilitate-seed-dispersal-into-revegetation-or-pasture-sites/

Waterponding the Marra Creek, NSW rangelands – UPDATE of EMR feature

Ray Thompson and Central West Local Land Services

[Update of EMR feature – Thompson, Ray F (2008) Waterponding: Reclamation technique for scalded duplex soils in western New South Wales rangelands. Ecological Management & Restoration 9:3, 170-181. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00415.x]

Figure 1.  Scalded country with 30cm of sandy loam topsoil swept away by wind after extensive overgrazing. (Photos NSW SCS)

Introduction. Overgrazing of native pastures in the second half of the 19th Century stripped vegetation and led to the wind erosion of sandy topsoil during inevitable dry periods.  By the 1960s, tens of thousands of square kilometres of rangeland sites in western NSW had a legacy of moderate or severely bare or ‘scalded’ lands. This left bare and relatively impermeable clay subsoil which prevents water penetration and is very difficult for plants to colonize (Fig 1.)

Waterponding is the holding of water on the scald in surveyed horseshoe-shaped banks, each covering 0.4 ha. The ponds retain up to 10 cm of water after rain which leaches the soluble salts from the scalded surface. This improves the remaining soil structure, inducing surface cracking, better water penetration and entrapment of wind-blown seed. Consequently, niches are formed for the germination of this seed and recovery of a range of (typically around 15 out of a total of about 30) locally native chenopod (saltbush) grassland species on the sites.

The original 2008 EMR feature described how barren scalds at a range of properties in Marra Creek, near Nyngan in semi-arid NSW were transformed during the 1980s and 1990s into biodiverse native pastures through a technique called ‘waterponding’ developed after five decades of work by consecutive soil conservation officers exploring a range of prototype treatments.  Over time, a wide range of machines have been used to construct waterponding banks including standard road graders (ridged frame and articulated) or similar. Pre-1985 road graders were generally too small to construct banks of sufficient size, which resulted in too many breached banks. Over a 4-year period, the Marra Creek Waterponding Demonstration Program, backed by committed landowners, researched different horsepower road graders, constructing different size banks, winning the dirt from different locations, and evaluating the economics of construction methods. The results showed that the higher-powered articulated road graders exceeding 200 HP proved to be the most economical and efficient for waterpond construction. This type of machine has the power to  form the bank with one pass on the inside of the bank and two passes on the outside, achieving a bank with well over 2 m base width and over 60 cm in height (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. The process of of waterponding including (a) ute-mounted laser levelling to design the waterpond for a particular site, (b) bulldozing the pond walls to the designed levels, (c) rainfall filling the pond to allow deep watering and cracking of the clay subsoil and (d) resulting revegetation within the walls of the pond. (Photos NSW SCS)

Update and the broader program.  Photos and pasture measurements undertaken on ‘Billabong’ Marra Creek NSW, till 2014 show that the waterponding site had increased ground cover (predominantly native species) from 1% in 2005 to 84 % in 2014. After five to seven rainfall years a typical treatment can result in recovery of up to 15 native species from a range of up to 31 species (Table 1). The method in the last 20 years has also included broadcasting seed of some of the more important perennial species of healthy native chenopod grasslands including  Oldman  Saltbush  (Atriplex nummularia), Bladder Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) and Mitchell Grass (Astrebla   lappacea) (Fig 3).  Landholders in the Marra Creek district observe a range of fauna frequently on and between the ponds, including Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus), Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus), Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), Brolga (Grus rubicunda) and the Eastern Bluetongue Lizard (Tiliqua scincoides). A species of Monitor (Varanus sp.) also sometimes traverses the waterponds. Formal monitoring of smaller reptile and invertebrate use of waterponded sites is yet to occur.

Figure 3. Curly Mitchell Grass (Astrebla lappacea) sown on pond banks. (Photo NSW SCS)

Marra Creek was not the first series of waterponding programs in the Nyngan area – nor the last. The outputs of the entire program by 2019 included over 80,000 waterponds laid out and constructed, resulting in 40,000 hectares returned to local native vegetation. A total of 164 properties in the rangelands area are now using waterponding, the majority of landholders in the Marra Creek district and representing an increase from 17 landholders back in 1984 when we first ran the waterponding.

Figure 4. Landholders themselves are teaching the Waterponding technique to other landholders. (Photos NSW SCS)

Economic model of waterponding. The primary driver for land reclamation was not biodiversity conservation but returning the natural capital of rangelands. As such the program has returned a clear profit to the landholders in terms of increased native pastures that can be grazed, improving ecologically sustainable income sources for farming families.

