Category Archives: Threatened species & communities

Beyond the 1990s, beyond Iluka – koalas and citizen science – UPDATE of EMR summary

Daniel Lunney, Lisa O’Neill, Alison Matthews, Dionne Coburn and Chris Moon

[Update of EMR summary – Lunney, Daniel, Lisa O’Neill, Alison Matthews and Dionne Coburn ( 2000) “Contribution of community knowledge of vertebrate fauna to management and planning. Ecological Management & Restoration, 1:3, . 175-184. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00036.x]

Key words: national parks, SEPP 44, adaptive management, social criteria, extinction, wildlife survey, coastal forests.

Figure 1. Interest in local wildlife among residents and visitors to the north coast village of Iluka was growing in the 1990s, providing an opportunity for community involvement in our wildlife survey designed not only to gain information but to raise awareness. (Photo Dan Lunney 1991.)

Introduction. Our EMR feature published in 2000 reported on research that commenced in 1997 when we set out to identify the species and locations of the vertebrate fauna of Iluka peninsula, at the mouth of the Clarence River NSW, Australia. Much of the peninsula had been damaged by post war sand mining and creeping urban growth. We had recognised that there was a growing interest by local communities in conserving biodiversity (Fig 1), as Iluka had residential areas not far from a magnificent Nature Reserve (Iluka NR) and a National Park (Bundjalung NP). We conducted a community-based survey, sent to every household, which used a large, coloured map of the peninsula and a questionnaire asking respondents to mark the locations of the fauna they had seen. As a result of the survey, we concluded that vertebrate fauna does live on private land, that local knowledge is valuable, and that there is both community concern over declining fauna and support for planning, management and long-term fauna research.

Figure 2. Two junior volunteers learning radio-tracking to locate koalas, Iluka Peninsula. (Photo Dan Lunney 1992)

The rise of citizen science. We were not the first to use a community-based survey for wildlife in NSW. A team (Philip Reed and Dan Lunney) in 1986-87 greatly expanded on some skilled, but tentative, efforts to survey Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in NSW by the small but effective Fauna Protection Panel. We produced a small questionnaire, which was distributed in 1986, and when we came to analysing the data in 1987, we joined up with CSIRO scientist Paul Walker who had a new tool, GIS, still in its infancy, but which showed great promise. By the time of the Iluka study, GIS was central to our methods.

Over the last 20 years there has been a revolution in the acquisition and application of community knowledge (Figs 2 and 3), a better appreciation of its extent, and limitations, and how to better integrate a greater diversity of disciplines for a more effective planning and management outcome. A Google Scholar search for ‘citizen science’ in July 2019 returned over 2 million results, establishing this phrase in the scientific literature to describe projects that enlist the community for collecting or analyzing scientific data. The rise and success of citizen science undoubtedly stems from the power of the internet and web-based tools that members of the public can use to record species’ locations, providing answers to such questions as: is a species increasing, decreasing or stable? – answers to which increase the capacity for managers and planners to be better targeted in their decisions. Such web-based technology also helps to overcome resource limitations where scale is an important factor. For example, for our 2006 state-wide koala and other wildlife survey we put a major effort into the distribution of the survey, a paper form with a large map. Now, the current 2019 survey is web-based, a procedure we explored in north-west NSW in 2014 where we selected the study area to be 200 by 300 km.

Figure 3. A skilled team climbing a tree to capture a koala for a health check and radio-tracking in a study of the koala population of the Iluka peninsula. (Photo Dan Lunney 1991.)

A further innovation comes from linking sociology to ecology and expanding the term from citizen science to ‘crowd-sourced information’. An example is a study in the four local government areas just north of Iluka, namely Lismore, Byron, Ballina and Tweed. The sociological side, led by Greg Brown, used the threatened koala as a case in point. The study demonstrated a novel, socio-ecological approach for identifying conservation opportunity that spatially connected landscapes with community preferences to prioritize koala recovery strategies at a regional scale. When multiple criteria (ecological, social, and economic) were included in the conservation assessment, we found the social acceptability criterion exerted the greatest influence on spatial conservation priorities. While this is a long way from our 1997 Iluka study, it is in the same lineage and represents two decades of development of what has become a widely accepted approach to regional planning.

