Category Archives: New South Wales

Restoring Sydney’s underwater forests: Crayweed transplant success

Ezequiel M. Marzinelli, Alexandra H. Campbell, Adriana Vergés, Melinda A. Coleman and Peter D. Steinberg

Key words: Seaweeds, coastal biodiversity, kelp ecosystems, Phyllospora comosa, Crayweed

Introduction: Seaweeds are major habitat-forming organisms that support diverse communities and underpin ecosystem functions and services along temperate coastlines globally. Key species of seaweeds are, however, declining and while conservation in a preventative sense is a partial solution to the challenge of habitat degradation, the status of many of the world’s ecosystems clearly demonstrates that conservation, alone, is not sufficient. Crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) is a large habitat-forming seaweed that forms extensive underwater forests on shallow rocky reefs throughout south-eastern Australia, supporting unique diversity and economically important species such as crayfish (Sagmariasus, Jasus) and abalone (Haliotis). However, Crayweed went locally extinct from around 70 km of Sydney’s coastline in the 1980s, coincident with peaks in heavy sewage discharges; and, despite subsequent significant improvements in water quality, it has not reestablished naturally (Coleman et al. 2008).

The overall aim of this ongoing project is to restore Crayweed forests to the Sydney metropolitan coastline. In this case study, our specific aims were to determine (i) whether this species supports different biodiversity than other similar extant habitat-forming seaweeds – thus providing a rationale for restoration – and (ii) whether restoring this species and its associated biodiversity would be feasible; that is, could we achieve levels of survival, recruitment and diversity similar to those in reference locations where this species still occurs.

Works undertaken:

Surveys. We compared biodiversity (densities of abalone, communities of fish and epifauna) associated with crayweed and two major habitat-forming seaweeds in NSW, the kelp Ecklonia radiata and the fucoid Sargassum vestitum, and barren habitats.

Transplanting. We transplanted Crayweed from extant populations north and south of Sydney into three Sydney reefs where Crayweed was once abundant, creating 1 – 4 replicate patches ranging from 5 – 20 m2 in each site, with densities of 15-20 per m2, which are within the range of patch-sizes and densities in natural populations (Fig 1).

Figure 1. A 20m2 Crayweed restoration patch being set up by divers.

Figure 1. A 20m2 Crayweed restoration patch being set up by divers.

Results to date: The surveys of extant Crayweed found that it supported much higher numbers of abalone and different communities of associated epifauna than other similar, extant habitat-forming seaweed species or barren habitats (Marzinelli et al. 2014; Marzinelli et al. 2016).

The Crayweed we transplanted onto Sydney’s reefs generally survived (40-70%), grew (c. 60 cm, total length) and reproduced (5-12 recruits per 0.1 m2 after 1 year) (Fig 2) similarly to those in reference populations (Campbell et al. 2014). In some restored locations, these populations are apparently self-sustaining, with first generation progeny found over 200 m away from the initial transplanted patches.

Figure 2. Recruits growing next to the restoration patch (6 months after transplantation).

Figure 2. Recruits growing next to the restoration patch (6 months after transplantation).

Because the ultimate goal is not only to restore Crayweed but also the biodiversity it supports, we quantified several components of associated biodiversity in replicate ‘restored’, reference and control (non-restored) locations several times before and after the restoration efforts. Initial results on some of these components (e.g. epifauna) suggest that restoring associated biodiversity can indeed be achieved by restoring Crayweed, but to successfully restore all associated species is likely to be a complex and long-term process (Marzinelli et al. 2016).

Lessons learned and future directions: Critical to success are (i) the significant improvement in water quality along the Sydney coastline in recent years, (ii) understanding the ecology and biology of this species, which has male and female adult plants that reproduce synchronously once stressed through the process of outplanting (osmotic stress and drying), and (iii) on a more practical level, minimizing the period between collection and outplanting, which should be done in the same day. In one of the sites, herbivory on the outplanted Crayweed limited restoration success, so we are now identifying the species responsible to guide site selection in future larger-scale restoration efforts.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. This project is being carried out by researchers at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science & the Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation, University of New South Wales (EMM, AHC, AV, PDS), and NSW Fisheries (Department of Primary Industries; MAC). It is supported by the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust (DPI), the NSW Environmental Trust (OEH) and the Sea Life Trust.

Contact: Dr Ezequiel M. Marzinelli, Senior Research Fellow, Sydney Institute of Marine Science & Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; Tel: +61(0)2 93858723; Email: e.marzinelli@unsw.edu.au

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).

Subtropical rainforest restoration at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve, Rocky Creek Dam, 1983 – 2016

Key words: Lowland subtropical rainforest, ecosystem reconstruction, drinking water catchment, continual improvement process.

Introduction. Rous Water is actively engaged in ecosystem reconstruction within the drinking water catchment areas it manages on behalf of the community. The aim of these activities is to improve the functioning of essential natural processes that sustain water quality. The methodology used for rainforest restoration by Rous Water has evolved over time through an ‘adaptive management’ process at Rocky Creek Dam. This adaptive management approach has demonstrated that effective large scale sub-tropical regeneration at Rocky Creek Dam is achieved through complete removal of competing plants. The technique has become known as the Woodford Method and is now being applied at other Rous Water restoration sites.

The Rous Water Rainforest Reserve at Rocky Creek Dam is set in the northern headwaters of the Richmond River catchment, on the southern rim of the Tweed shield volcano. Basalt flows from the volcano have produced nutrient rich Red Ferrosol that supported diverse sub-tropical rainforest ecosystems across the region, until the rainforest was largely cleared for agriculture in the late 19th century. The Rocky Creek Dam site is adjacent to the Big Scrub Flora Reserve, the largest remaining remnant subtropical rainforest in the region. This reserve acts as a reference site for the restoration project (Fig 1).

