Category Archives: Integrating ecosystems & industries

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.

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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).

 

 

 

Update of landowner and community engagement in Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project – Lurg Hills, Victoria

Ray Thomas

Key words: community engagement, environmental education, habitat restoration

The Regent Honeyeater Project in the Lurg Hills, near Benalla in Victoria, is a habitat restoration project that emphasises that a key to biodiversity conservation is working well with the people who live in the landscape.  In fact the biodiversity gains in the 21 years of remnant protection, plantings and habitat provision in the Lurg Hills, would not have been possible without the support of landowners (who have given their land, their enthusiasm and time to the project) and the many community groups and individuals who come to help with the plantings.  The latest update on landowner and community engagement quoted from the  March 2016 update is as follows.

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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Penrhyn Estuary Habitat Enhancement Plan: Habitat Rehabilitation for Migratory Shorebirds in Botany Bay, NSW

Peggy O’Donnell

Keywords: estuarine, restoration, saltmarsh, seagrass, roosting habitat, feeding habitat

Introduction: The Penrhyn Estuary Habitat Enhancement Plan (PEHEP) is an ambitious rehabilitation project undertaken to compensate for habitat loss due to the expansion of Port Botany. Development in Botany Bay, NSW, has caused substantial biophysical changes since the 1940s. Shorebird habitat has decreased due to airport development and expansion and Foreshore Beach is greatly reduced. Penrhyn Estuary is the only remaining significant shorebird roosting and feeding habitat along the northern shoreline but has legacy pollution. The PEHEP was prepared as part of development approval and implemented from 2012 to 2017.

Figure 1: Penrhyn Estuary 2008, before port expansion.

Figure 1: Penrhyn Estuary 2008, before port expansion.

Figure 2: Penrhyn Estuary 2015, four years after port expansion works.

Figure 2: Penrhyn Estuary 2015, four years after port expansion works.

Broad aims and works: The PEHEP aims to rehabilitate the estuary by expanding roosting and feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds and thereby increase their populations in line with Australia’s international responsibilities for shorebird conservation. Key works included levelling of sand dunes to create saltmarsh habitat and expansion of existing intertidal sand flats by filling deeper parts of the estuary with dune sand. A flushing channel was constructed to ensure adequate tidal exchange and to provide habitat suitable for seagrass beds. Protected seagrass, Strapweed (Posidonia australis) was transplanted prior to works and remaining Eelgrass (Zostera capricorni) and Paddleweed (Halophila ovalis) were protected from damage during construction using silt curtains. Local saltmarsh species planted were optimal for use as roosting habitat and extensive weed removal and maintenance was undertaken. Sound barriers, lighting and fencing around the estuary and port structure were designed to favour shorebirds and deter predators.

Monitoring programs compared baseline and post-rehabilitation conditions to assess rehabilitation efficacy. Surveys were done within the estuary and at appropriate reference locations within a BACI experimental design framework. Indicators included: abundance of key shorebird species, benthic infaunal communities, planted and transplanted saltmarsh, remnant and transplanted seagrasses off Foreshore Beach, and water quality.

Results to date:

Water Quality. Four years after habitat enhancement, physiochemical properties (temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, total suspended solids, key nutrients) and a productivity indicator (chlorophyll a) were not significantly different from pre-construction or reference values. The configuration of the flushing channel simulated modelled estuary flushing times No algal blooms have been identified to date, suggesting the absence of eutrophic conditions within the now shallower estuary.

Saltmarsh habitat. After planting propagules the total area of saltmarsh habitat in Penrhyn Estuary exceeds 40,000 m2, a 76% increase post port construction and habitat creation (see Sainty 2016 and Dalby-Ball & Olsen 2016 for details of saltmarsh design and planting methodology). Following the works, saltmarsh species diversity, abundance and condition all improved.

The newly-planted saltmarsh vegetation appeared healthy showing continued growth with variability mainly at the margins of planted beds. The main roosting habitat species Salt Couch (Sporobolus virginicus) increased in all treatments, while Seablight (Suaeda australis) decreased slightly consistent with its removal in strategic locations to maintain plant height favourable for shorebird roosting habitat. The ecological function of planted saltmarsh areas was similar to that at reference locations (including other constructed saltmarsh habitats) and a trend of increasing biodiversity was observed throughout the three post-rehabilitation surveys. Some habitats treatments have not responded as well, including those transplanted prior to enhancement works and areas that were cleared of mangroves and weeds. Overall, the majority of ecological targets set with respect to the saltmarsh vegetation within Penrhyn Estuary were met.

