Category Archives: Grassland/grassy understorey

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

Robyn R. Watson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The continuing battle with Ox-eye Daisy in Kosciuszko National Park – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update of EMR feature article – McDougall, Keith, Genevieve Wright, Elouise Peach (2018)  Coming to terms with Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 19:1, 4-13.  doi: 10.1111/emr.12296]

Key words: Biocontrol, adaptive and integrated management

Introduction. In less than a decade, Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) went from being an obscure garden escape in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP), New South Wales (NSW) to one of its most pernicious invasive plant threats. By early 2019 it was abundant and, in places, dominant in over 3000 ha of subalpine communities and recorded at elevations up to 1700 m asl. The rate of spread took managers by surprise, rapidly increasing after the wildfire that burnt through the core area of infestation. Keeping up with it has necessitated learning on the run, the essence of adaptive management – expectations and goals are continually changing as we learn more about the species and as it responds to changing conditions. The program has some urgency because the main infestation occurs in a hotspot of threatened plant species.

Between 2011 and 2013, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage set up a range of experiments to 1) evaluate available herbicides, 2) determine the impact of Ox-eye Daisy on natural vegetation and 3) develop rehabilitation techniques to repair a bulldozer line heavily invaded by Ox-eye Daisy. The third of these was soon abandoned after the surrounding vegetation was over-run by Ox-eye daisy. Metsulfuron methyl proved to be the most effective of the herbicide treatments. Using glyphosate was worse than doing nothing because it killed native plants, creating new opportunities for Ox-eye Daisy colonisation. The impact of Ox-eye Daisy was assessed by comparing paired plots and continues to be assessed in manipulative experiments. The diversity of native plants was found to be lower in heavily invaded areas than in adjoining areas, with Ox-eye Daisy having a tendency to grow in monoculture. The attainment of dominance is slower where there is little disturbance and a thorough cover of native species, but natural disturbances such as fire and grass death caused by native moth larvae can favour Ox-eye Daisy. In order to keep up with the spread of the species, managers are resorting to a combination of broadscale herbicide application by helicopter and regular monitoring of human dispersal pathways. Sadly, dispersal of seed by animals (both native and introduced) is far harder to track.

The experimental program coupled with adaptive management continues but staff have become aware that it may not be enough to prevent spread and further damage. Biological control, community engagement and new monitoring technology are becoming important tools in the fight. Here we describe current efforts to broaden the battle against Ox-eye Daisy.

Fig. 1. Candidate insects for biological control of Ox-eye Daisy. (Photos: CABI Switzerland.)

Further works undertaken. It is easy when tackling a major environmental issue to focus on the geographic core of the problem and forget that it is connected to the rest of the world. Ox-eye Daisy is mainly a risk to conservation values in KNP but there is no reason it won’t become a risk elsewhere. Accordingly, we have been liaising with the parks’ neighbours, other management bodies within the park, and land managers elsewhere. We have run three field workshops where we have shared our experience with these stakeholders, some of whom have Ox-eye Daisy amongst their invasive plant issues; the exchange of ideas has been valuable and we now have extra eyes in the park for outlying populations of Ox-eye Daisy.

Herbicides are very effective against Ox-eye Daisy but it is a resilient species with a large seed bank and long-lived seed; other weapons are required to effectively control it in the long-term. Since 2008, CABI Switzerland have been exploring the native range of the species for potential biocontrol solutions, work funded by agencies in Canada and the USA where Ox-eye Daisy is a serious invader of pastures, rangelands and wildlands. In 2016, the NSW Department of Primary Industries secured funding to launch a biocontrol project against Ox-eye Daisy in Australia, piggy-backing off the established body of work already happening in Switzerland

Several insect species have been identified by CABI as having potential as biocontrol agents (Fig. 1). These include two root feeders (a moth and a weevil) and a flowerhead-feeding fly. The root-feeding moth, Dichrorampha aeratana (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae), was short-listed as a favourable first candidate due to it having been tested extensively for host specificity (what it feeds on) and impact (on Ox-eye Daisy). It was imported into Australian quarantine in 2016 and has since undergone host-specificity testing on closely related Australian native daisies in both Australia and Switzerland. While this work is being completed, field monitoring plots have been established in NSW and Victoria to investigate plant population dynamics and soil seed banks prior to biocontrol being introduced. In addition to the root-feeding moth, CABI have also been sub-contracted to conduct host-specificity testing on the root-feeding weevil, Cyphocleonus trisulcatus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), which will be considered as an alternative biocontrol option should the moth be unsuitable. The weevil is very damaging and long-lived, and appears to have a suitably narrow host range.

Testing of the potential biocontrol agents (listed above) will continue for the foreseeable future until enough data are gathered to assess whether they are safe for release in Australia. This process involves a risk assessment conducted by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy and Environment.