With the reinstatement of vegetation, there have be increases in total stock feed, resulting in an increase in lambing percentages and wool cuts, as well as the ability to carry stock further into prolonged dry periods with overhead cost per head remaining static. Once rehabilitation has been completed, stocking  rates have been raised from zero to one sheep to 1.5 ha. This iseffectively the long-term grazing average for  saltbush pastures in the Nyngan district.

A treatment involving the full design and survey, pond construction and revegetation cost the landholder about $144.00 per hectare. (This includes approximately $25 a hectare for seed.) If the landholder does all the work the cost is reduced to $72/ha. The type of land involved was calculated in 2008 to normally  have  a  resale  value  of  about $365.00 per hectare In its unproductive state.  Scalded land does not contribute to the farm income yet still incurs rates. Investment in rehabilitation, in contrast, improves carrying capacity thus reducing hand-feeding costs, improving lambing percentages and avoiding forced stock sales. This allows landholders to pass the property to the next generation in a far better condition than it has been previously.

Research has found that the scalds store approximately 18.7 t/h of soil organic carbon to a depth of 30 cm. Once the landscape has been restored by waterponding and revegetation, we have found there is a rapid increase in soil organic carbon up to 25 t/ha within five years. The results are indicating that land in the rangelands that has been rehabilitated using waterponds does sequester carbon. This could lead on to waterponding being eligible for a carbon abatement activity and hopefully lead to Carbon Farming Initiative activity for carbon credits.

Figure 5. Australian National University students attending ‘21 years of participation in Rangelands Waterponding’. (Photos NSW SCS)

Potential for further application. After decades of field days and uptake of the methodologies by local graziers (Fig. 4), waterponding now forms part of standard district farming methodologies and landholders are now passing on knowledge to new generations, including through universities (Fig. 5). The methodologies have also been applied at one national park and one Trust For Nature site in Victoria, and are being applied in the Kimberley, with potential for far greater application in desert conservation reserves throughout Australia and the rest of the world (See Fig. 6 and https://justdiggit.org/approach-2/#).

Contact. Kyra Roach, Central West Local Land Services, Nyngan, 2825 Australia. Email: kyra.roach@lls.nsw.gov.au

Figure 6. A total of 79 trainees from 26 Africa countries (including Ghana, Tunisia, Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti) over a three year period were sponsored by AusAid to study waterponding in Nyngan. Resullting work in African countries is making a big difference to degraded lands particularly in North Sudan and Kenya (Photo NSW SCS)

Table 1. Species found in waterponds after standard revegetation treatments and five to seven rainfall years. The species found by Rhodes (1987b) are still commonly found, with additional species (marked with a diamond +) observed by Ray Thompson. (Plant names are consistent with the New South Wales Herbarium database PlantNet, http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/ and  growth forms are consistent with Cunningham et al. (1981) (Exotics are marked with an asterisk)

Scientific name Common name Growth form
Alternanthera denticulata Lesser Joyweed Annual forb
Astrebla lappacea+ Curly Mitchell Grass Perennial grass
Atriplex leptocarpa Slender-fruited Saltbush Perennial subshrub
Atriplex lindleyi+ Eastern Flat Top Saltbush Annual subshrub
Atriplex nummularia+ Oldman Saltbush Perennial shrub
Atriplex pseudocampanulata Mealy Saltbush Annual subshrub
Atriplex semibaccata+ Creeping Saltbush Perennial subshrub
Atriplex spongiosa Pop Saltbush Annual forb
Atriplex vesicaria Bladder Saltbush Perennial subshrub
Centipeda thespidioides Desert Sneezeweed Perennial forb
Chamaesyce drummondii Caustic Weed Annual or short-lived perennial forb
Chloris truncata Windmill Grass Annual or perennial grass
Diplachne fusca Brown Beetle Grass Perennial grass
Eragrostis parviflora Weeping Lovegrass Annual or short-lived perennial grass
Eragrostis setifolia Neverfail Perennial grass
Hordeum leporinum* Barley Grass Annual grass
Hordeum marinum* Sea Barley Annual grass
Maireana pentagona Hairy Bluebush Perennial subshrub
Malacocera tricornis Soft Horns Perennial subshrub
Marsilea drummondii Common Nardoo Perennial forb
Medicago minima* Woolly Bur Medic Annual forb
Medicago polymorpha* Burr Medic Annual forb
Osteocarpum acropterum+ Water Weed Perennial subshrub
Phalaris paradoxa* Paradoxa Grass Annual grass
Pimelea simplex Desert Rice-flower Annual forb
Portulaca oleracea Common Pigweed Annual forb
Salsola kali var. kali Buckbush Annual or biennial forb
Sclerolaena brachyptera Short-winged Copperburr Short-lived perennia
Sclerolaena calcarata+ Red Copperburr Perennial subshrub
Sclerolaena divaricata+ Pale Poverty Bush Perennial subshrub
Sclerolaena muricata Black Roly-poly Short-lived perennial
Sclerolaena trycuspis Streaked Poverty Bush Perennial subshrub
Sporobolus actinocladus Katoora Grass Perennial grass
Sporobolus caroli Fairy Grass Perennial grass
Tragus australianus Small Burr Grass Annual grass
Tripogon loliiformis+ Five Minute Grass Perennial grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub: is fire the key to restoration? – UPDATE to EMR FEATURE