Benthic intertidal habitat. Unvegetated intertidal feeding habitat for migratory shorebirds increased by 307% as a result of filling deeper parts of the estuary with dune sand. To enhance invertebrate abundance and diversity, dune sand was augmented with seagrass wrack and river mud as it was profiled in the estuary. Earthworks were staged such that tidal exchange with Botany Bay was altered and/or restricted but never eliminated during the two year construction period.

Criteria for the success of habitat creation were derived from comparison to target values based on pre-enhancement surveys and reference locations. Physical indicators were median grain size and percentage of fine sediments (% clay and silt fractions). Biological indicators were invertebrate abundance and biomass.

After habitat enhancement targets for invertebrate biomass were exceeded, but were not significantly different to those at reference locations. Invertebrate abundance reached only 61% of the target value and decreases resembled those in reference locations. Median grain size and percentage fines in newly created sand habitats were similar to pre-enhancement levels.

The taxonomic composition of benthic assemblages shifted post enhancement. Polychaete worms were characteristic of the assemblage before enhancement while gastropods and bivalve molluscs drove assemblage patterns after enhancement. Polychaetes declined from 76% of all invertebrates before enhancement to 47% after, while molluscs increased from 16% before to 49% after.

Seagrass habitat. Prior to construction, seagrasses off Foreshore Beach had undergone a significant natural decline. Strapweed patches within the footprint of the new boat ramp were transplanted to southern Botany Bay and are now indistinguishable from local plants. Condition of remaining seagrass patches off Foreshore Beach was monitored as was recolonization in the created flushing channel and lower reaches of the estuary.

Three post–construction monitoring surveys have documented a narrow, large bed of Paddleweed containing small patches of Eelgrass and Strapweed that extends off Foreshore Beach in 2-3 m water depth. Small isolated patches of Eelgrass and Strapweed persist at Foreshore Beach. Post-construction conditions are suitable for their survival and larger seagrass beds may be able to re-establish given normal processes of succession. Although numerous patches of the colonising Paddleweed and Eelgrass have been recorded in the flushing channel and in the inner estuary, typically these have not persisted. Turbidity may be limiting light penetration to the deeper parts of the flushing channel and offshore movement of sediments may be smothering seagrasses in the shallower areas of the flushing channel before they can fully establish.

Shorebird populations. Six key species of shorebirds were selected to indicate the success of the rehabilitation project: Bar-tailed Godwit (Lamosa lapponica), Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis), Double-banded Plover (Charadrius bicinctus), Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), Red Knot (Calidris canutus) and Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva). Abundance, diversity, health and habitat usage were monitored for these species and compared to target numbers derived from pre-construction data in 2006, as well as counts at reference sites. The frequency and sources of disturbance and observations on predation were recorded in peak and off-peak seasons.

The population of Pacific Golden Plover appears to be responding positively to the works, with the target exceeded in five consecutive seasons. Mean numbers of Double-banded Plover have increased at Penrhyn Estuary throughout both tidal phases, though is yet to meet its target peak count. Bar-tailed Godwit and Red-necked Stint have declined in this period, and there were no sightings of Red Knot or Curlew Sandpiper in the 2015 peak season surveys.

Disturbances to shorebirds in Penrhyn Estuary have been reduced with the completion of the sound barrier around the port side perimeter and exclusion of the public. Predation was high in the peak 2014 season, emphasising the need to control foxes and cats.