Figure 1. Detail of the regeneration areas at Rocky Creek Dam, showing the areas treated and the year of the initial works

Figure 1. Detail of the regeneration areas at Rocky Creek Dam, showing the areas treated and the year of the initial works

Clearing of land in the vicinity of Rocky Creek Dam by early settlers commenced in the 1890s, with the cleared lands used for the establishment of dairy farms and a sawmill. In 1949, following acquisition of the site by Rous County Council (now Rous Water) for the construction of a water supply dam, this former farmland had reverted to weedy regrowth characterised by a mosaic of native/exotic grass, Lantana (Lantana camara) and Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) which supressed any expansion or recovery of scattered rainforest remnants. Transformation of the site commenced in 1983 when Rous Water became actively engaged in ecosystem recovery by systematically removing weeds that suppressed rainforest regeneration, a practice that continues today.

Rainforest restoration methods. The practices and management tools used in rainforest restoration at the site have been previously described by Woodford (2000) and Sanger et al. (2008). The work method typically involves the systematic poisoning and slashing of weeds to promote recruitment of rainforest plants from the soil seed bank and then to facilitate the growth of suppressed rainforest plants, providing a structural framework for further seed dispersal by wind and, particularly, flying frugivores and thus further colonisation by later phase rainforest trees.

Since 1983, an area of approximately 70 ha has been progressively treated in 1-2 ha blocks using this methodology (refer Fig 1), with progressively diminishing amounts of follow-up treatment needing to be conducted in the treated areas over subsequent years to secure successional progression of the rainforest species.

Use of this method means that, due to recruitment from the seed bank and the use of stags (from dead camphor laurel) as perches for seed dispersing birds, very limited planting has been required on the site. This has preserved the genetic integrity of the Big Scrub in this location.

Results. A total of approximately 70 hectares of weed dominated regrowth has been treated at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve since commencement in 1983 (Figure 1). This is approximately 35 ha since the report previously published in 2000 and represents approximately 30 % of the Rous Water property at Rocky Creek Dam.

This progressive treatment of compartments of weedy regrowth at Rocky Creek Dam has continued to lead to rapid canopy closure by shorter lived pioneer and early secondary tree species, with a gradual progression to higher proportions of later secondary and primary species with increasing time since treatment. All tree species that are listed as occurring in the reference site are not only now present in the restoration area, but informal observations suggest that most, if not all, are increasing in abundance over time (Figs 2-6)

Figure 2. Treated regrowth at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve, Rocky Creek Dam After 1 year (foreground)

Figure 2. Typical regeneration of rainforest species 1 year after Lantana removal at the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve, Rocky Creek Dam (foreground).

Figure 3. Same photopoint after 6 years

Figure 3. Typical recovery after 6 years

Figure 4. Same photopoint after 12 years

Figure 4. Typical recovery after 12 years

Figure 5. Same scenario after 20 years

Figure 5. typical recovery after 20 years

Figure 6. After 30 years

Figure 6. Typical recovery after 30 years

The structure of the older treated regrowth areas sites appears to be converging on rainforest conditions, as noted by Kanowski & Catterall (2007). Thackway & Specht (2015) depict how 25 ha of systematically treated compartments that were covered almost entirely with lantana are progressing back towards the original Lowland Subtropical Rainforest’s composition, structure and ecological function (Fig 7). Overall the vegetation status in this area was assessed at between 85% and 90% of its pre-clearing status.

This process is, at its oldest 33 years old and in some locations much younger. So it is clear that the development of the subtropical vegetation still has many decades, possibly centuries, to go, before it approaches the composition, structural and habitat characteristics of a primary forest. Notwithstanding the large areas of natural regrowth that are yet to be worked, it is evident that a large proportion of the assisted regeneration areas progressively worked by Rous over the past 33 years now requires only a low level of ongoing maintenance. This shows that these sites are maturing over time and have largely reached a self-organising state, and in the fullness of time will achieve a high degree of similarity to the reference state.  (A recovery wheel for one subsite is shown in Fig 8)

Fig 7, Thackway fig rocky creek dam1

Figure 7. Assessment of change in indicators of vegetation condition in a 25 ha area. This depicts the degree of recoveery of Lowland Subtropical Rainforest found at Rocky Creek Dam, Big Scrub, NSW against a pre-clearing reference. (Graph reproduced with permission. The method used to generate the graph is described in Thackway, R. and Specht, A., (2015). Synthesising the effects of land use on natural and managed landscapes. Science of the Total Environment. 526:136–152 doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.04.070. ) Condition indices for transition Phase 4 were derived from prior reports including Sanger et al. 2008 and Woodford 2000. Metadata can be viewed at http://portal.tern.org.au/big-scrub-rocky-queensland-brisbane/16908 .

Lessons learned. Using this method of harnessing the natural resilience processes of the rainforest, we have been able to progress the recovery of an important water catchment area, restoring very high biodiversity conservation values in a landscape where rainforest was, and remains, in serious decline., The ability of the high resilience sites at Rocky Creek Dam to respond to the Woodford Method is clearly demonstrated, but there is ample evidence that application of this and similar resilience-based rainforest restoration methods can harnessed resilience at other sites in the Big Scrub that are at greater distances from remnants.

Figure 8. Distribution of management intensity classes across the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve at Rocky Creek Dam.

Figure 8. Distribution of management intensity classes across the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve at Rocky Creek Dam. (Legend for this map is in Appendix 1)

Current work and future directions. Work continues at the site and management is supportive of-site evaluation to assess the extent to which the treated areas are undergoing successional development using a range of available assessment tools.

