Category Archives: South Australia

Recovering Murray-Darling Basin fishes by revitalizing a Native Fish Strategy – UPDATE of EMR feature

John Koehn, Mark Lintermans and Craig Copeland

[Update of EMR Feature: Koehn JD, Lintermans M, Copeland C (2014) Laying the foundations for fish recovery: The first 10 years of the Native Fish Strategy for the Murray‐Darling Basin, Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration, 15:S1, 3-12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14428903/2014/15/s1]

Key words restoration, native fish populations, threatened species, Australia, Murray-Darling Basin

Figure 1. The construction of fishways can help restore river connectivity by allowing fish movements past instream barriers. (Photo: ARI.)

 Introduction. Fish populations in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), Australia, have suffered substantial declines due to a wide range of threats and there is considerable concern for their future. Given these declines and the high ecological, economic, social and cultural values of fish to the Australian community, there is a need to recover these populations. In 2003, a Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was developed to address key threats; taking a coordinated, long-term, multi-jurisdictional approach, focussed on recovering all native fish (not just angling species) and managing alien species. The strategy objective was to improve populations from their estimated 10% of pre-European settlement levels, to 60% after 50 years of implementation.

To achieve this the NFS was intended to be managed as a series of 10-year plans to assist management actions in four key areas; the generation of new knowledge, demonstration that multiple actions could achieve improvements to native fish populations, building of a collaborative approach, and the communication of existing as well as newly-acquired science. The NFS successfully delivered more than 100 research projects across six ‘Driving Actions’ in its first 10 years, with highlights including the implementation of the ‘Sea to Hume’ fishway program (restoring fish passage to >2 200 km of the Murray River, Fig 1), improved knowledge of fish responses to environmental water allocations, development of new technologies for controlling alien fish, methods to distinguish hatchery from wild-bred fish, creating a community partnership approach to ‘ownership’ of the NFS, and rehabilitating fish habitats using multiple interventions at selected river (demonstrations) reaches.  The NFS partnership involving researchers, managers, policy makers and the community delivered an applied research program that was rapidly incorporated into on-the-ground management activities (e.g. design of fishways; alien fish control, environmental watering; emergency drought interventions). The NFS largely coincided with the Millennium Drought (1997-2010) followed by extensive flooding and blackwater events, and its activities contributed significantly to persistence of native fish populations during this time.

Funding for the NFS program ceased in 2012-13, after only the first decade of implementation but the relationships among fishers, indigenous people and government agencies have continued along with a legacy of knowledge, development of new projects and collaborative networks with key lessons for improved management of native fishes (see http://www.finterest.com.au/).

Figure 2. Recreational fishers are a key stakeholder in the Murray-Darling Basin, with a keen desire to have sustainable fishing for future generations. (Photo: Josh Waddell.)

Further works undertaken. Whilst the NFS is no longer funded as an official project, many activities have continued though a range of subsequent projects; some are highlighted below:

  • Environmental water: development of fish objectives and implementation of the Basin Plan, northern MDB complementary measures, further investigation of mitigation measures for fish extraction via pumps and water diversions.
  • Fishways: Completion of sea to Lake Hume fishway program and other fishways such as Brewarrina
  • Community engagement: Continuation of many Demonstration (recovery) reaches and intermittent NFS Forums (Fig 2).
  • Recreational fishery management: engagement of anglers through the creation of the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) fishery management group and OzFish Unlimited.
  • Threatened species recovery: success with Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis)  (Fig 3) and Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) populations, development of population models for nine MDB native fish species.
  • Knowledge improvement: research has continued, as has the publication of previous NFS research-related work.
  • Indigenous and community connection to fishes: development of the concept of Cultural flows, involvement in Basin watering discussions.

Figure 3. Trout Cod are a success story in the recovery of Australian threatened species. (Photo: ARI.)

Further results to date. The continued poor state of native fishes means there is a clear need for the continuation of successful elements of the NFS. There is need, however, for revision to provide a contemporary context, as some major changes have occurred over the past decade. The most dramatic of these, at least publicly, has been the occurrence of repeated, large fish kills (Fig 4). This was most evident in the lower Darling River in early 2019 when millions of fish died. The media coverage and public outcry followed the South Australian Royal Commission and two ABC 4Corners investigations into water management, highlighted that all was not well in the Murray-Darling Basin. Indeed, following two inquiries, political recommendations were made to develop a Native Fish Recovery Management Strategy (NFMRS), and a business case is currently being developed. The drought, water extraction and insufficient management efforts to support native fish populations, especially within a broader sphere of a ‘new’ climate cycle of more droughts and climatic extremes, have contributed to these fish kill events. For example, one of the necessary restoration efforts intended from the Basin Plan was to provide more water for environmental purposes to improve river condition and fish populations. Recent research, however, appears to indicate that flow volumes down the Darling River have generally decreased. There is also a continuing decline of species with examples such as Yarra Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca obscura), now being extinct in MDB, and the closely related Southern Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca australis) which is still declining. Monitoring of fish populations has indicated that they remain in poor health and the need for recovery may be even greater than in 2003. We need to act now.

While some of the legacy of the NFS has continued, there has been a loss of integrated and coordinated recovery actions that were a key feature of the NFS. This loss of a Basin-wide approach has resulted in some areas (e.g. small streams and upland reaches) being neglected, with a concentration on lowland, regulated river reaches. There has also been a shift from a multi-threat, multi-solution approach to recovery, to a narrower, flow-focussed approach under the Basin Plan. In addition, there has been the installation of infrastructure (known as Sustainable Diversion Measures) to ‘save’ water which may have deleterious impacts on fish populations (e.g. the impoundment of water on floodplains by regulators or the changed operations of Menindee Lakes on the Darling River).

A clear success of the NFS was improvements in community understanding of native fishes and their engagement in restoration activities. These community voices- indigenous, conservation, anglers, etc. have been somewhat neglected in the delivery of the Basin Plan. There has been ongoing fish researcher and stakeholder engagement, but this has been largely driven by enormous goodwill and commitment from individuals involved in the collaborative networks established through the NFS. While these efforts have been supported by many funding bodies and partners such as the Murray-Darlin Basin Authority, state and Commonwealth water holders and agencies and catchment management authorities, without true cross-basin agreement and collaboration the effectiveness of these efforts will be significantly reduced.

