Category Archives: Cultural & socio-economic issues & solutions

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

Robyn R. Watson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monitoring the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan, Kimberley, Western Australia – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update to EMR feature: Moorcroft, Heather, Emma Ignjic, Stuart Cowell, John Goonack, Sylvester Mangolomara, Janet Oobagooma, Regina Karadada, Dianna Williams and Neil Waina (2012) Conservation planning in a cross‐cultural context: the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Project in the Kimberley, Western Australia,  Ecological Management & Restoration, 13:1, 16-25. See https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00629.xk]

Key words: conservation planning, participatory conservation, Indigenous people, Kimberley

Figure 1. Location map of Wunambal Gaambera land and sea country. (Source: WGAC)

Introduction. The development of the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan (HCP) was a key enabler for Wunambal Gaambera people to look after country (Fig 1) and occurred at an important time when native title rights to country were being secured. The plan came about through a partnership between Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) and Bush Heritage Australia (BHA), who brought the planning approach and supported WGAC to develop a plan that met the needs of Traditional Owners. This plan then became the basis of a long term partnership between the two organisations to support implementation.

Healthy Country Planning, a term coined by this project, adapted the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (http://cmp-openstandards.org/ ) to an Indigenous native title community context. The approach has subsequently flourished in Australia, adopted by a further 30 indigenous groups ( see doi: 10.1111/emr.12267).

The unique partnership model established between BHA and WGAC, underpinned by Healthy Country Planning, has also expanded (https://www.bushheritage.org.au/what-we-do/aboriginal-partnerships). The program supports indigenous partners to achieve their community and conservation aspirations articulated through Healthy Country Planning.

Figure 2. Terrick Bin Sali handling a northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). (Photo WGAC)

Conservation planning with a difference. Our experience has been that the Open Standards can be successfully applied to an Indigenous context but some important adaptation is required. For example:

  1. People, culture and country are inseparable in Australian indigenous worldviews. As such, Healthy Country Planning is much wider in scope than mainstream conservation or natural resource management planning. The vision in the HCP typically sets long-term goals that include aspirations for looking after country and achieving health conditions for landscapes, seascapes, plants and animals, as well as for people and culture (Figs 2-4). These outcomes are collectively referred to as “Healthy Country”. An indigenous plan will always recognize and value people in the landscape rather than as separate. Traditional Owners, and/or their culture, become a conservation target alongside species and habitats with ‘key cultural attributes’ established alongside ‘key ecological attributes’. HCPs also have a greater degree of management strategies that relate to people and culture than would be found in mainstream management plans, and culture and Indigenous Knowledge is incorporated into land management activities that could be considered mainstream, such as the inclusion of cultural rules within visitor management.
  2. The Open Standards include approaches and tools for stakeholder participation that lend themselves well to Indigenous peoples, however given that Indigenous lands are communally-owned and governed by unique law and culture systems, participation requirements are higher and more complex. Traditional systems of governance are often recognized under State and Federal Law (such as the Native Title Act) requiring additional process steps. In developing the HCP, WGAC undertook a process of involving all Traditional Owner families in various stages of planning and the plan was authorized at a Traditional Owner meeting.
  3. A Healthy Country Plan typically applies to the whole traditional estate of a Traditional Owner group regardless of tenure, consistent with the concept of “Country-based Planning”. WGAC initially dedicated stage I of the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area over several aboriginal reserves in 2010, and later added exclusive possession lands following native title determination. The marine environment will also be added to the IPA once agreement is reached with State and Commonwealth Governments, as articulated in the Uunguu Wundaagu Plan.

Figure 3. Traditional Owners undertaking a ‘junba’ traditional dance workshop. (Photo: WGAC)

Monitoring & evaluation since 2012. Aspects of the monitoring and evaluation framework established by WGAC include the establishment of the Uunguu Monitoring & Evaluation Committee (UMEC) and the completion of mid-term evaluation of the HCP (see 2017 review doi:10.1111/emr.12257). The UMEC is composed of Traditional Owners and external experts who undertake key Healthy Country Planning steps and functions. A significant investment of time and money was required to support annual or biennial meetings “on country” (ie. on Wunambal Gaambera lands), however the review showed that the investment has proven worthwhile because WGAC has been able to implement the plan to a high degree.

In 2015 a major mid-term evaluation was undertaken to assess the progress of the HCP. It utilized some standard evaluation tools examining Open Standards process. It also incorporated some new approaches to include the views of the wider Traditional Owner community in the evaluation of the plan to ensure the plan was meeting their needs and following effective process with regard to governance and participation. The review made a number of observations as follows.

  1. Considerable progress had been made in the implementation of fire management strategies in the HCP to the point that the health condition of the “Right Way Fire” target was changed from ‘fair’ to ‘good’. Unmanaged wildfires have significantly reduced in size as a result of increased capabilities of the Uunguu Rangers to undertake burning. At the same time “right way” cultural principles have been incorporated into operations to ensure that Traditional Owner families are making decisions about burning and undertaking fire operations on their family areas.
  2. Significant progress has been made against a visitor management strategy. One of the key concerns of elders when developing the plan was unregulated visitation to important cultural sites by the expedition cruise industry and independent travelers. The Uunguu Visitor Pass, launched in 2017, requires visitors to obtain a permit to access authorized visitor locations as well as generating funds for looking after country. Over 90% of commercial tour operators have now registered for the UVP, with a similar independent traveler compliance, generating funds to support Traditional Owner participation in visitor management and delivering tour products.
  3. Progress was not made, however, in the health of cultural targets in the plan. As a result, the 2015 review recommended further investment and effort in culture strategies. Two important books have been completed to document elders’ knowledge of biodiversity and cultural places. There has been an increase in cultural activities including language and corroboree dance workshops and annual culture camps for school children. Law and culture dictates that visitors to country (indigenous or non-indigenous) need to be accompanied by the right local Traditional Owners when undertaking activities on country. In this way Healthy Country work supports large numbers of Traditional Owners to visit country and guide participation in the implementation of the plan. A number of actions have been undertaken to support Traditional Owners to live on country and remote ranger infrastructure has been developed.