Geoff Lambert, and Judy Lambert

[Update to EMR Feature – Geoff Lambert and Judy Lambert (2015) Progress with restoration and management of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub on North Head, Sydney.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 16:2, 95-199. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12160]

Key Words. Banksia Scrub, North Head, Critically Endangered Ecological Community, Diversity.

Fig 1. Images of the same location over time, taken from “walk-through” photographic surveys (top to bottom) pre-fire, immediate post-fire and 5-years post-fire. (Photos Geoff Lambert)

Introduction. In the original feature, we reported on a number of projects related to the fire ecology of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS), also known as Coastal Sand Mantle Heath (S_HL03), located in conserved areas on North Head, Sydney Australia. Following a Hazard Reduction burn in September 2012, we examined changes in species numbers and diversity and compared these measures with control areas which had been thinned. We fenced one-third of the survey quadrats to test the effects of rabbit herbivory. There had been no fire in this area since 1951.

Twelve months after treatment, burned ESBS had more native plants, greater plant cover, more native species, greater species diversity and fewer weeds than did thinned ESBS (Fig 1). Areas that had been fenced after fire had “superior” attributes to unfenced areas. The results suggested that fire could be used to rejuvenate this heath and that this method produced superior results to thinning, but with a different species mix. Results of either method would be inferior were attempts not made to control predation by rabbits (See 2015 report).

Further works undertaken. In 2015 and 2017 we repeated the surveys, including photographic surveys on the same quadrats. Further Hazard Reduction burns were conducted, which provided an opportunity to repeat the studies reported in the 2015 feature. The study design of the burns was broadly similar to the earlier study, but rabbits were excluded by fencing four large “exclosures” over half the burn site. The pre-fire botanical survey was carried out in 2014, with logistical difficulties delaying the burn until late May 2018. Drought and other factors saw a post-fire survey delayed until October 2019. Photographic surveys of the quadrats have been completed.

Seven cm-resolution, six-weekly, aerial photography of North Head is regularly flown by Nearmap© (Fig 2). We use this photography to monitor the whole of the headland and, in particular, the various burn areas. In order to extrapolate from our quadrat-based sampling (usually 1% of a burn area), the University of Sydney flew 5mm-resolution UAV-based surveys on our behalf, on one of the 2012 burn areas and on the 2018 burn area in November 2017 (Fig 3) .

Apart from the fire studies, the general program of vegetation propagation and management has been continued by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the North Head Sanctuary Foundation. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy has also undertaken a “whole of headland”, quadrat-based vegetation survey as the first stage of its “Ecological Health” rolling program for its sites.

Fig 2. Nearmap© site images (top to bottom) pre-fire, immediate post-fire and 7-years post-fire. (Photos Nearmap)

Further results. The original results suggested that fire could be used advantageously to rejuvenate ESBS and produced superior results to thinning. While subsequent photographic monitoring shows distinct vegetation change (Figs 1 and 2), on-ground monitoring showed that by five years after the fire we could no longer say this with any optimism. In summary:

  • In the immediate fire aftermath, there was vigorous growth of many species
  • Over the ensuing 5 years, plants began to compete for space, with many dropping out
  • Species diversity was high following the fire but then dropped below pre-fire levels
  • Some plants (e.g. Lepidosperma and Persoonia spp.) came to dominate via vegetative spread
  • The reed, Chordifex dimorphus has almost disappeared
  • Tea-trees (Leptospermum spp.) are gradually making a comeback
  • Between 2015 and 2017, ESBS species numbers were outpaced by non-ESBS species, but held their own in terms of ground cover.

The total disappearance of Chordifex (formerly an abundant species on North Head and prominent in the landscape) from fully-burned quadrats was not something that we could have predicted. This species is not in the Fire Response database, although some Restio spp. are known to be killed by fire. This contributes greatly to the visual changes in the landscape. The great proliferation of Lance Leaf Geebung (Persoonia lanceolata) has also changed the landscape amenity (Fig 1, bottom).

