Category Archives: Integrating ecosystems & industries

Post-sand extraction restoration of Banksia woodlands, Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia.

Deanna Rokich

Key words: research-practice partnership, adaptive management, smoke technology, cryptic soil impedance, topsoil handling.

Figure 1. Examples of undisturbed Banksia woodland reference sites.

Introduction. Banksia woodlands were once a common and widespread feature of the Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia (Fig. 1); today less than 35% of the original Banksia woodlands remain in metropolitan Perth. When sand extraction activities were permitted over 25 years ago, Hanson Construction Materials opted to go well beyond the statutory minimum requirement of re-instating local native species. Instead, Hanson committed to meet the challenge to return post-sand extracted sites (Fig. 2) to an ecosystem closely resembling the pre-disturbance Banksia woodland. To achieve this high resemblance to the reference ecosystem, Hanson operations sought the assistance of the Science Directorate team within the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority in 1995. BGPA developed and implemented a research and adaptive management program with Hanson, resulting in a collaboration involving graduate and post-graduate student research programs into key facets of Banksia woodland ecosystem restoration, application of outcomes into restoration operations, and finally, restoration sites that are beginning to mimic reference sites (Fig.3).

Prior to the partnership, species richness and plant abundance, and thus restoration success, was limited in the rehabilitation. Research and adaptive management subsequently focused on improvements in soil reconstruction; topsoil management; seed germination enhancement (including smoke technology); seed broadcasting technology and whole-of-site weed management.

Monitoring. BGPA scientists have been undertaking annual plant monitoring of Banksia woodland restoration activities within reference and restoration sites for ca 15 years. This has resulted in data-sets on seedling emergence and plant survival within a range of sites, culminating in the development of annual performance criteria and ultimately, the ability to measure restoration performance in the short (e.g. from seedling emergence) and long-term (e.g. from plant survival).

Fig2d

Figure 2. The greatly reduced Banksia woodland sand profile following sand extraction, with topsoil being spread onto the pit floor.

Results. Consolidation of ca 15 years of data from >50 sites (encompassing a range of topsoil quality and climatic conditions) has revealed that stem density and species richness fall into three levels of restoration:

  • good restoration quality (high topsoil quality and favourable climatic conditions).
  • medium restoration quality (poor topsoil quality or unfavourable climatic conditions).
  • poor restoration quality (poor topsoil quality and unfavourable climatic conditions).

The integration of key research areas has resulted in:

  • Identification of first year species re-instatement being the blueprint for long-term species re-instatement.
  • Observation of cryptic soil impedance and extremely high plant loss in the standard ‘topsoil over overburden’ profile during the 2nd summer following restoration, but higher plant re-instatement and better ecosystem dynamics in the long term.
  • Improvement in seedling re-instatement, illustrated by perennial species return increasing from less than 10% to more than 70% (i.e. >100 perennial species), and stem density return of >140 perennial plants per 5m2 in Year 1, primarily due to improved topsoil handling methods – i.e. good quality, fresh and dry topsoil.
  • A ten-fold increase in the stem density of seedlings derived from direct-seeding due to innovative seed coating technology, delivery to site technology and sowing time optimisation.
  • Trebling of seedling recruitment success due to application of smoke technology.
  • Minimised weed invasion through the use of good quality and fresh topsoil, burial of the weed seedbank and prompt active weed management.
FIg3a

Figure 3. Restoration sites after 8 years, illustrating the return of the Banksia trees.

Implications for other sites. The post-sand extraction sites have provided important lessons and information about the management and restoration needs of Banksia woodlands – e.g. a high level of intervention is necessary, whilst cross-application of general restoration principles are not always possible for Banksia woodlands – useful for all those involved with managing and restoring Banksia woodland fragments within the broader Perth region.

Current and future directions. Hanson is committed to ongoing improvement through research – continually testing and employing new research techniques, programs and equipment that are recommended from BGPA research programs.

Post-sand extraction restoration practices now involve:

  • re-instating the soil profile in its natural order of topsoil over overburden, in spite of the cryptic soil impedance witnessed in the overburden in the 2nd summer following restoration;
  • striving for highest seedling establishment in the first year of restoration, prior to onset of soil impedance;
  • stripping and spreading only good quality (free of weeds), fresh and dry topsoil;
  • conserving topsoil by a strip:spread ratio of 1:2 (i.e. stripping over 1ha and spreading over 2ha);
  • burying direct-sown seeds given that seed displacement from wind and invertebrate activity is prolific during the typical seed sowing season; and
  • ceasing the common practices of mulching sites and tree-guarding plants as they provide negative or no benefits.

The partners are considering re-doing sites rehabilitated during 1991-1994, prior to research, in order to improve species diversity.

Acknowlegments: Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and Hanson Construction Materials are the key parties in this project; involving many individual managers, researchers and students.

Contact: Deanna Rokich – Deanna.Rokich@bgpa.wa.gov.au

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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Conserving and restoring biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef through the Representative Areas Program (RAP)

Key words: Coral reef, no take zones,

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem (344,400 square km) and a World Heritage Area on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains a high diversity of endemic plants, animals and habitats. It is a multiple-use area with different zones in which a wide range of activities and uses are allowed, including tourism, fishing, recreation, traditional use, research, defence, shipping and ports. Components of the ecosystem have been progressively showing symptoms of decline.

