Category Archives: Cultural & socio-economic issues & solutions

Beyond the 1990s, beyond Iluka – koalas and citizen science – UPDATE of EMR summary

Daniel Lunney, Lisa O’Neill, Alison Matthews, Dionne Coburn and Chris Moon

[Update of EMR summary – Lunney, Daniel, Lisa O’Neill, Alison Matthews and Dionne Coburn ( 2000) “Contribution of community knowledge of vertebrate fauna to management and planning. Ecological Management & Restoration, 1:3, . 175-184. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00036.x]

Key words: national parks, SEPP 44, adaptive management, social criteria, extinction, wildlife survey, coastal forests.

Figure 1. Interest in local wildlife among residents and visitors to the north coast village of Iluka was growing in the 1990s, providing an opportunity for community involvement in our wildlife survey designed not only to gain information but to raise awareness. (Photo Dan Lunney 1991.)

Introduction. Our EMR feature published in 2000 reported on research that commenced in 1997 when we set out to identify the species and locations of the vertebrate fauna of Iluka peninsula, at the mouth of the Clarence River NSW, Australia. Much of the peninsula had been damaged by post war sand mining and creeping urban growth. We had recognised that there was a growing interest by local communities in conserving biodiversity (Fig 1), as Iluka had residential areas not far from a magnificent Nature Reserve (Iluka NR) and a National Park (Bundjalung NP). We conducted a community-based survey, sent to every household, which used a large, coloured map of the peninsula and a questionnaire asking respondents to mark the locations of the fauna they had seen. As a result of the survey, we concluded that vertebrate fauna does live on private land, that local knowledge is valuable, and that there is both community concern over declining fauna and support for planning, management and long-term fauna research.

Figure 2. Two junior volunteers learning radio-tracking to locate koalas, Iluka Peninsula. (Photo Dan Lunney 1992)

The rise of citizen science. We were not the first to use a community-based survey for wildlife in NSW. A team (Philip Reed and Dan Lunney) in 1986-87 greatly expanded on some skilled, but tentative, efforts to survey Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in NSW by the small but effective Fauna Protection Panel. We produced a small questionnaire, which was distributed in 1986, and when we came to analysing the data in 1987, we joined up with CSIRO scientist Paul Walker who had a new tool, GIS, still in its infancy, but which showed great promise. By the time of the Iluka study, GIS was central to our methods.

Over the last 20 years there has been a revolution in the acquisition and application of community knowledge (Figs 2 and 3), a better appreciation of its extent, and limitations, and how to better integrate a greater diversity of disciplines for a more effective planning and management outcome. A Google Scholar search for ‘citizen science’ in July 2019 returned over 2 million results, establishing this phrase in the scientific literature to describe projects that enlist the community for collecting or analyzing scientific data. The rise and success of citizen science undoubtedly stems from the power of the internet and web-based tools that members of the public can use to record species’ locations, providing answers to such questions as: is a species increasing, decreasing or stable? – answers to which increase the capacity for managers and planners to be better targeted in their decisions. Such web-based technology also helps to overcome resource limitations where scale is an important factor. For example, for our 2006 state-wide koala and other wildlife survey we put a major effort into the distribution of the survey, a paper form with a large map. Now, the current 2019 survey is web-based, a procedure we explored in north-west NSW in 2014 where we selected the study area to be 200 by 300 km.

Figure 3. A skilled team climbing a tree to capture a koala for a health check and radio-tracking in a study of the koala population of the Iluka peninsula. (Photo Dan Lunney 1991.)

A further innovation comes from linking sociology to ecology and expanding the term from citizen science to ‘crowd-sourced information’. An example is a study in the four local government areas just north of Iluka, namely Lismore, Byron, Ballina and Tweed. The sociological side, led by Greg Brown, used the threatened koala as a case in point. The study demonstrated a novel, socio-ecological approach for identifying conservation opportunity that spatially connected landscapes with community preferences to prioritize koala recovery strategies at a regional scale. When multiple criteria (ecological, social, and economic) were included in the conservation assessment, we found the social acceptability criterion exerted the greatest influence on spatial conservation priorities. While this is a long way from our 1997 Iluka study, it is in the same lineage and represents two decades of development of what has become a widely accepted approach to regional planning.

Lessons learned and future directions. Looking back at the Iluka story, in one sense, it is a sorry one. When we first started our research on the Iluka peninsula in 1990, there was a visible population of koalas. It dwindled to extinction over the next decade so the locations of koalas in our EMR paper were of recent but fading memories. By defining our study area to a small location, it was possible to identify the cumulative impact of mining, housing, disease, roadkill, dog kill and fire. There have been reports of koalas being back on the peninsula as early as 2002 (Kay Jeffrey, local resident) and there have been subsequent sightings (John Turbill DPIE pers comm August 2019), we presume moving down from such locations as the northern part of Bundjalung National Park

Looking back on our EMR paper, we also see that the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) was one of the most common species recorded by the community on the Iluka peninsula. It has now gone (John Turbill DPIE, pers. comm., August 2019). The coastal Emu population in northern New South Wales is now recognized as being under threat and a citizen science project called ‘Caring for our Coastal Emus’ has been established to collect recent emu sightings from the public using a web-based emu register to pin-point locations on a map. This register is administered by Clarence Valley Council and reflects the shift from the 1990s where the tools and expertise for collecting scientific data for management and planning were beyond the scope of local government. Today, local councils are considerably more engaged in conservation and community education projects.  Indeed, the Clarence Valley Council (2015) has prepared a Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) for the lower Clarence, which includes Iluka, although it was not adopted beyond council level. The plan recognizes the importance of reducing further clearing and protecting and rehabilitating those areas that remain, and identifies that further studies and monitoring are required to establish the current status of the Iluka koala population.