Lessons learned and future directions. Looking back at the Iluka story, in one sense, it is a sorry one. When we first started our research on the Iluka peninsula in 1990, there was a visible population of koalas. It dwindled to extinction over the next decade so the locations of koalas in our EMR paper were of recent but fading memories. By defining our study area to a small location, it was possible to identify the cumulative impact of mining, housing, disease, roadkill, dog kill and fire. There have been reports of koalas being back on the peninsula as early as 2002 (Kay Jeffrey, local resident) and there have been subsequent sightings (John Turbill DPIE pers comm August 2019), we presume moving down from such locations as the northern part of Bundjalung National Park

Looking back on our EMR paper, we also see that the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) was one of the most common species recorded by the community on the Iluka peninsula. It has now gone (John Turbill DPIE, pers. comm., August 2019). The coastal Emu population in northern New South Wales is now recognized as being under threat and a citizen science project called ‘Caring for our Coastal Emus’ has been established to collect recent emu sightings from the public using a web-based emu register to pin-point locations on a map. This register is administered by Clarence Valley Council and reflects the shift from the 1990s where the tools and expertise for collecting scientific data for management and planning were beyond the scope of local government. Today, local councils are considerably more engaged in conservation and community education projects.  Indeed, the Clarence Valley Council (2015) has prepared a Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) for the lower Clarence, which includes Iluka, although it was not adopted beyond council level. The plan recognizes the importance of reducing further clearing and protecting and rehabilitating those areas that remain, and identifies that further studies and monitoring are required to establish the current status of the Iluka koala population.

In the early 1990s, we had prepared a possible plan of management for the koalas of Iluka peninsula but there was no legal incentive to adopt it. Thus, in late 1994, when one of us (DL) was asked by the then NSW Department of Planning and Urban Affairs to help write a SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) for koala habitat protection, the potential value of doing so was clear to us. SEPP 44 was written in three days, with a promise to revise it in 1995. SEPP 44 has proved to be valuable, although in recent years, the process of preparing and submitting CKoPMs from councils to the NSW state government seems to have stalled.

In conclusion, our EMR feature was written at the time of an upward inflection in the study of koalas, of fauna survey using crowd-sourced information.  We are now better equipped to use the new techniques from over three decades of what might be described as adaptive management of the ideas in our original EMR paper. We also press the point that research, exploring new ideas, incorporating new techniques and publishing our findings and thoughts make a crucial contribution to conserving not only koalas, but all our wildlife and natural areas, both in and out of reserves.  Such research is therefore vital to the survival of our wildlife.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: In addition to the funding bodies in our EMR paper of 2000, support for the research supporting the above comments has been extensive, as reflected in the acknowledgements section of each report.

Contact. Daniel Lunney, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment NSW, (PO Box 1967, Hurstville NSW 2220 and the University of Sydney, NSW 2006. dan.lunney@environment.nsw.gov.au).

Ecological restoration in urban environments in New Zealand – UPDATE of EMR feature

Bruce Clarkson, Catherine Kirby and Kiri Wallace

[Update of EMR feature  – Clarkson, B.D. & Kirby, C.L. (2016) Ecological restoration in urban environments in New Zealand. Ecological Management & Restoration, 17:3, 180-190.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12229]

Key words: urban ecology; restoration; indigenous biodiversity; New Zealand

Figure 1. Kauri dieback disease is affecting individual trees (left). [Photo Nick Waipara]

Introduction. Our 2016 EMR feature reviewed the state of research and practice of ecological restoration in urban environments in New Zealand. We concluded that urban restoration can influence and support regional and national biodiversity goals. We also observed that research effort was light, lacking interdisciplinary breadth and may not be sufficiently connected to restoration practice to ensure long-term success of many projects.

While it is only three years since that review was published, urban ecological restoration continues to grow and evolve, and the policy setting and political context have changed significantly. New threats and opportunities have emerged. The spread of a dieback disease and the more recent arrival of myrtle rust, rapid uptake of Predator Free 2050, emergence of the One Billion Trees programme, a surge in housing and subdivision development, and a potentially more supportive policy framework are all major factors.

Threats and opportunities. Kauri dieback disease is severely affecting urban kauri forests and individual Kauri (Agathis australis) trees in Auckland and other northern North Island urban centres (Fig. 1). Large forest areas adjoining Auckland, including most notably the Waitākere Range and large parts of the Hunua Range, are now closed to the public, preventing access to popular recreational areas. The dieback is caused by a fungus-like pathogen Phytophtora agathicida that is spread through soil movement. The disease may have arrived from overseas although this is uncertain. There is no known cure but research efforts are underway to find a large-scale treatment option.