TroutBarra3

Coral Trout is one of more than 1625 fish found on the Great Barrier Reef

Existing ecosystems. Coral reefs are like the building blocks of the Great Barrier Reef, and comprise about seven per cent of the ecosystem. The balance is an extraordinary variety of other marine habitats and communities ranging from shallow inshore areas to deep oceanic areas over 250 kilometres offshore and deeper than 1000 metres, along with their associated ecological processes. The abundant biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef includes:

  • Some 3000 coral reefs built from more than 400 species of hard coral
  • Over one-third of all the world’s soft coral and sea pen species (150 species)
  • Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle
  • The largest aggregation of nesting green turtles in the world
  • A globally significant population of dugongs
  • An estimated 35,000 square kilometres of seagrass meadows
  • A breeding area for humpback whales and other whale species
  • More than 130 species of sharks and rays
  • More than 2500 species of sponges
  • 3000 species of molluscs
  • 630 species of echinoderms
  • More than 1625 species of fish
  • Spectacular seascapes and landscapes such as Hinchinbrook Island and the Whitsundays
  • 215 species of bird
Crown-of-thorns single injection (C) GBRMPA cropped

Diver injecting Crown of Thorns Starfish

Impacts on the ecosystem. The main threats to the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem are:

  • Climate change leading to ocean acidification, sea temperature rise and sea level rise
  • Catchment run-off of nutrients, pesticides and excessive sediments
  • Coastal development and associated activities such as clearing or modifying wetlands, mangroves and other coastal habitats
  • Overfishing of some predators, incidental catch of species of conservation concern, effects on other discarded species, fishing of unprotected spawning aggregations, and illegal fishing.
4. GBRMPA staff - public consultation(2)

GBRMPA staff meeting to plan and discuss Representative Areas Program (RAP) at Townsville offices

Restoration goals and planning. A primary aim of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is to increase biodiversity protection, with the added intent of enabling the recovery of areas where impacts had occurred. A strong foundation for this has been achieved through the Representative Areas Program, by developing a representative and comprehensive network of highly protected no-take areas, ensuring they included representative examples of all different habitat types.

The rezoning also provided an opportunity to revise all the zone types to more effectively protect the range of biodiversity.

A further aim was to maximise the benefits and minimise the negative impacts of rezoning on the existing Marine Park users.

These aims were achieved through a comprehensive program of scientific input, community involvement and innovation.

More information on the extensive consultation process is available at http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au.

6. green and yellow zone examples

An example of Green Zones (marine national park) and Yellow Zones  (conservation park)

Monitoring. An independent scientific steering committee with expertise in Great Barrier Reef ecosystems and biophysical processes was convened to define operational principles to guide the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of no-take areas in the Marine Park (Fernandes et al 2005). Science (both biophysical and social science) provided the best available information as a fundamental underpinning for the Representatives Areas Program.

There are currently over 90 monitoring programs operating in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent catchment. These programs have largely been designed to address and report on specific issues, location or management.

Reef management. GBRMPA’s 25-year management plan outlines a mix of on-ground work, policies, strategies and engagement. The actions include:

  • increasing compliance focus to ensure zoning rules are followed
  • controlling Crown-of-thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks
  • ensuring cumulative impacts are considered when assessing development proposals
  • setting clear targets for action and measuring our success
  • monitoring the health of the ecosystem on a Reef-wide scale
  • implementing a Reef Recovery program to restore sites of high environmental value in regional areas — regional action recognises the variability of the Reef over such a large area and the variability of the issues and interests of communities and industries in each area.

Benefits of zoning to date. The benefits reef ecosystem health are already occurring including:

  • More and bigger fish: Larger fish are important to population recovery as they contribute more larvae than smaller fish. James Cook University research shows the network of no-take marine reserves benefits species of coral reef fish targeted by fishers (especially Coral Trout), with not only more fish, but bigger fish in reserves — some zones have around twice as much fish biomass compared to zones open to fishing.
  • Improved fish recruitment: Research in the Keppel Islands suggests increased reproduction by the more abundant, bigger fish in reserves. This not only benefits populations within those reserves, it also produces a ‘spill over’ when larvae are carried by currents to other reefs, including areas open to fishing.
  • Improved resilience: The spillover effects also mean the connectivity between reserve reefs is intact. Spatial analysis shows most reserve reefs are within the dispersal range of other reserve reefs, so they are able to function as a network.
  • Sharks, dugongs and turtles: These species are harder to protect because they are slow growing and slow breeding. They are also highly mobile, moving in and out of protected zones. Despite this, available evidence shows zoning is benefiting these species.
  • Reduced crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks: Outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish appear to be less frequent on reserve reefs than fished reefs. This is particularly important as Crown-of-thorns Starfish have been the greatest cause of coral mortality on the Reef in recent decades.
  • Zoning benefits for seabed habitats: Zoning has improved protection of seabed habitats, with at least 20 per cent of all non-reefal habitat types protected from trawling.

How the project has influenced other projects. In November 2004, the Queensland Government mirrored the new zoning in most of the adjoining waters under its control. As a result, there is complementary zoning in the Queensland and Australian Government managed waters within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The approach taken in the Representative Area Program is recognised as one of the most comprehensive and innovative global advances in the systematic protection and recovery of marine biodiversity and marine conservation in recent decades and has gained widespread national international, and local acknowledgement of the process and outcome as best practice, influencing many other marine conservation efforts.

Stakeholders. As a statutory authority within the Australian Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for managing the Marine Park. However, as a World Heritage Area, management of the ecosystem is complex jurisdictionally.

