Category Archives: Threatened species & communities

The biodiversity benefits of Greening Australia’s Saltshaker Project, Boorowa, NSW – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update of EMR feature – Freudenberger, David, Judith Harvey and Alex Drew (2004) Predicting the biodiversity benefits of the Saltshaker Project, Boorowa, NSW. Ecological Management & Restoration, 5:1, 5-14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2004.00176.x]

David Freudenberger, Graeme Fifield, Nicki Taws, Angela Cailiss and Lori Gould

Key words: woodland restoration, monitoring, farmland rehabilitation, community engagement

Figure 1. Boorowa River Recovery project sites, south eastern NSW.

Introduction

The Boorowa catchment in central NSW, like most of the wheat-sheep belt of eastern Australia, has been extensively cleared for agriculture.  Remnant woodland cover is less than 10% and highly fragmented into small patches, often less than 20 ha. As described in the 2004 article, there has been a documented decline in biodiversity across this region linked to declines in landscape function including dryland salinity and eucalypt dieback. In response to these declines, farmers in this catchment have been involved in land rehabilitation projects for over 25 years.  Many of these projects have been facilitated by Greening Australia, a national non-governmental organisation focused on protecting and restoring native vegetation.  Pioneering projects in the 1990s were often small in scale and lacked landscape scale targets.  To address this, Greening Australia collaborated with CSIRO to develop guidelines for catchment scale “enhancement activities” for the $1.8 Million “Saltshaker Project” that carried out ground works as described in Box 1 of the 2004 article (reproduced below). The project was based on a $845,000 grant from the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust program and $1 Million in in-kind support from farmers, the Boorowa Shire, Boorowa Landcare and Greening Australia. This project ran for just two years (2000-2002), but it was hoped that the project would provide strategic guidance for decades to come.  This appears to be the case.

 Box 1. Priority ‘enhancement activities
1. Protect existing remnant vegetation by fencing out domestic livestock with a priority to protect 10 ha or larger remnants in the best condition (complex understorey).
2. Establish native understorey plants in those protected remnants requiring enhancement of habitat complexity.
3. Enlarge existing remnants to at least 10 ha.
4. Create linkages between fenced remnants and other protected remnants. Linkages should be at least 25 m wide, or 10 ha stepping-stones, particularly in those areas more than 1.5 km from other patches 10 ha in size.
5. Fencing and revegetation of at least 50 m wide along creeks and flow lines.
6. In recharge areas, revegetate in 2-ha blocks, or greater than eight row strips to intercept deep soil water moving down-slope.
7. Revegetate areas mapped as having a high risk of dryland salinity.
8. Block plantings in discharge areas with links to other saline reclamation works.

(Box reproduced with permission from the original feature]

During the Saltshaker project, bird surveys were conducted within 54 discrete patches of remnant woodland.  Bird species were identified that were particularly sensitive to loss of habitat area, simplification of habitat structure, and increase in habitat isolation. The Eastern Yellow Robin was the focal species for this catchment. It generally occurred in woodland patches larger than 10 ha that were no more than 1.5 km from other patches at least 10 ha in size, and had at least a moderate structural complexity made up of a healthy overstorey of eucalypts with an understorey of regenerating trees, shrubs, tussock grasses and fallen timber. The Saltshaker project predicted that many other woodland birds would co-occur if the habitat requirements of the Eastern Yellow Robin were met by patch and landscape scale enhancement activities.

Further works. The Saltshaker project was followed by many others since 2002. The largest project was “Boorowa River Recovery” that began in 2005 as a partnership managed by Greening Australia with the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority and the Boorowa Landcare Group.  Through a total investment of almost $2.2 million (in-kind included), this project rehabilitated or protected 640 ha of riparian area along 80 km of river including a continuous 29 km stretch of the Boorowa River above the town water supply dam (Figs 1 and 2). It involved more than 60 land managers who implemented on-ground works described in individual ten year management contracts. On-farm project size averaged 11.6 ha.

Other projects funded by a diversity of sources, particularly the Australian Government, have protected an additional 88 ha of woodland remnant, enhanced 353 ha of remnants, and revegetated 425 ha of native vegetation within the catchment.  Projects included Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR).  All project activities linked to funding have been recorded in a detailed project management database held by Greening Australia. These additional projects were consistent with the enhancement activities recommended by the Saltshaker Project and described in the EMR feature.

Figure 2 (a) Before and (b) after willow removal in the Boorowa River Catchment. After willow removal, all sites were planted to a diversity of trees and shrubs.

Outcomes. There has been no comprehensive follow-up to the 2001 bird surveys across the Boorowa Catchment.  However since then, there is now a large and comprehensive scientific literature demonstrating dramatic increases in woodland birds in the revegetation areas in this region of southeastern NSW (reviewed in 2018). Most all the conservation and restoration activities in this catchment have likely led to an increase in woodland birds over the past 20 years.

Of all the Boorowa projects, the Boorowa River Recovery projects had sufficient funding for monitoring outcomes six years after project activities commenced. A sub-sample of 20 sites out of a pool of 47 were monitored for improvements in vegetation cover and density, macroinvertebrate abundance and stream bank stability. Planted shrub cover generally doubled at all sites as expected. Macroinvertebrate scores did not differ between treated and control sites, though activities did appear to improve stream bank stability (an indirect measure of reduced erosion).  Subsequent monitoring 12 years on showed further improvements in ecosystem function.

Since the Saltshaker Project finished, there has been no systematic monitoring of the hundreds of woodland remnants protected and enhanced by this project and subsequent ones.  However, landholders and staff anecdotally report indicative improvements in vegetation cover and wildlife habitat on the sites, and we can infer from a 2008 study that included woodland sites in the Boorowa Catchment, that significant ecological improvements are likely from fencing out livestock from woodland patches. This study found improvements included greater native floristic richness, native groundcover and overstorey regeneration within fenced sites compared to unfenced sites. Similarly, a 2009 study found that woodland sites in south eastern Australia, with livestock grazing removed, had a greater abundance of beetles and the opportunist ant functional group, a faster rate of litter decomposition, greater native plant richness, greater length of logs, and a better vegetation condition score.

Lessons learned. Long-term action with short-term funding. Natural resource management projects have been ongoing in the Boorowa catchment for over 25 years. But no single project has been funded for more than five years. This is the reality of natural resource management (NRM) in much of Australia.  Government NRM programs come and go with election cycles, but fortunately the commitment of landholders and local organisations persists.

Partnership model. All the projects before and after the Saltshaker Project have involved landholders working collaboratively with local agencies administering the diversity of funding. Most projects had a steering committee that proved a good way for stakeholders to have input through all stages of project, which was particularly important during project planning. Idealism needed to be balanced with practicality so bureaucracy was minimised while maintaining accountability. Good communication that recognised that no single view was more valuable than another was important, although full consensus was not always possible. Trust was enabled when processes were developed collectively. Skilled coordinators needed a clear understanding of their roles and care taken to not get involved in local politics.

Assessing outcomes. Developing a highly predictive understanding of ecological outcomes from NRM activities in catchments like Boorowa is a scientifically complex, expensive and long-term process. The confidence we can now claim for an increase in abundance and diversity of woodland birds in the Boorowa catchment stems from two types of monitoring. First is project monitoring of outputs like the 425 ha of revegetation known to have been established in the catchment. We know this from Greening Australia’s project management database (unfortunately there is no national database for this kind of outputs),  although satellite imagery should be able to pick up this output once plantings have a dense enough canopy. It is essential to know when and where project outputs like revegetation have occurred in order to then design scientifically rigorous studies to research ecological outcomes like increases in flora and fauna diversity and abundance. We have confidence that wildlife is colonising revegetation because research groups have conducted sophisticated statistical analyses of wildlife data from woodland revegetation in nearly 200 sites across south eastern Australia for over 15 years (summarised in a 2018 study).

Gaps in understanding. We know a lot about the ecological and social outcomes of NRM activities, but much less about improving the cost effectiveness of outputs such as revegetation and understory enhancements(see 2016 review). There are no recent published benchmarks on how much revegetation should cost in the face of variable climatic conditions, soil types and terrain.  More revegetation case studies need to be documented, but they need to include an accounting of costs.  The Australian restoration challenge is vast, funding always limited, so practical research and transparent accounting is sorely needed to reduce the cost of ecologically effective restoration.

Continuous re-learning. The many and diverse projects in the Boorowa Catchment are typical of NRM activities in Australian woodlands over the past 25 years. Each project has involved different agencies, many no longer exist or have changed their names (e.g. Catchment Management Authorities have morphed into Local Land Services in NSW). Each agency, including NGOs like Greening Australia, have a natural turn-over of staff. For example, only one staff member of Greening Australia involved in Saltshaker remains with the organisation.  Landholders tend to remain longer, but they too retire, sell out, and move on. Like education, every new staff member and every new landholder needs to learn the complex processes of successful catchment repair. This learning needs to be hands-on, hence funding for NRM activities and extension is needed in perpetuity (just like education). But experiential learning needs to be complemented with a diversity of learning resources such as the EMR journal, easily assessable reports (too many have disappeared from Government websites) and new media such as YouTube videos. Most importantly, communities of practice need to be perennially nurtured by a diversity of practitioners, experienced and less so.  There is much still to be learned and shared.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   The primary funding bodies for projects in the Boorowa catchment were the Australian Government, TransGrid, Alcoa Australia, the NSW Environmental Trust, and the former Lachlan Catchment Management Authority. These external funds were complemented by a diversity of in-kind support provided by farmers, Boorowa Shire Council, and other community members of the catchment.