To summarise, the 2012 burn has not yet restored ESBS, but has produced a species mix which may or may not recover to a more typical ESBS assemblage with ongoing management over time. Given that the area had not been burned for 60 years, it may be decades before complete restoration.

Our further studies on the use of clearing and thinning on North Head as an alternative to fire (“Asset Protection Zone Programme”), indicates that thinning and planting can produce a vegetation community acceptable for asset protection fire management and potentially nearly as rich as unmanaged post-fire communities (Fig 4). It is necessary to actively manage these sites by removing fire-prone species every two years. In addition, a trial has been started to test whether total trimming of all except protected species to nearly ground level in an APZ, is an option for longer-term management.

Fig 3. “Thinning Experiment” fenced quadrat #3 in July 2019. The quadrat was created in 2013 by removing Coastal Teatree (Leptospermum laevigatum) and Tree Broom Heath (Monotoca elliptica). The experimental design is a test of raking and seeding, with each treatment in the longer rows. All non-endangered species plants were trimmed to 0.25 metres height in mid-2017. (Photo Geoff Lambert)

Lessons learned and future directions. It is too early to say whether we can maintain and/or restore North Head’s ESBS with a single fire. Further fires may be required. A similar conclusion has been drawn by the Centennial Parklands Trust, with its small-scale fire experiments on the York Road site. We need new and better spot- and broad-scale surveys and further burns in other areas on North Head over a longer period. The spring 2019 survey, just completed, offers an opportunity to better assess the notion that fire is beneficial and necessary.

It will be necessary to monitor the effects of future fires on ESBS diversity closely and for much longer than five years. More active management of the post-fire vegetation may be needed, as we have previously discussed in the feature, and as happens at Golf Club sites (also see video) .

The 2012 burn was relatively “cool”. There is some evidence that “hot” burns (such as have been carried out by NSW Fire and Rescue at some Eastern Suburbs golf courses) may produce improved restoration of ESBS. The 2018 burn on North Head was planned as a “hot” burn. This was not completely achieved, but we may be able to compare “hot” and “cool” burn patches within it.

Fig 4. A 2017 UAV image of quadrat 23 five years after the 2012 burn. The image has been rotated to show the quadrat aligned on the UTM grid. The red square shows the rabbit-proof fences; the black square shows the survey quadrat and the blue squares show the four 1×1 metre vegetation plots. The resolution is approximately 5 mm. (Photo University of Sydney Centre for Field Robotics)

Stakeholders. Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, North Head Sanctuary Foundation. Australian Wildlife Conservancy, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Fire & Rescue NSW.

Funding Bodies. Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife [Grant No. 11.47], Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Contact Information. Dr G.A.Lambert, Secretary, North Head Sanctuary Foundation, (P.O.Box 896, BALGOWLAH 2093, Tel: +61 02 9949 3521, +61 0437 854 025, Email: G.Lambert@iinet.net.au. Web: https://www.northheadsanctuaryfoundation.org.au/

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly population persists 10 years after emergency habitat restoration and translocation – UPDATE to EMR feature

[Update to 2008 EMR feature  –  Raymond Mjadwesch and Simon Nally (2008) Emergency relocation of a Purple Copper Butterfly colony during roadworks: Successes and lessons learned. Ecological Management & Restoration,  9:2, 100-109.   https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00400.x]

By Simon Nally and Raymond Mjadwesch

Fig 1.  The endangered Purple Copper Butterfly (Paralucia spinifera) (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Key wordsParalucia spinifera, Purple Copper Butterfly, reintroduction, invertebrate, threatened species.

Introduction: As reported in the original EMR feature, the unintended destruction of the habitat of a population of the endangered Purple Copper Butterfly (Paralucia spinifera, Fig 1) north of Lithgow, Australia in 2004, precipitated a bold, innovative, and rapid emergency program of habitat restoration and butterfly larvae translocation.

A stand of the butterfly’s larval host plants, Blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa subsp. lasiophylla), had been largely destroyed to enable road construction (Fig 2a). The butterflies had commenced emerging from their nearly nine-month-long pupation in the attendant ant’s (Anonychomyrma itinerans) underground nests to find an absence of host plants.

Construction work ceased immediately, and supplementary Blackthorn plants were planted throughout the area of predicted butterfly emergence. The Blackthorn were planted in their pots, to allow for later removal and replanting in the area where the habitat was being restored.  The Blackthorn were sugar-baited to attract the attendant ant as the ant was assumed to affect the male butterfly’s selection of home ranges, and ultimately, egg-laying on these larval host plants. Concurrently with the provision of Blackthorn for egg-laying, an adjoining degraded area of potential habitat was treated for infestations of woody weeds and growth of emergent Eucalyptus trees that excluded Blackthorn or blocked sunlight, precluding its suitability for occupation by the species.  Once weeds were controlled, Blackthorn was established in this area using tube-stock planting.