Figure 4. Uunguu Rangers during a cultural fire walk. (Photo WGAC)

Future Directions. The first 8 years of the HCP implementation has focused on building WGAC’s land and sea management capacity and resources, with funding from WGAC,  the Australian Governments Indigenous Protected Area and Indigenous Ranger Programs and from Bush Heritage Australia. Traditional Owners currently hold certificate level roles of rangers, tourism workers and construction workers but further work is now needed to support Traditional Owners to take on roles that require higher levels of training. There is also a need to support the development of a wider range of livelihoods to support Traditional Owners to live and/or work on country.

Contact information. Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, PMB 16 Kalumburu via Wyndham WA 6740, Australia.

Email: info@wunambalgaambera.org.au

Web: www.wunambalgaambera.org.au

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uunguulife/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developments in Big Scrub Rainforest Restoration: UPDATE of EMR feature

By Tony Parkes, Mark Dunphy, Georgina Jones and Shannon Greenfields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovering Murray-Darling Basin fishes by revitalizing a Native Fish Strategy – UPDATE of EMR feature

John Koehn, Mark Lintermans and Craig Copeland

[Update of EMR Feature: Koehn JD, Lintermans M, Copeland C (2014) Laying the foundations for fish recovery: The first 10 years of the Native Fish Strategy for the Murray‐Darling Basin, Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration, 15:S1, 3-12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14428903/2014/15/s1]

Key words restoration, native fish populations, threatened species, Australia, Murray-Darling Basin

Figure 1. The construction of fishways can help restore river connectivity by allowing fish movements past instream barriers. (Photo: ARI.)

 Introduction. Fish populations in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), Australia, have suffered substantial declines due to a wide range of threats and there is considerable concern for their future. Given these declines and the high ecological, economic, social and cultural values of fish to the Australian community, there is a need to recover these populations. In 2003, a Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was developed to address key threats; taking a coordinated, long-term, multi-jurisdictional approach, focussed on recovering all native fish (not just angling species) and managing alien species. The strategy objective was to improve populations from their estimated 10% of pre-European settlement levels, to 60% after 50 years of implementation.

To achieve this the NFS was intended to be managed as a series of 10-year plans to assist management actions in four key areas; the generation of new knowledge, demonstration that multiple actions could achieve improvements to native fish populations, building of a collaborative approach, and the communication of existing as well as newly-acquired science. The NFS successfully delivered more than 100 research projects across six ‘Driving Actions’ in its first 10 years, with highlights including the implementation of the ‘Sea to Hume’ fishway program (restoring fish passage to >2 200 km of the Murray River, Fig 1), improved knowledge of fish responses to environmental water allocations, development of new technologies for controlling alien fish, methods to distinguish hatchery from wild-bred fish, creating a community partnership approach to ‘ownership’ of the NFS, and rehabilitating fish habitats using multiple interventions at selected river (demonstrations) reaches.  The NFS partnership involving researchers, managers, policy makers and the community delivered an applied research program that was rapidly incorporated into on-the-ground management activities (e.g. design of fishways; alien fish control, environmental watering; emergency drought interventions). The NFS largely coincided with the Millennium Drought (1997-2010) followed by extensive flooding and blackwater events, and its activities contributed significantly to persistence of native fish populations during this time.

Funding for the NFS program ceased in 2012-13, after only the first decade of implementation but the relationships among fishers, indigenous people and government agencies have continued along with a legacy of knowledge, development of new projects and collaborative networks with key lessons for improved management of native fishes (see http://www.finterest.com.au/).

Figure 2. Recreational fishers are a key stakeholder in the Murray-Darling Basin, with a keen desire to have sustainable fishing for future generations. (Photo: Josh Waddell.)

Further works undertaken. Whilst the NFS is no longer funded as an official project, many activities have continued though a range of subsequent projects; some are highlighted below:

  • Environmental water: development of fish objectives and implementation of the Basin Plan, northern MDB complementary measures, further investigation of mitigation measures for fish extraction via pumps and water diversions.
  • Fishways: Completion of sea to Lake Hume fishway program and other fishways such as Brewarrina
  • Community engagement: Continuation of many Demonstration (recovery) reaches and intermittent NFS Forums (Fig 2).
  • Recreational fishery management: engagement of anglers through the creation of the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) fishery management group and OzFish Unlimited.
  • Threatened species recovery: success with Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis)  (Fig 3) and Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) populations, development of population models for nine MDB native fish species.
  • Knowledge improvement: research has continued, as has the publication of previous NFS research-related work.
  • Indigenous and community connection to fishes: development of the concept of Cultural flows, involvement in Basin watering discussions.

Figure 3. Trout Cod are a success story in the recovery of Australian threatened species. (Photo: ARI.)

Further results to date. The continued poor state of native fishes means there is a clear need for the continuation of successful elements of the NFS. There is need, however, for revision to provide a contemporary context, as some major changes have occurred over the past decade. The most dramatic of these, at least publicly, has been the occurrence of repeated, large fish kills (Fig 4). This was most evident in the lower Darling River in early 2019 when millions of fish died. The media coverage and public outcry followed the South Australian Royal Commission and two ABC 4Corners investigations into water management, highlighted that all was not well in the Murray-Darling Basin. Indeed, following two inquiries, political recommendations were made to develop a Native Fish Recovery Management Strategy (NFMRS), and a business case is currently being developed. The drought, water extraction and insufficient management efforts to support native fish populations, especially within a broader sphere of a ‘new’ climate cycle of more droughts and climatic extremes, have contributed to these fish kill events. For example, one of the necessary restoration efforts intended from the Basin Plan was to provide more water for environmental purposes to improve river condition and fish populations. Recent research, however, appears to indicate that flow volumes down the Darling River have generally decreased. There is also a continuing decline of species with examples such as Yarra Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca obscura), now being extinct in MDB, and the closely related Southern Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca australis) which is still declining. Monitoring of fish populations has indicated that they remain in poor health and the need for recovery may be even greater than in 2003. We need to act now.