Myrtle rust (Austropuccinia psidii) was first found on mainland New Zealand in May of 2017, probably arriving by wind from Australia. Myrtle rust threatens many iconic New Zealand plant species in the family Myrtaceae including Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), Mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium), Rātā (Metrosideros robusta), Kānuka (Kunzea spp.), Waiwaka (Syzygium maire) or Swamp maire, and Ramarama (Lophomyrtus bullata). These species are all used to a greater or lesser extent in restoration planting or as specimen trees or shrubs in urban centres, depending on amenity or ecological context. Mānuka is widely used as a pioneer or nurse crop for native forest restoration and is critical to the economically important mānuka honey industry. Waiwaka is a feature of many swamp forest gully restoration projects in Hamilton and this would be a significant setback if they were badly affected. The impact of myrtle rust is still not clear but experience from Australia suggests it may take several years before it reaches population levels sufficient to cause significant damage.

Figure 2. With rapid housing developments in New Zealand, it is important that urban restoration projects are well-planned and efficiently carried out to provide residents with greenspaces to benefit their cultural, health and wellbeing practices. [Photo Catherine Kirby]

In response to a range of housing issues characterised by many as a New Zealand housing crisis, the previous and current government has embarked on several major initiatives to increase the housing stock. A $1B Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) was established in October 2016 with provision for interest free loans to local government to enable opening up of new large areas of housing. Many urban centres including Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton and Queenstown made early applications to the fund. Hamilton City Council was successful in obtaining $290.4 M support for a new greenfield subdivision in Peacocke on the southern edge of the city. This subdivision is intended to enable development of some 3700 houses over the next 10 years and 8100 in 30 years. Approximately 720 ha of peri-urban pastoral agricultural land would eventually be developed (See summary). Coupled with this, and already in progress, is the construction of the Southern Links state highway and local arterial road network. The first proposed subdivision Amberfield covers 105 ha and consent hearings are currently in progress. The environmental impacts of the proposal and how they might be mitigated are being contested. In brief, survival of a small population of the critically endangered Long-tailed Bat (Chalinolobos turberculatus) is the main environmental focus but other aspects including the extent of greenspace and ecological restoration required for ecological compensation are being considered (Figs. 2, 3). With strong political pressure to solve the housing crisis in Hamilton and in other urban centres, making adequate provision for greenspace, especially urban forest, and preventing environmental degradation and indigenous biodiversity decline will be a major challenge.

Figure 3. Aerial photo of Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park (65 ha), an award-winning and ongoing ecological restoration project situated on the edge of urban Hamilton. [Photo Dave Norris]

The Predator Free 2050 (PF2050) programme which gained government (National) approval in 2015, aims to eradicate Stoat (Mustela erminea), Ship Rat (Rattus rattus), Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) and Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) from the whole of New Zealand by 2050 (Department of Conservation 2018). PF2050 is now gaining significant traction in urban environments (Figs. 4, 5) with many urban centres having good numbers of community-led projects underway (See PFNZ National Trust map). Crofton Downs in Wellington was New Zealand’s first predator-free community project. Led by Kelvin Hastie this project has effectively reduced predator numbers to the point that some sensitive native birds e.g. Kākā (Nestor meridionalis), have begun to nest in this suburb after an absence of more than 100 years (See RNZ report). Also in Wellington, the Miramar Peninsula (Te Motu Kairangi) has become a focus, because of its advantageous geography, with a goal to make the area predator free by 2019. Possums had already been exterminated in 2006 (www.temotukairangi.co.nz).

Figure 4. John Innes (Wildlife Ecologist, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research) demonstrating trapping success. Removing pest mammals reduces predation, and also frees up the habitat and resources for our native fauna and flora to flourish. [Photo Neil Fitzgerald]

The One Billion Trees (1BT) programme was initiated by the new coalition government (Labour, NZ First, Greens) in 2017 with $238M released in 2018 for planting of both exotic and native trees across mixed land use types. It is not clear yet whether urban forest projects have received funding support but the guidelines suggest there is no reason why restoration of native forest in urban settings would not be eligible. While the emphasis is on exotic tree plantations, native species and long-term forest protection are increasingly being considered as viable options by the newly established government forestry agency Te Uru Rākau.