Fig. 2. Launching a drone for monitoring the success of aerial herbicide application. An Ox-eye Daisy flower is in the foreground. (Photo: Elouise Peach, NPWS).

Lessons learned and future directions. Our greatest regret is not commencing control until Ox-eye Daisy was a problem. If the species had been treated when it was known only from small patches close to Nungar Creek in the 1990s, it would not have expanded to its current extent. The clear message from this is: remove non-native plant species when they are rare because, although most might never amount to much, some will and the consequences and cost of management are then huge.

Adaptive management is often recommended as the best way to tackle environmental problems and it has definitely been pivotal to the successes we have seen. Programs were abandoned when they weren’t working and we have been willing to trial new approaches before they are fully tested. The close relationship between managers and researchers has enabled the rapid progression from enquiry to practice to further enquiry, with monitoring being integral to decision making. Drones are now being employed to assist in monitoring (Fig. 2).

The Ox-eye Daisy fight in KNP has demonstrated the importance of integrated pest management, which includes research, herbicide application, biocontrol, management partnerships and community engagement. To date we have resisted a broad communication campaign that invites people to report sightings of Ox-eye Daisy because the species is so easily confused with native daisies. Targeted education (e.g. for walking and naturalist groups), however, will be explored in coming years. The battle against Ox-eye Daisy will be fought with many tools and its spread monitored by many eyes.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. The on-ground project in KNP has been supported by the Saving Our Species program, the National Parks and Wildlife Service Find It and Fix It and Centenary Funding, the NSW Drought Relief Funding, and Essential Energy. The biocontrol programme has been funded through the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit programme.

Contact information. Keith McDougall, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, PO Box 733, Queanbeyan NSW 2620; phone: +61 2 6229 7111; email: keith.mcdougall@environment.nsw.gov.au [for on-ground research and management]. Dr Andrew McConnachie, Senior Research Scientist (Weed Biocontrol), Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Orange Agricultural Research Institute, 1447 Forest Road, Orange NSW 2800; phone: +61 2 6391 3917; email: andrew.mcconnachie@dpi.nsw.gov.au [for biocontrol]

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

Photo 1.  Aerial view of Waterways from the west

By Damien Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results

Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo 4. Seasonal rain-filled wetland at Waterways

 Animals.

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

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

Photo 5. Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata) at Waterways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrating conservation management and sheep grazing at Barrabool, NSW

Martin Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan Wong

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

Table 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult by Geoff BrownCOMP

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

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

Table2

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Learning from the Coreen TSRS – and scaling up biodiversity recovery works at hundreds of sites in the Riverina, NSW.

Peter O’Shannassy and Ian Davidson

Key words: Travelling Stock Routes and reserves, grazing management, rehabilitation, direct seeding, Biodiversity Fund.

Introduction. The travelling Stock Routes and Reserves (TSRs) in NSW comprise a network of publically owned blocks and linear routes that were set aside between 100-150 years ago in New South Wales (NSW) to allow landholders to move their livestock from their grazing properties to markets. They occur in prime agricultural land and remain under management by the state of New South Wales’s system of Local Land Services organisations (LLSs).

Since trucking of cattle is now the norm, rather than droving, the use of TSRs has gradually changed to more occasional grazing. Considering the concurrent gradual decline in biodiversity of many private properties in the same period this means that the remnant grassy woodland patches and corridors represent the most important habitats in the Riverina region and contain dozens of Threatened species and five Endangered Ecological Communities variously listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act 1995) and the Commonwealth EPBC Act 1999. A general recognition of the high biodiversity value of the TSRs (and need to counter degradation on many of them) has resulted in a shift in local policy and practice towards improving the condition of biodiversity in the reserves.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1. Coreen Round Swamp TSR 2005.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2.  Coreen Round Swamp TSR at the same photopoint in 2015. (Note the increase in Bullloak recruitment from improved grazing management.

Works undertaken at Coreen Round Swamp and Oil Tree Reserve

Managed grazing has been applied to a number of Travelling Stock Reserves in the Riverina over a 10 year period – particularly two reserves: Coreen Round Swamp and Oil Tree reserve in the Coreen area. In 1998, condition of Coreen Round Swamp was ranked high conservation quality and Oil Tree TSR medium-high. In general, both TSRs contained tree species at woodland densities, but there was a low density of regenerating palatable trees (e.g. Bulloak and White Cypress Pine), with most species where present recorded as having sparse natural regeneration. The sites contained few regenerating shrubs (again rating sparse or absent) and exotic annual grasses were common in parts, with native grass swards patchy. Weed forbs were common

Restoration works commenced at Coreen Round Swamp and Oil Tree Reserve in 2004 and focused on:

  • Manipulating the timing of grazing with selected sets of livestock at specific times to disrupt the life cycle of, particularly, annual exotic grasses to reduce these undesirable species and to prepare the way for native perennial grasses.
  • Weed control – which involved multiple visits to the site throughout the year to control the various species as they emerged and prior to seed set. Spraying of herbaceous species with knockdown herbicide continued until the balance tipped and began to move towards a stronger native composition. Woody weeds such as Olive and Pepper trees were removed by hand cutting and painting with systemic herbicides.
  • Reduction of grazing impacts: Livestock were camped in the TSR’s holding yards rather than under the trees at night. This was carried out to reduce physical damage to shrubs, trees and the ground layer and reduce fertility inputs to the soils under the trees; fertility levels that are known to favour weed species invasion of such areas.

Results. Monitoring using standard proformas and photopoints showed dramatic changes in both reserves; with sites previously devoid of recruitment now developing a layer of tree and shrub saplings including Bulloak and White Cypress Pine. Where once 20-30% of the Coreen Round Swamp TSR was highly degraded, being dominated by herbaceous and grass weeds, this degradation class has now reduced to less than 10%; with the remaining 90% being of high quality. Similarly Oil Tree TSR had around 30-40% in a similarly degraded condition, which has now been reduced to 10-15% of the area; with 80% being in moderate-high condition and moving towards high as the shrub layer improves. (See Figures 1-5).

Fig 3.

Fig. 3. Oil Tree TSR in 2005 where a mix of native grass (spear grasses) and exotic annual grasses (Wild Oats, Bromus and Rye Grass) are visible.

Figure 4


Fig 4.  Same photopoint at Oil Tree TSR in 2015 showing a sward now dominated by native grass (spear grasses) and Curly Windmill Grass (Chloris truncata).

Coreen Recovery Wheel (a) prior to works and (b) after 10 years (Courtesy Ian Davidson.)

Expansion of the program to hundreds of TSRs in the Riverina

Building on the success of the work at the Coreen Reserves, a five year program is well underway, funded by the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund in 2012. In the first for four years, 251 sites have been assessed and interventions have taken place at 102 of these sites; with a further 18 sites to be worked during the remaining funded period.

Works to date include grazing management, weed and pest species management and 960 ha of direct seeding on 70 sites. The sites are being monitored using 250 permanent photopoints located to track key vegetation structural changes, as well some transect counts of regeneration and seedling success (recruitment). Approximately 108 assessments, using the original proformas plus plot counts, are being conducted on a subset of key sites including untreated sites. Initial results of the grazing management and direct seeding are encouraging. Very successful seedling germination has occurred in the direct seeded lines on most of the seeded sites (although germination on some of the drier Boree sites took longer). Some sites have had additional seeding done in subsequent years to provide a mix of age classes. The seedlings have now developed to a range of heights, with some older seedlings up to 2 m high, while some seed continues to germinate. Some of the more mature plants have seeded in the last 12 months and the expectation is that a soil seed bank will now be starting to form.

As aggressive exclusion of birds from woodland and forest habitat by abundant Noisy Miners is listed as a Key Threatening Process (KTP) in NSW and the Commonwealth – culling of Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) is being undertaken to benefit woodland bird populations. This is being done at a scale not attempted before. Baseline bird surveys have been conducted on 80 sites established over 70 reserves including on sites with and without Noisy Minor culling; and sites with shrubs and without shrubs within a range of vegetation types. The seasonal benchmark surveys have been undertaken on 8 occasions but because only one post-culling survey (spring) has been undertaken to date, it is premature to identify whether changes in bird populations have occurred yet. The surveys will continue till Autumn 2017.

Lessons learned. The results of works at the Coreen reserves are clearly a direct response to the manipulation of the timing and intensity of grazing pressure to reduce weed and allow rest for recovering native species. Achieving the desired grazing management required a paradigm shift for managers and clients. The close management of grazing, direct seeding and burning also relies on a high level of understanding and commitment by the TSR manager.

Acknowledgements. We thank Rick Webster for his seminal rapid assessments of TSRs in the late 1990s throughout southern NSW. Norman Wettenhall a visionary philanthropist and a friend of TSRs funded much of the early assessment work. The more recent funding provided by the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund. A number of LLS staff / Biosecurity officers are involved in the works, including Peter O’Shannassy, Michael Mullins, Stuart Watson and Roger Harris. Ian Davidson, Regeneration Solutions P/L is undertaking the vegetation assessments, Chris Tzaros, Birds, Bush and Beyond, is undertaking the bird surveys and Phil Humphries provided the mapping

Contact: Peter O’Shannassy, Murray Local Land Services (74 Short St Corowa NSW 2646, 0427010891 peter.o’shannassy@lls.nsw.gov.au) and Ian Davidson Regeneration Solutions P/L (15 Weir Street Wangaratta, 0429 662 759, ian@regenerationsolutions.com.au).