Monitoring reports for the PEHEP are available at:

http://www.sydneyports.com.au/sustainability/penrhyn_estuary_rehabilitation/monitoring_and_reporting2

Lessons learned and future directions:

  • Achievement of the desired profile for the site based on modelling and watering of saltmarsh plants in the initial stages likely set the stage for the success in establishing the large tracts of saltmarsh habitat. The initial removal and subsequent maintenance of a mangrove-free estuary, including a floating trash boom is supporting regular weed removal to improve the chances of long-term sustainability.
  • The relatively poorer response of transplanted saltmarsh areas, and those weeded but otherwise undisturbed suggests that for large habitat creation projects, propagating and planting local saltmarsh species is an efficient, appropriate approach the showed good results in the short term.
  • Earth moving works were staged such that the tidal exchange within the inner estuary was never completely blocked. This is likely to be a factor in the rapid reestablishment of benthic invertebrates, whose pattern of succession and composition differs from those reported for similar projects. Together with the improvement of dune sand by the addition of seagrass wrack and river mud, the fundamentals for a sustainable feeding habitat for shorebirds have been laid.
  • Tidal erosion removed a small portion of saltmarsh habitat along the inner estuary margin which was reshaped and repaired without further habitat damage or disturbance to roosting birds. The lesson: despite careful planning, erosive forces can alter habitats unpredictably as created habitats mature, and timely adaptive management is required to rectify damage and reduce further loss.
  • Shorebird populations and invertebrate abundance in the first two years of post-construction monitoring showed a generally positive correlation and similar trajectories of, suggesting that created intertidal habitat provided sufficient prey items to support increased shorebird populations in the longer term, despite considerable variability and failure of both populations to meet some target indicators. The abundance, biomass and community composition of benthic invertebrates in the most recent sampling (November 2014) fell within the range of variation seen in the five previous sampling events, however overall shorebird abundance fell to a minimum. Shorebird observations for the three months up to March 2015 showed an increasing trend, however targets for all but one species (Pacific Golden Plover) have not been achieved.

Comparisons to data from reference locations suggest that some factors may be operating at a range of spatial scales observable along the east coast of Australia. For all but Bar-tailed Godwit they suggest an overall decrease in key migratory species that is not limited to Penrhyn Estuary. Predation (or displacement due to presence of predators) may reduce the population of some shorebirds at some times, but no observations suggest that habitat quality, including roosting habitat and availability of prey items deter or limit the level of shorebird habitat use in Penrhyn Estuary.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: Port Authority of NSW (Formerly Sydney Ports Corporation) fund and manage all aspects of the project, beginning with EIS studies and construction through to ongoing maintenance and monitoring. NSW Ports provides funding for ongoing maintenance and monitoring. Shorebird monitoring was done by as subcontract to Cardno (NSW/ACT) by Avifauna Research & Services, Email www.avifaunaresearch.com.au

Contact information: Dr Peggy O’Donnell Practice Lead Ecology, Water & Environment, Cardno (NSW/ACT). Tel: +61 2 9496 7700 Mobile +61 422 858 827. Postal PO Box 19, St Leonards NSW 1590. Email peggy.odonnell@cardno.com.au

WATCH VIDEO: Peggy O’Donnell 2014 pesentation to AABR seminar

Saltmarsh translocation and construction, Penrhyn Estuary, Port Botany, NSW

Mia Dalby-Ball and Andre Olson

From June 2008 to June 2011, ecological restoration work was conducted by Port Authority of NSW in association with the expansion of the port at Port Botany, Sydney, NSW. The purpose was to expand and rehabilitate Penrhyn Estuary.

The saltmarsh works at Penrhyn Estuary involved 2.4 hectares being densely planted with saltmarsh species. In addition to this 3000m2 of saltmarsh was translocated within Penrhyn Estuary. The key driver for the saltmarsh design and plant selection was the requirement for the project to provide habitat for migratory wading birds.

There were many key aspects to the project. Primary among them was the engagement of an expert to undertake a pre-words evaluation and design the wetland construction. It was also important that planning involved representatives from different disciplines including those who would be doing the on-ground work and those monitoring migratory birds. Another key aspect was that approvals and licenses were identified and obtained early.

Saltmarsh construction. Seed collection (from local sources) and plant growing was carried out more than a year before plants were required. (This is because saltmarsh plants are slow to grow, there is a narrow window of time for seed collection and permits are required to collect seed or pieces.)

Implementation works first involved removal of dune weeds (Bitou-Bush, Chrysanthemum monilifera ssp. rotundifolia) and saltmarsh weeds, in particular Spiny Rush (Juncus acutus) of which large plants were hand removed and or cut and painted with herbicide. Germinating seedlings were irrigated with Saltwater. Monthly inspections undertaken with immediate removal of new plants.