Contact details. David Freudenberger, Fenner School of Environment and Society (Australian National University, Canberra, 0200, Australia, Email: david.freudenberger@anu.edu.au). GF, NT and AC can be contacted at Greening Australia, Kubura Pl, Aranda ACT 2614, Australia; and LG at GrassRoots Environmental, Canberra (http://www.grassrootsenviro.com/)

 

 

Monitoring the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan, Kimberley, Western Australia – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update to EMR feature: Moorcroft, Heather, Emma Ignjic, Stuart Cowell, John Goonack, Sylvester Mangolomara, Janet Oobagooma, Regina Karadada, Dianna Williams and Neil Waina (2012) Conservation planning in a cross‐cultural context: the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Project in the Kimberley, Western Australia,  Ecological Management & Restoration, 13:1, 16-25. See https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00629.xk]

Key words: conservation planning, participatory conservation, Indigenous people, Kimberley

Figure 1. Location map of Wunambal Gaambera land and sea country. (Source: WGAC)

Introduction. The development of the Wunambal Gaambera Healthy Country Plan (HCP) was a key enabler for Wunambal Gaambera people to look after country (Fig 1) and occurred at an important time when native title rights to country were being secured. The plan came about through a partnership between Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) and Bush Heritage Australia (BHA), who brought the planning approach and supported WGAC to develop a plan that met the needs of Traditional Owners. This plan then became the basis of a long term partnership between the two organisations to support implementation.

Healthy Country Planning, a term coined by this project, adapted the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (http://cmp-openstandards.org/ ) to an Indigenous native title community context. The approach has subsequently flourished in Australia, adopted by a further 30 indigenous groups ( see doi: 10.1111/emr.12267).

The unique partnership model established between BHA and WGAC, underpinned by Healthy Country Planning, has also expanded (https://www.bushheritage.org.au/what-we-do/aboriginal-partnerships). The program supports indigenous partners to achieve their community and conservation aspirations articulated through Healthy Country Planning.

Figure 2. Terrick Bin Sali handling a northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus). (Photo WGAC)

Conservation planning with a difference. Our experience has been that the Open Standards can be successfully applied to an Indigenous context but some important adaptation is required. For example:

  1. People, culture and country are inseparable in Australian indigenous worldviews. As such, Healthy Country Planning is much wider in scope than mainstream conservation or natural resource management planning. The vision in the HCP typically sets long-term goals that include aspirations for looking after country and achieving health conditions for landscapes, seascapes, plants and animals, as well as for people and culture (Figs 2-4). These outcomes are collectively referred to as “Healthy Country”. An indigenous plan will always recognize and value people in the landscape rather than as separate. Traditional Owners, and/or their culture, become a conservation target alongside species and habitats with ‘key cultural attributes’ established alongside ‘key ecological attributes’. HCPs also have a greater degree of management strategies that relate to people and culture than would be found in mainstream management plans, and culture and Indigenous Knowledge is incorporated into land management activities that could be considered mainstream, such as the inclusion of cultural rules within visitor management.
  2. The Open Standards include approaches and tools for stakeholder participation that lend themselves well to Indigenous peoples, however given that Indigenous lands are communally-owned and governed by unique law and culture systems, participation requirements are higher and more complex. Traditional systems of governance are often recognized under State and Federal Law (such as the Native Title Act) requiring additional process steps. In developing the HCP, WGAC undertook a process of involving all Traditional Owner families in various stages of planning and the plan was authorized at a Traditional Owner meeting.
  3. A Healthy Country Plan typically applies to the whole traditional estate of a Traditional Owner group regardless of tenure, consistent with the concept of “Country-based Planning”. WGAC initially dedicated stage I of the Uunguu Indigenous Protected Area over several aboriginal reserves in 2010, and later added exclusive possession lands following native title determination. The marine environment will also be added to the IPA once agreement is reached with State and Commonwealth Governments, as articulated in the Uunguu Wundaagu Plan.

Figure 3. Traditional Owners undertaking a ‘junba’ traditional dance workshop. (Photo: WGAC)

Monitoring & evaluation since 2012. Aspects of the monitoring and evaluation framework established by WGAC include the establishment of the Uunguu Monitoring & Evaluation Committee (UMEC) and the completion of mid-term evaluation of the HCP (see 2017 review doi:10.1111/emr.12257). The UMEC is composed of Traditional Owners and external experts who undertake key Healthy Country Planning steps and functions. A significant investment of time and money was required to support annual or biennial meetings “on country” (ie. on Wunambal Gaambera lands), however the review showed that the investment has proven worthwhile because WGAC has been able to implement the plan to a high degree.

In 2015 a major mid-term evaluation was undertaken to assess the progress of the HCP. It utilized some standard evaluation tools examining Open Standards process. It also incorporated some new approaches to include the views of the wider Traditional Owner community in the evaluation of the plan to ensure the plan was meeting their needs and following effective process with regard to governance and participation. The review made a number of observations as follows.

  1. Considerable progress had been made in the implementation of fire management strategies in the HCP to the point that the health condition of the “Right Way Fire” target was changed from ‘fair’ to ‘good’. Unmanaged wildfires have significantly reduced in size as a result of increased capabilities of the Uunguu Rangers to undertake burning. At the same time “right way” cultural principles have been incorporated into operations to ensure that Traditional Owner families are making decisions about burning and undertaking fire operations on their family areas.
  2. Significant progress has been made against a visitor management strategy. One of the key concerns of elders when developing the plan was unregulated visitation to important cultural sites by the expedition cruise industry and independent travelers. The Uunguu Visitor Pass, launched in 2017, requires visitors to obtain a permit to access authorized visitor locations as well as generating funds for looking after country. Over 90% of commercial tour operators have now registered for the UVP, with a similar independent traveler compliance, generating funds to support Traditional Owner participation in visitor management and delivering tour products.
  3. Progress was not made, however, in the health of cultural targets in the plan. As a result, the 2015 review recommended further investment and effort in culture strategies. Two important books have been completed to document elders’ knowledge of biodiversity and cultural places. There has been an increase in cultural activities including language and corroboree dance workshops and annual culture camps for school children. Law and culture dictates that visitors to country (indigenous or non-indigenous) need to be accompanied by the right local Traditional Owners when undertaking activities on country. In this way Healthy Country work supports large numbers of Traditional Owners to visit country and guide participation in the implementation of the plan. A number of actions have been undertaken to support Traditional Owners to live on country and remote ranger infrastructure has been developed.

Figure 4. Uunguu Rangers during a cultural fire walk. (Photo WGAC)

Future Directions. The first 8 years of the HCP implementation has focused on building WGAC’s land and sea management capacity and resources, with funding from WGAC,  the Australian Governments Indigenous Protected Area and Indigenous Ranger Programs and from Bush Heritage Australia. Traditional Owners currently hold certificate level roles of rangers, tourism workers and construction workers but further work is now needed to support Traditional Owners to take on roles that require higher levels of training. There is also a need to support the development of a wider range of livelihoods to support Traditional Owners to live and/or work on country.

Contact information. Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation, PMB 16 Kalumburu via Wyndham WA 6740, Australia.

Email: info@wunambalgaambera.org.au

Web: www.wunambalgaambera.org.au

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uunguulife/

 

 

 

 

 

 

The continuing battle with Ox-eye Daisy in Kosciuszko National Park – UPDATE of EMR feature

[Update of EMR feature article – McDougall, Keith, Genevieve Wright, Elouise Peach (2018)  Coming to terms with Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 19:1, 4-13.  doi: 10.1111/emr.12296]

Key words: Biocontrol, adaptive and integrated management

Introduction. In less than a decade, Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) went from being an obscure garden escape in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP), New South Wales (NSW) to one of its most pernicious invasive plant threats. By early 2019 it was abundant and, in places, dominant in over 3000 ha of subalpine communities and recorded at elevations up to 1700 m asl. The rate of spread took managers by surprise, rapidly increasing after the wildfire that burnt through the core area of infestation. Keeping up with it has necessitated learning on the run, the essence of adaptive management – expectations and goals are continually changing as we learn more about the species and as it responds to changing conditions. The program has some urgency because the main infestation occurs in a hotspot of threatened plant species.