Attendant ants were enticed to all the Blackthorn introduced to the site, male butterflies established territories and were successful at attracting females with whom to mate, and these females laid eggs on the Blackthorn. The project partners were relieved at these initial results! However, as much of the site was to be permanently destroyed due to road construction, this temporarily reprieved population had to be translocated.

Over 12 nights, 1,260 of the facultatively nocturnal larvae were collected (along with any associated attendant ants) as they emerged to feed on Blackthorn leaves and translocated to the newly created habitat established on an adjacent restoration area (Fig 2b). Each translocated larva was monitored until it was attended by ants (again attracted to the recipient habitat using a sugar bait). Further monitoring continued to confirm continued growth of larvae until pupation was assumed to occur.

The duration of the emergency habitat restoration and translocation activities from first discovery of the habitat destruction to the assumed pupation of the translocated larvae in the newly established habitat (Fig 3) was less than five months.

After the autumn and winter pupation period, the project partners were delighted to find butterflies emerging, mating, and laying eggs on the remaining restored habitat, one year after the initial habitat destruction was first detected. Monitoring of larval numbers during 2005-2008, which involved systematic nocturnal inspection of all Blackthorn plants at the site, indicated that the population was secure and had grown after an initial reduction in calculated numbers in the first year after translocation.

Figure 2a. 2004 – The site as found showing the extent of habitat destruction (when the butterfly and habitat loss was initially detected). (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Figure 2b. 2005 – Larvae from yellow-delineated area were translocated (after temporary introduction) into the blue-delineated area and bushland further right. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Monitoring update: In 2013 and 2015 monitoring reverted to an area search method, counting flying butterflies – a technique routinely used to indicate butterfly distribution / areas of activity at each of the other known populations. In 2015, ten years after the emergency translocation and habitat restoration, 48 butterflies were observed in the restored habitat, the second highest number recorded for this site.

Note that the results of monitoring counts can vary with date of survey relative to the flying period, time of day, and weather conditions on the day, and represent an indicator of presence and activity rather than a measure of absolute abundance. During some years multiple monitoring events occurred; in 2013 and 2015 there was only a single monitoring count.

There have been no further nocturnal larvae counts since the culmination of the project.

A 2019 site assessment identified the need for further woody weed maintenance works (which has been ongoing in the interim, funded by the LLS) to avoid potential degradation of the habitat quality due to competition with and shading of the host plant, Blackthorn.  Longer term maintenance of this site may require active management to ensure persistence of Blackthorn either through burning or mechanical damage to Blackthorn to promote re-sprouting from the rootstock and juvenile leaf production. Juvenile leaves lack the hairy indumentum present on the lower surfaces of intermediate and adult Blackthorn leaves, and have been observed to be preferentially skeletonized by early-instar larvae.

The 2019 site inspection also revealed that powerline easement works had resulted in weedicide spraying of eucalypt (Eucalyptus ssp.) saplings throughout the restored habitat, with Blackthorn plants and other native plant species affected.

Figure 3a – the site in 2005, after restoration works were complete, showing the initial flush of pioneer species after soil disturbance and restoration. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Figure 3b – the site in 2019 showing the final shrubby understory of sedges and shrubs (including scattered Blackthorn) typical of the locally native open forest community. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Lessons learned and future directions: Several factors contributed to the success of the habitat restoration and translocation program, some of which were of notable serendipity. It was extremely fortunate that the species was detected within the affected area (after the initial survey of the site had failed to detect habitat for the species); that Blackthorn tube-stock (upon which the restoration relied) was available; that an area considered likely to support Purple Copper Butterfly suitable for rehabilitation lay adjacent to the affected area; and that the timing of the damage in the annual lifecycle of the species allowed the partners to work with the opportunity to establish larval food plants  when it was required.

However, we believe that it was human factors that fundamentally combined to create the environment for success:

  • the commitment of the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (then the RTA) to immediately and fully support restoration works to ameliorate the damage and maximize the chances of the population surviving in the long term, including changing the design of the works to reduce the extent of permanent damage, and the funding of the restoration, translocation, and monitoring activities.
  • the project partners, including the authors, the RTA, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and Lithgow LandCare unified in collaboration, ceasing other activities to direct all necessary effort to maximize chances of success.
  • the quick, resourceful and bold action to trial and implement innovative techniques that were risky and speculative, such as luring attendant ants to planted Blackthorn using sugar, trial translocating attendant ants, and translocating larvae.
  • that there had been sufficient field observations to  predict the likely behavior of butterflies and larvae and to predict the likely response of the species’ habitat to management intervention.