To assist future planning, and in order to address the issue of how to best estimate and plan for restoration works and associated costs, Rous Water has adapted the methodology developed on the Tweed-Byron Bush Futures Project, where each restoration site/area was assigned a Management Intensity Class (MIC) based on a generalised assessment of site condition, weed composition and cover and other management requirements. (Fig 8) The MIC describes the frequency of restoration work required to restore the site to a minimal maintenance level and how many years this would take to achieve. The MIC aims to describe the extent of management intervention necessary to restore the site to a minimal maintenance level. For this analysis this equates to the establishment of a self sustaining sub-tropical rainforest buffer zone. Each management intensity class is associated with a particular restoration trajectory/cost per hectare, based on visitation frequency by a standard 3 person team and expressed in terms of number of visits required to control / manage weeds. Appendix 1 below shows details of the MIC classification, showing for each class, relevant site criteria, and the estimated level of bush regeneration resources required to bring each class to a low maintenance level.

Contact: Anthony Acret, Catchment Assets Manager,  Rous Water. Tel: +61 (0) 2 6623 3800, Email: anthony.acret@rouswater.nsw.gov.au

Rocky Creek Dam recovery wheel adjacent to Forest Edge

Appendix 1. Legend for Management intensity classes used in Fig 8. (From Tweed-Byron Bush Futures)

Appendix 1. Legend for Management intensity classes used in Fig 8.

Establishment of an assisted natural regeneration model for Big Scrub sub-tropical rainforest: The Woodford Method

The results of long-term restoration at Rocky Creek Dam, have informed the development of an assisted natural regeneration model for sub-tropical rainforest known as The Woodford Method (named after the pioneering restoration work of Ralph Woodford). This method is now commonly applied across the Big Scrub region, particularly on high resilience sites and is more fully explained in Woodford (2000).

Figure 1. Remove Lantana thickets.

Figure 1. Remove Lantana thickets.

1. Winter (July-August) – refer Figure 1. In a typical area of secondary regrowth dominated by weeds such as Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora), Privet (Ligustrum sinense) and Lantana (Lantana camara), Lantana is the weed that should be killed first. Winter is the best time to do this as it is dry and it won’t reshoot when on the ground. In extensive areas, this can be done effectively by flattening thickets of Lantana with a tractor, then slashing it repeatedly to create a deep mulch, and pulling the Lantana stumps out to disturb the soil. Removing the Lantana thickets also allows access to tree weeds.

Figure 2. Kill Privet and Camphor Laurel.

Figure 2. Kill Privet and Camphor Laurel.

2. Spring (September-October) – refer Figure 2. Tree weeds such as Camphor and Privet have their biggest growth spurt, so this is a good time to give them a shot of herbicide to kill them. (Leaving the Camphor in place rather than cutting them down means that they act as ‘perch trees’ for birds and bats to land on and spread seeds through their droppings). As the Lantana, Camphor and Privet die, their leaves and branches fall to the ground and form a rich mulch on the forest floor. Light is also able to reach the forest floor, where previously it had only reached the canopy.

Spring storms come and wet the mulch, and fungal mycelium (the feeding filaments of fungi) move through the mulch and break it down, fertilising and leaving bare patches of soil where the mulch layer has totally receded.

Figure 3. Remove annual weeds.

Figure 3. Remove annual weeds.

3. Late spring / early summer (November-January) – refer Figure 3. Where you have bare soil, and there is moisture, light and an appropriate temperature, you will get seed germination. The first things to come up are annual weeds such as ‘Farmers Friends’ or ‘Cobblers Pegs’ (Bidens pilosa); ‘Blue Billy Goat Weed’ (Ageratum houstonianum); and ‘Crofton’ or ‘Mistweed’ (Ageratina spp). Annual weeds are always first to appear. They will germinate on the smell of a storm and a slight increase in temperature. Camphor and privet seedlings often come up at the same time.

When the weeds grow, they form a canopy just like the forest but at a height of one metre. In this way, weeds stop light from reaching the forest floor, inhibiting the growth of rainforest seedlings.

Therefore, it is important to remove these annual weeds and not let them go to seed. Depending on time available they are either pulled or sprayed. The experience at this site has been that the seedbank is strong enough to lose some rainforest seedlings in this initial spraying. If using herbicide, two sprays during this season generally removes all the weeds and their seeds.

Figure 4. Weed around rainforest seedlings.

Figure 4. Weed around rainforest seedlings.

4. Late summer / early autumn (February-March) – refer Figure 4.The seeds of rainforest species tend to germinate after the highest summer temperatures (sometimes up to 38 and 40 degrees) have passed. By late February and early March, daytime temperatures don’t generally go over 30 degrees, but the soil temperature and moisture is at its maximum. These conditions can produce a massive germination of rainforest seeds and those seedlings grow up very rapidly. Hand weeding is usually needed around these rainforest ‘pioneers’.

Figure 5. Enjoy the growing rainforest.

Figure 5. Enjoy the growing rainforest.

5. Early winter (May-June) – refer Figure 5. On a good site, with the best seasonal conditions, many of these rainforest seedlings will have grown to saplings above head height and can create a closed canopy within the same year. This means that less light reaches the forest floor, which reduces the amount of weed regrowth in this area – but there is still enough light for later successional rainforest seedlings to germinate, building the rainforest diversity over time.

Note: The process may be slightly different depending on the type of ‘before restoration’ landscape. Refer to Woodford (2000) for more information.

Contact: Anthony Acret,  Catchment Assets Manager, Rous Water, NSW Australia. Tel+62 2 6623 3800; Email: anthony.acret@rouswater.nsw.gov.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).

Habitat restoration at Snowy Adit, Kosciuszko National Park

Habitat restoration at Snowy Adit, Kosciuszko National Park

Key words: revegetation, habitat construction, montane, high altitude,fauna.