Between 2011 and 2013, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage set up a range of experiments to 1) evaluate available herbicides, 2) determine the impact of Ox-eye Daisy on natural vegetation and 3) develop rehabilitation techniques to repair a bulldozer line heavily invaded by Ox-eye Daisy. The third of these was soon abandoned after the surrounding vegetation was over-run by Ox-eye daisy. Metsulfuron methyl proved to be the most effective of the herbicide treatments. Using glyphosate was worse than doing nothing because it killed native plants, creating new opportunities for Ox-eye Daisy colonisation. The impact of Ox-eye Daisy was assessed by comparing paired plots and continues to be assessed in manipulative experiments. The diversity of native plants was found to be lower in heavily invaded areas than in adjoining areas, with Ox-eye Daisy having a tendency to grow in monoculture. The attainment of dominance is slower where there is little disturbance and a thorough cover of native species, but natural disturbances such as fire and grass death caused by native moth larvae can favour Ox-eye Daisy. In order to keep up with the spread of the species, managers are resorting to a combination of broadscale herbicide application by helicopter and regular monitoring of human dispersal pathways. Sadly, dispersal of seed by animals (both native and introduced) is far harder to track.

The experimental program coupled with adaptive management continues but staff have become aware that it may not be enough to prevent spread and further damage. Biological control, community engagement and new monitoring technology are becoming important tools in the fight. Here we describe current efforts to broaden the battle against Ox-eye Daisy.

Fig. 1. Candidate insects for biological control of Ox-eye Daisy. (Photos: CABI Switzerland.)

Further works undertaken. It is easy when tackling a major environmental issue to focus on the geographic core of the problem and forget that it is connected to the rest of the world. Ox-eye Daisy is mainly a risk to conservation values in KNP but there is no reason it won’t become a risk elsewhere. Accordingly, we have been liaising with the parks’ neighbours, other management bodies within the park, and land managers elsewhere. We have run three field workshops where we have shared our experience with these stakeholders, some of whom have Ox-eye Daisy amongst their invasive plant issues; the exchange of ideas has been valuable and we now have extra eyes in the park for outlying populations of Ox-eye Daisy.

Herbicides are very effective against Ox-eye Daisy but it is a resilient species with a large seed bank and long-lived seed; other weapons are required to effectively control it in the long-term. Since 2008, CABI Switzerland have been exploring the native range of the species for potential biocontrol solutions, work funded by agencies in Canada and the USA where Ox-eye Daisy is a serious invader of pastures, rangelands and wildlands. In 2016, the NSW Department of Primary Industries secured funding to launch a biocontrol project against Ox-eye Daisy in Australia, piggy-backing off the established body of work already happening in Switzerland

Several insect species have been identified by CABI as having potential as biocontrol agents (Fig. 1). These include two root feeders (a moth and a weevil) and a flowerhead-feeding fly. The root-feeding moth, Dichrorampha aeratana (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae), was short-listed as a favourable first candidate due to it having been tested extensively for host specificity (what it feeds on) and impact (on Ox-eye Daisy). It was imported into Australian quarantine in 2016 and has since undergone host-specificity testing on closely related Australian native daisies in both Australia and Switzerland. While this work is being completed, field monitoring plots have been established in NSW and Victoria to investigate plant population dynamics and soil seed banks prior to biocontrol being introduced. In addition to the root-feeding moth, CABI have also been sub-contracted to conduct host-specificity testing on the root-feeding weevil, Cyphocleonus trisulcatus (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), which will be considered as an alternative biocontrol option should the moth be unsuitable. The weevil is very damaging and long-lived, and appears to have a suitably narrow host range.

Testing of the potential biocontrol agents (listed above) will continue for the foreseeable future until enough data are gathered to assess whether they are safe for release in Australia. This process involves a risk assessment conducted by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy and Environment.

Fig. 2. Launching a drone for monitoring the success of aerial herbicide application. An Ox-eye Daisy flower is in the foreground. (Photo: Elouise Peach, NPWS).

Lessons learned and future directions. Our greatest regret is not commencing control until Ox-eye Daisy was a problem. If the species had been treated when it was known only from small patches close to Nungar Creek in the 1990s, it would not have expanded to its current extent. The clear message from this is: remove non-native plant species when they are rare because, although most might never amount to much, some will and the consequences and cost of management are then huge.

Adaptive management is often recommended as the best way to tackle environmental problems and it has definitely been pivotal to the successes we have seen. Programs were abandoned when they weren’t working and we have been willing to trial new approaches before they are fully tested. The close relationship between managers and researchers has enabled the rapid progression from enquiry to practice to further enquiry, with monitoring being integral to decision making. Drones are now being employed to assist in monitoring (Fig. 2).

The Ox-eye Daisy fight in KNP has demonstrated the importance of integrated pest management, which includes research, herbicide application, biocontrol, management partnerships and community engagement. To date we have resisted a broad communication campaign that invites people to report sightings of Ox-eye Daisy because the species is so easily confused with native daisies. Targeted education (e.g. for walking and naturalist groups), however, will be explored in coming years. The battle against Ox-eye Daisy will be fought with many tools and its spread monitored by many eyes.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. The on-ground project in KNP has been supported by the Saving Our Species program, the National Parks and Wildlife Service Find It and Fix It and Centenary Funding, the NSW Drought Relief Funding, and Essential Energy. The biocontrol programme has been funded through the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit programme.

Contact information. Keith McDougall, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, PO Box 733, Queanbeyan NSW 2620; phone: +61 2 6229 7111; email: keith.mcdougall@environment.nsw.gov.au [for on-ground research and management]. Dr Andrew McConnachie, Senior Research Scientist (Weed Biocontrol), Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Orange Agricultural Research Institute, 1447 Forest Road, Orange NSW 2800; phone: +61 2 6391 3917; email: andrew.mcconnachie@dpi.nsw.gov.au [for biocontrol]

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).

 

Long-term restoration in the Box Gum Woodlands of south-eastern Australia – UPDATE of EMR feature

David Lindenmayer, Mason Crane, Daniel Florance, David Smith, and Clare Crane

Update to article published in EMR – Murray Catchment habitat restoration: Lessons from landscape level research and monitoring doi: 10.1111/emr.12051

Keywords: Revegetation, biodiversity recovery, monitoring, birds

Figure 1. Revegetated woodland near Wagga Wagga in the South West Slopes of New South Wales. (Photo courtesy of the Sustainable Farms project at The Australian National University. Australia).

Introduction

This project encompasses a major set of large-scale, long-term integrated studies quantifying the response of various groups of biota to replanted woodlands in the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands of south-eastern Australia. The work has been underway since 2002 and contrasts revegetated areas with regrowth woodlands and old growth woodlands on multiple farms nested within landscapes with varying amounts of native vegetation cover (Fig 1.). The responses of birds, arboreal marsupials, terrestrial mammal, reptiles, frogs and native plants to these different kinds of broad vegetation types (and within-site and landscape-level attributes) have been documented over the past 17 years.

Further works undertaken

Since the inception of the original project and associated monitoring, an array of additional studies have been completed (https://www.anu.edu.au/about/strategic-planning/sustainable-farms). These include investigations of the impacts on birds and reptiles of livestock grazing in plantings, the benefits for birds of understorey plantings within old growth woodlands, the impacts of a control program for the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) on other woodland bird species, and interaction effects between long-term climate, short-term weather and revegetation programs on birds (Figs 2 and 3). Further work aims to quantify the biodiversity and livestock production benefits of enhancing the ecological condition (and associated water quality) of farm dams.

Figure 2. Flame Robin and Rufous Whistler – two bird species of conservation concern that respond positively to revegetated woodland. (Photos by Robin Patrick Kavanagh.)Further results to date

Research and monitoring in the past six years have resulted in a number of key new insights of considerable importance for restoration programs. A small subset of these findings includes:

  • The conservation benefits of replanted areas for bird and reptile biodiversity are undermined by intensive livestock grazing in these revegetated areas.
  • The bird biodiversity values of old growth temperate woodlands can be enhanced by underplantings of shrubs and other non-overstorey plants, although it can take many years for such benefits to manifest. Importantly, the occurrence of hyper-aggressive species such as the Noisy Miner is diminished in woodlands where underplantings have been established.
  • Experimental efforts to reduce populations of the Noisy Miner were largely unsuccessful; sites where this species was culled twice were rapidly recolonized by the Noisy Miner.
  • Replanted woodlands provide critical refugia for woodland birds, especially during prolonged drought periods.

Collectively, these findings indicate that restored woodlands have important conservation values (especially for birds but also reptiles), with restoration being valuable to conduct not only in existing old growth woodland (through establishing underplantings) but also in previously cleared sites. The conservation value of woodlands can be particularly critical during climate extremes such as droughts. Efforts to control the Noisy Miner will likely be most effective through targeted revegetation efforts rather than direct culling of birds. Finally, there is a need to limit grazing pressure in revegetated woodlands and this can require the repair or replacement of fences around replantings, especially when such key infrastructure begins to deteriorate.

Figure 3. Noisy Miner – a reverse keystone species for which experimental culling programs have proven to be ineffective. (Photo by Pete Richman.)