In the early 1990s, we had prepared a possible plan of management for the koalas of Iluka peninsula but there was no legal incentive to adopt it. Thus, in late 1994, when one of us (DL) was asked by the then NSW Department of Planning and Urban Affairs to help write a SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) for koala habitat protection, the potential value of doing so was clear to us. SEPP 44 was written in three days, with a promise to revise it in 1995. SEPP 44 has proved to be valuable, although in recent years, the process of preparing and submitting CKoPMs from councils to the NSW state government seems to have stalled.

In conclusion, our EMR feature was written at the time of an upward inflection in the study of koalas, of fauna survey using crowd-sourced information.  We are now better equipped to use the new techniques from over three decades of what might be described as adaptive management of the ideas in our original EMR paper. We also press the point that research, exploring new ideas, incorporating new techniques and publishing our findings and thoughts make a crucial contribution to conserving not only koalas, but all our wildlife and natural areas, both in and out of reserves.  Such research is therefore vital to the survival of our wildlife.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: In addition to the funding bodies in our EMR paper of 2000, support for the research supporting the above comments has been extensive, as reflected in the acknowledgements section of each report.

Contact. Daniel Lunney, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment NSW, (PO Box 1967, Hurstville NSW 2220 and the University of Sydney, NSW 2006. dan.lunney@environment.nsw.gov.au).

Koala conservation and the role of private land – UPDATE of EMR feature

Daniel Lunney, Alison Matthews, Chris Moon and John Turbill

[Update of EMR feature – Lunney, Daniel, Alison Matthews, Chris Moon and John Turbill (2002) Achieving fauna conservation on private land: Reflections on a 10-year project. Ecological Management & Restoration, 3:2, 90-96. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2002.00100.x]

Key words: SEPP 44, Coffs Harbour, logging, urban development, New South Wales, ecological history, koala plan of management.

Introduction. Our 2002 paper in EMR focused on the local government area (LGA) of Coffs Harbour and reflected on our approach to meeting the challenge of finding a means of protecting populations of  Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) on private land before habitat removal brought about their local extinction. This was prompted by our 1986–1987 state-wide koala survey that found that koala  populations had declined across New South Wales, largely as a result of habitat loss. The remaining koala stronghold, we identified at the time, was on the north coast, in areas such as in the rapidly expanding city of Coffs Harbour. Koalas in Coffs Harbour were found mostly on privately-owned land outside National Parks and Nature Reserves and State Forests.

It took 10 years (1990-2000) of struggle with politics, bureaucracy and vested interests to achieve a plan of management across one local government area (Coffs Harbour) to save koala habitat from the relentless clearing of private land. The reward for our efforts was a Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM), prepared under State Environmental Planning Policy 44 – koala habitat protection (SEPP 44), and adopted by Coffs Harbour City Council in 1999. SEPPs apply only to land over which local government has authority, not Crown Land, i.e. National Parks, Nature Reserves and State Forests. The Plan identified and ranked Koala habitat and set out criteria for minimizing local threats. It is a statutory instrument, gazetted in 2000 along with council’s Local Environmental Plan (LEP), which controls land-use planning. It was the first CKPoM in NSW and a demonstrated formula for undertaking such plans. Now in 2019, 20 years after the plan was formally adopted by Coffs Harbour City Council, and in the NSW parliament in 2000 as part of the Coffs Harbour LEP, the plan is still in place. We count that as a success. While revisions to both the SEPP and the Coffs Harbour CKPoM are in the wind, the 1999 plan still stands, as of October 2019.

Further, after five years of operation, Coffs Harbour council commissioned a strategic review of its CKPoM from the consultants, EcoLogical, which found that there was a 1.1% reduction in the area of primary koala habitat. In our view, such a small change over 5 years is an indication of the CKPoM’s impact in halting habitat loss on private land.

Figure 1. Historian, and co-worker, Antares Wells examining a document with items from the history of the Bellinger, the LGA immediately to the south of Coffs Harbour, as part of our study of the ecological history of the region. (Photo Dan Lunney 2013/)

Further studies. To add context to our work in Coffs Harbour, we undertook a range of further studies. These included an historical study, looking at the koala records from European settlement to 2000 through an ecological lens (Fig 1). The first wave of European settlers arrived in the early 1880s, and much of the initial development arose from logging. Collectively, the evidence identifies that the koala population of Coffs Harbour was widespread but never abundant, and that habitat loss has been relentless since European settlement. The transformation of a rural-forest mosaic to an urban landscape over the past four decades is the most recent stage in the incremental loss of habitat.

Also, in 2011, we undertook a repeat study of the koala population within Coffs Harbour LGA from our initial survey in 1990. Analyses showed that the koala population has endured between 1990 and 2011 and showed no evidence of a precipitous decline during this period. Rather, the population change was best characterised as stable to slowly declining.

The extensive koala datasets gathered since 1990 on the Coffs Harbour koala population are attractive for researchers and managers. They provide the basis for revisiting the LGA to look for change (Fig 2.) . Work in June 2019, for example, included the following: Department of Planning, Industry and Environment at Coffs Harbour is finalising a review of the Coffs Harbour LGA koala habitat study from funding by council; surveys completed in April 2019 revisited 68 of the original 119 sites we had selected in 1996, and 89 of those sites we had re-surveyed in 2011, and the total number of sites visited in the current survey was 176 in a report to Coffs Harbour council in September 2019.

Figure 2. Koala team standing in koala habitat near Bonville, Coffs Harbour LGA. From left to right, John Turbill, Martin Smith, Indrie Sonawane, Chris Moon and Martin Predavec. (Photo Dan Lunney 2013).