Introduction. Island Bend Downstream Spoil Dump, known as ‘Snowy Adit’, is one of approximately 30 former-‘Snowy Scheme’ sites in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) that have undergone rehabilitation and restoration treatments in the last 10 years. The work is part of a program to remediate environmental risks associated with large volumes of rock dumped following underground blasting of tunnels and the cutting of benches for aqueduct pipelines constructed during the former hydro-electric scheme. At Snowy Adit, up to 950,000m3 of rock spoil was excavated and dumped. The footprint of the site is roughly 11 hectares, about 750m long and 150m wide.

Snowy Adit precinct 2008

Fig 1. Snowy Adit precinct 2008

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Fig 2. Snowy Adit precinct 2015

The site sits at an altitude of 1000m on the northern bank of the Snowy River at the junction with the Gungarlin River. The surrounding landscape is relatively intact, providing a reference ecosystem for the project, and occurs in a transitional zone between montane and sub-alpine vegetation. The dominant overstorey species is Ribbon Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) with the sporadic occurrence of Candlebark (Eucalyptus rubida). The mid layer is dominated by wattle (Acacia species), and the shrub to ground layer includes Narrow-leaf Bitter Pea (Daviesia mimosoides), Burgan (Kunzea ericoides), Bidgee-widgee (Aceana nove-zelandiae), Carex (Carex appressa) and native grass (Poa helmsii). Within the rehabilitation site prior to works, the dominant species were weeds, aside from several shrubs of Burgan and the occasional Ribbon Gum.

Rehabilitation at Snowy Adit aims to restore a level of ecological function and stability by reducing erosion and re-establishing native vegetation. This gives long term protection to adjoining waterways and reduces the risk of weed invasion and habitat loss to the adjoining national park (Figs 1 and 2).

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Fig 3. Earthworks 2008

 

Integrating with natural regeneration on site

Fig 4. Integrating with existing vegetation on site

Works undertaken. The site was split into three management zones, with zones one and two progressively rehabilitated between 2008 and 2010, and zone 3 retained as an ongoing rock resource and storage area with some buffer planting. The rehabilitation techniques employed at each zone included:

  1. Earthworks to reduce steep embankments, provide track and bench access across the site for revegetation works and provide for future potential water flow across the site with a series of shallow swales and pond depressions (Figs 3 and 4);
  2. Ground disturbance to address highly compacted nature of existing surface;
  3. Removal of waste materials where possible – this included the recycling of 260 tonnes of metal that had been buried/dumped across the site;
  4. Addition of Coarse Woody Debris, primarily in windrows to provide wind shelter and thatch to hold straw and create microclimate. This material was sourced from logs and tree crowns removed during local trail clearing;
  5. Addition of compost production and water crystals to individual planting holes
  6. Planting 110,000 tubestock of 11 species from locally collected seed and cuttings in three stages;
  7. Mulching with rice straw;
  8. Weed control prior to pre works;
  9. Spreading of woodchip in weed prone areas such as access tracks and temporary nursery location.

After high initial browsing on planted seedlings by wallabies, deer and rabbits, most planting areas were progressively fenced. The steel 1.8 metre high fence had rabbit-proof netting to 1.05m high with a 300mm skirt pinned/rocked to ground, and hinge joint wire to 1.8m (Photo 4). Once in place, almost 100 percent plant establishment success was achieved.

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Fig 5. Flowering Acacia influencing nutrient status

Results to date. Soils and soil function. Monitoring has shown that three years after revegetation, soil infiltration, nutrient cycling and leaf litter values are still lower than the reference site, but soil stability measures are currently higher, possibly due to the role of young plants in binding the soil. Litter levels have understandably decreased since the original application of mulch and the amount of exposed rock has increased. It is expected that the growth of the revegetation will produce increasing amounts of litter and reverse this trend.

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Fig 6. Development of planted vegetation 6 years on

Vegetation. BioMetric http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/papers/BioMetricOpManualV3-1.pdf was used to assess the condition of the vegetation along a 30m transect at 4 years after planting. This showed that the plantings had not yet developed to overstorey height but many of the Ribbon Gum had grown to midstorey height, providing a cover of 7.5%. The ground cover was mostly litter (52%) and rock (52%) with 2% bare ground. Native shrub cover of the ground layer was 20%, grasses 2% and forbs 8%. No exotic species were encountered along the transect so the total of 30% plant cover in the ground layer was all native. The number of woody stems was high (990) and similar to the control site. The level of exotic species incursion to the site was very low.

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Fig 7. High levels of coarse woody debris on site

Fauna. Rehabilitation works have greatly improved the habitat values of Snowy Adit, as evidence by increasing fauna recorded at the site. Pre- and post-treatment surveys have shown that, 5 years after revegetation commenced, the site is now used by at least sixty vertebrate species – 36 birds, 17 mammals, four reptiles and three frogs. Thirty-nine species were not recorded in the original 2006 survey, with 19 species (15 birds, two mammals and two frogs) attributed as a direct result of the rehabilitation works undertaken since 2006. Five threatened species were recorded in the rehabilitation area, with one additional listed species, the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua), located in immediately adjacent forest. These threatened species were the Eastern Pygmy-possum (Cercartetus nanus), Eastern Bent-winged Bat (Miniopterus orianae oceanensis), Eastern False Pipistrelle (Falsistrellus tasmaniensi ), Gang-gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum ) and Flame Robin (Petroica phoenicea). The first three threatened species were not located in the original 2006 survey. The most outstanding discovery was the location of four Eastern Pygmy-possums within the fenced area of the rehabilitation area. Sixteen bird species now appeared to be either resident or regular visitors within the plantings rather than occasionally ranging into the area from adjacent forest; with nests of five species located. Several species were observed feeding flying dependent young juveniles within the planting area – such as the White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) and Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris).

It is considered likely that, over time, some 29 species (23 birds, four reptiles and two mammal species) which were only recorded in adjacent forest and control sites in the current or original surveys will recolonise the area as the plantings continue to grow.