Figure 4. Fish kills have created great public concern and are an indication of the need for improved management of native fish populations. (Photo:Graeme McRabb.)

Lessons learned and future directions.  Native fish populations in the MDB remain in a poor state and improvements will not be achieved without continued and concerted recovery efforts. Moreover, a 5-year review of the NFS indicated that while the actions undertaken to that time had been positive, they needed to be a scaling up considerably to achieve the established goals.  Recovery actions must be supported by knowledge and the lessons learnt from previous experience.  Some fish management and research activities have continued under the auspices of the Basin Plan, but these have largely focussed on the delivery of environmental water, either through water buy-backs or improved efficiency of water delivery. A key requirement is therefore transparent and accurate measurement and reporting of how much flow has been returned to the environment, and how this may have improved fish populations. This remains problematic as evidenced by the recent inquiries into fish kills in the lower Darling River (and elsewhere) and the lack of available water accounting. Fish kills are likely to continue to reoccur and the lingering dry conditions across much of the Northern Basin in 2018-19 and climate forecasts have highlighted the need for further, urgent actions through an updated NFS.

The NFS governance frameworks at the project level were excellent and while some relationships have endured informally, there is a need for an overarching strategy and coordination of efforts across jurisdictions to achieve the improved fish outcomes that are required. The absence of the formal NFS thematic taskforces (fish passage, alien fishes, community stakeholder, demonstration reaches etc) and the absence of any overarching NFS structures means that coordination and communication is lacking, with a focus only on water, limiting the previously holistic, cross jurisdiction, whole-of-Basin approach. The priority actions developed and agreed to for the NFS remain largely relevant, just need revitalized and given the dire status of native fish, scaled up significantly.

Stakeholders and funding. The continuation of quality research and increased understanding of fish ecology, however, not have kept pace with the needs of managers in the highly dynamic area of environmental watering. The transfer of knowledge to managers and the community needs to be reinvigorated. Efforts to engage recreational fishers and communities to become stakeholders in river health are improving (e.g. OzFish Unlimited: https://ozfish.org.au; Finterest website: http://www.finterest.com.au/) but with dedicated, increased support, a much greater level of engagement would be expected.  Previously, the community stakeholder taskforce and Native Fish coordinators in each state provided assistance and direction, including coordination of the annual Native Fish Awareness week. Some other key interventions such as the Basin Pest Fish Plan have not been completed and recovery of threatened fishes have received little attention (e.g. no priority fish identified in the national threatened species strategy).  Funding for fish recovery is now piecemeal, inadequate and uncoordinated, despite the growing need. The $13 B being spent on implementation of the Basin Plan should be complemented by an appropriate amount spent on other measures to ensure the recovery of MDB fishes.

Contact information. John Koehn is a Principal Research Scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, was an author the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Strategy and a member of various Native Fish Strategy panels and projects (Email:  John.Koehn@delwp.vic.gov.au). Mark Lintermans is an Associate Professor at Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, and was a member of various Native Fish Strategy panels and projects; (Email: Mark.Lintermans@canberra.edu.au). Craig Copeland is the CEO of OzFish Unlimited and a leading contributor to the development of the next stage of the Native Fish Strategy, the Northern Basin Complementary Measures Program and the 2017 MDB Native Fish Forum (Email: craigcopeland@ozfish.org.au).

 

Seagrass restoration off the Adelaide coast using seeds and seedlings – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update of EMR feature article :  Tanner JE, Andrew D. Irving, Milena Fernandes, Doug Fotheringham, Alicia McArdle and  Sue Murray-Jones (2014) Seagrass rehabilitation off metropolitan Adelaide: a case study of loss, action, failure and success.Ecological Restoration & Management 15: 3, 168-179.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12133]

Key words:  Amphibolis, Posidonia, Recruitment facilitation, Seagrass loss

Figure 1: Bag layout for small-scale experiments on Amphibolis recruitment facilitation (top left), Amphibolis seedlings (top right), close-up of basal ‘grappling hook’ that allows seedlings to attach (bottom left), and examples of older style double-layered bags with and without seedlings attached (bottom right).

Introduction: Over the last half century or so, over 6,000 hectares of seagrass has been lost off the Adelaide coast due to anthropogenic nutrient and sediment inputs.  This loss has led to coastal erosion, decreased habitat, loss of carbon storage, and decreased fish abundance.  Recent improvements to wastewater treatment and stormwater runoff have led to some natural recovery, but changes in sand movement resulting from the loss now prevent recolonization of many areas.  Our September 2014 feature article in EMR described how SARDI have been working with other state government agencies and universities to develop a cost-effective technique to restore these areas.  Typical seagrass restoration costs on the order of AUD$1 million per hectare, but by facilitating natural recruitment of Amphibolis, yet over the last 17 years we have developed a technique that only costs a few tens of thousands of dollars.  As described in the feature, this technique uses hessian sand bags (Fig. 1) to provide a stable recruitment substrate while seedlings become established, and has resulted in the re-establishment of small trial patches of seagrass restoration (10-100 m2) which are now over 10 years old (Fig. 2) Importantly, these sites have been colonized by Posidonia and Zostera seagrasses, and provide habitat for faunal assemblages that are similar to those of nearby natural meadows, suggesting potential for small plots to act as ‘starters’ for ecosystem recovery.

Figure 2: Examples of Amphibolis restoration showing progression of establishment from 12 months (top left), 41 months (top right), 58 months (bottom left) and 8 years (bottom right).

Further work undertaken: Since our original article in EMR, we have continued monitoring the 1 hectare trial patches and expanded our focus to include additional species in the restoration, especially Posidonia.  We have also started assessing how bags degrade over time under different storage conditions, as operationalizing this technique will require bags to be stored potentially for a month or more between filling and deployment.  Importantly, the SA Government has now allocated funds for a proof of application, which will involve the deployment of hessian bags over approx. 10 hectares in late autumn 2020.

