Category Archives: Recovery wheel

Peniup Ecological Restoration Project

Justin Jonson

Key words: reconstruction, planning, direct seeding, monitoring, innovation

Introduction. The Peniup Restoration Project was initiated in 2007, when Greening Australia and Bush Heritage Australia jointly purchased a 2,406 hectare property as a contribution to the conservation and restoration objectives of Gondwana Link. The property has an average annual rainfall of approximately 450mm per year and had previously been farmed in a traditional broad acre sheep and cropping rotation system. The site is located within a highly diverse mosaic of varying soils and associated vegetation associations across Mallee, Mallee Shrubland, and Woodland type plant communities.

Planning and 2008 Operational Implementation. In 2008, Greening Australia’s Restoration Manager Justin Jonson developed a detailed ecological restoration plan for 950 hectares of cleared land on the northern section of the property. Information and procedures applied for that work are detailed in the EMR Journal article Ecological restoration of cleared agricultural land in Gondwana Link: lifting the bar at ‘Peniup’ (Jonson 2010). Further information is also available for the specific vegetation associations established via the Peniup Restoration Plan, with species lists according to height stratum, including seedlings planted by hand which were nitrogen fixing or from the Proteaceous genera. Funding for the initial 250 hectares of restoration were raised and the project implemented in 2008 (Fig.1).

Figure 1. Map showing the 2008 operational areas at Peniup with replanted communities replanted by direct seeding, and GPS locations of permanent monitoring plots (n=42), patches of hand planted seedlings (n=31) and seed (n=61), pre-planning soil sampling sites (n=115) and contour oriented tree belts to ensure establishment across the site (direct seeded understory consistently here).

Figure 1. The 2008 operational areas at Peniup showing communities replanted by direct seeding, and GPS locations of permanent monitoring plots (n=42), patches of hand planted seedlings (n=31) and seed (n=61), pre-planning soil sampling sites (n=115) and contour oriented tree belts to ensure establishment across the site.

Figure 2: Map showing GPS locations of permanent monitoring plots established at Peniup.

Figure 2. Location of 42 Permanent Monitoring Plots established in 2008 Peniup Ecological Restoration Project. Recruits from the direct seeding were measured 5 months after implementation, and then annually to assess persistence and long term development

Monitoring. A total of 42 monitoring plots were laid out across seven of the nine plant communities established (Fig.2). Details of the methodology, results and ongoing evaluation have been published (Jonson 2010; Hallet et al. 2014; Perring et al. 2015).

Results to date.  Monitoring indicates approximately 3.8 million plants were re-established by the direct seeding across the 250 hectare project area.  The numbers established in each plant community are shown in Fig.3 and represent the majority of plant species in each reference model. After 8 years it is clear that the project’s objectives are on track to being achieved, considering: a) absence of agricultural weeds; b) nutrient cycling through build up and decomposition of litter and other detritus;  seed-rain by short-lived nitrogen-fixing Acacia shrubs, c) diverse structural development of re-establishing species; and,  d) presence of many target animals using the site. Peniup’s progress in terms of recovery of the National Restoration Standards’s 6 ecosystem attributes is depicted and tablulated in Appendix 1.

Figure 3: Chart showing per hectare estimates of plant establishment counts by restoration plant community.

Figure 3. Per hectare estimates of Peniup plant establishment counts by restoration plant community.

Figure 4. Photo of riparian/drainage Tall Yate open woodland community with mid and understory shrubs and mid-story trees.

Figure 4. Riparian/drainage Tall Yate open woodland community at Peniup – with mid and understory shrubs and mid-story trees.

Innovation. As an adaptive management approach, small, discrete patches of seedlings of the proteaceous family were hand planted to make best use of small quantities of seed. Planting of these 5,800 seedlings in small patches, termed ‘Nodes’, provided further resource heterogeneity within relatively uniform seed mixes (by soil type). The impetus for this approach was to create concentrated food sources for nectarivorous fauna, while increasing pollination and long-term plant species viability (Jonson 2010).

Figure 5. Map showing distribution of Proteaceous Nodes.

Figure 5. Distribution of Proteaceous Nodes.

Lessons learned. Continuity of operational management is a critical component to achieving best practice ecological restoration. Project managers must be involved to some degree in all aspects of works, because flow on consequences of decisions can have high impact on outcomes. Detailed planning is also needed with large scale projects; otherwise the likelihood of capturing a large percent of site specific information is low. Finally, the use of GIS software for information management and site design is an absolute necessity.

Figure 6. Photo showing Banksia media and Hakea corymbosa plants with seed set.

Figure 6. Banksia media and Hakea corymbosa plants with seed set after 5 years.

Figure 7. hoto showing bird nest built within re-establishing Yate tree at Peniup within 5 years.

Figure 7. Bird nest within 5-year old Yate tree at Peniup.

Figure 8. Photo showing ecological processes in development including, a) absence of agricultural weeds, b) nutrient cycling and seed-rain deposition by short-lived nitrogen-fixing Acacia shrubs, c) diverse structural development of re-establishing species, and d) development of leaf litter and associated detritus for additional nutrient cycling.

Figure 8.  Five-year-old vegetation is contributing to a visible build up of organic matter and decomposition is indicating cycling of nutrients.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. Funding for this Greening Australia restoration project was provided by The Nature Conservancy, a carbon offset investment by Mirrabella light bulb company, and other government and private contributions.

Contact information. Justin Jonson, Managing Director, Threshold Environmental, PO Box 1124, Albany WA 6330 Australia, Tel:  +61 427 190 465; jjonson@thresholdenvironmental.com.au

See also EMR summary Monjebup

See also EMR feature article Penium project

Watch video: Justin Jonson 2014 AABR presentation on Peniup

Appendix 1. Self-evaluation of recovery level at Peniup in 2016, using templates from the 5-star system (National Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration in Australia)

Fig 9. Peniup recovery wheel template

Evaluation table2

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.

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).