Lessons learned and future directions. The attention to detail in site preparation to create soil surface roughness and niches and microclimates in denuded and exposed sites at Snowy Adit is likely to explain the level of success achieved to date in terms of vegetation and habitat development. Constantly revisiting the site has also played an important role as it allowed measures to be taken to address overgrazing by both native and pest species. Taking the time to plan the works but also having flexibility to adapt and seek opportunities reaped benefits. A fortuitous supply of unwanted coarse woody debris and woodchip stockpiled at a nearby work depot also assisted with the establishment and growth of plants, controlled weeds and accelerated the return of native fauna using the for site as habitat.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. The Rehabilitation of Former Snowy Scheme Sites Program was established from Snowy Hydro Limited funding and is managed by the Landforms and Rehabilitation Team in National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW. Nicki Taws (Greening Australia Capital Region, Project Manager) conducted the vegetation monitoring. Martin Schulz conducted the fauna surveying and reporting.

Contact. Gabriel Wilks, Environmental Officer, National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW, PO Box 471 Tumut 2729, phone 062 69477070, Gabriel.wilks@environment.nsw.gov.au; Elizabeth MacPhee, Rehabilitation Officer, National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW, PO Box 471 Tumut 2729, Tel: +61 2 69477076, Email: Elizabeth.macphee@environment.nsw.gov.au.

Also read full EMR feature:Rehabilitation of former Snowy Scheme sites in Kosciusko National Park

Watch video short presentation by Liz MacPhee

Watch video short description of planting techniques Liz MacPhee

Watch video rediscovery of Smoky Mouse on rehab site Gabriel Wilks

EMR summary Restoration of Bourke’s Spoil Dump #2: https://site.emrprojectsummaries.org/2013/08/22/bourkes-gorge-spoil-dump-2-restoration-kosciuszko-national-park-2/

EMR summary Jindabyne Valve House Restoration: https://site.emrprojectsummaries.org/2013/08/20/jindabyne-valve-house-kosciuszko-national-park-nsw-2/

EMR summary Yarrangobilly Seed and Straw Production Area: https://site.emrprojectsummaries.org/2013/08/17/yarrangobilly-native-seed-and-straw-farm/

Snowy Adit project recovery wheel (National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia)>

ATTRIBUTE CATEGORY RECOVERY LEVEL (1-5) EVIDENCE FOR RECOVERY LEVEL (derived from transect data)
ATTRIBUTE 1. Absence of threats
Over-utilization

 

5 Site is no longer utilized and is dedicated to conservation.
Invasive species

 

5 Very low potential for invasion
Pollution

 

5 Nil sources of pollution
ATTRIBUTE 2. Physical conditions
Substrate physical

 

5 Site still very rocky but within range of natural variation compared to reference.  Likely self-organizing.
Substrate chemical 5 Similar to reference.
Water chemo-physical

 

5 soil infiltration, nutrient cycling and leaf litter values still lower than reference, but soil stability higher. Likely self-organizing.
ATTRIBUTE 3. Species composition
Desirable plants

 

5 Greater than 60% of local indigenous trees, shrubs, grasses and forbs establishing. Likely self-organizing.
Desirable animals

 

5 Prior bare site now has > 60 vertebrate species (36 bird, 17 mammal, 4 reptile and 3 frog. (5 Threatened.)
No undesirable species

 

4.5 Very low weed status.
ATTRIBUTE 4. Community structure
All vegetation strata

 

5 Trees at midstorey height (7.5% cover) shrub (20% cov) grasses (2% cov) and forbs (8% cov)
All trophic levels

 

5 Trophic structure evident with very high faunal recolonization including Powerful Owl nearby
Spatial mosaic

 

5 Similar to reference.  Likely self-organizing.
ATTRIBUTE 5. Ecosystem function
Productivity, cycling etc

 

5 High levels of litter (52%) and evidence of decomposition. Likely self-organizing.
Habitat & plant-animal interactions 5 High levels of woody debris, nesting by birds and mammals. Flowering and fruiting evidence of pollination
Resilience, recruitment etc 4.5 Likely seed banks building and some recruitment of shrubs and herbs. Trees old enough for resprouting.
ATTRIBUTE 6. External exchanges
Landscape flows

 

5 Site now fully integrated into extensive, high quality natural area
Gene flows

 

5 Likely restored
Habitat links

 

4.5 Likely restored although fencing yet to be removed

 

 

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

Peter Cuneo, Jordan Scott and Katharine Catelotti

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

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

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

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

Hillside African olive invasion

Fig 1. Hillside African Olive invasion

Beneath dense olive canopy

Fig 2. Nil biodiversity beneath dense African Olive canopy

Olive mulching machine

Fig 3.  Olive mulching machine

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

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

Planting Seed prod area

Fig 4. Planting out seed production area

 

Plumegrass

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

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

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

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

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

Direct seeding strips

Fig 6. Direct seeding strips prepared

Mixing bulk native grass seed

Fig 7. Mixing bulk native grass seed

Seed strip established2comp

Fig 8. Seed strip established after one year

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

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

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

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

Watch RegenTV Video : Seed production area

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

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

 

 

Forested wetland regeneration project, The Gap Road Woodburn, NSW

Julie-Anne Coward

Contract bush regeneration works involving fire and weed management commenced in 2011 in 2.5 ha of endangered ecological coastal floodplain communities at the Cowards’ property on the Gap Road, Woodburn in northern NSW (Fig 1). An area of 7.19 ha of the 10ha property had been recently covenanted for conservation by new owners and 2 small grants were gained to convert the previous grazing property back to forested wetland. Remnant vegetation existed on the property and regrowth was already occurring, although extensive areas were dominated by exotic pasture grasses, particularly >1m high swathes of Setaria (Setaria sphacelata).