Further results to date: Two 1 hectare trials were deployed in June 2014, with 1,000 bags in each (Fig. 3).  After 9 months, these bags had an average 6.2 Amphibolis seedlings each, which was typical for bags deployed outside the winter recruitment season in previous years.  After a further 12 months, this increased to 9.2 seedlings per bag, within the range of densities previously seen for small-scale winter deployments (7-23 seedlings per bag).  A further 12 months later, densities had decreased to 3.1 seedlings per bag.  In 2017, a third 1 hectare trial was established with 2,500 bags, although these bags only had 1.2 seedlings each after 9 months. Unfortunately loss of nearly all marker stakes on all three plots due to suspected disturbance by fishing gear meant that further monitoring was not possible.  It should be noted that for the successful small-scale deployments, stem densities between 2 and 5 years were very low, and it was only after 5-7 years that success was evident.

Planting Posidonia seedlings into the bags showed good success over the first 3-4 years, with seedlings becoming established and developing into what appeared to be adult plants with multiple shoots, which did not allow individual seedlings to be identified (Fig. 4).  However, leaf densities declined substantially in the 12 months following the February 2016 survey, and recovery has been slow in the 2 years since.  Trials with different fill types (different sand/clay mixes, different amounts of organic matter added) indicated that this did not influence establishment success or growth, and neither did planting density.  Small and large seeds, however, tended to fare poorly compared to those of intermediate size (10-13 mm).  These results have been supported by short-term tank experiments, which also showed that there is only a short window for collecting fruits (those collected on 28 Dec formed an average 3.3 120 mm long leaves each after 2 ½ months, while those collected 6 days earlier or 3 days later formed < 2 leaves which were no more than 80 mm long).  After collection, fruits that did not release their seedling within 2-3 days performed poorly, and seedlings were best planted within 10 days of release. Whilst earlier Posidonia field experiments were undertaken by divers planting seedlings, which is time consuming and expensive, in 2017 seedlings were planted either onshore or on the boat, and then glued into the bags prior deployment.  This was as successful as planting underwater after 1 and 2 years, with an average 20% seedling survival, and leaf lengths of 20-25 cm, across all treatments.

Bags filled with moist sand rapidly dried out in storage, and did not deteriorate any quicker than those filled with dry sand, although it should be noted that in this experiment all bags had good air circulation around them, which would not be the case if they were stored in bulk.  Bags left outdoors exposed to the elements deteriorated quicker than those stored indoors, and pallet wrapping led to them rapidly becoming mouldy.

Figure 3: Pallets of sand bags ready for deployment (top left), and typical images of deployment

Lessons learned and future directions:  While the hessian bag method has resulted in the successful establishment of small patches of seagrasses that have persisted for around a decade, and which are now functioning like natural patches due to colonization by other marine plants and animals, the development of the technique has not been straightforward.  Refining the technique has required the development of a good understanding of the timing of recruitment, and the willingness to put conventional wisdom to the test.  This work has also required funders to take a long-term view, and to be willing to accept the fact that success cannot be established within a conventional 3-year funding cycle.  In this case, it was only 5-7 years and 2 funding cycles after deployment that we saw our small-scale trials being successful.  Now that we have established the technique at a small-scale, we are experiencing a new set of challenges with scaling up.  The 1 hectare plots have not been as successful as we had hoped.  In part, this may be due to low bag density – our small-scale plots were equivalent of approx. 10,000 bags per hectare, not the 1,000-2,500 that we have used.  Consequently, our next trial with involve a range of bag densities, from 1,000 to 10,000 bags per hectare.  In our previous article, we had indicated that we were looking at developing novel coatings to improve the life of the hessian bags, however, this proved cost prohibitive and reduced the ability of seedlings to attach to the bags.  Instead, we have now commenced a new collaboration with textile scientists to look at alternative natural fibres that might last longer than hessian but still be cheap, effective and biodegradable.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   SA Department for Environment & Water, SA Water, Adelaide & Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board, Australian Research Council, South Australian Research & Development Institute, Flinders University

Contact information: A/Prof Jason Tanner, Principal Scientist – Environmental Assessment & Rehabilitation, SARDI Aquatic Sciences, PO Box 120, Henley Beach, SA. 5022. Tel: +61 8 8429 0119. Email: jason.tanner@sa.gov.au

Figure 4: Example of Posidonia rehabilitation at time of planting (left – January 2012), after 2 years (middle – February 2014) and 4 years (right – February 2016).

 

Landscape-scale terrestrial revegetation around the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth, South Australia

Hafiz Stewart, Ross Meffin, Sacha Jellinek

Key words. Restoration, prioritisation, woodland, ecosystems

Introduction. Located in South Australia at the terminus of the Murray-Darling River, the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth (CLLMM) region has immense ecological, economic and cultural importance. The landscape varies from the low hills of Mount Lofty Ranges in the northwest, through the low valleys and plains surrounding Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, to the plains and dunes of the Coorong in the southeast (Fig 1). These landforms had a large influence on the composition of pre-European vegetation communities in the region, with the Mount Lofty Ranges dominated by eucalypt forests and woodlands, the lakes surrounded by a mixture of mallee, temperate shrublands and wetland vegetation, and the Coorong supporting coastal and wetland vegetation communities.

The region has been extensively cleared since European settlement and the introduction of intensive agriculture (cropping and grazing), so that now only a fraction of the original native vegetation remains. This has resulted in a substantial decline in biodiversity and recognition of the area as a critically endangered eco-region. These impacts have been compounded by water extraction upstream and anthropogenic changes to hydrological regimes. The recent drought further exacerbated these environmental problems and severely affected the region’s people and economy.

Fig. 1. The Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth region showing terrestrial and aquatic plantings.

Figure 1. The Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth region showing terrestrial and aquatic plantings.