Recovering biodiversity at Trust for Nature’s Neds Corner Station, Victoria

Doug Robinson, Deanna Marshall, Peter Barnes and Colleen Barnes

Key words. Private conservation area, natural regeneration, ecological restoration, rabbit control.

Introduction. Neds Corner Station is Victoria’s largest private conservation property. This 30,000 hectare ex-sheep and cattle station was purchased for nature conservation by Trust for Nature (Victoria) in 2002.

The property occupies the driest area of the state with an average annual rainfall of only 250 mm. As such, it has strong ecological links to the arid regions of Australia and Australia’s rangelands. Neds Corner sits strategically at the hub of an extensive network of public and private conservation lands bordering or close to the Murray River in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. The reserve is bordered on three sides by the Murray Sunset National Park and borders frontages along the Murray River and associated anabranches for more than thirty kilometres, where the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) dominated riparian zone connects with Chenopod Shrublands, Semi-arid Chenopod Woodlands and Chenopod Mallee Woodlands. Trust for Nature’s restoration efforts are targeted at restoring woodland connectivity across the property to improve habitat extent and condition for woodland and mallee plants and animals, including the nationally threatened Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus). A biodiversity survey in 2011 found 884 native species at Neds Corner Station, including 6 threatened birds and animals, 77 threatened plants, and 21 species new to science. Trust for Nature continues to find new records for the property.

Fig 1 Neds 2003

Fig. 1. Highly degraded area (near watering points) in 2003 just after Trust purchased the property.

 

Fig 2 Neds 2011

Fig. 2. Same photopoint in 2014 showing extensive natural regeneration of Low Chenopod Shrubland after removal of livestock and extensive treatment of rabbits.

 

Planning for recovery. In 2002, when Trust for Nature first took on the property, the land was severely degraded from continuous over grazing by stock, rabbits and native herbivores; weed infestations; historic clearing of extensive areas of woodland for firewood and forage; and lack of flooding. Native vegetation was sparse over much of the property, soil erosion was extensive and the floodplain and semi-arid woodlands were all showing signs of extreme stress.

In the early years of ownership, management focussed on addressing the most obvious of these threats, with a focus on rabbit control and weed control. In 2010, with funding support from The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Nature prepared a Conservation Action Plan for the reserve, using the Open Standards for Conservation process, and a subsequent management plan. These planning documents identified the key biodiversity values on the reserve, the major threats to these values and the strategies to reduce threats and improve condition to achieve agreed ecological goals.Fig 6 Neds

Fig. 3. Dune Wattle (Acacia ligulata) natural regeneration after cropping was discontinued.

Fig 7 Neds

 Fig 4. Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) natural regeneration after cropping ceased.

Works undertaken. Trust for Nature’s first action was to remove the livestock to allow the regeneration and growth of native vegetation. Stock fencing was decommissioned to enable free movement of native fauna, and new exclosure fencing to protect sites of cultural and ecological significance were also constructed. Major efforts were made to reduce rabbit numbers through the use of warren ripping, fumigation and 1080 baiting across the property. To date, over 20,000 warrens have been treated. Direct seeding and tubestock planting in the Semi-arid Woodland areas of the property have been continuous, with the cessation of a cropping licence, over 500 ha direct seeded in one year as part of an Australian Government funded project. In partnership with the Mallee Catchment Management Authority, environmental water allocations have been used to inundate areas of Neds Corner, providing a vital lifeline to many of the plants and animals that inhabit the riverine billabongs and floodplain forests. Artificial water points and superfluous tracks have been closed. Targeted fox and other feral animal programs are continuous.

Fig 3 Neds 2003

Fig 5. Highly degraded ‘Pine paddock’ in 2003 just after the Trust purchased the property.

Fig 4 Neds 2011

Fig 6. Pine paddock from same photopoint in n2014 after exclosure fencing, rabbit control and extensive direct seeding of trees and shrubs in 2007 (and again in 2010). The grasses all naturally regenerated.

Results. In the 14 years since domestic stock removal and the ongoing control of rabbits and weeds, there has been a dramatic increase in the cover of native vegetation, notably from natural regeneration (Figs 1-4) but also from extensive supplementary planting and direct seeding (Figs 5-8). In 2011, wide spread natural germination of Murray Pines occurred across the woodland sections of the property and Sandhill Wattle (Acacia ligulata) seedlings were observed on one rise where no parent plant was known to occur, indicating a viable seed bank may exist. The vulnerable Darling Lilies (Crinum flaccidum) continue to extend their range, given favourable weather conditions and the continuous control of herbaceous threats to the extent required to ensure adequate recruitment of these key flora species. Bird surveys undertaken for one of the targeted projects within Neds Corner over the past 10 years show an encouraging increase in reporting rates of Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus victoriae) (>x2 increase), Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps) (>x2% increase) and Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) (>x20 increase).