Both the Australian and Queensland governments are involved in managing the waters and islands within the outer boundaries through a range of agencies. GBRMPA works collaboratively with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service through the joint Field Management Program to undertake day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef, including its 1050 islands, many of which are national parks. The program’s activities include surveying reefs and islands, dealing with environmental risks such as ghost nets and invasive pests, responding to incidents, maintaining visitor facilities, and upholding compliance with Marine Park legislation and the Zoning Plan.

A wide range of stakeholders have an interest in the Great Barrier Reef, including the community, Traditional Owners, a range of industries and government agencies, and researchers. The public, including the one million people who live in the adjacent catchment (around 20 per cent of Queensland’s population), benefit from economic activities. In recent years, the number of tourists carried by commercial operators to the Great Barrier Reef averaged around 1.6 to 2 million visitor days each year (GBRMPA data) with an estimate of an additional 4.9 million private visitors per annum.

Resourcing. The resourcing required for rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef over the five-year period of the RAP (1999–2003) was significant. It became a major activity for the agency for several years, requiring the re-allocation of resources particularly during the most intense periods of public participation. However, the costs of achieving greater protection for the Reef are readily justified when compared to the economic benefits that a healthy Great Barrier Reef generates every year (about AUD$5.6 billion per annum).

Further information: www.gbrmpa.gov.au

Contact: info@gbrmpa.gov.au

All images courtesy Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

 

Dewfish Demonstration Reach: Restoring native fish populations in the Condamine Catchment

Key words: native fish, riparian habitat, fish passage, aquatic habitat, Native Fish Strategy

The Dewfish Demonstration Reach is a 110 kilometre stretch of waterway in the Condamine catchment in southern Queensland consisting of sections of the Condamine River, Myall Creek and Oakey Creek near Dalby. The Reach was established in 2007 with the purpose of promoting the importance of a healthy river system for the native fish population and the greater river catchment and demonstrating how the restoration of riverine habitat and connectivity benefits native biodiversity and local communities. Landholders, community groups, local governments and residents have worked together to learn and apply new practices to improve and protect this part of the river system.

The purpose of the project is to demonstrate how the restoration of riverine habitat and connectivity benefits native biodiversity and promote the importance of a healthy river system for native fish and the greater river catchment. The goal is to restore native fish populations to 60% of pre-European settlement levels and improve aquatic health within the Reach.

Image 3 - Adding structural timber to Oakey Creek

Fig 1. Adding structural timber to Oakey Creek

Image 4 - Installing a fish hotel into Oakey Creek

Fig 2. Installing a fish hotel into Oakey Creek

Works undertaken. A range of activities to improve river health and native fish communities have been undertaken primarily at seven key intervention sites within the Dewfish Demonstration Reach. These include:

  • Re-introduction of large structural habitat at five sites, involving the installation of 168 habitat structures consisting of trees, fish hotels, breeding pipes and Lunkers (simulated undercut banks).
  • Improvement of fish passage (by more than 140 km) with the upgrade of the fishway on Loudoun Weir and the installation of two rock-ramp fishways on crossings in Oakey Creek.
  • Ongoing management of pest fish, involving carp angling competitions, carp specific traps, electrofishing and fyke nets.
  • Rehabilitation of the riparian vegetation over 77 km of the Reach using stock exclusion fencing, off-stream watering points, weed control and replanting of native vegetation. In Dalby, a 1 metre wide unmown buffer was established on the banks Myall Creek.

Twice-yearly monitoring using a MBARCI model (multiple-before-after-reference-control-intervention) was undertaken to detect the local and reach-wide impacts of the intervention activities. Surveys involved sampling of the fish assemblage at fixed sites and assessment of the instream and riparian habitat.

Image 5 - Wainui crossing before the fishway

Fig. 3 Wainui crossing before the fishway

Image 6 - Wainui crossing after installation of the rock-ramp fishway

Fig 4. Wainui crossing after the installation of the rock ramp fishway

Results. The surveys indicated many of the intervention activities had a positive impact. The fish assemblage and riparian habitat improved at all intervention sites in the Dewfish Demonstration Reach since rehabilitation activities commenced.

The fish assemblages at introduced habitat structures were very similar to those found on natural woody debris, suggesting the introduced habitat is functioning well as a surrogate.

There were significant increases in the abundance of larger fish species, including Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua) (up to 5-fold), Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) (from absent to captured every survey), Spangled Perch (Leiopotherapon unicolor) (up to 9-fold) and Bony Bream Nematolosa erebi (up to 11-fold) in intervention sites following re-snagging. Murray Cod and Golden Perch are now consistently being caught from introduced woody structures and local anglers are reporting that the fishing has improved greatly. Despite this increase there is still limited evidence of recruitment in the area. There have also been small increases in Eel-tailed Catfish (Tandanus tandanus) and Hyrtls Tandan (Neosilurus hyrtli) abundances and a limited amount of recruitment has been observed for these species.

The abundance of smaller native fish has improved significantly in response to the intervention activities undertaken, especially where bankside and instream vegetation was improved. In Oakey Creek Carp Gudgeon (Hypseleotris spp.) abundance increased 1200-fold, Murray-Darling Rainbowfish (Melanotaenia fluviatilis) increased 60-fold and the introduced species Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) increased 9-fold following intervention activities.

Establishment of a bankside unmown buffer on Myall Creek has enabled natural regeneration of vegetation and resulted in significant increases in aquatic vegetation and native trees. This has led to substantial increases in the smaller bodied native fish assemblage, including a 3-fold increase in Bony Bream, 237-fold increase in Carp Gudgeon, 60-fold increase in Murray-Darling Rainbowfish and a 35-fold in the introduced Mosquitofish.