While some of the legacy of the NFS has continued, there has been a loss of integrated and coordinated recovery actions that were a key feature of the NFS. This loss of a Basin-wide approach has resulted in some areas (e.g. small streams and upland reaches) being neglected, with a concentration on lowland, regulated river reaches. There has also been a shift from a multi-threat, multi-solution approach to recovery, to a narrower, flow-focussed approach under the Basin Plan. In addition, there has been the installation of infrastructure (known as Sustainable Diversion Measures) to ‘save’ water which may have deleterious impacts on fish populations (e.g. the impoundment of water on floodplains by regulators or the changed operations of Menindee Lakes on the Darling River).

A clear success of the NFS was improvements in community understanding of native fishes and their engagement in restoration activities. These community voices- indigenous, conservation, anglers, etc. have been somewhat neglected in the delivery of the Basin Plan. There has been ongoing fish researcher and stakeholder engagement, but this has been largely driven by enormous goodwill and commitment from individuals involved in the collaborative networks established through the NFS. While these efforts have been supported by many funding bodies and partners such as the Murray-Darlin Basin Authority, state and Commonwealth water holders and agencies and catchment management authorities, without true cross-basin agreement and collaboration the effectiveness of these efforts will be significantly reduced.

Figure 4. Fish kills have created great public concern and are an indication of the need for improved management of native fish populations. (Photo:Graeme McRabb.)

Lessons learned and future directions.  Native fish populations in the MDB remain in a poor state and improvements will not be achieved without continued and concerted recovery efforts. Moreover, a 5-year review of the NFS indicated that while the actions undertaken to that time had been positive, they needed to be a scaling up considerably to achieve the established goals.  Recovery actions must be supported by knowledge and the lessons learnt from previous experience.  Some fish management and research activities have continued under the auspices of the Basin Plan, but these have largely focussed on the delivery of environmental water, either through water buy-backs or improved efficiency of water delivery. A key requirement is therefore transparent and accurate measurement and reporting of how much flow has been returned to the environment, and how this may have improved fish populations. This remains problematic as evidenced by the recent inquiries into fish kills in the lower Darling River (and elsewhere) and the lack of available water accounting. Fish kills are likely to continue to reoccur and the lingering dry conditions across much of the Northern Basin in 2018-19 and climate forecasts have highlighted the need for further, urgent actions through an updated NFS.

The NFS governance frameworks at the project level were excellent and while some relationships have endured informally, there is a need for an overarching strategy and coordination of efforts across jurisdictions to achieve the improved fish outcomes that are required. The absence of the formal NFS thematic taskforces (fish passage, alien fishes, community stakeholder, demonstration reaches etc) and the absence of any overarching NFS structures means that coordination and communication is lacking, with a focus only on water, limiting the previously holistic, cross jurisdiction, whole-of-Basin approach. The priority actions developed and agreed to for the NFS remain largely relevant, just need revitalized and given the dire status of native fish, scaled up significantly.

Stakeholders and funding. The continuation of quality research and increased understanding of fish ecology, however, not have kept pace with the needs of managers in the highly dynamic area of environmental watering. The transfer of knowledge to managers and the community needs to be reinvigorated. Efforts to engage recreational fishers and communities to become stakeholders in river health are improving (e.g. OzFish Unlimited: https://ozfish.org.au; Finterest website: http://www.finterest.com.au/) but with dedicated, increased support, a much greater level of engagement would be expected.  Previously, the community stakeholder taskforce and Native Fish coordinators in each state provided assistance and direction, including coordination of the annual Native Fish Awareness week. Some other key interventions such as the Basin Pest Fish Plan have not been completed and recovery of threatened fishes have received little attention (e.g. no priority fish identified in the national threatened species strategy).  Funding for fish recovery is now piecemeal, inadequate and uncoordinated, despite the growing need. The $13 B being spent on implementation of the Basin Plan should be complemented by an appropriate amount spent on other measures to ensure the recovery of MDB fishes.

Contact information. John Koehn is a Principal Research Scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, was an author the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy and a member of various Native Fish Strategy panels and projects (Email:  John.Koehn@delwp.vic.gov.au). Mark Lintermans is an Associate Professor at Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, and was a member of various Native Fish Strategy panels and projects; (Email: Mark.Lintermans@canberra.edu.au). Craig Copeland is the CEO of OzFish Unlimited and a leading contributor to the development of the next stage of the Native Fish Strategy, the Northern Basin Complementary Measures Program and the 2017 MDB Native Fish Forum (Email: craigcopeland@ozfish.org.au).

 

The Tiromoana Bush restoration project, Canterbury, New Zealand

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Recovery of indigenous plants and animals in revegetated areas at ‘The Waterways’, Victoria.

Photo 1.  Aerial view of Waterways from the west

By Damien Cook

 Introduction. Waterways is a 48-hectare restoration project located on Mordialloc Creek in Melbourne’s south- eastern suburbs which combines a housing estate with large areas of restored habitat set aside for indigenous fauna and flora in open space, lakes and other wetlands (see Photo 1).

Prior to restoration the land at Waterways was a property used for grazing horses and supported pasture dominated by exotic species such as Reed Fescue (*Festuca arundinacea) and Toowoomba Canary Grass (*Phalaris aquatica). (Note that an Asterix preceding a scientific name denotes that the species is not indigenous to the local area).

The habitats which are being restored at “The Waterways” reflect those that originally occurred in the Carrum Carrum Swamp, a vast wetland complex which, prior to being extensively drained in the 1870s, stretched from Mordialloc to Kananook and as far inland as Keysborough.

Local reference ecosystems were selected to act as a benchmark for what was to be achieved in each restored habitat in terms of species diversity and cover. Habitat Hectare assessments have been used to monitor the quality of restored vegetation (see Appendix 1).