Broad aim and any specific objectives. In response to drought and other issues affecting the region the Australian and South Australian governments funded the landscape-scale CLLMM Recovery Project (2011 – 2016). This project aims to help restore the ecological character of the site and build resilience in the region’s ecosystems and communities. As a part of this, the CLLMM Vegetation Program aimed to strategically restore native vegetation to buffer and increase the connectivity of existing remnants.

Works undertaken. Three key tools were utilised to achieve these goals. First, an integrated Landscape Assessment was used to identify priority plant communities for restoration in the region. To do this, we classified vegetation types occurring in the CLLMM landscape, then identified suites of bird species associated with each vegetation type. The status and trends of each of these bird species were then used as indicators to determine the conservation priority of each vegetation type. Second, a framework was developed to identify the most appropriate vegetation types to reconstruct at a given site, depending on characteristics such as soil type and landform. This was based on the composition and structure of remnant communities and their associated environmental settings. Finally, a Marxan analysis was conducted across the region to prioritise sites for restoration works based on the aims of the program, with an aspirational target of restoring 30% of each priority vegetation type. Following an expression of interest process that made use of existing networks in the local community and the traditional owners of the CLLMM and surrounding area, the Ngarrindjeri, prioritised sites were then selected from those made available by landholders.

For each site, we developed a plan specifying the site preparation required, and species and densities to be planted. Native plants were sourced from local nurseries, ensuring that provenance and appropriate collection guidelines were followed. Tubestock was used to provide an opportunity for social benefits, including the development of community run nurseries, and due to their higher survival rates. Planting was carried out by regional contractors engaged by the CLLMM Recovery Project Vegetation Program, along with the Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning association and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority. During this program wetland restoration was also undertaken through the planting of a native sedge species, the River Club Rush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), which assisted in stabilising shorelines and creating habitat for aquatic plant communities.

Results to date. By the end of the program around 5 million native plants will have been planted at 148 sites on private and public land covering more than 1,700 hectares (Fig. 1). In total 202 species of plants have currently been planted, comprising 11% overstorey, 38% midstorey and 51% understorey species. Initial results indicate that around 66% of plants survive the first summer, at which point they are well established. Woodland and mallee bird species are starting to use these revegetated areas. When compared to remnant areas of the same vegetation type, both native plant species richness and bird diversity are lower in restored habitats. However, while the bird communities in restored habitats are dominated by generalist species, specialist species such as endangered Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-Wrens have been recorded in revegetated areas, providing early signs that planted areas are benefiting rarer species. The restored communities are still very young, and over time we expect these areas will start to structurally resemble remnant habitats.

Lessons learned and future directions. Resourcing of research alongside program delivery allowed us to implement a sound prioritisation process and a systematic, strategic, and effective approach to the restoration of the landscape. The capacity to collect good vegetation, soil and bird occurrence data was crucial to this. Successful delivery also required funding for site preparation and follow-up, a well-developed network of native plant nurseries, engaged community and indigenous groups, and good relationships with local landholders.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. The CLLMM Vegetation Program is a landscape scale habitat restoration project, jointly funded by the Australian and South Australian governments under the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Recovery Project. We would like to thank the Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association, the Milang and Districts Community Association and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority for their assistance in undertaking this revegetation. DEWNR’s Science, Monitoring and Knowledge branch undertook the initial ecosystem analysis.

Contact information.  Hafiz Stewart, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, South Australia. Hafiz.stewart@sa.gov.au

Arid Recovery – Roxby Downs, South Australia

Key words. Feral-proof fence, native animal reintroductions, feral animal control.

Introduction. Arid Recovery is a conservation research initiative based in the South Australian arid zone and dedicated to the restoration of Australia’s arid lands. Established in 1997, the program is centred around a 123km² fenced reserve but it is continually expanding into the wider region. Feral cats, rabbits and foxes have been eradicated from a total of 60km² and this has provided an area of complete protection into which four species of locally extinct mammals have so far been reintroduced.

Although the fenced reserve provides a core area for animal re-introductions, the long term aim of Arid Recovery is to develop broadscale control techniques for feral animals to facilitate the restoration of the entire arid zone ecosystem including re-introducing herbivores, predators and insectivores to create a natural functioning ecosystem that requires minimal management. Specific goals include to:

  • eradicate feral cats, foxes and rabbits and re-establish native species,
  • research and monitor the processes of ecological restoration and provide transferable information and techniques for broadscale management of Australia’s arid lands

Arid Recovery is also committed to increasing education and awareness of arid zone issues and has an education program that includes indigenous youth and local schools.

Degradation. At least 27 species of native mammal once inhabited the Roxby Downs region but over 60% have become locally or completely extinct since European settlement. Some bird species such as the Bush Thick-knee and Plains Wanderer have also become locally extinct or endangered.

The main reasons for the decline of the local native fauna and flora are overgrazing by rabbits and domestic stock, and predation from introduced animals like the feral cat and fox. Medium-sized desert mammals have been most affected with many now globally extinct or have disappeared from mainland Australia and survive only on off-shore islands.

Since the inception of grazing in arid rangelands, there have been extensive vegetation changes. Many parts of arid Australia were severely over-grazed by sheep and cattle during the advent of pastoralism in the 19th Century. Overgrazing by domestic stock and rabbits has a significant effect on arid zone vegetation; long-lived arid zone trees and shrubs are prevented from regenerating, and long-lived plant species are being replaced by short-lived annual and weed species. Whilst current pastoral practices are much more conservative there are still many areas degraded by pastoralism.

Our restoration work. A feral-proof fence has been designed and installed to protect a total area of 123km². The fence was built in blocks and to date, 123 square km of arid land has been fenced and control programs implemented for rabbits, cats and foxes (Fig 1.) . Six locally-extinct threatened species were reintroduced: Greater Stick Nest Rat (Leporillus conditor), Burrowing Bettong (Bettongia lesueur), Greater Bilby (Macrotis lagotis), Western Barred Bandicoot (Perameles bougainville), Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) and Woma Python (Aspidites ramsayi). (See results below.)

Figure 1. Map of the reserve showing cumulative addition of fenced areas.

Figure 1. Map of the reserve showing cumulative addition of fenced areas.