Mixed results. Rereading our original paper is unsettling. There is an enduring sense that the entire exercise, while locally worthwhile, has not translated into wider successes with respect to policy and implementation. Although our assessment of the success of the Coffs Harbour CKPoM is upbeat, the uptake of the concept by other councils has been modest. Some have opted for a koala plan of management, but not within the SEPP 44 framework, and others have contracted the preparation of the plans, but only using field survey data for koalas, not the citizen science component.

Among our reflections on our work is that the languages of planning, conservation and ecology need to be calibrated. Confusion has occurred because SEPP 44 refers to potential and core koala habitat when a Development Application (DA) is being assessed, but in the CKPoM in 1999 we used the terms primary, secondary and tertiary koala habitat. Adoption by local government of a CKPoM replaces the requirement to assess each individual DA for core habitat, because the CKPoM has mapped and ranked this habitat. In fact, the ease of seeing koala habitat on a map, ranked so that you know what development is possible, or not, within the particular ranking, expedites the DA process for all parties. This was a major selling point for Coffs Harbour council, along with our economic study which demonstrated that the value of having a koala population in the LGA exceeded the cost of implementing such a plan (Fig 3). While habitat ranking is appropriate for a CKPoM – a land-use planning and management instrument – one interpretation, a misguided one in our view, has been that primary habitat equals core habitat, and deems primary habitat in a CKPoM to be the only level of habitat to conserve. Such a view not only disregards the value of rankings for the purpose of planning, but also ignores the multiple ways that koalas need to use the landscape. We note that more recent plans have divided secondary habitat into secondary A and secondary B, but that does not change the principle of ranking. We also note that a recent choice is to use ‘core’ habitat in a CKPoM, although with a different approach to defining ‘core’, but this has yet to be consolidated in the proposed revised SEPP 44. On reflection, ‘core’ has become a problematic word because it implies that anything other than core can be ignored.

There have been considerable recent efforts to catch up on survey methods for koalas in State Forests. However, pressure remains on State Forests concerning their koala populations, such as the campaign by the National Parks Association of NSW for ‘The Great Koala National Park’ to add 175,000 ha of State Forests to existing protected areas to form a 315,000 ha reserve in the Coffs Harbour hinterland. National Parks and Nature Reserves are a central element in our efforts to conserve our fauna, but a transfer of State Forests to National Parks does not come to grips with the issue of the loss of habitat on private lands, including in situ habitat and linkages across the landscape.

SEPP 44 was promulgated in 1995, and while we recognise that it needs to be updated, our point remains that it has demonstrated potential to conserve koala habitat on private land, with an explicit role, indeed a key role, for local government. Strategies to conserve and restore koala habitat on private land—particularly on the more fertile lands, which are also the prime lands for farms and towns—will continue to be central to conserving the koala populations in NSW.

Figure 3. Economist Clive Hamilton explaining the economic advantages of conserving koalas in Coffs Harbour LGA. This presentation was given in Coffs Harbour at a national meeting for Ecological Economics. (Photo Dan Lunney 1996.)

Lessons learned and future directions. In 2019, our reflections on our 10-year study (1990-2000) allow us to conclude that identifying koala habitat on private land is possible, that plans to conserve it are acceptable, that the economic aspect is an important factor in the negotiations, and that local government has a role to play in this process. Since 2002 we have expanded our research horizon, crossing other disciplinary boundaries to encompass ecological history, using more sophisticated approaches to citizen science, stretching our geographical horizon to the north-west of NSW, incorporating the pervasive impact of climate change, and teasing out the contribution of koala care and rehabilitation and the value of detailed population studies such as by radio-tracking. We also conclude that local studies, especially repeated studies, e.g. at the LGA or Local Land Services (LLS) scale, are crucial, along with broad scale, periodic, state-wide surveys to keep track of the considerable individual differences across the geographic range of the koala.

Contact.  Daniel Lunney, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment NSW (PO Box 1967, Hurstville NSW 2220 and the University of Sydney, NSW 2006. dan.lunney@environment.nsw.gov.au

The arts and restoration – a fertile partnership

David J. Curtis

[Update of EMR feature: Curtis, David J (2009) Creating inspiration: The role of the arts in creating empathy for ecological restoration. Ecological Management & Restoration, 10:3, 174-184. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2003.00152.x]

Key words: creativity, ecological restoration, capacity building environmental attitudes, environmental behaviour


Figure 1. The Plague Demon — a puppet made from 3000 plastic shopping bags by a team of 30 people. It rose to a height of 6 metres and represented the equivalent of 3 hours of plastic bag consumption for the city of Armidale. It was used in the Armidale Autumn Festival parade in March 2004 (pictured) and the production of Plague and the Moonflower in the main arena of the Woodford Folk Festival in 2003 to an estimated audience of 10,000 people. (Photo Garry Slocombe)

Introduction: In my original article for EMR in 2003, I posed the question: Are the arts a valuable partner with ecological restoration? The article was written early in my research into the role of the visual and performing arts in shaping environmental behaviours. I answered this research question through key informant interviews, analyses of several case studies and participant observations, and concluded that there was indeed substantial potential for the arts to create inspiration and empathy for ecological restoration. The research continued until 2007 with the completion of my PhD thesis but the outputs of that research continue to the present day, with numerous journal papers and book chapters (see bibliography). It has also led to the formation of the non-government organisation Ecoarts Australis and the coordination of three international conferences around these themes: 2013, 2016, and 2019, all of which  demonstrate the high potential for fertile partnerships between the arts and ecological restoration.