The policy setting for ecological restoration in urban environments is potentially becoming more favourable with the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) currently in review and the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy under revision (See terms of reference). The draft NPSIB emphasises restoration of indigenous habitat in biodiversity depleted environments. Specifically, Policy 19: Restoring indigenous biodiversity depleted environments, recommends a target for indigenous land cover, which in urban areas and peri-urban areas must be at least 10 per cent. The revision of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy seems likely to give more emphasis to landscape scale restoration including urban environments.

Figure 5. New Zealand native lizards are extremely vulnerable to mammalian predation (e.g. mice, hedgehogs, ferrets, cats) as well as habitat destruction (e.g. new urban developments). [Photo Tony Wills]

Research update. Using the same targeted Google Scholar search method as reported in the EMR feature we have found 18 new peer reviewed papers published between 2015 and July 2019 (see updated bibliography) that are strongly focused on restoration in New Zealand urban environments. The single paper noted for 2015 was missed in our previous search. Again, we have not included books, book chapters or grey literature. This compares very favourably with the total 27 papers listed in our 2016 review of which more than half dated from 2009. An increasing publication rate confirms increasing interest and research efforts in aspects of urban ecological restoration. While most of the publications remain in the ecological science realm there are now some informed by other disciplines including engineering, psychology, landscape architecture and health sciences.

Most notably since our 2016 review, a new government-funded (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) research programme, People, Cities and Nature, began in November of 2016. This four-year $823 k per annum research programme ends in October of 2020 unless a funding rebid to be submitted in March 2020 is successful. The programme undertakes multidisciplinary research in nine NZ cities via six inter-related projects: restoration plantings; urban lizards; mammalian predators; Māori restoration values; green-space benefits and cross-sector alliances. While the emphasis was on the ecological science of urban restoration at the outset, the programme has become increasingly involved in understanding the multiple benefits of urban ecological projects including social cohesion and health and recreation benefits. The need to connect restoration research and practice has been met by undertaking multi-agency and community workshops involving researchers and practitioners in five cities to date with a further four scheduled before the programme ends.

Acknowledgements. The People Cities and Nature research programme is funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment under grant number UOW1601.

Information. Bruce D. Clarkson, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand bruce.clarkson@waikato.ac.nz; Catherine L. Kirby, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand catherine.kirby@waikato.ac.nz; and Kiri J. Wallace, Environmental Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand kiri.wallace@waikato.ac.nz.

Rehabilitation of former Snowy Scheme Sites in Kosciuszko National Park – UPDATE of EMR feature 2019.

Gabriel Wilks

Update of EMR feature – MacPhee, Elizabeth and Gabriel Wilks (2013) Rehabilitation of former Snowy Scheme Sites in Kosciuszko National Park.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 14:3, 159-171. Doi https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12067

Key words.  Habitat construction, steep slopes, rock spoil.

Figure 1. Shaped rock spoil ready for planting more than 50 years after being dumped.

Introduction. Our original EMR feature article described the origins of this large, long-term rehabilitation program and the challenges faced in the first 10 years. The program’s aim was to address a range of impacts upon montane and sub-alpine vegetation and river corridors in Kosciuszko National Park from the Snowy Hydro Scheme, constructed from 1949 to 1974. Impacts included dumping of large volumes of rock spoil, loss of topsoil and native vegetation, introduction and spread of weeds and asbestos fragments in the landscape.  The article outlined the development of methodologies for restoration, particularly planting trials on steep rock spoils, and how obstacles such as slope instability, plant material availability and lack of soil were being overcome. The process of program implementation was given, including environmental and cultural heritage assessments undertaken as part of site works.  In 2013 a number of positive outcomes were already evident at the 200 sites that had been subjected to at least some treatment, including 18 sites where major rehabilitation works were undertaken. Outcomes included reduction in waterway impacts and invasive weeds, expansion of the Kosciuszko fauna database, regional community benefits, and production of an Australian Alps Rehabilitation Field Guide.