A total of nine Ecological Vegetation Classes (EVCs, the standard unit of vegetation mapping in Victoria) are being re-established across the site across the following habitats

  • Open water, Submerged Aquatic Herbfields and Exposed Mudflats
  • Densely vegetated marshes
  • Swamp Paperbark Shrubland
  • Tussock Grassland
  • Plains Grassy Woodland

Photo 2. This sequence of photographs, taken over a nine-month period at the Waterways, shows vegetation establishment in a constructed wetland from newly constructed and bare of native species on the left to well vegetated with a high cover of indigenous plants and minimal weeds on the right.

Works undertaken. Restoration of the site commenced in October 2000. Extensive weed control and earthworks were carried out prior to the commencement of revegetation works, which involved planting, by 2003, over 2 million local provenance, indigenous plants.  Grassland species were planted out of hikos at a density of 5 to 6 per square meter into areas that had been treated with both knock-down and pre-emergent herbicide. Ongoing management of the site has included ecological burning and follow up weed control. When started the Waterways was the largest and most complex ecological restoration project ever undertaken in Victoria.

Results

Plants

Open water, Submerged Aquatic Herbfields and Exposed Mudflats.  Deep, open water areas cover an area of about 30 hectares of the site. Vegetation growing in this habitat includes submerged herb-fields of Pondweeds (Potamogeton species), Eel Grass (Vallisneria australis) and Stoneworts (Chara and Nitella species), which were planted over summer 2000/01.

Densely vegetated marshes. This habitat occupies about 10 hectares of the site, occurring where water is less than 1.5 meters deep around the fringes of the lakes and as broad bands across the wetlands. Swards of large sedges including Tall Spike-rush (Eleocharis sphacelata), Jointed Twig-sedge (Baumea articulata), Leafy Twig-sedge (Cladium procerum) and River Club-rush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani); aquatic herb-fields of Water Ribbons (Cycnogeton procerum), Upright Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum crispatum) and Running Marsh-flower (Ornduffia reniformis); as well as meadows supporting rushes, sedges and amphibious herbs. Localized areas with high salinity (4000 to 12 000 ppm) have been planted with a halophytic (salt tolerant) community including Sea Rush (Juncus krausii), Australian Salt-grass (Distichlis distichophylla), and Shiny Swamp-mat (Selliera radicans). Planting began in the marshes at the Waterways in October 2000 and vegetation established very rapidly in most areas (see Photo 2). This vegetation type provides habitat for the locally vulnerable Woolly Water-lily (Philydrum lanuginosum).

Swamp Paperbark Shrubland covers about 8 hectares, consisting of a 1ha remnant and additional areas that were planted in spring/summer 2001. As this shrubland habitat matures it is forming a dense canopy of species including Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia), Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata subsp. verticillata), Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), Woolly Tea-tree (Leptospermum lanigerum), Tree Everlasting (Ozothamnus ferrugineus) and Golden Spray (Viminerea juncea).

Photo 3. Rare plant species that have been established in restored native grasslands at “Waterways” include Grey Billy-buttons (Craspedia canens), Matted Flax-lily (Dianella amoena) and Pale Swamp Everlasting (Coronidium gunnianum).

Tussock Grassland covers about four hectares at the Waterways between two major wetland areas. About a third of this habitat was planted in spring 2001, with the remainder in spring 2002. The dominant plants of this habitat are tussock-forming grasses including wallaby grasses (Rytidosperma species), Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Common Tussock Grass (Poa labillardierei var. labillardierei). A diverse array of native wildflowers occurs amongst these grasses. Rare plant species that have been established in this habitat zone include Grey Billy-buttons (Craspedia canens), Matted Flax-lily (Dianella amoena) and Pale Swamp Everlasting (Coronidium gunnianum, see Photo 3).

Plains Grassy Woodland This habitat type occurs in mosaic with Tussock grassland and differs in that it supportsscattered trees and clumps of shrubs. River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis subsp. camaldulensis) and Swamp Gum (Eucalyptus ovata var. ovata) have been planted so that they will eventually form an open woodland structure. Other tree and tall shrub species planted in this habitat include Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) and the tree form of Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), which is now very uncommon in the local area.

Seasonal Wetlands Small seasonal wetlands occur within Tussock Grassland (see Photo 4). Rare plant species that have been established in this habitat zone include Swamp Billy-buttons (Craspedia paludicola), Woolly Water-lily (Philydrum lanuginosum), Grey Spike-rush (Eleocharis macbarronii), Giant River Buttercup (Ranunculus amplus) and the nationally endangered Swamp Everlasting (Xerochrysum palustre).


Photo 4. Seasonal rain-filled wetland at Waterways

 Animals.

The Waterways is home to 19 rare and threatened fauna species including the nationally endangered Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) and Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata). The successful establishment of diverse vegetation has so far attracted 102 species of native birds, and the wetlands on the site are home to seven species of frogs.

Open water areas support large populations of Black Swans (Cygnus atratus), Ducks (Anas species), Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra), Cormorants (Phalacrocorax and Microcarbo species), Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) and Australasian Darters (Anhinga novaehollandiae) that either feed on fish and invertebrates or the foliage and fruits of water plants.  As water levels recede over summer areas of mudflat are exposed. These flats provide ideal resting areas for water birds as well as feeding habitat for migratory wading birds including the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata), Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis) and Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) that fly from their breeding grounds as far away as Alaska and Siberia to spend the summer in Australia and are protected under special treaties between the Governments of countries through which they travel.

Photo 5. Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata) at Waterways

In 2007 a small group of Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata) became regular visitors to The Waterways (see Photo 5). This species was once extremely abundant in the Carrum Carrum Swamp. However, it was driven to extinction in southern Australia in the early 1900s by hunting and habitat destruction. The Magpie Goose seems to be making a recovery in Victoria, with numbers building up from birds captured in the Northern Territory and released in South Australia that are spreading across to areas where the species formerly occurred.

Seasonal wetlands are important breeding areas for frogs including the Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii), Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni) and Spotted Grass Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) and a range of invertebrates that do not occur in the larger, more permanent storm water treatment wetlands such as Shield Shrimp (Lepidurus apus viridus). Birds which utilize these wetlands for feeding include the White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) and Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii).