Works commenced with spraying of the weed with herbicide and regular follow up spot spraying of weed regrowth. However, because the dead Setaria thatch was taking a long time to break down (and high weed regeneration was likely) a burn was carried out to hasten the recovery responses to fit within the 3 year funding cycle. The works were monitored before and at 6 monthly intervals using 6 (9m2) quadrats in each of hot burn, cool burn and unburnt areas (Fig 1).

Fig 1. Works zones at the Gap Road wetland

Figure 1. Works zones at the Gap Road wetland – mapped in April 2013 where the quadrats were laid out. and data recorded prior to and at 6-monthly intervals after treatment.

Works undertaken. A 2-3m wide firebreak was cut around the burn area and a burn was conducted in dry conditions on Oct 19th 2012 (Fig 2) by the landholders, assisted by Minyumai Green Team and with the local fire brigade on standby. The fire burnt approximately 0.5 ha of the Setaria-dominated area, most of which had been previously sprayed (Fig 2).

Results. A more complete (and presumably hotter) burn was achieved in the sprayed areas (Figs 3 and 4). Setaria and Ragweed germinated prolifically, with a few natives and the site was virtually blanket sprayed with glylphosate. By the second follow up natives had started to regenerate so spot-spraying was used thereafter, taking care to protect the natives. Within 5 months quadrats in the sites that burned hotter achieved over 50% native cover, while the unburnt area achieved only half (25%) that cover. Both areas ultimately achieved similar recovery of natives, but markedly higher spot spraying inputs over longer time frames were needed in the unburnt areas compared to the hotter burn areas.

Over the three year contract, unexpectedly high and prolific regeneration occurred of 35 species of native forbs, sedges and grasses (germinating from buried seed banks) and 7 species trees and shrubs (largely from seed rain) (Fig 5). However, weed germination was also prolific, particularly in unburnt areas, and required at least monthly levels of continual suppression.

fig 2. The burn itself (Oct 17, 2015)

Figure 2. The burn itself (Oct 17, 2015)

Figure 3. Sprayed Setaria prior to the burn.

Figure 3. Sprayed Setaria prior to the burn.

Figure 3. Prolific native groundcover and tree regeneration 2 years after the burn and as a result of consistent spot spraying.

Figure 3. Prolific native groundcover and tree regeneration 2 years after the burn and as a result of consistent spot spraying.

Lessons learned. The proximity of remnant vegetation (within 100m) and intact soil profile was important to the native recovery. At least monthly weed control is essential and can achieve results on its own. However, the project involved substantial volunteer time as well as contract labour – and when labour was insufficient new weed populations formed in the disturbed areas that then required more intensive treatment to overcome. Comparing the demand for weed control in burnt and unburnt areas showed that the feasibility of weed control is very much reduced without the use of fire to flush out weed at the outset.

Acknowledgements: The project is dedicated to the memory of Murray Coward who helped initiate the project. Minyumai Green Team (Daniel Gomes, Justin Gomes, Chris Graves and Andrew Johnston) have kept the project on track over the years, with assistance from Tein McDonald. Thanks is due to the EnviTE team, particularly Virginia Seymour, for their work at the site in the first 18 months. The project is covenanted with the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW (NCT) and received some initial funding from NCT. It subsequently gained a $15K Private Land Conservation Grant (funded by Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife and managed through the NCT) and has now gained a second, similar grant to continue and expand the works.

Contact: Julie-Anne Coward, Gap Road Woodburn. Email: mjcets1@bigpond.com

Operational planning and logistics – introducing fire into the landscape

Robert Strauch

Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS) is an Endangered Ecological Community that only exists in the eastern part of the Greater Sydney area – between North Head and La Perouse. From an original estimated area of 5300 hectares there’s only 146 hectares of this community left. From the 3% that’s actually left only 18% of that ESBS is on managed lands. A lot of it is in areas like golf courses, people’s backyards along coastal parts in the Sydney eastern suburbs and small pockets on Council reserves, most locations of it are quite sparse in area, with the North Head community being the largest portion in total area remaining.

In 2004, the key stakeholders developed a recovery plan for ESBS, with National Parks working with other land management agencies to try and protect and manage this community. One of the recommendations from the plan was high intensity burn at an 8-15 year rotation.

Fire and Rescue New South Wales (NSW) are re-introducing fire as a tool to restore ESBS at three sites: broad area burning at North Head, some windrow burning at La Perouse on the site of the NSW Golf Course and pile burning at Centennial Park in the Moore Park area. This involved three types of burns: an area burn, windrows and burn piles.

Fig 1. Broad area burning at North Head

Fig 1. Broad area burning at North Head

1. North Head

A burn was conducted at North Head, Sydney Harbour in early September 2012. This was done in collaboration with National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and also the North Head Sanctuary Foundation. Interestingly, the location of the fire is very close to the location Dr Geoff Lambert has identified as the site European people in Australia first recorded their observations of fire being used by Indigenous people on the 28th May 1788.

Methods and risk management. At North Head, three relatively small burns were conducted: third quarantine cemetery (0.8 ha), North Fort (1.5 ha0 and Blue Fish Drive (1.8 ha). These involved very high levels of operational logistics and operational planning, prior to waiting for the appropriate burn conditions.

(a) Public safety. Because of a history of fires getting out of control at North Head, precautions involved restricting public access to the headland, which meant confining all three burns to 1 day to minimise disruption. There was an overall incident controller, Superintendent Kel McNamara for the North Head complex, plus divisional commanders in charge of each of the burns. The divisional commanders essentially were running their individual burns managing their operations officers and resources required. From this we ended up with 10 firefighting appliances (trucks) and (including the incident management and logistical appliance) we had a total of 36 resources contributed by three agencies: Fire and Rescue NSW, National Parks and Wildlife Service and Rural Fire Service Pittwater-Warringah. With all of that we had 121 fire fighters for our very small sites. State Emergency Service assisted us with closing down walking trails and making sure people weren’t actually coming onto the headland. We had a fire truck (Flying Pumper) sitting there as if it was in a fire station, so if any spot fires occurred they could go and deal with the fire and we could still carry on with our prescribed burning that we were undertaking.