Fig 5 neds

Fig.7. Revegetation plantings in 2008

Fig 6 NEds 2014

Fig 8. Same revegetation planing line in 2013.

Current and future directions. Trust for Nature are due to revise their CAP and have identified the need to undertake recovery actions at a greater scale. They are currently investigating the feasibility of re-introducing some fauna species back into Neds Corner Station that haven’t been found in the region for decades, provided there is sufficient habitat to sustain them.

Acknowledgements. As a not-for-profit organisation, Trust for Nature (Victoria) relies on the generous support of many individuals, organisations and government entities. The main project partners to date include The Nature Conservancy, RE Ross Trust, Yulgilbar Foundation, Australian Government, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Mildura Rural City Council, Northern Mallee Region Landcare, Traditional Owners and the thousands of hours volunteers contribute to Neds Corner Station.

Contact: Doug Robinson, Conservation Science Coordinator, Trust for Nature: (Tel: +61 1800 99 99 33.) Email: dougr@tfn.org.au; www.trustfornature.org.au

Photos: Trust for Nature

 

 

 

Brush pack experiment in restoration: How small changes can avoid leakage of resources and underpin larger scale improvements for restoration and rehabilitation

David Tongway and John Ludwig

Key words: Landscape Function Analysis, biological foci, water harvesting, desertification, erosion

The following experiment illustrates how relatively small changes to redirect water flow can capture water and other biological resources at a restoration site. However the process occurs not only at the micro scale but cumulates to site and landscape scales, making it a primary underpinning principles of a method of site analysis, Landscape Function Analysis (LFA) that has been applied across Australia and other countries to assist land managers counter desertification by redesigning processes that regulate the flow of resources, minimise losses and foster cycling. See http://members.iinet.net.au/~lfa_procedures/

The LFA mindset and methodology involve a purposeful change of focus from listing the biota/ species present or absent at a site, to an examination of the degree to which biophysical processes deal with vital resources with respect to stresses arising from management and climatic events.

Fig 1 before

Fig. 1. Before: bare, crusted, low OC soil, erosion, and high water runoff mainitained by low but persistent, set-stock grazing by sheep and kangaroos.

Fig 2. after treatment

Fig. 2. The restoration treatment was simply to build brush-packs across the contour to trap water, soil and plant litter, slowing overland outflow. This also prevented the grazing down to ~1cm. Grass plants were able to maintain about 10cm of photosynthetic tissue.

Fig 4

Fig 3. After 7 years. Clearly the soil properties have improved the ‘habitat quality’ for the target vegetation.

Fig 5 14 years after

Figure 4. After 14 years, native vegetation re-established.

Fig 3. detail of bushpack after 3 years.

Fig 5. Detail of the brushpack after 3 years showing micro-structures capable of slowing water and accumulating resources.

1. tongway table

ANOTHER KEY OBSERVATION RELEVANT TO RESTORATION AND REHABILITATION

Where resources are not captured or leak out of a system, patchiness will become evident as resources self-organise around foci of accumulation – creating ‘patches’ where resources accumulate and ‘interpatches’ from which they ‘leak’.

The Golden Rule for rehabilitation is: “Restore/replace missing or ineffective processes in the landscape in order to improve the soil habitat quality for desired biota.”

Fig 6. Grassy sward healthy

Fig. 6. A grassy sward patch where the grass plants are close enough together that the water run-off is unable to generate enough energy to redistribute the grassy litter, which is evenly distributed. (The slope is from top to bottom in the image.)

There is also no evidence of sediment transport (not visible in this image). This is because of the tortuous path and short inter-grass distance. It would be possible to derive the critical grass plant spacing for “sward” function in any landscape, taking into account slope, aspect and soil texture.

Fig 7. Grassland in patch-interpatch mode, due to exceeding the critical runoff length for erosion initiation. (Slope is from top to bottom.)

Note that litter and sediment have both been washed off the inter-patch and have been arrested by a down-slope grass patch. Note the orientation of the grassy litter strands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update on Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project (7 years on) – Lurg Hills, Victoria

Ray Thomas

Key words: Agricultural landscape, faunal recovery, community participation, seed production area

Twenty-one years of plantings in the Lurg Hills, Victoria, have seen a consolidation of the work described in the 2009 EMR feature Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project.  The priorities of the Project are to protect and restore remnants and enlarge them by add-on plantings. Together, this work has protected relatively healthy remnants by fencing; restored depleted remnants by planting or direct seeding; and revegetated open areas that had been cleared for agriculture. Other restoration activities include mistletoe removal, environmental weeding, environmental thinning; feral animal control, kangaroo reduction, nest box placement, and systematic monitoring of a range of threatened and declining woodland birds and hollow-dependent mammals.