The abundance of pest fish remains low, except for Mosquitofish which have increased in abundance with the improvements in the aquatic vegetation. There is little evidence of Carp recruitment (Cyprinus carpio), suggesting active management may continue to suppress the population and minimise this species impacts in the Reach.

Image 1 - Myall Creek prior to restoration

Fig 5.  Myall Creek prior to restoration

Image 2 - Myall Creek after restoration

Fig 6. Myall Creek after restoration

Lessons learned and future directions. Improvements of the waterway health and ecosystems can lead to positive responses from native fish populations.

  • Targeting rehabilitation activities to specific classes of fish has been very effective.
  • Introducing habitat structures has been effective for larger fish, and
  • Re-establishing healthy bankside and aquatic vegetation has been vital in boosting the abundance of juveniles and smaller species.

Improvements in the extent of aquatic vegetation have unfortunately also resulted in increased numbers of the introduced pest, Mosquitofish. However, the overall benefits to native fish far outweigh impacts from the increase in the Mosquitofish population.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. A large number of stakeholders have been involved in this project. The project’s success is largely due to the high number of engaged, involved and committed stakeholders. Without this broad network, costs to individual organizations would be higher and strong community support less likely.

Major funding has been provided by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, Condamine Alliance, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Arrow Energy.

 

Contact. Dr Andrew Norris, Senior Fisheries Biologist, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Bribie Island Research Centre, PO Box 2066, Woorim, QLD 4507; Tel (+61) 7 3400 2019; and Email: andrew.norris@daf.qld.gov.au

READ MORE:

Finbox demonstration reach toolbox: http://www.finterest.com.au/finbox-a-demonstration-reach-toolbox/

Native Fish Strategy – first 10 years. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1111/emr.12090

Demonstration reaches – Looking back, moving forward http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1111/emr.12092

Monitoring in demonstration reaches https://site.emrprojectsummaries.org/2014/01/25/establishing-a-framework-for-developing-and-implementing-ecological-monitoring-and-evaluation-of-aquatic-rehabilitation-in-demonstration-reaches/

 

Fire as a tool in maintaining diversity and influencing vegetation structure – Grassy Groundcover Restoration Project

Paul Gibson-Roy

Greening Australia’s Grassy Groundcover Restoration Project commenced in 2004 to investigate the feasibility of restoration of grasslands and grassy woodlands (primarily by direct seeding) in the agricultural footprint of Australia. To date the project has achieved the reconstruction of grassy understories in grassland or grassy woodland on near to 100 sites in ex-agricultural land (predominantly across Victoria, but increasingly in southern to central New South Wales and mid-lands Tasmania). Post establishment we use fire in our sites to reduce biomass, particularly to inhibit grass growth which over time become the dominant life form, just like trees can in other communities. Opening the grass canopy allows for the small forbs and sub-dominant grasses to regenerate. Burning in particular can help create these canopy gaps and in a cost-effective way.

Fig 1. Snake Gully CFA burn at Chepstowe.

Fig 1. Snake Gully CFA burn at Chepstowe.

Fig 2. Restored herb-rich grassland on roadside near Wickliffe.

Fig 2. Restored herb-rich grassland on roadside near Wickliffe.

Fig 3. Differential management of Kangaroo Grass at Rokewood Cemetery.

Fig 3. Differential management of Kangaroo Grass at Rokewood Cemetery.

Operational challenges can and often do arise considering sites are located within urban or agricultural footprints where protection of life and property is paramount. This at times prompts us to consider alternative methods of biomass removal such as through grazing (sometimes used as a method for annual weed control) and mowing when burning is deemed inappropriate. These alternative or complimentary biomass reduction methods can also have additional benefits. For example, mowing and producing bales of cut straw, if cut in early spring or autumn, can be used for fodder. This is also the case with grazing. Alternatively, if sites are cut and baled in late spring or summer when grasses contain ripe seed, the hay can be moved and spread at other locations to create a grassland elsewhere.

While the project has carried out various combinations of these approaches at our restored grasslands in recent years, the following list includes a few examples of their use.

  1. Burning at Chepstowe (located to the west of Ballarat, Victoria) to reduce grass biomass and allow forbs to establish and persist. The burn is being conducted by Snake Gully CFA members (Figure 1).
  2. The nationally threatened species – Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans tricolor) and Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrynchoides) were introduced by direct seeding along with many other ground layer species onto a roadside near Wickliffe, Victoria. Following establishment the grassland has been managed with fire by the Wickliffe CFA so that grasses do not dominate and the rare species can recruit and spread. (Figure 2.)
  3. Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) growth has been the focus of differing management techniques within the Rokewood cemetery reserve Victoria (under the Cemetery Trusts grassland management plan). This remnant grassland contains the largest Victorian population of the nationally threatened Button Wrinklewort. To avoid the Kangaroo grass dominating the herb rich areas, it is maintained by fire, whereas in the approaches to the burial area it is kept mown low for function and protection of the memorial infrastructure. (Figure 3).
  4. Similar opening of a restored grassy canopy is achieved at Chatsworth in south western Victoria where a grassland currently dominated by Wallaby Grass (Rytidosperma setaceum) was mown and baled (Figures 4 and 5). This material was used to as fodder by the landholder.
  5. A late autumn burning of herb-rich restored grassland at Hamilton, Victoria, undertaken by the Buckley Swamp CFA (Figure 6).
  6. The aforementioned site at Hamilton taken in the following spring. It shows visitors touring the restoration where Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) and many other sub-dominant forb species are in full bloom (Figure 7).
  7. Diverse restored grassland located adjacent to a wheat crop at Point Henry, near Geelong, Victoria. This site 16 ha site has been maintained over time by combinations of burning and cutting and baling (Figure 8).
Fig 4. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth pre-baling.