(b) On the day of the burns there were 400 kids on the headland, which was worrying. I tried to encourage them to go into Manly for the day but they wanted to stay on the headland for their planned activities at the Quarantine Station. Because of that I then had to go through steps in the local emergency management plan and arrange with Sydney Ferries to make sure there was a ferry ready and available in case we needed to evacuate the headland as we could only evacuate by water. Also we had to speak with Harbour Control in case the fire got away and we had to shut down the shipping channels coming into Sydney Harbour.

(c) Heritage protection. We obtained mitigation funding through the NDRP National Disaster Resilience Funds to do some mitigation work around North Head’s historical stone walls criss-crossing the headland. This involved some clearing along those walls to protect the historical significance of them and this clearing doubled to create a strategic fire advantage zone over the headland.

(d) Miscellaneous risks. Among the other things I had to deal with was underground ventilation. There’s historical war tunnels through North Head with ventilation intakes that I had to make sure were covered and insulated so we weren’t dragging smoke into the underground tunnels, increasing the carbon monoxide load down there. This was so if people walked in there after the burns they weren’t going to asphyxiate themselves. The bonus carry over from Defence was possible unexploded ordinance out on the headland. Furthermore, the Sydney Water treatment plant opposite the blue fish drive burn involves an above-ground storage tank of highly explosive biogas.

(e) We could only burn in certain seasons. The breeding seasons of the Endangered population of Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) and also the penguins had to be considered. This also involved working in with studies of these that were being done by the University of New South Wales, researching the bandicoot’s pre and post-fire introduction. Then we had to put in a notification strategy. The weather window, given all the other constraints, was very narrow. We put out an email notification system where we were literally going to give people anything from 24 hours notice up to 48 hours notice to actually go ahead with the burn.

This high level of risk meant that I had to win the confidence of senior management of Fire and Rescue NSW to support the burn. We did get that support as well as support from all the other land managers, which was fantastic.

Burns themselves. In terms of the burns themselves, once the fire got into the burn area it developed to very good intensity. It was a very high fuel load situation and one interesting challenge was to try and stop the fire fighters from putting the fires out. The buildings were quite close and they were very small parcels of burns.

Ecological context. The burns that we did on North Head involved a range of experimental treatments that included burning, controlled thinning and untreated controls; with some sites fenced from rabbits, a study conducted by Dr Judy Lambert.

We burnt on a small scale to start with to see what type of regeneration we were going to get from broad area burning out on the headland. The regeneration that we’re getting out at North Head is outstanding. But the biggest problem that we have is the newly sprouted post fire vegetation degradation from rabbits and the bandicoots. So we suggest for any burning in ESBS, the advice is that it needs to be fenced post-burn to encourage the regeneration to thrive.

Fig 2. High biomass vegetation before burn, North Head

Fig 2. High biomass vegetation before burn, North Head

Fig 3. During burn at North Head

Fig 3. During burn at North Head

Fig 4. Water deliver from air, North Head

Fig 4. Water deliver from air, North Head

Fig 5. Mopping up after burn at North Head

Fig 5. Mopping up after burn at North Head

2. La Perouse

At the New South Wales golf course at La Perouse the dominant species, Coastal Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) was cut and dropped on the ground. They let it cure and then they come in and burn it in isolated pockets.  Burning on the golf course is a lot easier than North Head because there are far fewer risks to plan for and manage, and the eastern boundary is the Pacific Ocean. With this type of environment and preparation we can get extremely high intensity burns which are required for the ESBS. Once again the land managers fence the area to stop exposure to rabbits. At the La Perouse golf course site, we had arson this fire season so we had an additional 21 hectares of wildfire. We’ve put measures in place to monitor what introduced fire has done compared with what wildfire has done in the same vegetative area along Henry Head.

3. Centennial Park

Centennial Park, in the middle of Sydney, has an area of ESBS which is not even a hectare. The Park’s owners, the Centennial Park Trust, have been manually clearing weed from the ESBS, piling it and then conducting pile burns on the area, spreading the ash from that. Once again some really good regeneration has occurred there and the burn area is also fenced off to stop rabbits.

That’s our story of how Fire and Rescue NSW has been involved in broad area burning, windrow burning and pile burning, working with land managers for the recovery of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub.

Acknowledgements: Fire and Rescue NSW acknowledge this project could not have happed without the collaboration of National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, North Head Sanctuary Foundation, Rural Fire Service Pittwater Warringah, Road and Maritime Services, NSW Police, Manly Council, Sydney Water, Sydney Ports, Sydney Ferries, Harbor Control, Department of Defence and many others.

Contact: Robert Strauch, Bushfire Officer – Metro East Command, Fire and Rescue NSW (Operational Capability, Specialised Operations, Bushfire Section – Level 1, 55 Dickson Avenue, Artarmon, NSW 2064. Tel: +61 2 9901 2445, +61 448 597 547; Email: E Robert.Strauch@fire.nsw.gov.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 6. Windrows before the burn, La Perouse

Fig 6. Windrows before the burn, La Perouse

Fig 7. Burn La Perouse

Fig 7. Burn La Perouse

Fig 8. Mopping up after burn, La Perouse

Fig 8. Mopping up after burn, La Perouse

Re-introducing burning to Themeda Headland Grassland EEC, Narooma, NSW.

Tom Dexter, Jackie Miles, Deb Lenson

Key Words: Fire management, threatened ecosystem, Kangaroo Grass, weed management, Themeda

Introduction: In 2012, Eurobodalla Shire Council commenced a project to preserve local stands of declining Themeda Headland Grassland on Council managed land on three small headlands north of Narooma, NSW. Themeda Grassland on Seacliffs and Coastal Headlands is an Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) that grows on higher fertility soils and is listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

Burning was trialed at two of the three sites to test whether fire could improve the environmental integrity of these sites. This trial has potential implications for the much larger stands of this EEC in various conservation reserves scattered along the NSW coastline as there are many which are not currently actively managed.