Further works undertaken: The main case study in the 2003 article for EMR was the ecological oratorio Plague and the Moonflower that was staged in Armidale NSW in 2002 by the Armidale community. The Armidale community went on to restage the work and take 300 performers to the Woodford Folk Festival in 2003 to perform it in the main arena to about 10,000 people (Fig. 1). A further seven case studies were developed including: an examination of attitudes and practices of about 100 arts, farming and natural resource management practitioners; the Nova-anglica: the web of our endeavours event staged in Armidale in 1998 to an audience of approx 5,000 people (Tables 1 & 2); the Gunnedah Two Rivers Festival in 2002-04 and the Bungawalbin Wetlands Festival, both of which incorporated visual and performing arts (Tables 1 and 2); a play-building study with secondary aged school children in 2002 examining the greenhouse effect; participant observations of my own work from 1990-2000 in which I incorporated the arts into natural resource management extension (https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/6713/) and the Ecological Society of Australia conference in 2003 in which we incorporated an ambitious performing and visual arts program (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. As part of the arts program of the Ecological Society of Australia Conference, Armidale 2003, this commissioned image, In the Balance, summarized the themes of the conference. (Image Anna Curtis. Lino reduction print on paper, 30 x 30 cm, 2003)

Findings from the subsequent research. Papers listed in the bibliography referred to above show that the arts have an important role in:

  • raising awareness and communicating environmental information (Table 1) through environmental education and extension;
  • changing and challenging environmental beliefs (Table 1);
  • communicating scientific information (Fig. 2);
  • mobilising rural communities to achieve environmental sustainability and community capacity building for Landcare and environmental action (Table 1; Fig. 1);
  • creating empathy for the natural environment and ecological restoration (Fig. 3);
  • transforming our highly energy-intensive consumer society to one that is ecologically sustainable through community development and embedding the arts in ecologically sustainable development .

In addition, particular art events could encourage people to want to adopt pro-environmental behaviours (Table 2) as well as:

  • encourage people to reflect about their impact on the environment;
  • make them feel strongly towards the natural environment;
  • expose them to ideas they hadn’t thought about much before;
  • affirm their beliefs about people’s relationship with the environment;
  • help people learn about environmental issues; or
  • provide a vehicle to express feelings about the environment (Table 1).

Figure 3. Ephemeral clay sculptures with impregnated native seeds, Artist Andrew Parker. These sculptures were part of an ephemeral art project organised by Ecoarts Australis as part of the Black Gully Music Festival in Armidale in 2016. The sculptures were integrated into the ecological restoration project along Black Gully. As they decayed, the seeds were released and germinated, adding to the revegetation of the creek. (Photo David Curtis)

Implications for arts : restoration relationships:  It is clear that the work of individual artists can influence the behaviour of citizens through ‘internally derived’ interventions, which impinge on a person’s values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, self-identity and habits, and through these, on social norms (Fig. 4). However, desire by individuals to adopt pro-environmental behaviour can be hampered by situational or infrastructure constraints. The arts can also have a role in reducing some of these constraints, through ‘externalist interventions’ where the arts are embedded into ecologically sustainable development. This might be where community and public art are incorporated into urban planning as a means of making active transport modes more attractive, or where the arts provide alternative forms of consumption which are lower in embodied energy and higher in embodied labour. The degree to which a person responds to the arts will depend on personal characteristics (e.g. gender, class, etc.), situation, institutional factors, as well as the type of art. The accumulated result of individual behaviours leads to macro-level impacts on the environment. A knowledge of these impacts in turn influences individual artists, and affects their practice.

Figure 4. Model of how the arts affect environmental behaviour.

I found that the arts can foster pro-environmental behaviour through one of three ‘pathways’ (Fig. 5). The first pathway is where the visual and performing arts are used to synthesise complex ideas and to communicate them to non-specialist audiences in an engaging form. A second pathway is where the arts and particular artists connect their audience to the natural environment through thoughtful or evocative representations of the environment or by being in the natural environment itself. The third pathway is where the arts are embedded in ecologically sustainable development, through the combined effects of community development, economic development, and changes in the patterns of consumption.

Figure 5. Three pathways in which the arts can be used to help achieve ecological sustainability.

The three Ecoarts Australis conferences were a culmination of the work that I did following the 2003 EMR article. These three pathways provided the structure for each conference, and enabled the innumerable Australian and international examples that were presented to be organised into a coherent conceptual framework. It was evident through these conferences that there has been a shift in projects that link the arts to environmental sustainability. In the first two conferences a majority of the papers provided examples of where the arts fell into the first or second pathways. In the most recent conference there were more examples where the arts were integrated into ecologically sustainable development in some way, for example in transport or manufacturing. Also there seemed to be a shift towards multi-artist projects.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:  Funded by Land and Water Australia and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Contact information: Dr David Curtis, Honorary Senior Fellow, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, Faculty of Social Science, University of Wollongong NSW 2522 Australia.

Table 1: Comparison of case studies as to how the event affected respondents. Respondents were scored: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree.

 

 

Responses to survey

Those who agreed (score 4-5) as a percentage of all respondents
Plague and the Moonflower

(n = 169)

Nova-anglica (n = 9) Gunnedah (Twin Rivers)

(n = 11)**

Gunnedah (Common Ground)

(n = 46)

The event moved me emotionally 73 44 18 45.6
The event made me reflect on humanity’s relationship with the natural environment 74

(n = 168)

67 36 61.7

(n = 47)

The event made me feel strongly towards the natural environment 60

(n = 168)

78 18 58.7
The event made me feel an appreciation and pride in community 81

 

89 91 73.9
The event exposed me to ideas that I may not have thought much about before 31

(n = 167)

89 36 34.8
The event affirmed my beliefs about humanity’s relationship with the natural environment 59

(n = 167)

44 18 60.9
The event allowed me to express my feelings for people’s relationship with the natural environment 50

(n = 98)

29

(n=7)

20

(n=5)

The event allowed me to strengthen my beliefs about certain issues 53

(n = 98)

67 18 46.7

(n = 45)

The event allowed me to learn about some environmental issues 43

(n = 96)

56 9 28.3
I enjoyed being part of a large team working together 94

(n = 98)

56 60

(n=5)

It made me more appreciative of where I live and work 57.4

(n = 47)

** Gunnedah data are combined data from both focus groups. (–) = not asked.

Table 2: Comparison of case studies as to whether the event made people want to change their behaviour. ‘Yes’ and ‘A bit’ combined into ‘Yes’. Gunnedah data are combined data from both focus groups.