Fig 4. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth pre-baling.

Fig 5. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth post-baling.

Fig 5. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth post-baling.

Fig 6. Buckley Swamp CFA conducting a late autumn burn of restored herb-rich grassland near Hamilton.

Fig 6. Buckley Swamp CFA conducting a late autumn burn of restored herb-rich grassland near Hamilton.

Deciding which method or combination of biomass removal techniques to use, and at what time can be complex and there is no textbook. Good management is about constantly assessing the landscape and prevailing conditions to identify prompts for action. It is also about having the right networks and technical capacity available when required. As a general rule we find that when a site has greater than 70% vegetation cover of the ground surface and dry material is being held above 150 mm, there is enough combustible material to carry a flame. This condition also indicates that that the gaps in the vegetation are starting to close up.

Contact: (Dr) Paul Gibson-Roy. Lead Scientist, Greening Australia.Tel: +61 437591097. Email: PGibson-Roy@greeningaustralia.org.au

[This project summary is a precis of a talk presented to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW’s 10th Biennial Bushfire Conference, ‘Fire and Restoration: Working with Fire for Healthy Lands’ 26-27 May 2015. For full paper see: http://www.nature.org.au/healthy-ecosystems/bushfire-program/conferences/%5D

 Fig 7. Spring and wild flowers are in bloom at Hamilton.


Fig 7. Spring and wild flowers are in bloom at Hamilton.

Fig 8. Species and functionally diverse restored grassland adjoining a wheat crop near Geelong.

Fig 8. Species and functionally diverse restored grassland adjoining a wheat crop near Geelong.

Developing a population model for Murray Cod (Macculochella peelii) to address key management actions

Key words: Population model, Murray Cod, fisheries management, Native Fish Strategy

Threats and Impacts: Murray Cod (Macculochella peelii) is a key recreational fishing target species as well as being a nationally listed threatened species (Fig 1). Management action is required to rehabilitate populations of this species in the Murray-Darling Basin. Fish population models are a simple description of a fishes life cycle and try to incorporate any external factors that may affect the individual and population. The main use of these models is to hypothetically assess the impacts (negative or positive) of different management or environmental scenarios to provide managers with predictive power to better manage fish populations. Prior to this project no such model had been created for any species in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Broad aim and specific objectives: The objectives of this project were to:

  • Develop a computer model (or models) to represent the population dynamics of Murray Cod under alternative management options.
  • Develop various management scenarios in relation to size and bag limits and potential recovery times from overfishing, fish kills and other management or environmental scenarios which may affect Murray Cod populations.
  • Document the findings of this work, and the implications for developing management options for Murray Cod and the research on Murray Cod biology and ecology required for improving the model (or models).

Methods: A review was undertaken initially to summarise relevant scientific, management, angler and aquaculture literature on:

  • Murray Cod biology and ecology;
  • Management options for Murray Cod and similar fish in the Murray-Darling Basin and elsewhere; and,
  • Population and other (climate and GIS) models for fish or other fauna which will allow alternative management options to be tested;

Conceptual models of Murray Cod biology and ecology were then developed, and information gaps which needed to be addressed were identified. A workshop was also held to bring together a range of technical experts and jurisdictional representatives (SA, QLD, VIC, NSW, ACT and Commonwealth) to determine the key management actions to address the sustainable management of Murray Cod as well as the knowledge requirements necessary to develop the appropriate model(s) to assess the key management actions.

A population model for Murray Cod was developed as a key output of this project, which would enable different management actions/scenarios to be assessed and compared on the basis of their relative benefit and level of risk.

Figure 1 - This project developed a population model for Australia's largest freshwater fish species, Murray Cod . (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 1 – This project developed a population model for Australia’s largest freshwater fish species, Murray Cod . (Photo courtesy of Jamin Forbes)

Figure 2 - An example of graphical outputs from a fishing scenario. (Courtesy of Charles Todd.)

Figure 2 – An example of graphical outputs from a fishing scenario. (Courtesy of Charles Todd.)

Findings: Modelled management scenarios for Murray Cod indicate that the risk to populations can be reduced substantially by appropriate changes to the size limits on angler take. The  implementation of a slot size (minimum and maximum size limit) that protects both smaller and larger fish reduced population risk considerably. While habitat changes are difficult to quantify, it was illustrated that reductions in amount of habitat can place additional risk on populations, particularly when combined with angler take. Importantly, the collective impacts of less recognised threats such as thermal pollution, fish kills and mortalities to larvae over weirs and losses into irrigation off-takes can be explored and need to be recognised as having the potential to contribute significantly to mortalities at certain sites.

Lessons learned and future directions: The methods outlined in this study offer a formalised, rational, modelling approach that can form the basis for the assessment and prioritisation of management options for Murray Cod to minimise the risk to populations. Such modelling also highlights data gaps and monitoring requirements and can become an integral part of the conservation and fishery management process (Fig 2) and provides a tool for exploring the outcomes of management scenarios at both the regional and local scale. The modelling process has helped facilitate interagency Murray Cod management and emphasises the need for coordination between fishery managers and water/environmental protection/conservation agencies.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy.