We encourage restoration practitioners to immerse themselves in the environments they intend to manipulate, and ponder on the behavior, function, and interactions between each element of the ecosystem before them. When choosing to act – to intervene – to manipulate, do so sensitively to what you both know and feel that you have learned in the field, and act decisively, quickly, and boldly. Most importantly, corral a team of partners who believe in the endeavor and who fully commit their support to each other for a common restoration objective.

Endnote: In September 2019, an unplanned fire burnt much of the site. Given the monitoring data available for this site, further monitoring to study the effect of fire on the species and its habitat is being considered.

 Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (now NSW Roads and Maritime), NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (now NSW Office of Environment and Heritage), Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Lithgow LandCare, Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy

Contact information: Simon Nally, 8 Gurney Place PAGE ACT, Australia, Tel: +61 407870234, Email: suseandsimon@bigpond.com. Ray Mjadwesch, Mjadwesch Environmental Service and Support, 26 Keppel Street, Bathurst, NSW 2795 Australia, Tel: +61 423949789, Email:  ray@mjadweschenvironmental.com.au

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Habitat Restoration Project at Gordon, 2000 – 2019 UPDATE of EMR feature

Nancy Pallin

[Update to EMR feature –  Pallin, Nancy (2001) Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Habitat restoration project, 15 years on.  Ecological Management & Restoration 1:1, 10-20. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00003.x]

Key words:         bush regeneration, community engagement, wallaby browsing, heat events, climate change

Figure 1. Habitat restoration areas at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve within the urban area of Gordon, showing areas treated during the various phases of the project. Post-2000 works included follow up in all zones, the new acquisition area, the pile burn site, the ecological hot burn site and sites where vines have been targeted. (Map provided by Ku-ring-gai Council.)

Introduction. The aim of this habitat restoration project remains to provide self-perpetuating indigenous roosting habitat for Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) located at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve in Gordon, NSW Australia (Fig 1).  The secondary aim was to retain the diversity of fauna and flora within the Flying-fox Reserve managed by Ku-ring-gai Council. Prior to works, weed vines and the activity of flying-foxes in the trees had damaged the canopy trees while dense weed beneath prevented germination and growth of replacement trees.  Without intervention the forest was unable to recover.  Natural regeneration was assisted by works carried out by Bushcare volunteers and Council’s contract bush regeneration team.  The work involved weed removal, pile burns and planting of additional canopy trees including Sydney Bluegum (Eucalyptus saligna), which was expected to cope better with the increased nutrients brought in by flying-foxes.

Figure 2. The changing extent of the Grey-headed Flying-fox camp from the start of the project, including updates since 2000. (Data provided by KBCS and Ku-ring-gai Council)

Significant changes have occurred for flying-foxes and in the Reserve in the last 20 years.

In 2001 Grey-headed Flying-fox was added to the threatened species lists, of both NSW and Commonwealth legislation, in the Vulnerable category.  Monthly monitoring of the number of flying-foxes occupying the Reserve  has continued monthly since 1994 and, along with mapping of the extent of the camp, is recorded on Ku-ring-gai Council’s Geographical Information System. Quarterly population estimates contribute to the National Monitoring Program to estimate the population of Grey-headed Flying-fox.  In terms of results of the monitoring, the trend in the fly-out counts at Gordon shows a slight decline.  Since the extreme weather event in 2010, more camps have formed in the Sydney basin in response to declining food resources.

In 2007, prompted by Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society (KBCS), the size of the Reserve was increased by 4.3 ha by NSW Government acquisition and transfer to Council of privately owned bushland. The Voluntary Conservation Agreement that had previously established over the whole reserve in 1998 was then extended to cover the new area.   These conservation measures have avoided new development projecting into the valley.

From 2009 Grey-headed Flying-fox again shifted their camp northwards into a narrow gully between houses (Fig 2).  This led to human-wildlife conflict over noise and smell especially during the mating season. Council responded by updating the Reserve Management Plan to increase focus on the needs of adjoining residents.  Council removed and trimmed some trees which were very close to houses. In 2018 the NSW Government, through Local Governments, provided grants for home retrofitting such as double glazing, to help residents live more comfortably near flying-fox camps.