Restored grassland provides an ideal hunting ground for several birds of prey, including the Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) and Australian Kestrel (Falco cenchroides). It also provides cover and feeding habitat for insect and seed-eating birds such as the Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora). A flock of about 20 Blue-winged Parrots (Neophema chrysostoma) have been regularly seen in this habitat. These parrots are usually quite uncommon in the Melbourne area. Moist grasslands beside the wetland have been colonised by the vulnerable Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) (see Photo 6).

Densely vegetated marshes provide habitat for a diversity of small, secretive birds such as Ballion’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), Little Grassbird (Megalurus gramineus) and Australian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus australis), which find suitable refuges in the cover provided by dense vegetation. Dense thickets of Swamp Paperbark shrublands provide cover and feeding habitat for Ring-tail Possums (Pseudocheris peregrinus) and bushland birds such the Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis), thornbills (Acanthiza species), Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) and Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa). As the grassy woodlands mature they are providing structural habitat diversity and accommodating woodland birds such as cuckoos (Cacomantis and Chalcites species) and pardalotes (Pardalotus species).

It will take many years for the River Red Gums to reach a majestic size and stature, and to provide tree hollows which are essential for many species of native fauna. A limited number of tree hollows are provided in the dead trees (stags) that were placed in the Waterways wetlands.

Photo 6. The vulnerable Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) at Waterways

The Future. The habitats that have been created at the Waterways are about 18 years old, yet they have already attracted a vast array of native fauna. Waterways is now home to 14 rare and threatened plant species and 19 threatened animal species. There is incredible potential for the area to provide vitally important habitat for an even greater diversity of rare plants and animals as these habitats mature.

If the area is to reach its full potential careful management of weeds and pest animals is required. Ongoing monitoring of flora and fauna is also necessary. These are both areas in which the local community is becoming involved.

Acknowledgements. The high standard of restoration achieved on the Waterways project was due to the project being appropriately funded and because it was managed by ecologists experienced in planning and implementing ecological restoration.  The project was partly funded by Melbourne Water, who are now the managers of the site, and partly by a developer, the Haines Family.  This unique relationship and the generosity and willingness to try something innovative by the developer were important factors in the success of the project.

Contact: Damien Cook (rakali2@outlook.com.au)

Appendix 1. Habitat Hectare results for four quadrats at Waterways, 2006

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

The Motutapu Restoration Trust 

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

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

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

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

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

Restoration project

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

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

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

The major activities of the ecological restoration are:

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

Planters in action: Photo: MRT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence that recovery processes are securely occurring on the island

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

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

 Bird species (terrestrial diurnal including waders):

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

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

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

Fish:

  • Giant kokopu (Galaxius argenteus) now

Secure engagement with local  stakeholders.

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

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

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

Integrating conservation management and sheep grazing at Barrabool, NSW

Martin Driver

Key words: semi-arid, grazing management, conservation management, rehabilitation, ecological restoration

Introduction. Barrabool is a 5000 ha dryland all-Merino sheep property between Conargo and Carrathool in the Western Riverina, NSW. Native pastures are the mainstay of Barrabool, as they are of other grazing properties in the arid and semi-arid rangelands of New South Wales that generally lie to the west of the 500 mm average rainfall limit.

Indigenous ecosystems at Barrabool occur as native grassland, mixed acacia and callitris woodlands and shrublands. The main grass species in the grasslands are Curly Windmill (Enteropogon sp.), White Top (Rytidosperma sp.), Box Grass (Paspalidium sp.), Speargrass (Austrostipa spp.), and Windmill Grass (Chloris sp.). Broad-leaved species include Thorny Saltbush (Rhagodia sp.), Cotton Bush (Maireana sp.) and a diverse annual forb layer in Spring..

The majority of the property has belonged to the Driver family for over 100 years. Like many of the surrounding stations a gradual but noticeable increase in exotic species occurred during the mid-to-late 20th Century, and a decline in native species. This transition has occurred because of species being transferred by livestock movements and because sheep graze not only on grass, but also saltbush shrubs and sub-shrubs as well as seedlings of native trees such as Boree (Acacia pendula) and White Cypress Pine (Callitris glaucophylla). It is well known, for example, that the preferential and continuous grazing of Boree by sheep can turn a Boree woodland into a grassland .within a manager’s lifetime unless rest and regeneration are allowed.

In recent decades – because of the Driver family’s interest in conservation and our exposure to advances in grazing management, paddock subdivision and stock water relocation – we have developed in recent decades a managed grazing system based on feed availability, regeneration capability and seasonal response to rainfall. It was our hope that this system could improve the condition of native vegetation while also improving feed availability.

Figure 1. Boree (Acacia pendula) and Thorny Saltbush (Rhagodia spinescens) in grazed paddocks at the Driver’s 5000 ha sheep property, Barabool, in the western Riverina. (Photo M. Driver).

Figure 1. Boree (Acacia pendula) and Thorny Saltbush (Rhagodia spinescens) in grazed paddocks at the Driver’s 5000 ha sheep property, Barabool, in the western Riverina. (Photo M. Driver).

Works undertaken. Over the last 35 years we have progressively fenced the property so that it is subdivided by soil type and grazing sensitivity, with watering systems reticulated through poly pipe to all those paddocks. This enables us to control grazing to take advantage of where the best feed is and move stock from areas that we are trying to regenerate at any one time; and it gives us a great deal more control than we would have had previously.

Using our grazing system, we can exclude grazing from areas that are responding with regeneration on, say Boree country, for periods of time until Boree are less susceptible to grazing; at which time we bring stock back in. We take a similar approach to the saltbush and grasses, moving sheep in when grazing is suitable and moving them off a paddock to allow the necessary rest periods for regeneration. In this way we operate a type of adaptive grazing management. We also have areas of complete domestic grazing exclusion of very diverse and sensitive vegetation which are essentially now conservation areas.