Updated outputs since 2009. A further 540 ha of private land has now been planted (150 additional sites since 2009). This means the total area treated is now 1600ha on over 550 sites. The oldest plantings are now 19 years old and 10m high (compare to 12 years old and 6m high in 2009) (Fig 1).

The total number of seedlings planted is now approx. 620,000 seedlings compared with 385,000 in 2009. Some 280km fencing has been established compared with 190 km in 2009. Mistletoe now treated on scores of heavily infested sites

Foster's Dogleg Lane 19 yrs

Fig. 1. Ecosystem attributes developing in 19-year-old planting at Dogleg Lane (Foster’s). Note pasture grass weeds are gone, replaced by leaf litter, logs, understorey seedling recruitment, open soil areas.

Improvements in genetics and climate readiness. As reported in 2009, seed collection is carried out with regard for maximising the genetic spread of each species, to prevent inbreeding and more positively allow for evolution of the progeny as climate changes. This has meant collecting seed in neighbouring areas on similar geological terrain but deliberately widening the genetic base of our revegetation work. We are also attempting to create as broad bio-links as possible so that they are functional habitat in their own right (not just transit passages). This may allow wildlife to shift to moister areas as the country dries out. With a species richness of 35–40 plant species for each planting site, we also enable natural selection to shift the plant species dominance up or down slope as future soil moisture dictates.

2016 Update: In recent years we have engaged with geneticists from CSIRO Plant Division in Canberra, to improve the genetic health of our plantings. Many of our local plants that we assumed to be genetically healthy, have not recruited in our planting sites. For example, Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) produces very little if any fertile seed each year because it is sterile to itself or its own progeny (Fig 2 video). In fragmented agricultural landscapes, it seems that many of our remnant plants have already become inbred, and it is seriously affecting fertility, form and vigor. The inbreeding level has affected fertility in this particular case, but we have several other cases where form and vigor are seriously affected as well.

Fig 2. Andie Guerin explaining the importance of collecting seed from larger populations. (Video)

Seed production area. We have now set up a seed production area (seed orchard) for about 30 local species that are ‘in trouble’, to ensure that the plants have sufficient genetic diversity to reproduce effectively and potentially adapt, should they need to as a result of a shifting climate. This will allow these populations to become self-sustaining. Each species is represented in the seed production area by propagules collected from typically10-15 different sites (up to 20kms and sometimes 50kms distant) and as many parents as we can find in each population.

We aim for at least 400 seedlings of each species, to ensure the genetic base is broad enough to have the potential for evolution in situ. The planting ratios are biased towards more from the bigger populations (that should have the best diversity), but deliberately include all the smaller populations to capture any unique genes they may have. We plant each population in separate parallel rows in the seed orchard to maximise the cross pollination and production of genetically diverse seed for future planting projects. We have noticed that the health of some of these varieties is greatly improving as a result of increasing the genetic diversity. On one site we direct-sowed Hoary Sunray, sourced from a large population, and it has since spread down the site very quickly (Fig 3).

Gary Bruce wildflower patch Orbweaver

Fig 3. Small sub-shrubs and herbaceous species are generally not planted in stage 1 of a project, as the weed levels are often too high for such small plants to succeed. These plants are only introduced in stage 2, when the weeds have diminished up to a decade later. This approach has been very successful with direct seeding and planting some of our rarer forbs.

Recruitment of Eucalypts now evident. Nearly 20 years on from the first plantings, we can report that quite a number of sites have eucalypts old enough to be flowering and seeding, and some of them are now recruiting. We are delighted that our early efforts to broaden the planting genetics are demonstrating success with such natural processes (Figs 1 and 3). Ironbark recruitment from our plantings commenced in 2014 and Red Box commenced in 2015.

Recruitment can also be seriously affected by herbivore problems, particularly rabbits. In recent years we have been undertaking careful assessments of rabbit load on a potential planting site and have gained some advantage by deploying an excavator with a ripper attached to the excavator arm. The excavator allows us to rip a warren right next to a tree trunk (in a radial direction), or work close to fence without damaging either. We’re finding this is providing a very good result. On one site we suspected there were a few warrens but it turned out to be just short of 30 warrens within 100 m of the site – each with 30-40 rabbit holes. After ripping all of those, we ended up with activity in only 2 of the warrens, which were then easily retreated.

We have had such good results with the rabbits on some sites that we are trialing planting without tree guards – it’s much more efficient on time, labour, and costs. And adjacent to bush areas, where kangaroos and wallabies are a significant threat to plantings, this process has an extra advantage. It seems that macropods learn that there is something tasty in the guards, so a guard actually attracts their attention. Our initial trials are producing some good results and given us confidence to expand our efforts with thorough rabbit control.