Monitoring. More than 500 monitoring sites have been established to document the restoration process including annual pitfall trapping, burrow monitoring, seedling counts, photopoints and spoor counts. Recruitment of seedlings is monitored inside and outside the Arid Recovery Reserve to determine the impact of rabbits and domestic stock on the survival of seedlings.

Results of our work.

  • Rabbits, cats and foxes have been eradicated from 60 square km pf the Arid Recovery Reserve.
  • Four of the mammal species (Greater Stick Nest Rat, Burrowing Bettong, Greater Bilby and Western Barred Bandicoot) were successfully reintroduced. The Numbat and Woma Python reintroductions were unsuccessful,
  • The fence design has now been adopted by many projects both within Australia and internationally (e.g. Hawaii, Queensland). Results from 10 years of pitfall trapping show that native rodents have now increased to 10 times inside the Reserve compared to outside areas where cats and foxes are still present.
  • Results of the monitoring of plant recruitment to date suggest that survival of Mulga (Acacia aneura) seedlings is much higher where rabbits and grazing pressure by other herbivores has been removed.

Research program. Where published information or advice was not available, Arid Recovery implemented its own research programs to test various on-ground techniques and then adopted the most effective methods. Arid Recovery’s four co-founders are all ecologists and have ensured that all management and monitoring has an adaptive management focus and that overall ecosystem restoration is more important than single species recovery.

The University of Adelaide is a partner organisation and has provided research students, scientific advice and staff management. Research into effective rabbit and cat control methods has now been published for use by other land managers. Research has been conducted into the ecosystem services provided by re-introduced Bilbies including the increased soil carbon levels and water infiltration recorded within their foraging pits.

Long term monitoring sites have provided critical information on both fauna and flora recovery of in situ species and an insight into their threatening processes. More than 40 scientific papers, internal reports and theses and 25 conference presentations have been produced to date and Arid Recovery is committed to effective dissemination of information to landholders not just the scientific community. Publications in National Landcare Magazine and participation in local NRM fora ensure that the scientific information is transformed into easily digestible and practical land management applications.

Further directions. Arid Recovery is now researching ways to move beyond the fenced reserve through improved predator management and increasing the predator-awareness of threatened species. Another current and future direction is preventing overpopulation of reintroduced species within the reserve through the use of one way gates and predators. Arid Recovery has recently partnered with Bush Heritage to form the South Australian Rangelands Alliance (SARA) with both organisations aiming to restore the plants and animals in the arid zone.

Lessons learned. The partnership between industry, government, community and research institutions has been integral to the success of Arid Recovery. Each partner has brought skills, resources and expertise to the program and ensured a balance is achieved in ecological restoration activities.

The winning combination of solid on-ground works and adaptive management based on sound scientific research is the key to Arid Recovery’s success. By ensuring that effective monitoring is regularly conducted and reviewed, Arid Recovery staff are able to implement changes to reserve management effectively and quickly.

Another important lesson learned is that restoration does not happen on its own, it requires long hours of hard work from both staff and volunteers. Arid Recovery is indebted to the hundreds of people who have given up their time to shoot cats, trap rabbits, count birds, measure plants and most importantly erect fencing.

Stakeholders. Arid Recovery is a partnership between BHP Billiton, S.A. Department for Environment, University of Adelaide and the Friends of Arid Recovery. All four partners contribute funding and in kind contributions and have committed to long term support for the program.

Contact. Please contact Arid Recovery for more information on :  (08) 8671 2402 or www.aridrecovery.org

See also: One-way gates: Initial trial of a potential tool for preventing overpopulation within fenced reserves

Restoring wetland communities in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, South Australia

[Summary will be reinstated soon.]

Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park, South Australia

Mark Bachmann

Key words: wetland restoration, Ramsar, rising springs, drainage, hydrology

Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park is situated 30 km south east of Mt Gambier in South Australia. For 15-20 years after the park was proclaimed in 1969, there was considerable local interest in trying to address previous changes that had been made to the hydrology of the wetland system.

Although it was protected, reserved and supporting a diverse suite of habitats and range of resident threatened species, Piccaninnnie Ponds was far from intact from a hydrological perspective. Prior to European settlement, water that discharged from the karst, rising-spring wetlands in the system flowed eastward across the State border into the Glenelg River Estuary, in far South West Victoria.

This is how the system remained until 1906, when the first of several attempts to drain the wetlands of Piccaninnie Ponds directly to the sea occurred. What ensued was a turbulent 9 year period during which the fishermen successfully lobbied to have the creek re-directed to the Glenelg River in 1915; a step which was ultimately unpopular with affected landholders and resulted in an alternative flow path again being cut to the sea two years later in 1917. Subsequent ad hoc drainage and development of portions of the wetland system continued and by the time the Piccaninnie Ponds Conservatioon Park was proclaimed in 1969, a new main artificial outlet drained the ponds directly to the sea.

The first attempts at advocacy to restore environmental flows to the Glenelg River in the 1970s and 80s to counter this long-term drying trend in the Park were unsuccessful, until the concept was revisited and a series of steps undertaken, starting in 2001, to achieve hydrological restoration. These steps culminated in the following actions.

 Fig. 1 – Stage 1 weir and fishway under construction in 2006.

Fig. 1,  Stage 1 weir and fishway under construction in 2006.

Actions taken to correct hydrology

  1. 2006 – Stage 1 weir and fishway constructed at Piccaninnie Ponds (Figure 1) regulated outflows on the artificial outlet. This had the effect of increasing inundation in a small area immediately upstream of the structure, under the direct influence of the weir pool created by the new structure, as shown in Fig 2.
  2. 2013 – The stage 2 weir and fishway upgrade (Fig 3) resulted in the structure height being lifted to increase future management flexibility, including providing the future ability to completely block outflows, should the option of re-instating the original flow path one day become a reality.

The stage 2 upgrade was completed at the same time as providing a new flow path to physically reconnect the isolated eastern and western basins at Piccaninnie Ponds. These wetlands had been separated for several decades by a combination of lower water levels, sand drift and the impact of the Piccaninnie Ponds Road. An aerial photographic view of the new flow path is shown in Fig 4.