Lessons learned and future directions

The ongoing work has clearly demonstrated the important new insights that are derived from long-term ecological research and monitoring. Indeed, long-term changes in patterns of occupancy of restored areas could not have been quantified without rigorous monitoring of a wide range of sites of different sizes, ages and other attributes. Key manager-researcher partnerships have been fundamental to the ongoing success of the array of projects in this restoration initiative. Indeed, some research and monitoring studies were prompted by  questions posed by natural resource managers (such as if there were vegetation cover thresholds for birds in temperate woodlands). Close working relationships with farmers have also been critical to the persistence of the various projects. Field staff in the project, who are based permanently in rural Australia, are key points of outreach and communication with farmers and other natural resource managers. Their presence has accelerated the rate of knowledge transfer and adoption of new practices (such as widening shelterbelts so that they have multiple production and conservation values).

Stakeholders and funding bodies

Ongoing work has been supported by many funding bodies and partners. These include the owners of more than 250 private properties (whom have allowed access to their land and undertaken major restoration works). Funding for the work has been provided by The National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), the Australian Research Council, Murray Local Land Services, Riverina Local Land Services, Central Tablelands Local Land Services, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, The Australian National University, and the Calvert-Jones Foundation.

Contact information

David Lindenmayer, Sustainable Farms Project, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 2601, david.lindenmayer@anu.edu.au

Restoration and conservation in an iconic National Park – UPDATE of EMR feature

David Lindenmayer, Chris MacGregor, Natasha Robinson, Claire Foster, and Nick Dexter

[Update of EMR feature – David B. Lindenmayer, Christopher MacGregor, Nick Dexter, Martin Fortescue and Peter Cochrane (2013)  Booderee National Park Management: Connecting science and management.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 14:1, 2-10. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12027]

Keywords: Invasive animal and plant control, reintroduction, monitoring

Introduction. Booderee National Park is an iconic, species-rich, coastal reserve that supports a range of threatened and endangered native animals and plants. Several key management actions have been implemented to promote the conservation of biodiversity in Booderee National Park. These include the control of an exotic predator (the Red Fox Vulpes vulpes), the control of highly invasive Bitou Bush (Chrysanthemoides monilifera subsp. rotundata), the management of fire, and the reintroduction of previously extinct native mammals. A key part of work at Booderee National Park has been a long-term monitoring program that commenced in late 2002 and which has aimed to quantify the effectiveness of major management interventions, including the four listed above. The monitoring program has documented the long-term trajectories of populations of birds, arboreal marsupials, terrestrial mammals, reptiles, frogs and native plants in a range of major vegetation types (from heathland and sedgeland to woodland, forest and rainforest) and in response to fire, and weed and feral predator control. Importantly, the monitoring program has provided a foundational platform from which a suite of post-graduate studies and other research programs have been completed.

Further works undertaken. A key part of the researcher-manager partnership has been to analyse the long-term trajectories of populations of mammals, birds and reptiles in Booderee National Park. The monitoring data indicate that many species of mammals are declining, with some having become recently locally extinct (e.g. Greater Glider Petauroides volans) or close to extinction in the reserve (e.g. Common Ringtail Possum Pseudocheirus peregrinus) . This is despite populations of these species persisting in nearby reserves.  Robust interrogation of the multi-taxa monitoring data has been unable to identify reasons for these declines. Interestingly, the declines observed for mammals have not been observed to date in other vertebrate groups, including birds, reptiles and amphibians. An experimentally-based reintroduction program for the Greater Glider aims to not only re-establish populations of the species in Booderee National Park, but also to identify the reasons for the original decline. That program will be in addition to reintroduction programs already underway for other mammal species, the Long-nosed Potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), the Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus) and Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus vivverinus) that used to inhabit Booderee National Park but which went extinct many decades earlier.

Additional research being undertaken in Booderee National Park has included: (1) studies of the effectiveness of control efforts for Bitou Bush and associated recovery of native vegetation and native fauna, (2) the interactive effects of fire and browsing on native plants and an array of animal groups, and (3) studies of leaf litter and other fuel dynamics in relation to previous fire history and macropod browsing.

Figure 1. Key area of Booderee National Park showing an area of coastal forest before and after Bitou Bush treatment.

Further results to date. Research and monitoring in the past six years have resulted in many new insights including some of considerable value for informing restoration programs. A small subset of these findings is outlined below.

  • Conventional approaches to the control of invasive Bitou Bush entail spraying ultra-low volume herbicide (Fig. 1), followed by burning of the “cured” dead material, and then respraying of the seedlings that germinate after fire. This spray-burn-spray protocol is both the most ecologically effective and the most cost-effective way of controlling Bitou Bush and, at the same time, facilitates the recovery of native vegetation. More recent analysis has revealed spray frequency as the most important determinant of long-term control. There are mixed effects of control methods on native species; plant species abundance was positively related to Bitou Bush control, while native bird abundance (except for Eastern Bristlebird Dasyornis brachypterus, Fig 2.) and mammal abundance were weakly negatively associated with Bitou control.
  • There can be strong interactions between the occurrence of fire and browsing by macropods on native plants as well as particular groups of animals such as spiders.
  • Reintroduction programs for the Southern Brown Bandicoot and Eastern Quoll have been relatively successful, although the latter species suffers high rates of mortality, particularly as a result of fox predation and collisions with motor vehicles. Nevertheless, populations of both species have survived over multiple years and reproduced successfully.

Figure 2. The Eastern Bristlebird, a species for which Booderee National Park is a stronghold. Notably, the species responds positively to management interventions to control Bitou Bush. (Photo Graeme Chapman)

Lessons learned and future directions. The work at Booderee National Park is a truly collaborative partnership between reserve managers, a university and the local Indigenous community.  A key part of the enduring, long-term success of the project has been that a full-time employee of The Australian National University has been stationed permanently in the Parks Australia office in the Jervis Bay Territory. That person (CM) works on an almost daily basis within Booderee National Park and this provides an ideal way to facilitate communication of new research and monitoring results to managers. It also enables emerging management concerns to be included as part of adaptive monitoring practices.

One of the key lessons learned from the long-term work has been the extent of ecological “surprises” – that is, highly unexpected results, including those which continue to remain unexplained. An example is the rapid loss of the Greater Glider and the major decline in populations of the Common Ringtail Possum. One of the clear benefits of this integrated monitoring-management team has been the rapid response to emerging threats. For example in response to high rates of mortality of reintroduced Eastern Quolls, control of the Red Fox was intensified within the park and greater cross-tenure control efforts with neighbouring private and public land managers have commenced. Regular evaluation of monitoring data and management actions has also enabled careful examination of the kinds of risks that can compromise reintroduction programs. These and other learnings will inform other, future reintroduction and translocation programs that are planned for Booderee National Park such as that for the Greater Glider.

Stakeholders and funding bodies. Ongoing work has been supported by many funding bodies and partners. These include the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community who are the Traditional Owners of Booderee National Park as well as Parks Australia who co-manage the park with the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community. Other key funders include the Department of Defence, the Thomas Foundation, The National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), the Australian Research Council, the Margaret Middleton Foundation, and the Norman Wettenhall Foundation. Partnerships with Rewilding Australia, Taronga Conservation Society, WWF Australia, NSW Forestry Corporation and various wildlife sanctuaries have been instrumental to reintroduction programs.

Contact information. David Lindenmayer, Chris MacGregor, Natasha Robinson and Claire Foster are with the National Environmental Science Program (Threatened Species Recovery Hub), Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University (Canberra, ACT, 2601, david.lindenmayer@anu.edu.au). Nick Dexter is with Parks Australia, Jervis Bay Territory, Australia, 2540.

The Tiromoana Bush restoration project, Canterbury, New Zealand

Key words: Lowland temperate forest, animal pest control, weed control, restoration plantings, public access, cultural values, farmland restoration

Introduction. Commencing in 2004, the 407 ha Tiromoana Bush restoration project arose as part of the mitigation for the establishment of the Canterbury Regional Landfill at Kate Valley, New Zealand. The site lies one hour’s drive north of Christchurch City in North Canterbury coastal hill country (Motunau Ecological District, 43° 06’ S, 172° 51’ E, 0 – 360 m a.s.l.) and is located on a former sheep and beef farm.

Soils are derived from tertiary limestones and mudstones and the site experiences an annual rainfall of 920mm, largely falling in winter. The current vegetation is a mix of Kānuka (Kunzea robusta) and mixed-species shrubland and low forest, restoration plantings, wetlands, Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and European Broom (Cytisus scoparius) shrubland and abandoned pasture. Historically the area would have been forest, which was likely cleared 500-700 years ago as a result of early Māori settlement fires. A total of 177 native vascular plant and 22 native bird species have been recorded, including four nationally threatened species and several regionally rare species.

Before and after photo pair (2005-2018). showing extensive infilling of native woody vegetation on hill slopes opposite, restoration plantings in the central valley, and successional change from small-leaved shrubs to canopy forming trees in the left foreground. (Photos David Norton.)

 

Project aims. The long-term vision for this project sees Tiromoana Bush, in 300 years, restored to a: “Predominantly forest ecosystem (including coastal broadleaved, mixed podocarp-broadleaved and black beech forests) where dynamic natural processes occur with minimal human intervention, where the plants and animals typical of the Motunau Ecological District persist without threat of extinction, and where people visit for recreation and to appreciate the restored natural environment.”