Faunal updates. An important objective of the project is to reinstate habitat on the more fertile soils favoured for agriculture, to create richer food resources for nectarivorous and hollow-dependent fauna including the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia). In 2009 the Regent Honeyeater was nationally Endangered and was thought to be reduced to around 1500 individuals. By 2015, it was thought to be reduced to 500 individuals, and so has been reclassified as Critically Endangered.

Regent Honeyeaters have turned up in recent years in gully areas where the soils are deeper, the moisture and nectar production is better, and there is a bit more density to provide cover against the effects of aggressive honeyeaters like the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). The Regent Honeyeaters have been able to remain on such sites for around for a week or more, but have not bred on the sites to date. But breeding has occurred about 15kms away on the eastern edge of our project area. Radio-tracking showed that these breeding birds were some of the captive-bred birds released at Chiltern 100km further NE, and that the birds came towards Lurg after the Chiltern Ironbarks had finished flowering. We consider it to be just a matter of time before the Regent Honeyeaters will find the many habitat sites we’ve planted on higher productivity soils in the Lurg area.

Formal monitoring of Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis temporalis) for the past last 13 years has documented a rapid rise (due to some wetter years) from 60 birds in 19 family groups to approx. 220 birds in 21 family groups. There is also exciting evidence that the endangered Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) is returning to the Lurg district. The distinctive shredded Stringybark nests are now found in scores of our next boxes (up to 10km from the site of our first records of 2 dead specimens in the south of our project area in the mid 1990s). This dramatic population spread is presumably a direct result of our carefully located corridor plantings that have bridged the habitat gaps all across the district.

Increased social engagement. In the last 6 years we have increased the number of visits to planting days by 50 per cent. There has been a steady growth in the number of new local landholders involved and the total number is now 160 landholders engaged, compared with 115 in 2009. Everyone we come across knows of the project and anyone new to the area hears about it from one of their neighbours. Very few people (you could count them on one hand), say they would rather not be involved. In fact we increasingly get cold calls from new people who have observed what has happened on their neighbour’s place and then phone us to say they want to be involved. It’s a positive indication that the project is part of the spirit of the area. This was further confirmed by the inclusion, of a very detailed Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) mural in a recent street art painting exhibition. The permanent artwork is the size of a house wall, and situated prominently in the heart of the parklands of Benalla.

Much of our work has relied heavily on volunteers, with a total of 10,344 students and 24,121 community volunteers involved over the past 21 years. City folk have fewer opportunities to be in nature, with the bushwalking clubs, university students and scouts in particular, really keen to come and roll up their sleeves.

Typically about 17 to 20 of the local schools, primary and secondary, help us with propagating the seedlings at the start of each year and then planting their own seedlings back out into the field in the winter and spring. And we are increasingly getting interest from metropolitan schools that come to the country for a week-long camp. Some of the schools even have their own permanent camps up here and they want to be involved with our hands on work too. “It’s simply part of our environmental responsibility”, is the way they express it.

Contact: Ray Thomas, Coordinator of the Regent Honeyeater Project Inc (PO Box 124, Benalla, Vic. 3672, Australia; Tel: +61 3 5761 1515. Email: ray@regenthoneater.org.au

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Seed production and direct seeding to restore grassy understorey diversity at Mount Annan, NSW.

Peter Cuneo, Jordan Scott and Katharine Catelotti

Key words: direct seeding, grassy woodland restoration, seed production areas, Cumberland Plain woodland

Need for restoring grassy diversity. The rapid spread of African Olive (Olea europaea ssp. cuspidata) in the Cumberland Plain region of western Sydney in recent decades is now a significant conservation concern (Figs 1 and 2). Cumberland Plain Woodland (CPW) is now listed at the state and federal level as a critically endangered ecological community, and African olive invasion is recognised as the greatest invasive threat to CPW, and listed under the NSW TSC Act as a Key Threatening Process.

Dense monocultures of African olive are now established at a landscape scale in western Sydney, and there has been considerable use of mechanical mulching (‘forest mowing’) to control these highly degraded CPW remnants/monocultures (Fig 3). Often only remnant trees remain, and once these dense olive infestations are controlled, land managers are faced with several years of follow up olive control, degraded native soil seedbank and a profusion of annual weeds.

The Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan (ABGMA) has completed over 40 hectares of mechanical control of African Olive since 2009. Recent research (Cuneo & Leishman 2015) has indicated that a ‘bottom up’ approach restoration using native grasses as an early successional stage has potential to restore these transitional landscapes and achieve a trajectory towards CPW.