This was followed by excavation of land so that it became inundated by monthly high tides. (Monitoring of tidal inundation was carried out to test that levels were appropriate and areas that had water pooling in excess of five days were filled.)

Soil conditioner (organic rich soil) was spread over the sandy substrate and mixed to 100mm, using cultivation equipment. This was followed by planting of over 250,000 saltmarsh plants including of Beaded Glasswort (Sarcocornia quinqueflora) and Salt Couch (Sporobolus virginicus). All saltmarsh plantings were irrigated with fresh water via a sprinkler system.

Fig 1. Translocating Beaded Glasswort via electric boat. (Photo: Dragonfly Environmental)

Fig 1. Translocating Beaded Glasswort via electric boat. (Photo: Dragonfly Environmental)

Translocation of saltmarsh. A 3000m2 area of Beaded Glasswort and Salt Couch was growing on an area that was to be excavated to become mudflats. This area was cut into ~ 20cm x 20cm blocks with 100mm deep soil and lifted by hand (shovels) and put onto wooden sheets (plywood) and transported to the recipient site. Transportation was chiefly by a small boat with electric motor (Fig 1).

The saltmarsh was translocated to the site where the Spiny Rush had been removed. At the recipient site it was planted into the substrate (Fig 2). Spaces between blocks were filled with soil from the donor site. The entire area was irrigated thoroughly with salt water. Irrigation continued for six months while the transplanted material established.

Monitoring. Monitoring existing saltmarsh and proposed saltmarsh creation sites prior to, during and for 2 years post works. Additional monitoring has been conducted for a further 3 years.

Fig 2. Transplanting clumps of Beaded Glasswort and Salt Couch into areas where Spiny Rush had been removed. (Photo: Dragonfly Environmental)

Fig 2. Transplanting clumps of Beaded Glasswort and Salt Couch into areas where Spiny Rush had been removed. (Photo: Dragonfly Environmental)

Fig 3. Sprinkler irrigation during saltmarsh planting. Fresh water irrigation continued for at least 6 months post-planting. (Photo: Dragonfly Environmental)

Fig 3. Sprinkler irrigation during saltmarsh planting. Fresh water irrigation continued for at least 6 months post-planting. (Photo: Dragonfly Environmental)

Lessons learned. At over 230,000 saltmarsh plantings, to our knowledge this is the largest recorded saltmarsh construction project recorded to date. A number of findings have resulted from the project, particularly our trials to arrive at a suitable growing medium for the plantings. We sought a soil that had free drainage good moisture retention properties and contained available nutrients. Fertiliser tablets alone are insufficient in sandy soils. We trialed a range of soil conditioners, with the most successful having high organic content and did not float. Irrigation is required as tidal inundation is not adequate to keep soil moist for seedlings. We found that irrigation was required for at least 6 months

Acknowledgements: Design and pre-works site evaluation was conducted by Geoff Sainty of Sainty and Associates and BioAnalysis.  Implementation and monitoring of saltmarsh during construction and establishment phase (two years monitoring) was carried out by Dragonfly Environmental.  Cardno (NSW/ACT) has been conducting environmental monitoring post establishment phase.

Contact: Mia Dalby-Ball, Ecological Consultants Australia, 30 Palmgrove Road,  Avalon NSW 2107, Australia (Tel: 0488 481 929; Email: ecologicalca@outlook.com) or Andre Olson, Dragonfly Environmental, 1/33 Avalon Parade, Avalon NSW 2107 Australia (andre@dfe.net.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).

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donaghy’s Corridor – Restoring tropical forest connectivity

Key words: tropical forest restoration, habitat connectivity, small mammal recolonisation, ecological processes, community partnerships.

Introduction. Closed forest species are considered especially susceptible to the effects of forest fragmentation and habitat isolation. The Wet Tropics of north Queensland contains many forest fragments between 1ha and 500ha, mostly surrounded by dairy and beef pastures, and crops such as maize, sugar cane and bananas. Larger blocks are often internally fragmented by roads and powerlines. The Lake Barrine section of Crater Lakes National Park is a 498ha fragment that is 1.2km distant from the 80,000ha Wooroonooran N.P, and ecologically isolated since the 1940s with detectable effects on genetic diversity of rainforest mammals.