Thirty-five year outcomes have been identified that, if achieved, will indicate that restoration is proceeding towards the vision – these are:

  1. Vigorous regeneration is occurring within the existing areas of shrubland and forest sufficient to ensure that natural successional processes are leading towards the development of mature lowland forest.
  2. The existing Korimako (Bellbird Anthornis melanura) population has expanded and Kereru (Native Pigeon Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) are now residing within the area, and the species richness and abundance of native water birds have been enhanced.
  3. The area of Black Beech (Fuscospora solandri) forest has increased with at least one additional Black Beech population established.
  4. Restoration plantings and natural regeneration have enhanced connectivity between existing forest patches.
  5. Restoration plantings have re-established locally rare vegetation types.
  6. The area is being actively used for recreational, educational and scientific purposes.

Day-to-day management is guided by a five-year management plan and annual work plans. The management plan provides an overview of the approach that is being taken to restoration, while annual work plans provide detail on the specific management actions that will be undertaken to implement the management plan.

Forest restoration plantings connecting two areas of regenerating Kānuka forest. Photo David Norton.

 

Restoration approach and outcomes to date. The main management actions taken and outcomes achieved have included:

  • An Open Space Covenant was gazetted on the title of the property in July 2006 through the QEII National Trust, providing in-perpetuity protection of the site irrespective of future ownership.
  • Browsing by cattle and sheep was excluded at the outset of the project through upgrading existing fences and construction of new fences. A 16 km deer fence has been built which together with intensive animal control work by ground-based hunters has eradicated Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and helped reduce damage caused by feral pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus).
  • Strategic restoration plantings have been undertaken annually to increase the area of native woody and wetland vegetation, as well as providing food and nesting resources for native birds. A key focus of these has been on enhancing linkages between existing areas of regenerating forest and re-establishing rare ecosystem types (e.g. wetland and coastal forest).
  • Annual weed control is undertaken focusing on species that are likely to alter successional development (e.g. wilding conifers, mainly Pinus radiata, and willows Salix cinerea and fragilis) or that have the potential to smother native regeneration (e.g. Old Man’s Beard Clematis vitalba). Gorse and European Broom are not controlled as they act as a nurse for native forest regeneration and the cost and collateral damage associated with their control will outweigh biodiversity benefits.
  • Establishment of a public walking track was undertaken early in the project and in 2017/2018 this was enhanced and extended, with new interpretation included. Public access has been seen as a core component of the project from the outset so the public can enjoy the restoration project and access a section of the coastline that is otherwise relatively inaccessible.
  • Part of the walkway upgrade included working closely with the local Māori tribe, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, who have mana whenua (customary ownership) over the area. They were commissioned to produce a pou whenua (land marker) at the walkway’s coastal lookout. The carvings on the pou reflect cultural values and relate to the importance of the area to Ngāi Tūāhuriri and especially values associated with mahinga kai (the resources that come from the area).
  • Regular monitoring has included birds, vegetation and landscape, with additional one-off assessments of invertebrates and animal pests. Tiromoana Bush has been used as the basis for several undergraduate and postgraduate student research projects from the two local universities.
Vigorous regeneration of Mahoe under the Kānuka canopy following exclusion of grazing animals. Photo David Norton.

 

Lessons learned. Important lessons learned over the 15-years have both shaped the approach to management at this site and have implications for the management of other projects:

  • Control of browsing mammals, both domestic and feral, has been essential to the success of this project. While domestic livestock were excluded at the outset of the project, feral Red Deer and pigs have the potential to seriously compromise restoration outcomes and these species have required additional management inputs (fencing and culling).
  • Since removal of grazing, the dominant exotic pasture grasses, especially Cocksfoot (Dactylis gomerata), now form tall dense swards. These swards severely restrict the ability of native woody plants to establish and herbicide control is used both pre- and post-planting to overcome this. During dry summers (which are common) the grass sward is also a significant fuel source and the walkway is closed during periods of high fire risk to avoid accidental fires which would decimate the restoration project.
  • Regular monitoring is important for assessing the biodiversity response to management. Annual photo-monitoring now spanning 15-years is highlighting significant changes in land cover across the site, while more detailed monitoring of plants and birds is strongly informing management actions. For example, seven-years of bird monitoring has indicated an ongoing decline in some native birds that is most likely due to predation (by cats, mustelids, rodents, hedgehogs). As a result, a predator control programme is commencing in 2019.
  • Simply removing grazing pressure from areas of existing regenerating native woody vegetation cannot be expected to result in the return of the pre-human forest because of the absence of seed sources. Permanent plots suggest that Kānuka is likely to be replaced by Mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), with few other tree species present. Gap creation and enrichment planting is therefore being used to speed up the development of a more diverse podocarp-angiosperm forest canopy.
Kate Pond on the Tiromoana Bush walkway. The pond and surrounding wetland provides habitat for several native water birds. Photo Jo Stilwell.
The pou whenua on the coastal lookout platform looking north up the coastline. Photo David Norton.

 

Looking to the future. Considerable progress in restoring native biodiversity at Tiromoana Bush has been achieved over the last 15 years and it seems likely that the project will continue to move towards achieving its 35-year outcomes and eventually realising the long-term vision. To help guide management, the following goals have been proposed for the next ten-years and their achievement would further help guarantee the success of this project:

  • The main valley floor is dominated by regenerating Kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) forest and wetland, and the lower valley is dominated by regenerating coastal vegetation.
  • At least one locally extinct native bird species has been reintroduced.
  • Tiromoana Bush is managed as part of a wider Motunau conservation project.
  • The restoration project is used regularly as a key educational resource by local schools.
  • The walkway is regarded as an outstanding recreational experience and marketed by others as such.
  • Tiromoana Bush is highly valued by Ngāi Tūāhuriri.
Kereru, one of the native birds that restoration aims to help increase in abundance. Photo David Norton.

 

Stakeholders and funding. The project is funded by Transwaste Canterbury Ltd., a public-private partnership company who own the landfill and have been active in their public support for the restoration project and in promoting a broader conservation initiative in the wider area. Shareholders of the partnership company are Waste Management NZ Ltd, Christchurch City Council and Waimakariri, Hurunui, Selwyn and Ashburton District Councils.

Contact Information. Professor David Norton, Project Coordinator, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand. Phone +64 (027) 201-7794. Email david.norton@canterbury.ac.nz

Lord Howe Island biodiversity restoration and protection programs, NSW, Australia

Hank Bower

Key words: Pest species management, weed control, community engagement.

Figure 1. Weeding teams apply search effort across near 80% of island terrain, their effort monitored through record of GPS track logs across designated weed management blocks. Target weeds on LHI are mostly bird dispersed requiring landscape scale for sustainable and long-term protection from weeds. The remaining 20% of island is subject to surveillance and with investigation of new technical approaches in weed detection using drones.

Introduction: Lord Howe Island (LHI) is located in the Tasman Sea 760 km northeast of Sydney and 570 km east of Port Macquarie. In 1982 the island was inscribed on the World Heritage (WH) List under the United Nations’ World Heritage Convention in recognition of its superlative natural phenomena and its rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity as an outstanding example of an island ecosystem developed from submarine volcanic activity.

The island supports at least 80% cover of native vegetation, broadly described as Oceanic Rainforest with Oceanic Cloud Forest on the mountain summits.  LHI vegetation comprises 239 native vascular plant species with 47% being endemic. Forest ecosystems on LHI are largely intact, but at threat from invasive species and climate change. About 75% of the terrestrial part of the WH property is recognised as a Permanent Park Preserve (PPP) managed on behalf of the New South Wales government by the Lord Howe Island Board on the basis of a holistic conservation and restoration plan (Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan LHI BMP 2007).

Since settlement of the island in 1834, introduced and invasive plant and animal species have been affecting the Lord Howe Island environment, causing declines in biodiversity and ecosystem health. There have been 11 known extinctions and severe declines in numbers of fauna species including the flightless Lord Howe Woodhen (Hypotaenidia sylvestris), once regarded as one of the rarest birds in the world.  The Lord Howe Island Phasmid (Dryococelus australis), the world’s largest stick insect was feared extinct until the rediscovery of live specimens on Balls Pyramid in 2001. Some 29 species of introduced vertebrates and about 271 species of introduced plant species have naturalised on the island. At least 68 species are the focus for eradication (Fig 1), with 10 main invasive species having colonised extensive areas of the settlement and the PPP, posing a serious threat to island habitats. One of the most serious weeds, Ground Asparagus (Asparagus aethiopicus), for example, was so prolific in the forest understory it completely overwhelmed native vegetation and bird breeding grounds. Weeds are prioritised for eradication following a Weed Risk Assessment and are typically species that are at low density, are localised and/or are limited to gardens, and species with known weed characteristics (e.g. wind or bird dispersed seeds) that have yet to express their weed potential. Identifying species for early intervention is important to prevent their establishment and expansion, particularly post rodent eradication. For example, the removal of 25 individual Cats Claw Creeper in 2006 (which have not been detected since) supports the case for proactive weed management.