 

Did the production make you want to do something different for the environment?

 

Percentage of all respondents   
Plague  and the Moonflower

(n = 170)

Nova-anglica

(n = 9)

Gunnedah (Two Rivers)

(n = 11)

Gunnedah (Common Ground)

(n = 46)

Yes 67 67 18 52.1
No 21 11 64 39.1
Unsure or unanswered 12 22 18 11.6
People who listed things they would do differently 43 44 18 26.1

 

 

 

Ecological restoration in urban environments in New Zealand – UPDATE of EMR feature

Bruce Clarkson, Catherine Kirby and Kiri Wallace

[Update of EMR feature  – Clarkson, B.D. & Kirby, C.L. (2016) Ecological restoration in urban environments in New Zealand. Ecological Management & Restoration, 17:3, 180-190.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12229]

Key words: urban ecology; restoration; indigenous biodiversity; New Zealand

Figure 1. Kauri dieback disease is affecting individual trees (left). [Photo Nick Waipara]

Introduction. Our 2016 EMR feature reviewed the state of research and practice of ecological restoration in urban environments in New Zealand. We concluded that urban restoration can influence and support regional and national biodiversity goals. We also observed that research effort was light, lacking interdisciplinary breadth and may not be sufficiently connected to restoration practice to ensure long-term success of many projects.

While it is only three years since that review was published, urban ecological restoration continues to grow and evolve, and the policy setting and political context have changed significantly. New threats and opportunities have emerged. The spread of a dieback disease and the more recent arrival of myrtle rust, rapid uptake of Predator Free 2050, emergence of the One Billion Trees programme, a surge in housing and subdivision development, and a potentially more supportive policy framework are all major factors.

Threats and opportunities. Kauri dieback disease is severely affecting urban kauri forests and individual Kauri (Agathis australis) trees in Auckland and other northern North Island urban centres (Fig. 1). Large forest areas adjoining Auckland, including most notably the Waitākere Range and large parts of the Hunua Range, are now closed to the public, preventing access to popular recreational areas. The dieback is caused by a fungus-like pathogen Phytophtora agathicida that is spread through soil movement. The disease may have arrived from overseas although this is uncertain. There is no known cure but research efforts are underway to find a large-scale treatment option.

Myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) was first found on mainland New Zealand in May of 2017, probably arriving by wind from Australia. Myrtle rust threatens many iconic New Zealand plant species in the family Myrtaceae including Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium), Rātā (Metrosideros robusta), Kānuka (Kunzea spp.), Waiwaka (Syzygium maire) or Swamp maire, and Ramarama (Lophomyrtus bullata). These species are all used to a greater or lesser extent in restoration planting or as specimen trees or shrubs in urban centres, depending on amenity or ecological context. Mānuka is widely used as a pioneer or nurse crop for native forest restoration and is critical to the economically important mānuka honey industry. Waiwaka is a feature of many swamp forest gully restoration projects in Hamilton and this would be a significant setback if they were badly affected. The impact of myrtle rust is still not clear but experience from Australia suggests it may take several years before it reaches population levels sufficient to cause significant damage.

Figure 2. With rapid housing developments in New Zealand, it is important that urban restoration projects are well-planned and efficiently carried out to provide residents with greenspaces to benefit their cultural, health and wellbeing practices. [Photo Catherine Kirby]

In response to a range of housing issues characterised by many as a New Zealand housing crisis, the previous and current government has embarked on several major initiatives to increase the housing stock. A $1B Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) was established in October 2016 with provision for interest free loans to local government to enable opening up of new large areas of housing. Many urban centres including Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Queenstown made early applications to the fund. Hamilton City Council was successful in obtaining $290.4 M support for a new greenfield subdivision in Peacocke on the southern edge of the city. This subdivision is intended to enable development of some 3700 houses over the next 10 years and 8100 in 30 years. Approximately 720 ha of peri-urban pastoral agricultural land would eventually be developed (See summary). Coupled with this, and already in progress, is the construction of the Southern Links state highway and local arterial road network. The first proposed subdivision Amberfield covers 105 ha and consent hearings are currently in progress. The environmental impacts of the proposal and how they might be mitigated are being contested. In brief, survival of a small population of the critically endangered Long-tailed Bat (Chalinolobos turberculatus) is the main environmental focus but other aspects including the extent of greenspace and ecological restoration required for ecological compensation are being considered (Figs. 2, 3). With strong political pressure to solve the housing crisis in Hamilton and in other urban centres, making adequate provision for greenspace, especially urban forest, and preventing environmental degradation and indigenous biodiversity decline will be a major challenge.

Figure 3. Aerial photo of Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park (65 ha), an award-winning and ongoing ecological restoration project situated on the edge of urban Hamilton. [Photo Dave Norris]

The Predator Free 2050 (PF2050) programme which gained government (National) approval in 2015, aims to eradicate Stoat (Mustela erminea), Ship Rat (Rattus rattus), Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) and Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) from the whole of New Zealand by 2050 (Department of Conservation 2018). PF2050 is now gaining significant traction in urban environments (Figs. 4, 5) with many urban centres having good numbers of community-led projects underway (See PFNZ National Trust map). Crofton Downs in Wellington was New Zealand’s first predator-free community project. Led by Kelvin Hastie this project has effectively reduced predator numbers to the point that some sensitive native birds e.g. Kākā (Nestor meridionalis), have begun to nest in this suburb after an absence of more than 100 years (See RNZ report). Also in Wellington, the Miramar Peninsula (Te Motu Kairangi) has become a focus, because of its advantageous geography, with a goal to make the area predator free by 2019. Possums had already been exterminated in 2006 (www.temotukairangi.co.nz).