Figure 2. Mixed White Cypress Pine Woodland grazing exclosure on Barrabool with regeneration of Pine, Needlewood, Sandalwood, Rosewood, Butterbush, Native Jasmine, mixed saltbushes and shrubs. (Photo M. Driver)

Figure 2. Mixed White Cypress Pine Woodland grazing exclosure on Barrabool with regeneration of Pine, Needlewood, Sandalwood, Rosewood, Butterbush, Native Jasmine, mixed saltbushes and shrubs. (Photo M. Driver)

Results. The native vegetation at Barrabool has noticeably improved in quality terms of biodiversity conservation and production outcomes over the last 35 years, although droughts have occurred, and in fact been more frequent during this time.

In terms of conservation goals Boree regeneration and Thorny Saltbush understory restoration has been both the most extensive and effective strategy. Areas of mixed White Cypress Pine woodland have proven to be the most species diverse but also offer the greatest challenges in exotic weed invasion and management. The Pines themselves are also the most reluctant to regenerate and suffer many threats in reaching maturity while many of the secondary tree species are both more opportunistic and show greater resilience to drought and other environmental pressures. The increase in perenniality of grass and shrub components of the property have been significant, with subsequent increase in autumn feed and reduced dependence on external feed supplies.

In terms of production outcomes, after the millennium drought the property experienced three seasons in a row in which there was much less rainfall than the long term average rainfall. At the beginning of that period we had the equivalent of more than the annual rainfall in one night’s fall and then went for 12 months from shearing to shearing with no rain recorded at all. Yet the livestock and the country, however, did very well compared to other properties in the district, which we consider was due to the stronger native vegetation and its ability of the native vegetation to withstand long periods without rain.

Lessons learned and future directions. While many other sheep properties in the wider area are more intent on set stockingin their grazing practices, the results at Barrabool have demonstrated to many people who have visited the property what is possible. I am sure we are also are having some effect on the management systems of other properties in the district especially in the area of conservation areas excluded from grazing.

What we plan for the future is to explore funding options to fence out or split ephemeral creeks and wetlands and encourage Inland River Red Gum and Nitre Goosefoot regeneration.Our long term goal is to maintain the full range of management zones (including restoration zones earmarked for conservation, rehabilitation zones in which we seek to improve and maintain biodiversity values in a grazing context, and fully converted zones around infrastructure where we reduce impacts on the other zones.

Contact:   Martin Driver Barrabool, Conargo, NSW 2710 Email: barrabool@bigpond.com

Tasmanian Northern Midlands Restoration Project

Neil Davidson

Introduction. The Midlands Restoration Project is a long-term (multi decade) landscape-scale environmental restoration initiative designed to increase connectivity and biodiversity in the Northern Midlands, an area with a long history of agricultural production. It is intended to provide a demonstration of how strategic native vegetation restoration at an industrial scale can reconnect native animal habitat in a fragmented agricultural landscape.

Design of the project complies with the Conservation Action Plan for the biodiversity hotspot and ecological models that identified optimum pathways to reconnect existing vegetation remnants through ‘corridors’ and ‘stepping stones’, to improve habitat and facilitate the movement of native mammals and birds across the landscape from the Eastern Tiers to the Central Highlands and provide better resilience to predicted climate change impacts.

The landscape and its ecosystems. The Tasmanian Northern Midlands is recognised as being one of Australia’s 15 “Biodiversity Hotspots” – a place with exceptionally high numbers of native plant and animal species. Although over half of Tasmania’s land area is protected in national parks and reserves, the Northern Midlands biodiversity hotspot is mostly on private land, not formally protected, and its natural values are in a state of decline – with real risks of further species extinctions.

The low dry landscapes in the Midlands of Tasmania are predominantly privately owned and have been farmed for more than 200 years. The distinctive dry native vegetation communities are now present as small fragments in a sea of intense agricultural production. Most remnant patches are degraded through loss of understorey, tree decline and invasion by exotic weeds, and are at greater risk of further decline as a result of climate change. A consequence of this is that habitat values for native fauna are compromised, leading to fewer types and numbers of animals present.

Macquarie River near Ross: Part of the Ross wildlife corridor in the early stages of revegetationPhoto taken in June 2014

Fig 1. Macquarie River near Ross: Part of the Ross wildlife corridor in the early stages of revegetation. (Photo taken in June 2014.)

Aims and objectives. The aim of the project is to reverse the decline in species richness and habitat values in the Tasmanian Midlands biodiversity hotspot.  A primary objective is to re-establish functional connectivity for native mammals (quolls, bandicoots, bettongs, Tasmanian devils, bats) and woodland birds in the Northern Midlands, where less than 10% of native vegetation and less than 3% of native lowland grasslands remain.

Specifically the project aims to restore 6,000ha in two wildlife corridors across the Northern Midlands. We are doing this by strategic restoration using local native species to buffer and connect existing vegetation through the construction of two wildlife corridors, the Ross Link and Epping Forest Link (see Figs 1 and 2).

Map 1: Biodiversity Corridors in the Tasmanian Northern Midlands

Figure 2. Biodiversity Corridors in the Tasmanian Northern Midlands

Works to date. The first 1,000ha in Stage 1 is nearly complete, with 200,000 native plants planted in more than 600ha of grassy woodland and riverflats, and a further 400ha of existing native vegetation being secured for conservation purposes. We are currently planning Stage 2 of the project, to revegetate a further 5,000ha, including 1,000ha of riverine revegetation to complete the two corridors.

We are employing two revegetation approaches to best suit the open grassy woodland and river system landscapes:

  1. Woodland restoration: so far we have buffered and restored 410ha of native woodland remnants near Ross and Cressy. The wide-spaced plantings recreate an open grassy woodland suitable for more mobile animals and birds (Fig 3) .
  2. Riparian restoration: to date we have replanted 16km of the banks of the Macquarie River, Isis River and Tacky Creek (>200ha) with local native riparian plants. These are dense plantings (625 to 830 stems/ha) that provide habitat for less mobile and secretive animals and birds. Our Macquarie riparian restoration work is recognised as being currently the largest riverine revegetation project in Australia.
Grassy woodland restoration at ‘Connorville’. Caged trees & shrubs planted August 2014 – photo May 2015

Fig 3. Grassy woodland restoration at ‘Connorville’. Caged trees and shrubs planted August 2014 – photo May 2015

Fig 4.Tas Midlands

Fig. 4. Some of the important plant and animal species in the biodiversity hotspot.