The islands limited size and isolation provides great opportunities to achieve complete removal and eradication of key invasive species.  Therefore particular strategies identified in the LHI BMP to effect ecosystem recovery include the management and eradication of invasive weeds, rodents, tramp ants and protection from plant diseases and pathogens.  All projects are delivered at an island wide scale, which incorporates a permanent population of 350 residents and a tourist bed limit of 400.

Works undertaken   Progressive programs to eradicate feral animals commenced in 1979 with the eradication of pig Sus scrofa, cat Felus catus in 1982, goat Capra hircus in 1999 and African Big-headed Ant Pheidole megacephala in 2018. Threatened fauna recovery programs include the captive breeding of Lord Howe Woodhen following the eradication of cats, establishing a captive breeding and management program for the Lord Howe Island Phasmid and the planning and gaining of approvals to implement the eradication program for Black Rat Rattus rattus, House Mouse Mus musculus and introduced Masked Owl Tyto novehollandiae commencing in 2019.

The island wide strategic Weed Eradication Program commenced in 2004, building on earlier years of ad-hoc control effort.  Over 2.4 million weeds have been removed through more than 170,000 hours of grid search method.  Now, near mid-way point of a 30-year LHI Weed Eradication Project (LHIWEP), teams have reduced weed infestations (of all life stages) by 80%.  Ten year program results of the LHIWEP are summarised (LHIB 2016 – Breaking Bad) http://www.cabi.org/isc/abstract/20163360302, which clearly shows the significance of multi-invasive species management to achieve ecosystem recovery.

With the spread of Myrtle Rust Austropuccinia psidii to the Australian mainland in 2010 the LHI Board has been on high alert.  With five endemic plants at risk to this pathogen the LHIB provided training and information to the community on the threats to the island and food plants. The LHIB prepared a Rapid Response Plan and a Rapid Response Kit (fungicides and Personal Protective Equipment). In October 2016 Myrtle Rust was detected on exotic Myrtaceae species, from three leases and subsequently treated in November 2016. This also resulted in the eradication of three highly susceptible exotic myrtaceous plant species from the island.

The root fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi is known from one lease and has been quarantined and treated with granular fungicide quarterly. Periodic monitoring has shown the infestation to be reducing with the eventual aim of eradication. Boot sanitization stations located at all track heads applies effort to prevent introduction of root rot fungus and other soil borne pathogens from users of the walking track system in the PPP.

The LHI Board has carried out a range of local community engagement and visitor education programs to raise awareness of the risks and threats to the island environment and of the LHIB environmental restoration and protection programs. These include a LHI User Guide for visitors to the island and a citizen science program with the LHI Museum, establishing the LHI Conservation Volunteer program to help improve awareness of the importance of LHI conservation programs to both tourists and tourism business. Since 2005, over 150 volunteers supported by the LHIB and external grants have been engaged through the weed eradication project. Increasingly, LHI residents are volunteering to gain experience and to improve employment opportunities in restoring their island. Another long-term partner, Friends of Lord Howe Island, provide invaluable volunteer assistance with their Weeding Ecotours, contributing more than 24,000 hours of weeding building valuable networks.

Biosecurity awareness is critical to protect the investment in conservation programs and the environment to future threats. The LHI Board provide information regarding biosecurity risks to the community, stevedores and restaurateurs. The LHIB now hold two biosecurity detection dogs and handlers on island (Figure 3) whom work with Qantas and freight flights and shipping staff to ensure they are aware of biosecurity risks and plan for appropriate responses.

Results to date.  Achievements include the successful eradication of over 10 weed species, cat, pig, goat, African Big-headed Ant and Myrtle Rust. A further 20+ weeds are considered on the verge of being able to be declared eradicated in coming years with an 80% reduction in weed density island wide and a 90% reduction in the presence of mature weeds. Weed Risk Assessments will be applied to determine the impact or new and emerging weeds and appropriate management actions.

As a result of the eradication of feral pigs and cats and an on-island captive breeding program, the endangered Lord Howe Island Woodhen has recovered to an average of 250 birds. The other eradications, along with the significant reduction in dense and widespread weed invasions, has aided the recovery and protection of numerous endemic and threatened species and their habitats. The program’s significant outcomes have been recognised through the IUCN Conservation Outlook which in 2017 scored the Lord Howe Island Group’s outlook as good, primarily due to the success of projects that have, are being and are planned to be implemented to restore and protect the islands unique World Heritage values. In late 2018 the program received awards for excellence from the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA), Green Globe and Banksia Foundations, acknowledging the sustained effort from the Board and Island community in working to restore and protect the island.

Lessons learned and future directions:  The main keys to success has been obtaining expert scientific and management input and actively working with, educating and involving the community (lease holders and local businesses) to help achieve the solution to mitigate and remove invasive species.

The Rodent Eradication Program scheduled for winter 2019 will result in less browsing pressure on both native and invasive plants species, as well as the removal of two domestic pests. Prior to the program the LHIB has targeted the control of introduced plants, currently in low numbers, that may spread after rodent eradication. Monitoring programs are in place to measure ecosystem response with a particular focus on the Endangered Ecological Community Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest on the summit of Mt Gower. Should the project be successful, consideration can be given to the reintroduction of captive bred individuals of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid as well as other species confined to offshore islands (e.g. Lord Howe Wood Feeding Roach Panesthia lata) or ecological equivalent species on other islands (Norfolk Boobook Owl Ninox novaeseelandiae, Norfolk Parakeet Cyanoramphus cookii, Norfolk Island Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa and Island Warbler Gerygone igata).

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:  The Program is managed by the Lord Howe Island Board and the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage, in collaboration with the local LHI community.

The LHI Board acknowledge the generations of islander stewardship, teams on ground, researchers, the funding and support agencies, all who made it happen. These include but are not limited to NSW Environmental Trust, Caring for Our Country, National Landcare Program, North Coast Local Land Services, Zoos Victoria, Taronga Zoo, Australian Museum, CSIRO, Friends of LHI, the Norman Wettenhall Foundation and Churchill Trust.

Contact: Hank Bower, Manager Environment/World Heritage, Lord Howe Island Board, PO Box 5, LORD HOWE ISLAND, NSW 2898, Tel: +61 2 65632066 (ext 23), Fax: 02 65632127, hank.bower@lhib.nsw.gov.au

Video conference presentation: https://www.aabr.org.au/portfolio-items/protecting-paradise-restoring-the-flora-and-fauna-of-world-heritage-listed-lord-howe-island-hank-bower-and-sue-bower-lhi-board-aabr-forum-2016/

Recovery of indigenous plants and animals in revegetated areas at ‘The Waterways’, Victoria.

Photo 1.  Aerial view of Waterways from the west

By Damien Cook

 Introduction. Waterways is a 48-hectare restoration project located on Mordialloc Creek in Melbourne’s south- eastern suburbs which combines a housing estate with large areas of restored habitat set aside for indigenous fauna and flora in open space, lakes and other wetlands (see Photo 1).

Prior to restoration the land at Waterways was a property used for grazing horses and supported pasture dominated by exotic species such as Reed Fescue (*Festuca arundinacea) and Toowoomba Canary Grass (*Phalaris aquatica). (Note that an Asterix preceding a scientific name denotes that the species is not indigenous to the local area).

The habitats which are being restored at “The Waterways” reflect those that originally occurred in the Carrum Carrum Swamp, a vast wetland complex which, prior to being extensively drained in the 1870s, stretched from Mordialloc to Kananook and as far inland as Keysborough.

Local reference ecosystems were selected to act as a benchmark for what was to be achieved in each restored habitat in terms of species diversity and cover. Habitat Hectare assessments have been used to monitor the quality of restored vegetation (see Appendix 1).

A total of nine Ecological Vegetation Classes (EVCs, the standard unit of vegetation mapping in Victoria) are being re-established across the site across the following habitats

  • Open water, Submerged Aquatic Herbfields and Exposed Mudflats
  • Densely vegetated marshes
  • Swamp Paperbark Shrubland
  • Tussock Grassland
  • Plains Grassy Woodland

Photo 2. This sequence of photographs, taken over a nine-month period at the Waterways, shows vegetation establishment in a constructed wetland from newly constructed and bare of native species on the left to well vegetated with a high cover of indigenous plants and minimal weeds on the right.

Works undertaken. Restoration of the site commenced in October 2000. Extensive weed control and earthworks were carried out prior to the commencement of revegetation works, which involved planting, by 2003, over 2 million local provenance, indigenous plants.  Grassland species were planted out of hikos at a density of 5 to 6 per square meter into areas that had been treated with both knock-down and pre-emergent herbicide. Ongoing management of the site has included ecological burning and follow up weed control. When started the Waterways was the largest and most complex ecological restoration project ever undertaken in Victoria.