Further work. The Former Snowy Scheme Rehabilitation Program continues to reduce the long term environmental and safety risks of old degraded construction sites to Kosciuszko National Park, as well as improve their visual and ecological function. Some sites treated by 2013 have blended in with the surrounding landscape and are difficult to identify. Many sites are continuing to improve in condition over time, with distinct vegetation layers, natural plant recruitment and evidence of native fauna habitat. Construction history, rock spoil and loss of soil and plant species remain evident at highly altered sites, despite a high standard of rehabilitation work.

An additional 12 Major rehabilitation works have been undertaken since 2013, with selected signature projects and rehabilitation techniques described below.  Note that the former Snowy Scheme rehabilitation program does not address the impact of current Snowy Hydro Limited or proposed infrastructure and support networks such as powerlines, easements, river regulation or roads.

1. Rehabilitation of the Tooma–Tumut Access Tunnel Adit Spoil Dump. This spoil dump (Fig. 1) is located on the highly incised upper reaches of the Tumut River.  The spoil originates from construction in 1958-1961 of the Eucumbene–Tumut Tunnel, which transfers the headwaters of the Tooma River to Tumut Pond. Following earthworks in 2017, the planting crew successfully planted, watered, fertilised and mulched approximately 12,000 plants on rock spoil, with monitoring being undertaken by Greening Australia Capital Region staff (Fig 2.)

Figure 2. Year 1 Revegetation monitoring at Tooma-Tumut SD by Greening Australia Capital Region staff, 2018

2. Construction of contained habitat for the Southern Corroboree Frog. A series of remote enclosures (Fig 3) have been constructed in both rehabilitation areas and former habitat locations to enable re-introduction of this Critically Endangered species (Fig 4), following the devastating impacts of chytrid disease. These enclosures are developing essential stepping stones for frogs from captive breeding programs to move back into the wild. Design of enclosures requires ensuring self-sustaining food and water, shallow ponds for breeding, ability for Threatened Species staff to monitor and control disease and exclusion of other frogs. These works have been done in partnership with NSW Threatened Species staff and zoo institutions.

Figure 3. Constructing Southern Corroboree Frog enclosures in remote locations

Figure 4. Southern Corroboree Frogs living successfully back in Kosciuszko

3. First live record of Smoky Mouse in Kosciuszko National Park. The Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus Fig. 5) was found alive and well for the first time in Kosciuszko National Park, at a Happy Jacks rehabilitation site. Up until the discovery, the only currently known population of the small, smoky grey coloured mouse still surviving in NSW was in the Nullica area, NSW South Coast.  Three individuals, 2 males and 1 female were a significant find for survival and database records of this Critically Endangered Species, and a technical short note was published in EMR in 2017 by fauna surveyor Martin Schulz who found the animals.

Figure 5. A Happy Jacks Smoky Mouse.

4. Making people and places safer with rehabilitation. Sites that housed construction depots and townships during Snowy scheme construction still contained fragments of asbestos which were rapidly degrading due to weather exposure. As total removal was not feasible, the rehabilitation team worked with asbestos experts to develop practical measures to reduce public safety risks. At the remote Junction Shaft Contractors Camp (at Happy Jacks, Figs 6 and 7) and a former township and current camping ground at Island Bend a range of techniques were developed, delineation of zones for suitable uses, creating natural vegetation buffers and capping with rock spoil and plants.

Figure 6. The Junction Shaft Camp in 1955.

Figure 7. The same site 62 years later (and one year after works) with a range of capping and planting zones, including a heli-pad, Mountain Pygmy Possum habitat, and new plantings to improve safety and environment.

5.  Applying techniques beyond Kosci. Project team members took some winter time out of Kosciuszko to ‘grow’ a protection zone for a known population of Endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea) and constructed a series of ponds for future breeding in an old sand quarry at Worrigee Nature Reserve, Nowra (Fig 8). Given former quarries are a feature of a large infrastructure project such as the Snowy Scheme, the team had the technical knowledge for how to restore ecological function despite a radical departure from usual flora and fauna species. A range of techniques including neighborhood consultation, barrier logs and blocks, berms and vegetation were used to reduce the impact of recreational and unauthorised motorbikes and rubbish dumping.

Figure 8. Creating Bell Frog habitat in degraded borrow pits.

6. Growing rehabilitation resources and protecting karst ecosystems. The use of treated waste at the Yarrangobilly Caves visitor precinct to grow snow grasses (Poa spp.) for use in rehabilitation projects across Kosciuszko and been continued and developed (Fig. 9). A renewed emphasis on site production has enabled Poa seed to be available for other projects within the Park. This provides an ecologically preferable option for soil stabilisation and ground cover establishment, reducing the risk of weed invasion and dependence on sterile rye corn as the only available option.