Figure 4. John Innes (Wildlife Ecologist, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research) demonstrating trapping success. Removing pest mammals reduces predation, and also frees up the habitat and resources for our native fauna and flora to flourish. [Photo Neil Fitzgerald]

The One Billion Trees (1BT) programme was initiated by the new coalition government (Labour, NZ First, Greens) in 2017 with $238M released in 2018 for planting of both exotic and native trees across mixed land use types. It is not clear yet whether urban forest projects have received funding support but the guidelines suggest there is no reason why restoration of native forest in urban settings would not be eligible. While the emphasis is on exotic tree plantations, native species and long-term forest protection are increasingly being considered as viable options by the newly established government forestry agency Te Uru Rākau.

The policy setting for ecological restoration in urban environments is potentially becoming more favourable with the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) currently in review and the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy under revision (See terms of reference). The draft NPSIB emphasises restoration of indigenous habitat in biodiversity depleted environments. Specifically, Policy 19: Restoring indigenous biodiversity depleted environments, recommends a target for indigenous land cover, which in urban areas and peri-urban areas must be at least 10 per cent. The revision of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy seems likely to give more emphasis to landscape scale restoration including urban environments.

Figure 5. New Zealand native lizards are extremely vulnerable to mammalian predation (e.g. mice, hedgehogs, ferrets, cats) as well as habitat destruction (e.g. new urban developments). [Photo Tony Wills]

Research update. Using the same targeted Google Scholar search method as reported in the EMR feature we have found 18 new peer reviewed papers published between 2015 and July 2019 (see updated bibliography) that are strongly focused on restoration in New Zealand urban environments. The single paper noted for 2015 was missed in our previous search. Again, we have not included books, book chapters or grey literature. This compares very favourably with the total 27 papers listed in our 2016 review of which more than half dated from 2009. An increasing publication rate confirms increasing interest and research efforts in aspects of urban ecological restoration. While most of the publications remain in the ecological science realm there are now some informed by other disciplines including engineering, psychology, landscape architecture and health sciences.

Most notably since our 2016 review, a new government-funded (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) research programme, People, Cities and Nature, began in November of 2016. This four-year $823 k per annum research programme ends in October of 2020 unless a funding rebid to be submitted in March 2020 is successful. The programme undertakes multidisciplinary research in nine NZ cities via six inter-related projects: restoration plantings; urban lizards; mammalian predators; Māori restoration values; green-space benefits and cross-sector alliances. While the emphasis was on the ecological science of urban restoration at the outset, the programme has become increasingly involved in understanding the multiple benefits of urban ecological projects including social cohesion and health and recreation benefits. The need to connect restoration research and practice has been met by undertaking multi-agency and community workshops involving researchers and practitioners in five cities to date with a further four scheduled before the programme ends.

Acknowledgements. The People Cities and Nature research programme is funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment under grant number UOW1601.

Information. Bruce D. Clarkson, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand bruce.clarkson@waikato.ac.nz; Catherine L. Kirby, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand catherine.kirby@waikato.ac.nz; and Kiri J. Wallace, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand kiri.wallace@waikato.ac.nz.

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

Ray Thompson and Central West Local Land Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addressing ghost nets in Australia and beyond – update of EMR feature

Britta Denise Hardesty, Riki Gunn and Chris Wilcox

[Update of EMR feature  – Riki Gunn, Britta Denise Hardesty and James Butler (2010) Tackling ghost nets: local solutions to a global issue in Northern Australia, Ecological Management & Restoration, 11:2, 88-98. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2010.00525.x]

Key words.  derelict fishing nets, ghost gear, GGGI, Indigenous livelihoods

Figure 1. Dead turtle caught in a derelict ghost net. (Photo: Jane Dermer, Ghost Nets Australia)

Introduction. The focus of our 2009 feature was to highlight the work of Indigenous rangers in addressing the local but widespread problem of abandoned, lost or derelict fishing gear (ALDFG) in Northern Australia, particularly ‘ghost nets’ that are carried on the currents and continue to fish long after they are no longer actively used (Figs 1-4). We also aimed to raise awareness of the efforts required to address this complex issue, whilst highlighting the work of Indigenous rangers working in the region.  The feature reported ghost net removal efforts taking place in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria – which, by 2009, involved the removal of 5532 nets by over 90 Indigenous rangers from more than 18 Indigenous communities.  This highlighted the transboundary nature of the ghost gear issue, and identified that most nets likely originated from beyond Australia’s waters.

Figure 2. Napranum ranger Philip Mango releasing juvenile turtle trapped in ghost net. (Photo: Ghost Nets Australial)

Further work. Since 2010, the understanding of and approaches to addressing the derelict fishing gear issue have increased substantially. This has been reflected both in domestic efforts within Australia, and more broadly in the international community.

Domestically, in the last decade, the ranger program across northern Australia has evolved and grown, enabling more Indigenous people to remain culturally connected to their land and sea country through meaningful employment.  Ranger activities generally involve a range of restoration activities including feral and weed management, in addition to (for  coastal groups) ghost net removal. Across northern Australia, Indigenous ranger groups continue to remove nets on their country, demonstrating the success of the initial program supported by the Australian government. To date, nearly 15,000 ghost nets (three times the number reported in 2010) have been removed from the region. The net removal program has extended beyond Ranger groups working in the Gulf of Carpentaria to include the Torres Strait, the western part of the Northern Territory Coast, and parts of the Kimberly coastline in Western Australia.