These works within the original Conservation Park, have occurred in in a complementary way with those that have occurred in the neighbouring, newly reserved area at Pick Swamp, each contributing to the wider vision for restoration of this wetland complex.

Fig. 2. Drained condition of habitat in 2006

Fig. 2a. Drained condition of habitat upstream of the Stage 1 weir (prior to construction  in 2006).

Fig. 3. The upstream inundation and habitat change caused by the stage 1 weir, 2012.

Fig. 2b. The upstream inundation and habitat change caused by the stage 1 weir, 2012.

Results to date.

  • Increase in quality and area of available habitat for native freshwater fish, including the nationally threatened Dwarf Galaxias (Galaxiellla pusilla)
  • Protection of hydrological processes that support a wide range of other threatened species, from a number of taxonomic groups
  • A positive trajectory of change in the distribution of wetland habitats in the vicinity of the works (increased aquatic habitat and reversal of a drying trend that was causing terrestrialisation of vegetation communities)
  • Re-establishment of connectivity between the western and eastern wetlands in the Park for the first time in several decades
Figure 4 – The lifted and redesigned stage 2 weir and fishway on the main artificial outlet at Piccaninnie Ponds – upon completion in 2013.

Fig. 3. The lifted and redesigned stage 2 weir and fishway on the main artificial outlet at Piccaninnie Ponds – upon completion in 2013.

Fig 5a. Piccaninnie

Fig. 4a. Before works – in January 2003

Figure 5 – TOP – Before works image: January 2003. BOTTOM – Post-construction/restoration image: January 2014.

Fig, 4b. After construction/restoration – in January 2014.

Future directions. The works and outcomes described here were delivered by staff working for the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR)

  • Ongoing management of the works and associated ecological monitoring in Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park is managed by DEWNR
  • Nature Glenelg Trust staff continue to provide specialist ecological advice and monitoring for the site when required by the site manager, DEWNR

Acknowledgements. The outcomes of the restoration project described can be attributed to a wide range of people who, in addition to the author (see current contact details below), worked at the South Australian Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources during the period described. DEWNR project ecologists overseeing the works described here include Ben Taylor (stage 1 weir) and Steve Clarke (stage 2 weir and associated works).

The project was generously funded and supported by a range of different grants and programs administered by the South Australian Government, Australian Government and the South East Natural Resources Management Board.

Contact. Mark Bachmann. Nature Glenelg Trust, PO Box 2177, Mt Gambier, SA 5290 Australia; Tel +61 (0)8 8797 8181; Mob+61 (0) 421 97 8181; Email: mark.bachmann@natureglenelg.org.au Web| www.natureglenelg.org.au

See also:

Bradys Swamp EMR short summary

Long Swamp EMR short summary

Prescribed burning provides opportunities for site restoration via weed management in the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia

Andrew Sheath

Introduction. The purpose of much of the prescribed burning work we do in the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia fuel reduction to mitigate the risk of bushfire. But we also do a lot of work, including burning, purely for the purpose of biodiversity conservation. Being so close to Adelaide all of our Parks are highly fragmented and have a strong history of disturbance such as mining and grazing.

Within our team we have a very strong focus on weed control and we do this routinely for all of our burns. There are two reasons we have such a focus on weed management and no longer just go in and burn and walk away. The first is to ensure that the vegetation condition does not deteriorate and the second is to ensure that fuels don’t increase due to woody weeds. In many cases this is leading to improvements in quality of the sites.

Methods. Our burns are done under a prescription which specifies certain weather parameters for which the burn can be carried out safely. Our sites are typically between 5 and 200 hectares, often adjacent to built assets (Fig 1). Mapping both before a burn and 4 years after a burn allows us to monitor progress. We map most of our burns on foot, assessing native vegetation condition, weeds present, their distribution and their cover throughout the proposed burn site. We undertake this with a view to gaining a clear picture of what we’ve got to deal with during the burn and post-burn. Our planning begins 6-18 months prior to a burn to give us plenty of time to carry out works that are often seasonally dependent.

Fig 1: Example of a typical Adelaide Hills conservation area on the urban fringe. Red areas show prescribed burns either completed or in the planning phase.

Fig 1.  Example of a typical Adelaide Hills conservation area on the urban fringe. Red areas show prescribed burns either completed or in the planning phase.

Examples and results to date. In most of our situations pre-burn control greatly increases the efficiency of any post-burn work and overall makes our work easier.

Example 1: Figures 2 and 3, shows a significant reduction in the distribution of Gorse (Ulex europaeus) at an otherwise relatively intact site after the burn, improving the condition of the bush in this area.

Fig 2. Gorse distribution and density pre-burn

Fig 2. Gorse distribution and density pre-burn

Fig 3: Gorse distribution and density 3 years post burn after control work

Fig 3. Gorse distribution and density 3 years post burn after control work

Example 2: Figure 4 shows successful tree heath (Erica arborea) control in an otherwise intact woodland in the Adelaide hills. Six months prior to burning we cut and disturbed the stand of Tree Heath on this site to ensure all the biomass would burn; that we wouldn’t have the adults sitting up high above the flame dropping seed onto burnt ground (which often happens when burning under mild conditions); and, to promote juveniles which would then be burnt and killed during burn. The other benefits of this approach are that it also promotes native germination and makes follow up, post-burn easier.

Fig 4: Erica control site showing before being burnt or cut, after being cut and post burn.

Fig 4: Erica control site showing before being burnt or cut, after being cut and post burn.

Fig 5. Erica post control and pre-burn

Fig 5. Erica post control and pre-burn

Fig 6. Erica post-control and post-burn

Fig 6. Erica post-control and post-burn

Example 3: Figure 5 shows a perched swamp in the Adelaide Hills being thickly invaded by Wonnich (Callystachys lanceolata) from Western Australia. Because of location of the site we were unable to burn the swamp at sufficient intensity to consume the Wonnich. So in this situation we burnt the surrounding area in spring in mild conditions within prescription. We later went back in autumn after we had dropped all of the Wonnich on the ground and we burnt that swamp at a very high intensity and consumed all of the biomass. That promoted mass-germination of the weed. We’re then dealing with one age-class and we can go through and hand weed, spot spray, and re-burn areas to control the germination. Joe Quarmby, Threatened Flora Ecologist, was the mastermind behind this burn and continues to drive follow up control work at the site.