Science. The project has strong scientific support from the University of Tasmania (UTAS), where Greening Australia is an industry partner for three Australian Research Council (ARC) supported research projects embedded in our revegetation and restoration activities:

  1. Professor Brad Potts is leading a large scale field experiment investigating whether it’s best to use local native provenance eucalyptus seed or seed collected from elsewhere for restoration plantings in an area already experiencing climate change;
  2. Associate Professor Menna Jones’s team is researching midlands native mammal and bird populations, how they move across fragmented agricultural landscapes and their habitat preferences; and,
  3. The new ARC Centre for Forest Value, where students are currently being selected and the projects are being determined.

Through these research projects we have more than 15 PhD candidates and post-doctorate staff assisting us to better design and undertake our on-ground restoration activities. In addition to the UTAS projects we have research trials underway to improve tree and shrub direct seeding and native grass seeding methodologies.

Cultural restoration. Whilst we place a high emphasis on ecological restoration in the midlands, we recognise that we must engage with the people in the landscape and their enterprises. In order to effectively communicate and engage with the local and Tasmanian communities and visitors we are working with artists, schools, businesses and Aboriginal people to better interpret the natural environment and involve them in our restoration activities.

We recognise the importance of supporting vibrant and profitable agricultural and rural businesses and complementing commercial enterprises in the midlands at the same time as improving the natural values and ecosystem wellbeing across the landscape.

Education. Greening Australia employs a teacher on an education project associated with the Midlands Restoration Program. The teacher works with the local Oatlands, Campbell Town and Cressy District schools and several urban schools to engage local and city children and communities in all aspects of the restoration project. The education program aligns with the Australian Curriculum across all subject areas and provides students with a great link between indoor and outdoor learning.

Landscape artworks. The University of Tasmanian College of the Arts is currently conducting a pilot landscape arts project to engage local schools and township communities in developing sculptural artworks to be placed in the landscape. The artworks will include functional features that are beneficial for native animals, which may include nesting hollows and/ or bird perches.

The project’s principle financial supporters in Stage 1 have been the Australian Government, the Ian Potter Foundation, John Roberts Charitable Trust, the ARC Linkage program, Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, Targa Australia, Stornoway, Dahl Trust, and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.

Future directions. In order to complete Stage 2 of the project (to restore a further 5,000ha in wildlife corridors across the midlands) we need to raise AUD$25m. Work is underway on landscape planning, community consultation, landholder engagement and the establishment of a fundraising campaign. We expect that the Tasmanian midlands will be transformed in the next five years, with two green bands of native vegetation connecting the Western Tiers to the Eastern Tiers and measurable improvements in native fauna habitats and populations.

Project partners. Greening Australia is working in partnership with many individuals and organisations to deliver the project and associated scientific research. Delivery partners include midland farmers, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia, Australian Conservation Volunteers, Green Army program, Department Primary Industry Parks Water and Environment, UTAS, NRM North, CSIRO, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Northern Midlands Council, Department of Education and Independent Schools.

Contact. Neil Davidson, Restoration Ecologist (Greening Australia) and Adjunct Senior Lecturer,  School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Sustainability Learning Centre, 50 Olinda Grove, Mt Nelson 7007,
GPO Box 1191, Hobart, TAS 7001 Australia. Tel: +61 (0)3 6235 8000 Mobile; 0427 308 507 . Web:  www.greeningaustralia.org.au

Victorian Northern Plains Grasslands Protected Area Network: formation and future management

Nathan Wong

Key words: ecosystem decline, conservation planning, grassland restoration, threatened species

Building the network. Since the early 1990s Trust for Nature (Victoria) (TfN) in partnership with State and Federal government agencies and local land owners have been working to protect, restore and improve the condition and extent of Grasslands in the Victorian Riverina. This critically endangered ecosystem has been degraded, fragmented, and cleared over the past 200 years by a range of impacts largely associated with the exploitation of these areas for agricultural production. This use has resulted in the loss of over 95% of the original grassland extent in Victoria and the degradation of all remaining remnants.

The first major achievement of this program occurred in June 1997 when Trust for Nature acquired the 1277 ha ‘Davies’ property following many years of negotiations. This land was transferred to the Crown in April 1999 to form the Grassland section of what is now Terrick Terrick National Park. Since this initial acquisition a significant number of purchases have been added to the public estate with the support of both State and Federal National Reserve Systems Programs. These additions have resulted in Terrick Terrick National Park now covering over 3334ha (Table 1) and the establishment of Bael Bael Grasslands NCR during 2010 and 2011 which now covers 3119ha.

Running concurrently with this increase in the public estate has been a program to build and secure private land under conservation covenant as well as Trust for Nature establishing a number of reserves to build its private reserve network in the Victorian Riverina. These efforts have resulted in the addition of 2804ha owned by Trust for Nature, including Glassons Grassland Reserve (2001), Kinypanial (1999), Korrak Korrak (2001), Wanderers Plain (2009-2010) and 1036ha of private land protected under conservation covenant.

As a result of these efforts the area of grasslands within the Protected Area Network in the Victorian Riverine Plains has grown from virtually nothing in the mid-1990s, to in excess of 10,000ha and continues to expand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fig 1. Very high quality Northern Plains Grasslands in Spring, note the inter-tussock spaces and diversity of flowering herbs (Photo: Nathan Wong).

Table 1. Acquisitions that have resulted in Terrick Terrick National Park, now covering over 3334ha.