Globally, the world is focused on the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) which aims to provide a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’ (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs).

A key focus for the SDGs is to help preserve the world’s oceans, a topic which touches on food security, poverty and economic growth, among other goals. Ensuring fishing practices are aligned with these goals includes reducing gear losses into the marine and coastal environment. In recognition of the issue and to end ALDFG, there is now a multi-stakeholder alliance of fishing industry, private sector, multinational corporations, non-government organizations, academics and governments, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which is focused on solving the problem of abandoned, lost and derelict fishing gear worldwide. Both CSIRO and GhostNets Australia were founding members of this alliance and have been instrumental in engagement and scientific endeavours which inform the GGGI.

Fig 3. An enormous effort is invested by Indigenous rangers in removing ghost nets from beaches along the northern Australian coastline (Photo: World Animal Protection/Dean Sewell)

Based on collaborative research between GhostNets Australia and CSIRO, it was determined that the primary source of derelict nets washing ashore along Australia’s northern coastline was the Arafura Sea. Engagement with fishers in the region through a series of workshops identified that major causes of gear loss included snagging of nets and over-capacity in the region. We also identified opportunities to help resolve ghost net issues in the region, though stakeholder engagement, points of intervention and livelihood tradeoffs. Much of this overcapacity and overcrowding has been attributed to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Subsequently, Indonesia went through a substantial change in practices with regards to allowing foreign vessels in their waters, effectively closed their borders to foreign fisheries operators. Anecdotally, information from multiple ranger groups in Northern Australia suggests that this highly publicized and significant change in practice has resulted in a substantial decrease in the number of ghost nets washing ashore along at least part of the northern Australian coastline.

Another outcome from the collaborative research effort was a new understanding based on deep citizen science engagement and modelling to identify potential high risk areas where ghost nets were likely to cause the most harm to turtles. In this work, we were able to suggest interdiction points for ghostnets, before they entered the Gulf of Carpentaria where they were likely to kill wildlife. We also identified the nets that were most harmful to wildlife and we estimated that nearly 15,000 marine turtles had likely been killed by derelict nets in the region.

There have also been some technological improvements in this area. These fall into both reporting and in tracking nets. Electronic data collection has improved the quality of data collection and can ensure errors are minimised. Development of the tool has also been designed such that those with reduced literacy are also able to collect valuable information, a feature that can be important in many communities. Using icons and photos to help identify nets improved data reliability.

Also within Australia, alternative livelihoods programs such as Ghost Net Gear evolved into the Ghost Net Art Project where the art works have excited the International art community.  This has resulted in purchases by many internationally renowned purveyors of artwork including the British Museum, the Australian National Museum and the Australian Maritime Museum. Works from Indigenous artists can also be seen at Australia’s Parliament House, and exhibitions have taken place in Monaco, Alaska, Singapore and France as well as in numerous national and regional galleries around Australia. A commemorative stamp was even made from the Ghost Nets artwork that lives in the Australian National Museum.

Figure 4. Large nets can become entangled in coastal vegetation. (Photo: World Animal Protection/Dean Sewell)

Future directions. While GhostNets Australia has not formally continued as a non-governmental organization, many of the components initiated through the program have continued and grown through time, as exemplified above. This early work also helped springboard CSIRO’s engagement in capacity building with the Indonesian government to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. This had led to a strong research collaboration relationship between the two countries, with a shared goal of reducing IUU fishing, building capacity on marine resource management, and improved monitoring, control and surveillance efforts in Indonesia.

CSIRO is also involved in an aerial (re)survey of the coastline across Northern Australia. In affiliation with World Animal Protection and Norm Duke and Jock Mackenzie from James Cook University, we are looking at changes in the number of ghost nets along the shoreline (Figs 3 and 4). Stereo images were recorded along the entire coastline and we are comparing ghost nets observed across the region with two other aerial surveys that have taken place in the last decade. The team have just completed flights (September 2019), so we are looking forward to analysing the images and comparing ghost net numbers across the region.

ContactDenise.hardesty@csiro.au; CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. rikigunn1@outlook.com; chris.wilcox@csiro.au

Registration of domestic cats on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean: stage one to an eradication program for stray and feral cats to mitigate social and environmental impacts – UPDATE of EMR feature

 David Algar, Neil Hamilton and Caitlyn Pink

[Update to EMR article: Algar, David, Stefanie Hilmer, Don Nickels and Audrey Nickels (2011) Successful domestic cat neutering: first step towards eradicating cats on Christmas Island for wildlife protection. Ecological Management & Restoration, 12:2, 93-101. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00594.x]

Key words: domestic and feral cats, eradication program, cat de-sexing and registration, cat management, pet cat survey, local cat legislation

Figure 1. Stray cat on Christmas Island (Photo Neil Hamilton DBCA)

Introduction: In 2010 a ‘’Cat Management Plan’’ was commissioned by the various land management agencies on Christmas Island to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of cats (Felis catus) on the island (Fig 1). These impacts included contributing towards the decline of a number of native species through predation, as well as being a source of Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasite that can lead to serious human health complications.