Contact: Dr. Charles Todd, Arthur Rylah Institute, (02) 60519920, Charles.Todd@depi.vic.gov.au, 23 Brown St, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia, +61 3 9450 8600.

Link: http://www.mdba.gov.au/sites/default/files/pubs/MC-Final-Report.pdf

Understanding the effects of environmental flow allocations on the lateral movements of native fish in the Barmah-Millewa Forest

Key words: Environmental flows, floodplain wetlands, fish migration, regulators, Native Fish Strategy. 

Passage to and from floodplain wetland areas is very important for native fish, as some species utilise these areas for spawning, feeding and recruitment (survival of fishes from eggs to reproductive stage). Regulators were originally installed in the Barmah-Millewa Forest (BMF) to keep water out during the agricultural irrigation season (Fig 1), however such regulators are now thought to adversely effect the lateral movements of native fish. 

Broad aim and methods. This project aimed to investigate the lateral movements of native fish during normal river discharges and during an environmental water allocation (EWA) in order to determine the impact of regulators on native fish movements in the BMF. 

Sampling was conducted within a number of key fish species in the BMF. Electrofishing was used to determine the presence and abundance of species within habitats sampled (Fig 2). Egg samples were taken from adult individuals to understand whether fish in regulated offstream habitats developed and spawned naturally. Tagging (radio-telemetry and t-bar tagging) was used to monitor movement behaviour, and drum, fyke, frog and larval nets were used to determine which species are using the waterways sampled and to investigate whether movement is influenced by flow. Water quality parameters were also recorded. 

Figure 1. Regulator on Gulpa Creek. (Photo courtesy Matthew Jones, ARI)

Figure 1. Regulator on Gulpa Creek. (Photo courtesy Matthew Jones, ARI)

Figure 2. Golden perch fitted with radio transmitter. (Photo courtesy Matthew Jones, ARI.)

Figure 2. Golden perch fitted with radio transmitter. (Photo courtesy Matthew Jones, ARI.)

 

Findings: Results suggest that movement between the Murray River and wetland creeks occurs on a regular basis in unregulated parts of the BMF. Fish generally respond to changes in flow by moving into these creeks on rising flows and returning on falling flows. 

In regulated systems, fish generally approached the regulator on falling flows, presumably trying to return to the Murray River like fish in unregulated creeks, but being prevented from returning by the regulators they therefore remained stranded downstream. Movements back to the Murray River were only possible for a few large-bodied individuals during flood conditions when regulators were drowned-out and water velocities and turbulence reduced to the extent that such fish could escape. 

Rising water levels associated with the EWA induced fish to move into unregulated wetland creeks and fish generally occupied these creeks for the duration of the EWA. Results indicated that fish remain in these creeks for as long as they are inundated to spawn and feed. Modelled data suggest that without the EWA, flows would have dipped below bankfull several times in late 2005, which, based on previous movements, would most likely have resulted in fish leaving wetland creeks, possibly interrupting feeding and/or spawning activities. 

Lessons learned and future directions: Results from this project will be used to guide the use of off-channel regulators to facilitate movement of native fish to and from off-channel habitats to promote spawning and reduce the likelihood of fish being stranded in drying off-river habitats. The results of this project will also provide information for better targeting of environmental water releases for native fish. 

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy. 

Contacts: Dr Matthew Jones, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (ARI). (03) 9450 8600, matthew.jones@depi.vic.gov.au

Link: http://www.mdba.gov.au/sites/default/files/pubs/MDBA-13067-Barmah-Millewa-Forestv2.pdf

Slopes2Summit Bushlinks Project

Keywords – landscape, connectivity, restoration, revegetation, NSW southwest slopes

The Slopes2Summit (S2S) Bushlinks project commenced in August 2012 and is in the first stage of implementing on-ground works to build landscape-scale connectivity across private lands in the southwest Slopes of NSW – from the wet and dry forest ecosystems of the upper catchment and reserves to the threatened Grassy Box Woodlands of the lower slopes and plains (Fig 1.).

Fig 1. Map of the S2S area and priority landscapes for Bushlinks

Fig 1. Map of the S2S area and priority landscapes for Bushlinks

The increasing isolation of plant and animal populations in “island” reserves scattered through an agricultural landscape is a recognised threat to the long term viability and resilience of ecosystems under potential impact of climate change. If we can increase the viable breeding habitat through off-reserve remnant conservation, and increase the habitat for dispersal by increasing connectivity, we may be able to influence the trajectory for some of our species – the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis)) and threatened woodland birds in particular.

The S2S Bushlinks Project is attempting to address connectivity issues through the following approaches:

1. Cross property planning. Foster and encourage cross property planning for habitat connectivity between neighbours, community, Landcare and/or subcatchment groups resulting in more integrated on-ground works projects, and raising awareness of the benefits of connectivity for wildlife.

2. On-ground investment in connectivity. The project is partnering with farmers and land managers to support and encourage fencing and revegetation in strategic places in the landscape with the objective of increasing habitat connectivity.  S2S Bushlinks applies scientific principles to the site assessments and evaluation, which then sets the level of investment in a site.  High scoring sites receive the highest rates of rebate, but the provision of low levels of public investment in sites that may not be of high priority is important for fostering participation in revegetation of any sort to encourage the culture of caring for the land.