Hillside African olive invasion

Fig 1. Hillside African Olive invasion

Beneath dense olive canopy

Fig 2. Nil biodiversity beneath dense African Olive canopy

Olive mulching machine

Fig 3.  Olive mulching machine

Like many landscape scale ecological restoration projects ABGMA faces a shortage of native grass seed, however a successful NSW Environmental Trust application provided the funding support to develop a 1500 sq metre native grass seed production area as part of the Australian PlantBank landscape. The key objective was to grow high quality weed free native grass seed (of known germinability) to direct sow on degraded African olive sites where the native grassy understory had been lost.

Seed production area. The seed production area was established by tubestock planting of four key local grasses, Dichelachne micrantha (Plume grass), Microlaena stipoides (Weeping meadow grass), Chloris truncata (Windmill grass) and Poa labillardieri (Tussock grass) (Figs 4 and 5). Seed was wild source collected from CPW and grasslands within ABGMA, which provides a reference vegetation type and condition to guide restoration. The seed production area which was irrigated and fenced to exclude rabbits was highly productive, even during the first summer season. Both hand and mechanical harvesting were used, and the total output over the 2014/15 summer was impressive 118 kg of seed material harvested. All seed batches were germination tested at PlantBank which indicated a total output of over 13 million viable seeds from the first harvest season.

Planting Seed prod area

Fig 4. Planting out seed production area

 

Plumegrass

Fig. 5.  Plumegrass in seed production area, almost ready for harvest

Direct seeding of grasses. Restoration challenges included large areas, profuse annual weeds and competitive olive seedlings on the transitional post-olive sites. A decision was made to focus the direct seeding across one fifth of the treatment area in a series of cultivated 2m wide strips at 8m spacing. The strips were created along contours to limit the erosive potential of the prepared areas. These seeded strips could then be managed in a similar way to surrounding cleared areas with broadleaf selective herbicide and slashing.

Seeded grass strips were prepared using a small track machine with surface tilling attachment to provide good soil/seed contact (Fig 6). Seed material (seed/stalks) were combined with compost (Fig 7) and sand and hand broadcasted. In an effort to create an ‘in situ’ seed production area and robust native grass populations, harvested grass seed was then used to high density (up to 3300 seeds/m²) direct sow a total of 5km x 2m wide strips throughout 5 hectares of cleared African olive sites at ABGMA in March 2015.

Favourable conditions during autumn 2015 resulted in excellent field germination, with established seedling densities of up to 608 seedlings/m² observed after 10 months (Fig 8). The combination of surface tilling and dense sowing rates has resulted in a dense and competitive grass layer, however some further broadleaf weed control along the strips will improve long term grass density and establishment.

These native grass strips will provide a ‘nucleus’ grass seed source for these degraded areas, maintaining soil stability, improving ecological resilience and accelerate the regeneration of these degraded areas.

Direct seeding strips

Fig 6. Direct seeding strips prepared

Mixing bulk native grass seed

Fig 7. Mixing bulk native grass seed

Seed strip established2comp

Fig 8. Seed strip established after one year

Lessons learned. Using known quality seed and achieving seed/soil contact through surface tilling was important to success, as cleared olive areas have a heavy mulch layer which limits seed contact. The use of both C3 and C4 grasses in the direct seeding mix worked well and is recommended, particularly for autumn sowing where cool season C3 can establish a quick cover followed by C4 grass establishment in summer. Some mechanical wild grass seed harvesting is also done at ABGMA, however practitioners should be aware of the risk of grassy weed contamination. Overall the project was relatively labour intensive, but some mechanisation of seed spreading could be achieved with a compost spreader. Steep terrain at ABGMA is a limiting factor for some machinery, and hand broadcasting can be a practical option.

Future directions would include scaling up the size of seed production areas, and refining mechanical harvesting techniques. Grass seed strips will be progressively managed, and seed either mechanically harvested or slashed to spread seed across the site. Once grasses are well established, the next phase will include direct seeding of CPW shrubs and trees. The well prepared and presented seed production area with mass plantings of native grasses, attracted considerable visitor interest at ABGMA and became a focus for several practitioner field days on olive control and ecological restoration.

Acknowledgements: Implementation of this NSW Environmental Trust project has relied significantly on working with industry partners, Greening Australia (Paul Gibson-Roy, Samantha Craigie, Chris Macris), Cumberland Plain Seeds (Tim Berryman) and Australian Land & Fire Management (Tom McElroy) who have bought additional technical expertise as well as on-ground implementation.

Contact person: Dr Peter Cuneo, Manager Seedbank & Restoration Research, Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, NSW Australia. Locked Bag 6002, Mount Annan NSW, 2567. Email: peter.cuneo@rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au   Phone: +61 (2)46347915

Watch RegenTV Video : Seed production area

Read full EMR feature: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1111/emr.12139

BG & CP website: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/Science-Conservation/Our-Work-Discoveries/Natural-Areas-Management/Restoring-test