Fig 7. Swamp burnt in drier conditions during autumn.

Fig 7. Swamp burnt in drier conditions during autumn (after surrounding area burnt in more mild conditions in an earlier season).

Follow up control work in swamp.

Fig. 8. Follow up control work in swamp.

Lessons learned. Burning can be a very useful tool for weed management and although no site is ever the same we have been able to use a variety of techniques for certain weeds which greatly increase our efficiency. The key point however is that weed control should be and is routine and needs to be thought about pre-burn.

Acknowledgements. Thanks is extended to Joe Quarmby, Threatened Flora Ecologist.

Contact: Andrew Sheath, Department of Environment Water and Natural Resources – South Australia. Tel: +61 0457 512 032, Email: Andrew.Sheath@sa.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

Grey Box grassy woodland restoration: Mandilla Reserve, Flagstaff Hill, South Australia

Key Words:  Minimal disturbance, bush regeneration, Eucalyptus microcarpa, volunteer, Bush For Life

The Site:  Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) Grassy Woodland is listed as an endangered ecological community under the EPBC Act 1999. This ecological community was once widespread on the drier edge of the temperate grassy eucalypt woodland belt of south-eastern Australia. In South Australia, this community occupies less than 3 percent of the area it once did before European settlement. One of the remaining suburban remnants of this community can be found in Mandilla Reserve, Flagstaff Hill, SA. The reserve is surrounded by suburban houses and remains under threat from weed and pest invasion, lack of recruitment of canopy species plus degradation associated with urban encroachment (pollution runoff, rubbish, excessive stormwater). Since 1996 the Bush or Life program together with the City of Onkaparinga have supported community volunteers to care for and manage the bush regeneration work within the reserve. The objective was to restore the highly degraded Grey Box remnant into a woodland community representing the unique diverse vegetation it once housed.

Geoff and Barbara Moss, volunteers at Mandilla Reserve

Works:   Two very dedicated community members adopted the site in 1996 and began visiting on average 3 times per week. They used minimal disturbance bushcare techniques to tackle a carpet of bulb weeds such as Sparaxis (Sparaxis bulbifera), Soursob (Oxalis pes-caprae), Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides) and Cape Tulip (Moraea flaccida) mixed with highly invasive annual and perennial grass species. In the surrounding degraded areas, some strategic planting was also carried out using Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa), Sticky Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) and Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) and local sedge seedlings. Four areas were also hand direct seeded with native grasses to encourage ground cover recruitment and discourage weeds. All seed used was collected on site to ensure local provenance was maintained.

The flourishing Grey Box Grassy Woodland now found on the reserve

Success of the combination of natural regeneration and supplementary plantings

Results After thousands of volunteer hours, extensive regeneration of natives occurred on site. The volunteers’ work has transformed the reserve into a flourishing area of lilies, native grasses and understorey shrubs. Today, the vegetation in the reserve is virtually weed free and even native orchids are beginning to return. In addition, the area that the bushland covers has expanded as a result of the planting and direct seeding. Since these works, natural regeneration has also been observed of native sedges including Senecio, Carex, Juncus and native grasses.

Lessons learned:  Regular follow up for several years is vital to the success of any primary clearance work whether or not minimal disturbance techniques are used. Facilitated regeneration can be successfully used with bush regeneration providing it is strategic and complementary to and considerate of existing natural regeneration processes. Maintenance of the plantings or hand direct seeding is also vital to minimise competition from weeds and ensure their success.

Acknowledgements: This site is owned by the City of Onkaparinga Council and is managed in partnership with Trees For Life who train and support volunteers through its Bush For Life program. Thanks goes to Geoff and Barbara Moss, the site’s main volunteers.

Contact:  Jenna Currie, Bush For Life Regional Coordinator, Trees For Life jennac@treesforlife.org.au

Research Road Restoration, Strathalbyn, South Australia

Key Words: Minimal disturbance, bush regeneration, Eucalyptus fasciculosa, volunteer, Bush For Life.

The Site: In June 1996 Trees For Life (TFL), a community based not-for-profit organisation, established a volunteer bush regeneration site (known as a Bush For Life site) on a 1.4km long, one chain wide roadside remnant on Research Road about 6km south of Strathalbyn, SA.  At this stage the road was still being used as a vehicle track.  The vegetation was a very diverse Pink Gum (Eucalyptus fasciculosa) Open woodland with occasional mallee eucalypts, a shrub understorey, sedge and herbaceous groundcover and native grasses with many locally rare and vulnerable species including the nationally vulnerable Silver Daisy-bush (Olearia pannosa ssp. pannosa ).  The largest weed problem was Bridal Creeper  (Asparagus asparagoides) which blanketed the site in the cooler, wetter months.  Other threats to the understorey diversity included broadleaf weeds typical of the dry, agricultural landscapes of the lower Murray Plains.  These weeds included Pincushion(Scabiosa atropurpurea), Wild Sage (Salvia verbenaca) and Horehound (Marrubium vulgare ).

Diverse grassy understorey found on the site

Works:  Volunteers worked on a section of the 1,400m long, one chain wide road reserve, using minimal disturbance techniques. The regenerators very carefully removed Bridal Creeper, broad leaf weeds and weed grasses; but they had to contend with the continual degradation of the remaining area. It was really only a heavily rutted, two-wheel track suitable for dry weather use only, but was subjected to indiscriminate and illegal use through all seasons, including rubbish dumping, firewood collection and “bush-bashing”.