Site assessment and scoring for funding level uses the following criteria:

  • Connectivity and landscape value – Does the site link to or create new patches of habitat according to principles of habitat connectivity? (Fig 2)  Is there existing vegetation in 1000ha radius around the site in an optimal range of 30-60%?
  • Area : perimeter ratio – Bigger blocks of revegetation are more cost-efficient and better habitat than linear strips of revegetation, and the project scoring encourages landholder to go bigger and wider in order to qualify for a higher level of funding.
  • Habitat Values – Does the site have existing values like old paddock trees, rocky outcrops or intact native ground layer, and therefore become a more valuable site? Is it in the more fertile, productive parts of the landscape and therefore of more productivity benefit for wildlife as well?
  • Carbon value – The scoring is based on the size of the revegetation and rainfall zone. The CFI Reforestation tool is being used to value the collective potential carbon sequestration of the Bushlinks project.

The emphasis on cross-property planning flows through to the implementation of on-ground works. Landholders are encouraged to work with neighbours and the site evaluation system is used to assess site value without the property boundaries – cooperation makes the site bigger and usually increases the connectivity value, and therefore scores higher.

3. Review and adaptive management process. The site assessment is to be reviewed in July 2013 against the objectives – did it work to prioritise sites well – did we invest wisely? The scientists and experts are then able to work closely with Holbrook Landcare to adjust the project eligibility, assessment and evaluation criteria to continually improve the outcomes in subsequent funding years.

4. Monitoring framework. As part of the in-kind contribution to the project, S2S partners Dr Dave Watson, CSU Albury and Dr. Veronica Doerr, CSIRO are working towards a framework for the long-term monitoring of landscape scale connectivity for continental-scale initiatives like Great Eastern Ranges (GER).  As part of a GER Environmental Trust Project in 2013, an expert panel workshop will be convened to begin this process in 2013.

The framework will then be used to pilot a project-scale design for Bushlinks, which will allow us to measure ecological outcomes.

Bushlinks will contribute to the Slope2Summit portal of the Atlas of Living Australia, supported by the Slopes2Summit facilitator. To develop community participation in monitoring and evaluation, participants and the wider community will be encouraged to contribute wildlife sightings and other data to the atlas.

The S2S partnership applied for funds through the Australian Governments Clean Energy Futures Biodiversity Fund in 2011 and was successful in the 2011/12 funding year for a six year project. Holbrook Landcare Network is managing the S2S Bushlinks Project on behalf of the Slopes2Summit and the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, in partnership with Murray CMA.

Contact: Kylie Durant, Bushlinks Project Officer, Holbrook Landcare Network, PO Box 121 Holbrook, NSW 2644 Australia. Tel: +61 2 6036 3121

Fig 2. Summary of the connectivity model outlined in Doerr, V.A.J., Doerr, E. D and Davies, M.J. (2010) Does Structural Connectivity Facilitate Dispersal of Native Species in Australia’s Fragmented Terrestrial Landscapes? CEE Review 08-007 (SR44). Collaboration for Environmental Evidence: www.environmentalevidence.org/SR44.html

Fig 2. Summary of the connectivity model outlined in Doerr, V.A.J., Doerr, E. D and Davies, M.J. (2010) Does Structural Connectivity Facilitate Dispersal of Native Species in Australia’s Fragmented Terrestrial Landscapes? CEE Review 08-007 (SR44). Collaboration for Environmental Evidence: http://www.environmentalevidence.org/SR44.html

Fig 3. Revegetation in the farming landscape in the Southwest Slopes of NSW

Fig 3. Revegetation in the farming landscape in the Southwest Slopes of NSW

 

 

West Hume Landcare Group – Taking stock, 24 years on

Judy Frankenberg

Key words: agricultural landscape restoration, community involvement, salinity, threatened species

The West Hume Landcare Group was formed in 1989 as a community response to land degradation in the area. Funding to employ a coordinator for three years was obtained in 1990. This enabled a high level of project activity in addition to tree planting, including a roadside vegetation survey, farm planning workshops, demonstration sites for ground water recharge and discharge management, and perennial pasture establishment. In the first 5 years of its existence, the group organised nearly 250 different events, attracted funding of over $500,000 and managed 17 different projects.

The second 5 years saw a period of consolidation – then, from late 1997, the employment of a full time project officer enabled  the development of a Land and Water Management Plan.  By early 2000 the Group had attracted a total of $1,000,000 in project funding over 11 years.

“Taking Charge of Recharge” was the largest project undertaken by the West Hume Landcare Group, commencing in 2001. It involved 80 properties, with a total of 170,009 local trees and shrubs planted on 370 ha.  Some 93 ha of remnant vegetation were fenced over the two years of the project. This project was the climax of a very busy 12 years of the Landcare Group’s life, during which 400,000 trees and shrubs were planted in a wide variety of projects across the landcare area – in addition to direct seeding and natural regeneration.  This revegetation had a variety of purposes, including recharge and discharge management, corridor linkages between remnants, vegetation connections specifically designed to strengthen the local (threatened) Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) population, and livestock shelter.

Many of the planting projects initially involved only small numbers of trees, with a low proportion of shrubs.  They were important in giving landholders confidence that tree planting was a credible farm management activity and in their ability to succeed in species selection and establishment.  The Landcare group provided a lot of support in species selection, and, as the demand for shrubs grew, the nurseries responded by increasing their availability.

Nearly all revegetation in West Hume has used local species, and as far as possible these were grown from locally sourced seed.  The diversity of shrub species used increased over the years as knowledge and availability of the local flora improved.