The three sites were slashed annually until 2010. While the dominant grass, Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) was still present on all sites, the sites exhibited some decline in Kangaroo Grass cover and vigour, with weed present on all three sites (Fig 1). Slashing had kept the headlands free from shrubs however windrows of slashed grass suppressed Kangaroo Grass and appeared to encourage weed invasion. One of the sites, which was left unburnt for logistic reasons, was initially in worse condition than the other two due to the presence of an old vehicle track and more extensive weed cover particularly from Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum).

The intensity of a burn is likely to vary on a seasonal basis and is dependent on the build-up of dead thatch and the prevailing conditions on the day. There is basis to believe that the traditional aboriginal burning would have taken place in Autumn and would have been a relatively cool burn. The optimum time to burn when considering the constraints of weed invasion is early spring.

Fig 1. Mowing damage at Duesburys Beach headland

Fig 1. Lines of bare ground indicate the location of windrows of dead grass from a history of mowing at Duesburys Beach headland

Works undertaken: Two successive burns were conducted in early spring on 2 of the 3 headlands, in August 2013 and August 2014 (Fig 2). The burn in 2013 was hotter than the burn in 2014 due to a higher build up of Kangaroo Grass thatch prior to the burn.

Follow-up weed control was implemented after the burns as the fire created gaps between the grasses and allowed targeted chemical control minimizing off target damage to Kangaroo Grass and other native species.

Data were collected on three occasions using ten 1 x 1 m quadrats, established along a 50 m transect spaced at 5 m intervals (one of these for each headland). The initial baseline data were recorded in Nov 2012, prior to the spring burns, and in each successive summer (2013/14 and 2014/15) following the burns.

Fig 2. Dalmeny Headlands burn 2015

Fig 2. Typical burn on the headlands

Results to date: The burnt areas (Figs 3 and 4) showed a significant decrease of annual exotic grasses; especially of Quaking Grass (Briza maxima) and Rats Tail Fescue (Vulpia spp.). The burnt areas also showed vigorous Kangaroo Grass growth and moderate seed production of that species. Two native species -Dwarf Milkwort (Polygala japonica) and Matgrass (Hemarthria uncinata Fig 5) not recorded prior to treatment were found after treatment in the quadrats. The most abundant native forbs, Swamp Weed (Selliera radicans) and Indian Pennywort (Centella asiatica) have persisted on the quadrats but not increased (Fig 6). Some exotic forbs – e.g. Yellow Catsear (Hypochaeris radicata) and Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) have taken advantage of the removal of grass biomass and have also increased, further future analysis will determine whether this increase will impact on the native forbs. Perhaps the most important finding is the Coast Banksia (Banksia integrifolia) seedlings were killed by the fire allowing the sites to remain grassland.

The unburnt headland continues to deteriorate, with ongoing evidence of continued senescense of Kangaroo Grass, no Kangaroo Grass seed production, and exotic plants continuing to replace Kangaroo Grass in parts of the site. Kikuyu is the main exotic species on this site and is responsible for continued suppression of the native components of the grassland. There is also evidence of shrub invasion beginning to occur. It is anticipated that this site will be burnt in spring 2015.

Fig 2. Duesburys Point just after fire, Sept 2013

Fig 3. Duesburys Point just after burning, Sept 2013

Fig 3. Same site 11 months later, Aug 2014

Fig 4. Same site 11 months later, Aug 2014

What we learned: Kangaroo Grass remains vigorous throughout the burnt sites. The results to date show annual burning to be generally beneficial to the herbaceous components and associated grasses of this EEC. There was a higher success of exotic annual grass control in the first year which is most likely attributed to a hotter fire and perhaps timing. The first year also had accumulated multiple years of thatch which may have assisted fire intensity. Supplementary chemical control was effective, particularly when the fire created gaps between the grasses, allowing for better targeted chemical control.

Future directions: So far the results have shown that an August fire followed by the targeted chemical control of exotic grasses has considerable positive influence on the overall environmental integrity of this ecosystem. The annual burning allows the EEC to remain a grassland by killing off Coast Banksia and Coastal Acacia seedlings. It invigorates Kangaroo Grass growth and reduces the biomass of exotic perennial grasses at least in the short term. This again creates an opportunity in the aforementioned targeted chemical control. The herbaceous composition of the headland also remains intact and future analysis will determine whether burning has either a neutral or positive effect on growth. Kikuyu, Paspalum (Paspalum dilitatum) and annual exotic weeds continue to be the main problem. Increased post-burn selective herbicide application or hand weeding and planting of Kangaroo Grass tubestock may help to restore the grassland more rapidly than use of fire with limited weed control alone. Ongoing funding is being sought to continue the works over coming years and achieve further positive future outcomes.

Acknowledgements: The works were undertaken by Eurobodalla Shire Council with funding from the NSW Environmental Trust. Fire assistance from the NSW Rural Fire Service and cultural advice provided by Elders of the Walbunja people.

Contact: Tom Dexter; Environment and Sustainability Project Officer; Eurobodalla Shire Council (PO Box 99 Vulcan St Moruya 2537, Australia. Email: tom.dexter@eurocoast.nsw.gov.au).

Fig 5. Hemarthria uncinata was more evident after fire. (Duesburys Beach headland.)

Fig 5. Hemarthria uncinata was only evident after fire. (Duesburys Beach headland.)

Fig 5. More forbs among the grass after fire at Duesburys Point – e.g. Sellaria radicans

Fig 6. The forb Sellaria radicans persisted  among the grass after fire.