Heat stress has caused flying-fox deaths in the Reserve on five days since 2002. Deaths (358) recorded in 2013, almost all were juveniles of that year.  KBCS installed a weather station (Davis Instruments Vantage Pro Plus, connected through a Davis Vantage Connect 3G system) and data loggers to provide continuous recording of temperature and humidity within the camp and along Stoney Creek.  The station updates every 15 minutes and gives accurate information on conditions actually being experienced in the camp by the flying-foxes. The data is publicly available http://sydneybats.org.au/ku-ring-gai-flying-fox-reserve/weather-in-the-reserve/Following advice on the location and area of flying-fox roosting habitat and refuge areas on days of extremely high temperatures (Fig 3.) by specialist biologist Dr Peggy Eby, Council adopted the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve 10 Year Management and Roosting Habitat Plan in 2018.  Restoration efforts are now focused on improving habitat along the lower valley slopes to encourage flying-foxes to move away from residential property and to increase their resilience to heat events which are predicted to increase with climate change.

Figure 3. Map showing the general distribution of flying-foxes during heat events, as well as the location of exclosures. (Map provided by Ku-ring-gai Council)

Further works undertaken.  By 2000 native ground covers and shrubs were replacing the weeds that had been removed by the regeneration teams and Bushcare volunteers.  However, from 2004, browsing by the Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) was preventing growth of young trees and shrubs.  Bushcare volunteers, supported by KBCS and Council responded by building tree cages made from plastic-mesh and wooden stakes. Reinforcing-steel rods replaced wooden stakes in 2008.   From 2011, the Bushcare volunteers experimented with building wallaby exclosures, to allow patches of shrubs and groundcovers to recover between trees (Figs 3 and 4).  Nineteen wallaby exclosures have been built. These range in size from 7m2 to 225m2 with a total area of 846m2.   Wire fencing panels (Mallee Mesh Sapling Guard 1200 x 1500mm) replaced plastic mesh in 2018.  Silt fence is used on the lower 0.5m to prevent reptiles being trapped and horizontally to deter Brush Turkey (‎Alectura lathami) from digging under the fence.

The wallaby exclosures have also provided an opportunity to improve moisture retention at ground level to help protect the Grey-headed Flying-fox during heat events.  While weed is controlled in the exclosures south of Stoney Creek, those north of the creek retain Trad and privets, consistent with the 10 Year Management and Roosting Habitat Plan.

Madeira Vine (Anredera cordifolia) remained a threat to canopy trees along Stoney Creek for some years after 2000, despite early treatments.  The contract bush regen team employed sInce 2010 targeted 21 Madiera Vine incursions.

A very hot ecological burn was undertaken in 2017 by Council in order to stimulate germination of soil stored seed and regenerate the Plant Community Type (PCT) – Smooth-barked Apple-Turpentine-Blackbutt tall open forest on enriched sandstone slopes and gullies of the Sydney region (PCT 1841).  This area was subsequently fenced. The contract bush regeneration team was also employed for this work to maintain and monitor the regeneration in the eco-burn area (720 hours per year for both the fire and Madiera Vine combined).

Figure 4. Exclusion fence construction method. Pictured are Bushcare volunteers, Jill Green and Pierre Vignal. (Photo N Pallin).

Figure 5. Natural regeneration in 2018 in (unburnt) exclosure S-6 (including germination of Turpentines). (Photo N. Pallin)

Further results to date. The original canopy trees in Phase 1 and Phase 2 (1987 -1997) areas have recovered and canopy gaps are now mostly closed. Circumference at breast height measurements were taken for seven planted Sydney Blue gum trees.  These ranged from 710 to 1410mm with estimated canopy spread from 2 to 6m.  While original Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) had circumferences from 1070 and 2350mm with canopy spread estimated between 5and 8m, those planted or naturally germinated now have circumference measurements between 420 and 980mm with canopy spread estimated from 1.5 to 3m.  A Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) which naturally germinated after initial clearing of weeds now has a circumference of 1250mm with a canopy spread of 5m.  Also three Pigeonberry Ash (Elaeocarpus kirtonii) have circumference from 265 to 405mm with small canopies of 1 to 2m as they are under the canopies of large, old Turpentines.  As predicted by Robin Buchanan in 1985 few Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) juveniles survived while the original large old trees have recovered and the Sydney Bluegum trees have thrived.

In the Phase 3 (1998 – 2000) area south of Stoney Creek the planted Sydney Blue Gum now have circumferences measuring between 368 and 743 (n7) with canopy spread between 2 and 6 m.  in this area the original large trees have girths between 1125 and 1770mm (n7) whereas trees which either germinated naturally or were planted now range from 130 to 678mm (n12).  These measurement samples show that it takes many decades for trees to reach their full size and be able to support a flying-fox camp.