The plan proposed a strategy to eradicate cats entirely from the island as the domestic population died out and was adopted in late 2010. The essential first stage of the management plan was therefore the registration of all domestic cats. As part of this plan, amendments to the Local Cat Management Laws (Shire of Christmas Island Local Law for the Keeping and Control of Cats 2004 (WA)) under the Local Government Act 1995 (WA) were endorsed in August 2010. These revisions required that all domestic cats in the Shire of Christmas Island were legally bound to be de-sexed, tattooed, microchipped and registered with the Shire. The revisions were designed to limit domestic and stray/feral cat impact on the native fauna, promote responsible cat ownership, compliance and enforcement of cat management laws and prohibit the importation of new cats. Micro-chipping of domestic cats would enable the identification of those animals during trapping campaigns for stray and feral cats, so that they could be released rather than destroyed. De-sexing would prevent potential natal recruitment into the domestic, stray and feral populations. A survey of domestic cats was conducted prior to the veterinary program in October 2010 (see original feature), to guarantee that all domestic cats would be registered. One hundred and fifty-two cats were recorded during the initial survey in October 2010 of which 136 were registered as domestic pets.

Figure 2. Red-tailed Tropic-Bird with chick May 2012. (Photo Neil Hamilton DBCA)

Further works undertaken: Two further veterinary visits were conducted in May 2011 and 2012 following the domestic cat surveys to complete the veterinary program. Subsequent domestic cat surveys have been conducted each May in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2016 prior to the domestic cat survey, it came to our attention that a number of un-registered cats were being kept as pets. It was decided by the ‘’Christmas Island Cat Eradication Steering Committee’’ that a short-term amnesty on pet cat ownership be invoked so that these animals could also be de-sexed and registered. Following this amnesty, a final veterinary program was endorsed and fines were still issued to those residents who wanted their otherwise illegal cat to be de-sexed and registered, or unregistered cats could be handed in and euthanased without charge. Further domestic cat surveys were conducted in May 2017 and October 2018.

Further results to date: Since October 2010, 184 cats have been registered following the various veterinary programs. The survey conducted in 2018 recorded 66 registered cats remaining. The total number of domestic cats registered each year, the sex population structure, the number of new registrations and number deregistered are presented in Table 1, with the decline of two-thirds relatively steady over the years.

Table 1. Total number of domestic cats registered each year, the sex structure, the number of new registrations and number de-registered.

Date No. registered New/re-registers De-registers
  Total Female Male Total Female Male Total Female Male
October 2010 N/A N/A N/A 136 66 70 N/A N/A N/A
May 2011 138 69 69 18 10 8 16 7 9
May 2012 135 66 69 12 5 7 15 8 7
May 2013 111 53 58 0 0 0 24 13 11
May 2014 101 50 51 0 0 0 10 5 5
May 2015 87 45 42 0 0 0 14 5 9
May 2016 75 41 34 2 1 1 14 5 9
June 2016 93 49 44 18 8 10 0 0 0
May 2017 74 38 36 1 0 1 20 11 9
October 2018 66 36 30 0 0 0 8 2 6

Lessons learned and future directions: At the conclusion of the domestic cat survey in 2018, there were 66 registered cats present on the island. An additional seven domestic cats are known to have died before the planned 2019 domestic cat survey. Death of registered cats over the past nine years has been caused by a number of factors including: road fatalities; old age; disease; requests for cats to be euthanased for a variety of reasons and cats exported back to the mainland.

Domestic cats will remain on Christmas Island for a number of years, with the youngest cat approximately three years of age. Initially, as reported in the 2011 feature, it was predicted that the island would be domestic cat-free by 2024 however, this is unlikely given the subsequent and final veterinary program in 2016.

Further amendments to the island’s cat local laws were adopted in 2018, following consultation with the community and the Christmas Island Cat Eradication Steering Committee. This included an increase in penalties for illegal unregistered cats and compulsory transfer of ownership procedures to prevent future movement of registered pet cats into the designated pet cat prohibited zone. This zone protects nesting habitat for the ground-nesting Red-tailed Tropic Bird (Phaethon rubricauda, Fig 2.), where cat predation led to 90% failure of fledgling rates pre-control. Subsequent cat management in this zone has been successful in improving fledgling survival (See 2012 report).

There are several benefits of repeating the domestic cat survey each year as pet numbers decline: continue program awareness to all residents; maintain community support and involvement; offer pet health advice; thoroughly check for illegal cats to report to the Shire and respond to stray cat reports within the township. This continued effort will help ensure there is little opportunity or temptation to obtain new kittens as illegal pets while later stages of the eradication are progressing, and responsible cat ownership is maintained until the domestic cat population has died out.

The goal of eradicating cats remains highly relevant and is supported by the island community, local land management agencies and the federal government. The feasibility of long-term success is high and the outcome is likely to provide valuable lessons for other jurisdictions with social and environmental issues surrounding the presence of feral and domestic cats.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This is a collaborative project between Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and Parks Australia. The authors would like to thank Parks Australia, Christmas Island Phosphates, Shire of Christmas Island, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development and Australian Border Force for their financial, in-kind and logistical support. Special thanks to Robert Muller, Khaleisha Amin and Chris Su for their assistance in annual surveys. The warm welcome and assistance of the whole Christmas Island community during all domestic cat surveys has been appreciated.

Contact information: David Algar, Biodiversity and Conservation Science, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, Western Australia, Australia 6983) Email: dave.algar@dbca.wa.gov.au

 

 

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

Ian Davidson

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

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

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

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

Human resources ·       Use existing knowledge where available

·       Maintain continuity of leadership

Assessment and

monitoring

·       Establish broadly applicable and consistent assessment and monitoring criteria

·       Use methods which are easily understood

·       Consider seasonal effects on the timing of surveys

·       Recommended actions should be appropriate for the site condition

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

·       Regular monitoring avoids major problems

Revegetation ·       Seed banks are vital to achieving large scale revegetation

·       Multiple species should be used in direct seeding

·       Exotic grasses should be controlled prior to direct seeding

·       Native species can assist in spreading shrubs over time

Land Management ·       Controlling herbivores is critical during early growth stages

·       Grazing indicators/surrogates are useful

·       Stock type impacts grazing style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Nancy Pallin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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