Roadside survey. Local knowledge was greatly increased following the roadside survey carried out by 38 landholder volunteers.  They surveyed 460 km of road, recording floristics, conservation value and causes of degradation.  A total of 111 native species were recorded, including 28 shrubs, but very few road sections had greater than 50% shrub cover.  Many of the shrubs. grasses and forbs recorded are considered rare in the landcare area.  Knowledge of the whereabouts of these small remnants has allowed seed collection and propagation of some of them in seed production areas on local properties and at the Wirraminna Environmental Centre at Burrumbuttock.  The need for this local source of seed has been emphasised by the observation that in the case of a few acacia species, local forms are different from those growing in neighbouring areas.

Landcare survey. Landholder views about the importance of vegetation was shown in a landcare survey carried out in 1999. A majority of the 60% of respondents considered that dieback of trees and the lack of shrubs, understorey and wildflowers was of concern and there was a clear concern expressed about the decline of native birds in the area.

When the “Taking Charge of Recharge” project was funded in 2001, the response of landholders was enthusiastic.  The group members were eager to take advantage of the high level of incentives available in this project to increase the scale of planting beyond that generally undertaken previously.  While the prime purpose of the funding was for recharge management, members were keen to establish local species in ecologically appropriate sites.  Ecological and botanical skills within the group were able to support the species choices.

This confidence in the value and feasibility of large revegetation projects has been continued in subsequent years when the Murray CMA has offered good incentives for large area plantings.

Contact:  Judy Frankenberg, +61 2 6026 5326, Email: judy@frankenberg.com.au

Fig 1. School student volunteers planting in block AA on ‘Warrangee’ in 1995.

Fig 1. School student volunteers planting in block AA on ‘Warrangee’ in 1995.

Fig 2. Resulting tree and shrub habitats created from 1995 planting on block AA, 2013.

Fig 2. Resulting tree and shrub habitats created from 1995 planting on block AA, 2013.

Fig 3. ‘Corridors of green’ project, 2013, planted in 1994, “Warrangee” .

Fig 3. ‘Corridors of green’ project, 2013, planted in 1994, “Warrangee” .

Holbrook Landcare “Rebirding the Holbrook Landscape” – assessing performance and learning in action

Chris Cumming and  Kylie Durant

Key words: tree dieback, lerps, restoring the agricultural landscape, community involvement, Holbrook Landcare Network

Holbrook producers established Holbrook Landcare Network in 1988.  It was one of the first Landcare groups in Australia, covering initially 171,000 ha of productive agricultural land in the upper reaches of the Murray Darling Basin. The organisation has directly managed grants of more than $6M across more than 85 projects to address NRM and agricultural issues including salinity and erosion control, soil and pasture management the protection of wildlife habitat.

Of the habitat projects, one of the most successful has been the “Rebirding Project”. A recognition of the importance of birds in the landscape occurred in 1994, when there was widespread concern in Holbrook over eucalypt tree dieback and the potential loss of paddock trees in the landscape. Holbrook Landcare commissioned a survey that identified 41% of the trees in the district were showing signs of dieback, and initiated (with support from our own extension staff and Greening Australia) education programs to inform landholders about the causes of dieback, including the link between cycles of lerp and other insect attack exacerbated by the loss of insectivorous birds.

In 1999 the group was successful in gaining funding for the “Rebirding the Holbrook Landscape to mitigate dieback” revegetation program through the Australian Governments Natural Heritage Trust (NHT), with the aim of drawing birds back onto farms and reducing eucalypt tree dieback.

Actions undertaken. Bird surveys were undertaken at 94 study sites in remnant vegetation on hills, flats and along creek lines. Education components succeeded in engaging the community and increased community knowledge and awareness of habitat issues in Holbrook.  The research information was used to recommend specific guidelines for the revegetation component, including ideal patch size (min 6ha), distance to remnant (1km), position in the landscape and habitat values.

The Rebirding on-ground projects (1999 – 2002) achieved 2150ha of remnant and revegetation work and put 475,000 plants back in the landscape across 118 properties – estimated at 80% of the Holbrook landholders.

Outcomes achieved. Measuring success of the program was very important to the community. A partnership with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems gave rise to a research project measuring bird use of plantings and remnant vegetation on local farms in 2004 to 2006.  This found that a range of bird species rapidly colonised planted areas and showed evidence of breeding activity, a positive message about the early signs of success of the Rebirding project. Tree health monitoring is ongoing by the community. Current ANU research is showing the positive benefit of the revegetation work in the landscape at the site, farm and landscape scale. The science is therefore indicating that yes, “rebirding” of the Holbrook landscape is underway, and HLN will continue to look to science to help us with the longer term outcomes for birds and tree health, and provide the feedback to us to adaptively manage our programs for the best outcomes.

The lessons and recommendations that come from the research are being applied directly to inform the design of subsequent programs such as the current major biodiversity project being managed by Holbrook Landcare – the “Slopes to Summit Bushlinks Project”.

Contacts: Chris Cumming (Executive Officer) and Kylie Durant,  Holbrook Landcare Network, PO Box 181 Holbrook NSW, Australia.  2644 Tel: +61 2 6036 3121, Email: kyliedurant@holbrooklandcare.org.au.

Paddock tree health field day, Holbrook, 2011.

Paddock tree health field day, Holbrook, 2011.

Before planting habitat blocks at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

Before planting habitat blocks at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

Stands of trees and shrubs established at Woomargama station, Holbrook.

Stands of trees and shrubs established at Woomargama station, Holbrook.