Wallaby exclosures constructed since 2013 south of Stoney Creek contain both planted and regenerated species.  Eight tree species, 11 midstorey species, 27 understorey species and eight vines have naturally regenerated.  Turpentines grew slowly, reaching 1.5m in 4 years.  Blackbutts thrived initially but have since died. In exclosures north of the creek,  weeds including Large-leaved Privet,  Ligustrum lucidum,  Small-leaved privet,  L. sinense,  Lantana, Lantana camara,  and Trad, Tradescantia fluminensis) have been allow to persist and develop to maximise ground moisture levels for flying-foxes during heat events. Outside the exclosures, as wallabies have grazed and browsed natives, the forest has gradually lost its lower structural layers, a difference very evident in Fig 6.

Figure 6. Visible difference in density and height of ground cover north and south of Stoney creek. (Photo P. Vignal)

Coachwood (Ceratopetalum apetalum) were densely planted in a 3 x 15m exclosure under the canopies of mature Coachwood next to Stoney Creek in 2015. In 4 years they have reached 1.5m.  In this moist site native groundcovers are developing a dense, moist ground cover.

Madiera Vine, the highest-threat weed, is now largely confined to degraded edges of the reserve, where strategic consolidation is being implemented with a view to total eradication.

In the hot burn area, which was both fenced and weeded, recruitment has been outstanding. One 20 x 20m quadrat recorded 58 native species regenerating where previously 16 main weed species and only 6 native species were present above ground. A total of 20 saplings and 43 seedlings of canopy species including Eucalyptus spp., Turpentine and Coachwood were recorded in this quadrat where the treatment involved weed removal, burning and fencing  (S. Brown, Ku-ring-gai Council, July 2019, unpublished data).  Unfortunately, however, the timing and location of the burn did not take into account its impact on the flying-fox camp and there was some damage to existing canopy trees. It will be many years before the canopy trees, which are regenerating, will be strong enough to support flying-foxes.

Monitoring from the weather station and data loggers has shown that close to Stoney Creek on a hot day it is typically 2-3° C cooler, and 5-10% higher in humidity, than in the current camp area (pers. comm. Tim Pearson). During heat events the flying-foxes move to this cooler and moister zone, increasing their chances of survival.

Fauna observed other than flying-foxes includes a pair of Wedge-tail Eagle ( Aquila audax plus their juvenile, a nesting Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) and a Pacific Baza (Aviceda subcristata).  Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) individuals continue to use the valley. The presence of raptors and owls indicate that the ecosystem processes appear to be functional. Despite the decline of the shrub layer outside fenced areas, the same range of small bird species (as seen prior to 2000) are still seen including migrants such as Rufous Fantail ( Rhipidura rufifrons) which prefers dense, shady vegetation. The first sighting of a Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) was in 2014.  Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) individuals appear and disappear, while Swamp Wallaby remains plentiful.

Lessons learned and future directions. Climate change is an increasing threat to Pteropus species. On the advice of Dr Eby, Flying-fox Consultant, Council, KBCS and Bushcare Volunteers agreed to retain all vegetation including weeds such as Large-leaved Privet and Small-leaved Privet, patches of the shrub Ochna (Ochna serrulata) and Trad as a moist ground cover in the camp area and areas used by the flying-foxes during heat events.

Building cheap, lightweight fencing can be effective against wallaby impacts, provided it is regularly inspected and repaired after damage caused by falling branches. This style of fencing has the additional advantage of being removable and reusable.  It has been proposed that, to provide understory vegetation to fuel future burns in parts of the reserve away from the flying-fox camp, further such temporary fencing could be installed.

Ku-ring-gai Council has commenced a  program to install permanent monitoring points to annually record changes in the vegetation, consistent with the state-based  Biodiversity Assessment Method.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. Members of KBCS make donations, volunteer for monthly flyout counts, Bushcare and present educational events with live flying-foxes. KBCS hosts the website www.sydneybats.org.au. Ku-ring-gai Council which is responsible for the Reserve has been active in improving management to benefit both residents and flying-foxes.  Ku-ring-gai Environmental Levy Grants to KBCS have contributed substantially to purchase of fencing materials and the weather station. http://www.kmc.nsw.gov.au/About_Ku-ring-gai/Land_and_surrounds/Local_wildlife/Native_species_profiles/Grey-headed_flying-fox

Thank you to Jacob Sife and Chelsea Hankin at Ku-ring-gai Council for preparing the maps and to volunteer Pierre Vignal for assistance with tree measurements, downloading data loggers and a photo.  Researcher,  Tim Pearson installed the weather station.

Contact information. Nancy Pallin, Management Committee member, Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc.  PO Box 607, Gordon 2072  Tel 61 418748109. Email:  pallinnancy@gmail.com