In 1995 the Qld Parks and Wildlife Service, along with landholders and the local ecological restoration group TREAT Inc., began riparian forest restoration along Toohey Creek to re-connect the Barrine fragment to Wooroonooran and to document colonisation by small mammals and native plants typically associated with rain forest environments (Fig 1).

AERIAL VIEW

Fig 1. Donahy’s Corridor, Atherton Tablelands, linking Crater Lakes NP and Wooroonooran NP, Qld (Photo TREAT).

Connectivity Works. Prior to works commencement, small mammal communities (e.g. Rattus spp. and Melomys spp.) along and adjacent to Toohey Creek were sampled, along with a full vegetation survey, to determine base-line community composition and structure. Permanent stock exclusion fencing was erected and off-stream stock watering points established.

A 100m wide corridor of vegetation was established over a four year period using local provenances of 104 native species comprising around 25% pioneer species, 10% Ficus spp., and the remainder from selected primary and secondary species. In total, 20,000 trees, shrubs and vines were planted along the creek, and a three-row shelterbelt was planted adjacent to the corridor to reduce edge effects. Species were selected on a trait basis, including suitability as food plants for targeted local fauna e.g. Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii).

Ecological furniture (e.g., rocks, logs) was placed prior to planting. On completion, the 16ha Donaghy’s Corridor Nature Refuge was declared over the area, recognising the Donaghy family’s significant land donation and the corridor’s protection by legislation. A three year monitoring program, conducted quarterly, commenced on completion of planting.

TREAT2012Donaghy'sCorridor22

Fig. 2. Developing rainforest in Donahys Corridor (Photo Campbell Clarke)

Monitoring. Flora monitoring was conducted along transects bisecting the four annual plantings (1995/96/97/98), and small mammal colonisation in 11, 20m x 20m plots located in the plantings, adjacent open paddocks, and in forests at either end. Small mammal sampling included mark-recapture and DNA studies, to determine colonisation and movement patterns and genetic effects.

Results. Three years after establishment, over 4000 native plants were recorded – representing 119 species from 48 families. This included 35 species naturally dispersed from the adjacent forest (Figs 2 and 3). Small mammal sampling showed 16 long-distance movements by Rattus species and the appearance of an FI hybrid Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes) in the central section of the corridor in the third year of the study. The rainforest rodent Fawn-footed Melomys (Melomys cervinipes) had established territories in the second year of the study. A study of wood-boring beetles (Coleoptera)in ecological furniture showed 18 morpho-species in a three year period. Many other orders/families were also recorded.

Water quality in Toohey Creek was not studied but has continued to increase since the replacement exotic grasses with woody vegetation, and the exclusion of cattle from accessing the stream. There is increased shade available for stock and less pressure on the limited number of existing paddock shade trees.

TREAT2012Donaghy'sCorridor18

 Fig. 3. Indicators of rainforest structure (species and layering) and functions (habitat providion, nutrient cycling, recruitment) are now highly evident. (Photo Campbell Clarke).

What we learned.

  • Plant colonisation was rapid, dominated by fleshy-fruited species (10-30mm diameter), of which a proportion are long-lived climax species
  • Plant colonisation was initially highest in the interior, close to the creek margin, but has become more even over time
  • Vegetation structural complexity and life form diversity have continued to increase since establishment
  • Small mammal communities changed in response to habitat structure, grassland species dominate until weeds are shaded out when they are replaced by closed forest species
  • Many long distance mammal movements occurred that were only detected by genetic analysis
  • Monitoring showed small mammals used the new habitat to traverse from end to end until resources were worth defending: at that time long distance movements declined and re-capture of residents increased
  • Partnerships between government, research bodies, community groups, and landholders are essential if practical solutions to fragmentation are to be developed and applied

Acknowledgements: Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tableland acknowledges and appreciates the support of all the volunteers involved in this project, staff from the Qld Parks and Wildlife Service-Restoration Services, , James Cook University, University of Qld, Griffith University and UCLA Berkely. In particular we would like to acknowledge the Donaghy family.

Contact: TREAT Inc. PO Box 1119, Atherton. 4883 QLD Australia. http://www.treat.net.au/

SEE ALSO:

Global Restoration Network Top 25 report: http://www.treat.net.au/projects/index.html#donaghy

Watch the video on RegenTV – presented by Nigel Tucker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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