The Alexandrina Council closed the road to motor vehicles in September 2008 and it has been allowed to recover now for 4 years.  After the road closure, discussions between Council and TFL centred on whether to leave the vehicle track to regenerate by itself or to “rip” the track to fill in the ruts and promote germination. As ripping the track was predicted to have have promoted prolific broadleaf and grassy weed establishment, particularly given the close proximity of weedy agricultural land adjacent to the linear reserve, the BFL principle of minimal disturbance prevailed and the track was left to regenerate without other intervention.

Before road closure

Results: Today there is a proliferation of native species germinating on the track, with native regeneration on the track itself far outweighing the weed regeneration.

The ruts have filled with leaf litter and have encouraged the germination of spear grasses Austrostipa sp.) and wallaby grasses(Austrodanthonia sp.). As the volunteers discover new seedlings they protected them with branches; but regeneration has become so significant that this is no longer practical.  .

Many Mallee Honey-myrtle (Melaleuca acuminata) and Dryland Tea-tree (Melaleuca lanceolata) seedlings have germinated and are thriving in bare patches.  Many other species are also germinating, including: Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Hakea Wattle (Acacia hakeoides,) Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa), eucalypts (Eucalyptus spp.), Ruby Saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa), Climbing Saltbush ( Einadia nutans ssp. nutans), Old Man’s Beard (Clematis microphylla var. microphylla), Australian Bindweed (Convolvulus sp., and New Holland Daisy (Vittadinia sp.). Black-anther Flax-lily (Dianella revoluta, Mallee Blue-flower (Halgania cyanea,),  Rosemary Dampiera (Dampiera rosmarinifolia ) and Quandong ( Santalum acuminatum) are spreading from the sides onto the track. Areas where once a vehicle could drive have now been reduced to a narrow walking track between seedlings.

Native grasses regenerating on the road after closure

Treatment with Bridal Creeper rust (Puccinia myrsiphylli) began in 2004/2005 with wider and more intense applications applied every year from 2008. In the last couple of years rust has established itself over a large proportion of the site with very little flowering and fruiting detected during 2011.  Volunteers carefully treat plants at both ends of the site by ‘tonging’ with glyphosate  (i.e. using tongs with sponge tips as herbicide applicators) which has been very successful.  Through careful and consistent work, most of the broad-leaved weeds have been virtually removed from site, with only isolated germinations being detected and removed. One other weed – : Soursob (Oxalis pes-caprae – is prolific on site; and has yet to be targeted for control.

Rabbits re-entered the site early in 2006 and by mid-2008 had bred up to occupy 15 locations on site. They caused significant damage to the native vegetation until controlled by baiting in March 2010. The increase in native grasses in the areas treated has been significant.

Lessons learned:  Four significant events have had the greatest effect on this turnaround: the road closure, the control of rabbits, the establishment of Bridal Creeper rust and most significantly the consistent hard work of the site’s Bush For Life volunteers.

Acknowledgements:  This site is owned by the Alexandrina Council and is managed in partnership with Trees For Life who train and support volunteers through its Bush For Life program.

Contact:  Sue Bradstreet.  Regional Coordinator, Trees For Life sueb@treesforlife.org.au

Volunteers Maggie Hincks and Dean Mortimer assisting the regeneration

Basketweaving for ecosystem conservation – Coorong, South Australia

Ellen Trevorrow, Tom Trevorrow and Joan Gibbs

Our concerns for the future supply of our basketweaving rushes (Cyperus spp.) are at the heart of our teaching at Camp Coorong for Race Relations Cultural Education.  The rushes are continually being depleted by stock grazing, mowing, weed sprays and neglect of our waterways and Wetlands of International Significance. The Murray River, Lakes and Coorong were suffering and drying from the 8-year drought and from 200 years of mismanagement of our waterways.  We had turned to using recycled fibres such as string, garden twine and wire. In response to this need for materials from the land, we created an artistic working group, Ngarrindjeri Eco-Art Coop (NEAC),  to embrace the principle of using local materials that would not harm the Earth. Recycling discarded items into art gives new meaning and value to materials that could become an environmental hazard.

Fig. 1. Ellen Trevorrow and NEAC teacher, Jelina Haines, with woven trousers from recycled string.

In the last two years several cultural, spiritual ceremonies were held to bring back the water to the River and the Coorong estuary, to help our totems (plant and animal ngatjis).  In 2009, we were graced by a visit with Grandmother Agnes Pilgrim, who came to Camp Coorong to give a water blessing to bring back the healing waters to the land. Many community members danced and sang to the waters and apologised to the ngatjis for their neglect.  In 2010, the first Ringbalin ceremony was conducted at significant places along the length of the Murray Basin and Rivers, to bring back the health of the river system.  The Talkindjeri Dancers, led by the Ngarrindjeri elder, Major Sumner, travelled for two weeks along the river, stopping at towns along the way to meet with people who joined in the dancing and ceremony on the River. At the end of the river, as Talkindjeri danced on Brown’s Beach at Lake Albert near Meningie, the rains began and the drought was broken.  The rushes returned and the Murray River soon flowed again to the Southern Ocean.

Fig. 2. Tom and Ellen Trevorrow, Ngarrindjeri leaders at Camp Coorong for Race Relations and Cultural Education.

Although the basketweaving plants are growing once again, we are still conscious of the care and use of the weaving rushes. We always balance our need to collect rushes against the supply and reproduction of healthy plants and healthy country. Our ngatjis, the local plants and animals, tell us how we are going, and what we should do to keep the Coorong alive.  Now the Working on Country crews are growing the rushes and planting them out in country, hoping to sustain the future of basketweaving and culture.  Ngarrindjeri people have been relentless about asking the Murray Darling Basin Commission to ensure cultural flows are considered as part of critical human needs.  We also ask that cultural flows reach all parts of the River to sustain our ngatjis, the native plants and the fish stocks. We believe that when our ngatjis die, we die.

Contact: Ellen and Tom Trevorrow, Camp Coorong, Box 126, Meningie, SA 5264, Australia. Tel: +61-8-8575-1557; Fax: +61-8-8575-1448; and Joan Gibbs, University of SA, Mawson Lakes, SA 5095, Australia. Tel: +61-8-8302-5164.