Table 1

Current remnant condition. Whilst these grasslands are the best examples of the remaining ecosystem and protected under State and Federal government legislation, all of them have been degraded by past land-use. Therefore the need to not only protect but restore them is critical to the successful management of these systems in-perpetuity. Despite this past loss of a range of grazing-sensitive plant species many still persist in small isolated populations across the reserve network. Management of grazing, when it is applied, to ensure that continued losses do not occur whilst maintaining biodiversity values is one of the key aims of management. As a result of loss of quality, quantity and fragmentation of habitats, a range of important faunal species have also historically declined (Figs 2 & 3).

Need for management and restoration. There is great potential for management regimes to manipulate the composition of grasslands to enhance the likelihood of restoration success. Restoration of a range of grazing sensitive plant species which now either regionally extinct or remain in small isolated population will almost certainly require changes to grazing regimes, reintroduction of fire regimes and species reintroductions to ensure viable populations. Reintroducing faunal species will also require attention to connectivity and habitat availability issues in this context as many are dependent on the existence of large, interconnected territories e.g. Hooded Scaly-foot (Pygopus schraderi).

The Northern Plains Grasslands Protected Area Network: Strategic Operational Plan (SOP) is a landscape-scale strategic operational plan for the conservation management of the Northern Plains Grassland community within Victoria’s Protected Area Network, developed by the Northern Plains Technical Advisory Group in 2011. This Operational Plan now guides TfN and Parks Victoria in the implementation of an adaptive management plan for the landscape. This plan aims to establish and implement a restoration program across the public and private protected areas and is a marked shift from the previous management intent of maintenance of the system.

Fig 2. The area, particularly the Patho Plains and Lower Avoca, provide important habitat for the persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Photo David Baker-Gabb).

Fig 2. The northern plains grasslands, particularly the Patho Plains and Lower Avoca, provide important habitat for the persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Photo David Baker-Gabb).

Strategies for management and restoration. There are two main strategies that are being implemented. The first involves the extension of protected areas through a range of mechanisms; and the second involves active management to restore habitat quality and diversity to the extent possible.

Extent. Expansion of the current approach of reserve acquisition and covenanting that has been undertaken by the range of partners is likely to able to target and establish large areas (20,000+ ha) in the Lower Avoca and Patho Plains landscape. Both these areas are high priorities for Trust for Nature and form significant sections of the Trust for Nature’s Western Riverina Focal Landscape. The Patho Plains is significant as it is an Important Bird Area and a focus of Birdlife Australia to ensure the long term persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus). The Lower Avoca also provides important habitat for the Plains-wanderer (Draft National Recovery Plan) and is one of the main population centres for Hooded Scaly-foot in Victoria.

Diversity. The increase of diversity and quality of these systems requires direct intervention in management as well as the introduction and establishment of the many rare and regionally extinct species from the system.

Plant species: Over the past decade, TfN and others have successfully trialled the reintroduction of a number of threatened and common plant species through hand sowing seed into grasslands. These species include: Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum molle), Leafless Bluebush (Mairena aphylla), Rohlarch’s Bluebush (Maireana rohlarchii), Bladder Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria), Plains Everlasting (Chrysocephalum sp. 1), Beauty Buttons (Leptorhynchos tetrachaetus), Small-flower Goodenia (Goodenia pusilliflora), Minnie Daisy (Minuria leptophylla) and a range of Wallaby species (Rytidosperma spp.) and Spear Grasses (Austrostipa spp.).

Animal species: Local habitat variability for a range of fauna has been achieved through the modification of grazing regimes and the introduction of burning regimes at a range of sites. This work aims to maximise niches and thus opportunities for a broad range of species.

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult by Geoff BrownCOMP

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult, a critically endangered legless lizard that occurs in the Northern Plains Grasslands, preferring habitat much like the Plains-wanderer. Photo: Geoff Brown.

Table 2.  Triggers required for various grazing and other management regimes to maintain appropriate intertussock spaces in Northern Plains Grasslands

Table2

Monitoring. The SOP includes a method for rapid assessment of habitat and functional composition of sites to support decision making and track habitat change over time. This is stratified by soil type as grazing and habitat values and floristic communities vary between soil types within the grassland mosaic. Triggers for action or management bounds have been set based on the structure of inter-tussock spaces on red soils. These have been established using the “Golf ball” method which calculates a golf ball score by randomly dropping 18 golf balls into a 1m x 1m quadrat and then establishing a count based on the visibility of the golf balls (>90% visible = 1, 90%-30% visible = 0.5, <30% visible = 0). For red soil grasslands the aim is to maintain the inter-tussock spacing within a golf ball range of 13-16 using the range of tools identified in Table 2. When a paddock reaches a golf ball score of 16 and it is being grazed, stock are to be removed. When the paddock reaches a score of 13 they are then to be reintroduced, within the bounds of the regime that is to be applied.

Additional to this there has also been collection of data in relation to the functional composition of sites with golf ball quadrats also assessed for the presence of a range of functional groups including Native C4 grasses, Native C3 Grasses, Exotic annual grasses, Exotic Perennial Grasses, Native forbs, Exotic Forbs, Native Shrubs, Moss cover, Other Crytptograms (i.e. Lichen, Algae, Liverworts), Bare Ground and Litter. At all these sites photos are also taken of each quadrat with and without golf balls and a landscape photo is also taken.

The capturing of these data and the region wide approach across both public and private areas will increase our knowledge of how to manage and restore these important sites as well as track progress of management actions and their effectiveness in providing protected areas for a range of threatened species.

Acknowledgements. A wide range of partners and individuals are involved in the protection of the Northern Plains Grassland and the development of the Northern Plains Strategic Operations Plan including Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP), La Trobe University, Charles Sturt University, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Northern Plains Conservation Management Network, Elanus Consulting and Blue Devil Consulting.

Contact: Nathan Wong, Conservation Planning Advisor, Trust for Nature (Level 5, 379 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia;Tel: +61 (0)3 8631 5888; Freecall: 1800 99 99 33; Mob 0458 965 329;Email: nathanw@tfn.org.au, www.trustfornature.org.au).