Results

Plants

Open water, Submerged Aquatic Herbfields and Exposed Mudflats.  Deep, open water areas cover an area of about 30 hectares of the site. Vegetation growing in this habitat includes submerged herb-fields of Pondweeds (Potamogeton species), Eel Grass (Vallisneria australis) and Stoneworts (Chara and Nitella species), which were planted over summer 2000/01.

Densely vegetated marshes. This habitat occupies about 10 hectares of the site, occurring where water is less than 1.5 meters deep around the fringes of the lakes and as broad bands across the wetlands. Swards of large sedges including Tall Spike-rush (Eleocharis sphacelata), Jointed Twig-sedge (Baumea articulata), Leafy Twig-sedge (Cladium procerum) and River Club-rush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani); aquatic herb-fields of Water Ribbons (Cycnogeton procerum), Upright Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum crispatum) and Running Marsh-flower (Ornduffia reniformis); as well as meadows supporting rushes, sedges and amphibious herbs. Localized areas with high salinity (4000 to 12 000 ppm) have been planted with a halophytic (salt tolerant) community including Sea Rush (Juncus krausii), Australian Salt-grass (Distichlis distichophylla), and Shiny Swamp-mat (Selliera radicans). Planting began in the marshes at the Waterways in October 2000 and vegetation established very rapidly in most areas (see Photo 2). This vegetation type provides habitat for the locally vulnerable Woolly Water-lily (Philydrum lanuginosum).

Swamp Paperbark Shrubland covers about 8 hectares, consisting of a 1ha remnant and additional areas that were planted in spring/summer 2001. As this shrubland habitat matures it is forming a dense canopy of species including Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia), Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata subsp. verticillata), Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), Woolly Tea-tree (Leptospermum lanigerum), Tree Everlasting (Ozothamnus ferrugineus) and Golden Spray (Viminerea juncea).

Photo 3. Rare plant species that have been established in restored native grasslands at “Waterways” include Grey Billy-buttons (Craspedia canens), Matted Flax-lily (Dianella amoena) and Pale Swamp Everlasting (Coronidium gunnianum).

Tussock Grassland covers about four hectares at the Waterways between two major wetland areas. About a third of this habitat was planted in spring 2001, with the remainder in spring 2002. The dominant plants of this habitat are tussock-forming grasses including wallaby grasses (Rytidosperma species), Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) and Common Tussock Grass (Poa labillardierei var. labillardierei). A diverse array of native wildflowers occurs amongst these grasses. Rare plant species that have been established in this habitat zone include Grey Billy-buttons (Craspedia canens), Matted Flax-lily (Dianella amoena) and Pale Swamp Everlasting (Coronidium gunnianum, see Photo 3).

Plains Grassy Woodland This habitat type occurs in mosaic with Tussock grassland and differs in that it supportsscattered trees and clumps of shrubs. River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis subsp. camaldulensis) and Swamp Gum (Eucalyptus ovata var. ovata) have been planted so that they will eventually form an open woodland structure. Other tree and tall shrub species planted in this habitat include Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) and the tree form of Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), which is now very uncommon in the local area.

Seasonal Wetlands Small seasonal wetlands occur within Tussock Grassland (see Photo 4). Rare plant species that have been established in this habitat zone include Swamp Billy-buttons (Craspedia paludicola), Woolly Water-lily (Philydrum lanuginosum), Grey Spike-rush (Eleocharis macbarronii), Giant River Buttercup (Ranunculus amplus) and the nationally endangered Swamp Everlasting (Xerochrysum palustre).


Photo 4. Seasonal rain-filled wetland at Waterways

 Animals.

The Waterways is home to 19 rare and threatened fauna species including the nationally endangered Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) and Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata). The successful establishment of diverse vegetation has so far attracted 102 species of native birds, and the wetlands on the site are home to seven species of frogs.

Open water areas support large populations of Black Swans (Cygnus atratus), Ducks (Anas species), Eurasian Coots (Fulica atra), Cormorants (Phalacrocorax and Microcarbo species), Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus) and Australasian Darters (Anhinga novaehollandiae) that either feed on fish and invertebrates or the foliage and fruits of water plants.  As water levels recede over summer areas of mudflat are exposed. These flats provide ideal resting areas for water birds as well as feeding habitat for migratory wading birds including the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata), Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis) and Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) that fly from their breeding grounds as far away as Alaska and Siberia to spend the summer in Australia and are protected under special treaties between the Governments of countries through which they travel.

Photo 5. Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata) at Waterways

In 2007 a small group of Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata) became regular visitors to The Waterways (see Photo 5). This species was once extremely abundant in the Carrum Carrum Swamp. However, it was driven to extinction in southern Australia in the early 1900s by hunting and habitat destruction. The Magpie Goose seems to be making a recovery in Victoria, with numbers building up from birds captured in the Northern Territory and released in South Australia that are spreading across to areas where the species formerly occurred.

Seasonal wetlands are important breeding areas for frogs including the Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii), Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni) and Spotted Grass Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) and a range of invertebrates that do not occur in the larger, more permanent storm water treatment wetlands such as Shield Shrimp (Lepidurus apus viridus). Birds which utilize these wetlands for feeding include the White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) and Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii).

Restored grassland provides an ideal hunting ground for several birds of prey, including the Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) and Australian Kestrel (Falco cenchroides). It also provides cover and feeding habitat for insect and seed-eating birds such as the Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora). A flock of about 20 Blue-winged Parrots (Neophema chrysostoma) have been regularly seen in this habitat. These parrots are usually quite uncommon in the Melbourne area. Moist grasslands beside the wetland have been colonised by the vulnerable Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) (see Photo 6).

Densely vegetated marshes provide habitat for a diversity of small, secretive birds such as Ballion’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), Little Grassbird (Megalurus gramineus) and Australian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus australis), which find suitable refuges in the cover provided by dense vegetation. Dense thickets of Swamp Paperbark shrublands provide cover and feeding habitat for Ring-tail Possums (Pseudocheris peregrinus) and bushland birds such the Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis), thornbills (Acanthiza species), Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) and Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa). As the grassy woodlands mature they are providing structural habitat diversity and accommodating woodland birds such as cuckoos (Cacomantis and Chalcites species) and pardalotes (Pardalotus species).

It will take many years for the River Red Gums to reach a majestic size and stature, and to provide tree hollows which are essential for many species of native fauna. A limited number of tree hollows are provided in the dead trees (stags) that were placed in the Waterways wetlands.

Photo 6. The vulnerable Glossy Grass Skink (Pseudemoia rawlinsoni) at Waterways

The Future. The habitats that have been created at the Waterways are about 18 years old, yet they have already attracted a vast array of native fauna. Waterways is now home to 14 rare and threatened plant species and 19 threatened animal species. There is incredible potential for the area to provide vitally important habitat for an even greater diversity of rare plants and animals as these habitats mature.

If the area is to reach its full potential careful management of weeds and pest animals is required. Ongoing monitoring of flora and fauna is also necessary. These are both areas in which the local community is becoming involved.

Acknowledgements. The high standard of restoration achieved on the Waterways project was due to the project being appropriately funded and because it was managed by ecologists experienced in planning and implementing ecological restoration.  The project was partly funded by Melbourne Water, who are now the managers of the site, and partly by a developer, the Haines Family.  This unique relationship and the generosity and willingness to try something innovative by the developer were important factors in the success of the project.

Contact: Damien Cook (rakali2@outlook.com.au)

Appendix 1. Habitat Hectare results for four quadrats at Waterways, 2006

The ecological restoration of Te Motu Tapu a Taikehu, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

The Motutapu Restoration Trust 

Introduction. Te Motu Tapu a Taikehu (Motutapu Island, 1509 ha) is located in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, situated on the east coast of the north of New  Zealand’s North Island. It lies immediately adjacent to Rangitoto Island which is a volcano that last erupted approximately 500-550 years ago. This, and previous eruptions would have regularly devastated the forest and wetland ecosystems on Motutapu.

After a history of Maori settlement, European clearing and farming and use for military purposes during WWII, the Island was transferred to what is now the Department of Conservation (DOC) in 1970. The island is now designated a recreation reserve, open to the public.

Pollen records suggest that after the Rangitoto eruptions ceased around AD 1500, Motutapu recovered to be covered by a patchwork of lowland podocarp/broadleaf forest typical of that found in the Auckland region, and presumably was habitat to birds, reptiles, bats, fish and invertebrates similar to those on other Northland islands and the mainland.

Habitat loss through anthropogenic disturbances including fire, clearing for farming, and the introduction of mammalian predators saw many species of native bird, reptile and plants extirpated. Prior to restoration started in 1994, Motutapu was almost entirely covered by pastoral grassland dominated by exotic species, except for a few, very small forest remnants, and a depauperate native faunal communities.

Motutapu Island is a 40-minute ferry journey from Auckland City. Map: Department of Conservation

Restoration project

Planning of the ecological restoration program is undertaken by the Natural Heritage Committee of the Trust, a group of some 15 volunteers who meet monthly to plan, and discuss implementation. Members are highly qualified, skilled and enthusiastic practitioners. Together the committee  brings sound ecological theory and practice to the  restoration of flora and fauna. Published plans they work from include the 1994 Motutapu Restoration Working Plan and subsequent 2010 audit.

The objective is to return the island forest and wetland ecosystems to a post-eruption state, with a goal of reaching 500 ha of restored forest and wetland over coming decades. Although this area is far less than the full area of the island, it allows the conservation of cultural and archaeological sites, such as pā, WWII infrastructure, and farming landscapes. The post-eruption state can be described as lowland mixed broadleaf/podocarp forest, with a suite of seabirds, waders, forest birds, reptiles, bats and invertebrates interacting with each other so that natural evolutionary processes can once more resume for these taxa on the island.

Implementation of the ecological restoration of Motutapu has been underway for 23 years, since the formation of the Motutapu Restoration Trust (MRT) in 1994. To date,  in excess of 100 ha of pasture has been converted  to pioneer forest representing an estimated 450,000+ trees  planted. Volunteer hours total 21,462 between  2005 and 2015, and is currently in excess of 3,200 hours annually.

The major activities of the ecological restoration are:

  • Seed collecting from the island and wider Auckland region
  • Plant propagation in the island nursery – year round
  • Planting in the winter months
  • Weeding year round
  • Fauna translocation and monitoring (birds, reptiles, fish and crustacea) in conjunction with DOC

Planters in action: Photo: MRT

15,136 plants went into Hospital B paddock; one of the most difficult planting sites on the island.
Photo: MRT

Home Bay forest, with Motuihe Island and the Auckland mainland in the background. Photo: MRT

Revegetation. The original strategy (1994 – 2009) was to initiate successional processes by planting pioneer phase species, which would later give way to mature phase species dispersed naturally by birds. However, it was realized that mature phase species would be slow to arrive, as the island is isolated from native forests on nearby islands and seed dispersal from them is unlikely. If seed is dispersed from its own remnant forests, any new forest will continue to reflect the depauperate nature of these remnants.

In 2010, the planting strategy was updated to include enrichment planting of mature phase forest species into the forests planted up to 15 years earlier. Seeds for this were eco-sourced from the wider Auckland region, within boundaries agreed with DOC, and brought to the island nursery for propagation. This was an opportunity to return species to the island that are currently absent, including Swamp Maire (Syzygium maire), Tree  Fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata),  Pigeonwood (Hedycarya  arborea), White Maire (Nestegis lanceolata), Black Maire (N. cunninghamii), Turepo (Streblus  banksii) and a number  of podocarps including Matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia), Miro (P. ferruginea) and Rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum).

The project has a large nursery, operated by one full time volunteer and supported by other volunteers during the week and weekends. The nursery provides all the plants for the planting programme. Seed is collected by a small team of collectors who travel Auckland’s and the Island’s forest remnants for seeds all year round. Growing media is supplied pro bono by Daltons and Living Earth and delivered by DOC boat. The risk of importing the introduced pests Rainbow Skink (Lampropholis delicata) as eggs and Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile) precludes bringing potted plants onto the island.

Weeds such as Woolly Nightshade (Solanum mauritianum),  Moth  Vine (Araujia  sericifera), Evergreen  Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus), Apple of Sodom (Solanum linnaeanum), pampas (Cortaderia  spp.), and Boneseed (Chrysanthemoides monilifera) have been  present on the  island for many years, and in pasture had been kept in check by grazing. However, when pasture is retired, populations of these weeds  explode and threaten the plantings on not only Motutapu  Island, but also by dispersal to neighbouring Hauraki Gulf Islands. In particular, Rangitoto Island is threatened by invasion of weeds from Motutapu.

Weeding of the planted forests takes place in a strategic and planned way year round. Volunteers routinely grid search the plantations and control the infestations (using the hip chain method). Sources of reinfestation on other parts of the island are addressed by contractors who have the training to get at inaccessible weeds (e.g., cliff faces). New drone technology is in the process of being recruited to  identify infestations of weeds  from the  air, where they cannot be seen from the ground, or where access is particularly hazardous (e.g., cliff faces).

Pest species management. The suite of mammalian predators and herbivores on the Island prior to 2009 were detrimental to both flora and fauna, and their continued presence would have meant that neither locally extinct bird and plant species could be reintroduced, nor palatable plant species thrive.  These pests included: rats (Rattus rattus,  R. norvegicus, R. exulans); House Mouse (Mus musculus); Stoat (Mustela erminea); feral Cat (Felis catus); Hedgehog  (Erinaceus  europaeus occidentalis) and the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

The successful eradication of pests from Motutapu and Rangitoto Islands was undertaken by DOC in 2009 using helicopters to disperse broadifacoum. DOC employs a biosecurity ranger on the island who responds to any new rat, stoat or other incursions.

Recent arrivals of North Island brown kiwi bring the total to 26, closer to the target of 40 required for a founder population. Photo: MRT

Further releases of takahē will bring the breeding
pairs to a total of 20, the largest total outside Fiordland. Photo: MRT

Faunal translocations. A major milestone was the declaration in 2011 of pest-free status for the Island, and the subsequent re-introductions of birds and aquatic taxa that this allowed.

The island’s pest-free status gives safe refuge to some of New Zealand’s rarest bird species. Since it became pest-free, the following rare, endangered and non-threatened species have been translocated:

  • Coromandel Brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli)
  • Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri)
  • Tīeke (Philesturnus rufusater)
  • Shore Plover (Thinornis  novaeseelandiae)
  • Whitehead (Mohoua albicilla)
  • Pāteke (Anas chlorotis)
  • Redfin bully (Gobiomorphus huttoni)
  • Koura (Paranephrops planifrons)

Survey and Monitoring.  Annual surveys of terrestrial birds and shorebirds by the Ornithological Society of New Zealand have been undertaken since 2007. As well,  a survey of seabirds nesting on the island is underway, and monitoring of translocated birds by MRT volunteers in association with DOC is ongoing. Stream fauna and reptiles are surveyed and reported on annually by DOC.

The Island’s native and exotic plants are also being surveyed to ascertain progress of the recovery over time, and plant survival rates have been monitored informally via regular tours of the plantings to assess what is working and what is not.

Evidence that recovery processes are securely occurring on the island

It is clear that the 100ha of restored vegetation has resulted in natural processes of vegetation recovery occurring, with natural regeneration evident for many species. Once the fruiting forest is fully established on Motutapu Island we envisage that it will be fully self-sustaining via seed dispersal by frugivorous birds.

Populations of fauna, with four exceptions, appear to be self-sustainable on Island. Many of the reintroduced bird species are clearly reproducing on the island and populations are growing without human intervention as evidenced by our bird surveys. The exceptions are Shore plover and Pāteke which naturally disperse away from the Island, necessitating several translocations to ensure the populations build to create a resident population, and are viable. Kiwi and Takahē populations are still being built up to founder population size.

 Bird species (terrestrial diurnal including waders):

  • an increase from 50 species in 2010 to 60 in 2015
  • Re-introduced populations expanding: Takahē, Whitehead,  Tīeke
  • Self-introduced or now detectable: Kākāriki (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), Bellbird (Anthornis melanura), Spotless Crake (Porzana tabuensis), Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor), Banded Rail (Gallirallus phillipensis), Grey-faced Storm Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera  gouldi).

Reptiles: Population and range expansions of the four native and one introduced species. The following are the natives:

  • Common Gecko (Woodworthia maculatus): up to ten-fold at some sites since 2008
  • Suter’s Skink (Oligosoma suteri): up to a hundred-fold at some sites since 2008 baseline
  • Copper Skink (Cyclodina aeneum): up to ten-fold at some sites since 2008 baseline
  • Moko Skink (Oligosoma moco): up to ten-fold at some sites since 2008

Fish:

  • Giant kokopu (Galaxius argenteus) now

Secure engagement with local  stakeholders.

There are a number of stakeholders that are fully engaged in the project through the MRT,  including:

  • Department of Conservation – MRT’s partner since the inception of the Trust in 1994, which has been responsible for some of our biggest milestones, such as the eradication of mammalian predators 2009-2011.
  • Motutapu Farms Ltd – leases the pasture from DOC to farm beef and sheep, becoming Auckland’s largest Another long-standing partner, helping the ecology of the island and wider Hauraki Gulf by farming organically.
  • Ngāi Tai ki Tamaki – the iwi who have mana whenua on the island and give their blessing to reintroduced fauna
  • Ngāti Paoa & Ngāti Tamaterā – Coromandel iwi who are kaitiaki of the North Island Brown Kiwi (Coromandel  subspecies) on
  • Motutapu Outdoor Education Centre (MOEC)  – use the island for accommodation of school groups gaining outdoor
  • Pāteke recovery
  • Takahē recovery group
  • Auckland Zoo – monitoring the populations of Redfin Bully ( Gobiomorphus huttoni) and Koura (Paranephrops planifrons).

Contact : Liz Brooks, Manager, Motutapu Restoration Trust, Newmarket, Auckland 1149, New Zealand.  Tel: +64 9 455 9634; PO Box 99 827; Email:  liz@motutapu.org.nz