Figure 9. Inspecting plants for seed harvest, which yielded 52 kgs of Poa seed in 2017.

Lessons Learned. It is clear that this is a unique rehabilitation project due to the large number of sites, the natural and heritage values of Kosciuszko National Park and the longevity and continuity of the commitment (approx. 20 years).  Understandably, however, at this point in time challenges in rehabilitation remain. ‘Off the shelf’ rehabilitation products are limited due to remoteness of locations, plant species required, Park management policies and required hygiene protocols. It is important that additional threats are not accidentally introduced, such as foreign pathogens and flora and fauna. As much as possible, resources such as coarse woody debris, woodchip, plant material and compost are sourced from within the Park. A flexible and dynamic approach to the very definition of rehabilitation and techniques and materials is required.  Specific lessons include the following.

Adding organic material on degraded sites is always beneficial. Rehabilitation success has been most obvious where logs, litter, woodchip and straw have been added to the site, to provide mico-niche climate, habitat, and improve soil. While this may increase short term management requirements such as weed control, the commitment is worth it due to the improved results.

Creating compost from old sawmill sawdust has worked well for this rehabilitation project. The most recent development however is in the use of organics waste and treated effluent from visitation facilities as a compost, and there is opportunity for this on-Park recycling to develop.

Other resources such as rice straw have become limited during periods of sustained drought and less rice production. This will remain a challenge into the future. The value of minimising ground cover loss, retaining natural soil characteristics and organic matter in situ and ensuring rapid rehabilitation after disturbance in future developments will become increasingly important for rehabilitation success.

Be creative with team skills and capacity. Problems such asbestos contaminant presence must be addressed for safety, but doesn’t mean walking away from the challenge. A degraded site may be the perfect place to develop species targeted habitat.  Seek expertise advice and consider a range of current and new solutions.

ContactGabriel Wilks, Senior Project Officer, NPWS Southern Ranges Services. PO Box 472, Tumut NSW 2720.  Email: Gabriel.Wilks@environment.nsw.gov.au

Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub: is fire the key to restoration? – UPDATE to EMR SUMMARY

Geoff Lambert, and Judy Lambert

[Update to EMR summary  – Geoff Lambert and Judy Lambert (2015) Progress with restoration and management of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub on North Head, Sydney.  Ecological Management & Restoration, 16:2, 95-199. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12160]

Key Words. Banksia Scrub, North Head, Critically Endangered Ecological Community, Diversity.

Fig 1. Images of the same location over time, taken from “walk-through” photographic surveys (top to bottom) pre-fire, immediate post-fire and 5-years post-fire. (Photos Geoff Lambert)

Introduction. In the original feature, we reported on a number of projects related to the fire ecology of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS), also known as Coastal Sand Mantle Heath (S_HL03), located in conserved areas on North Head, Sydney Australia. Following a Hazard Reduction burn in September 2012, we examined changes in species numbers and diversity and compared these measures with control areas which had been thinned. We fenced one-third of the survey quadrats to test the effects of rabbit herbivory. There had been no fire in this area since 1951.

Twelve months after treatment, burned ESBS had more native plants, greater plant cover, more native species, greater species diversity and fewer weeds than did thinned ESBS (Fig 1). Areas that had been fenced after fire had “superior” attributes to unfenced areas. The results suggested that fire could be used to rejuvenate this heath and that this method produced superior results to thinning, but with a different species mix. Results of either method would be inferior were attempts not made to control predation by rabbits (See 2015 report).

Further works undertaken. In 2015 and 2017 we repeated the surveys, including photographic surveys on the same quadrats. Further Hazard Reduction burns were conducted, which provided an opportunity to repeat the studies reported in the 2015 feature. The study design of the burns was broadly similar to the earlier study, but rabbits were excluded by fencing four large “exclosures” over half the burn site. The pre-fire botanical survey was carried out in 2014, with logistical difficulties delaying the burn until late May 2018. Drought and other factors saw a post-fire survey delayed until October 2019. Photographic surveys of the quadrats have been completed.

Seven cm-resolution, six-weekly, aerial photography of North Head is regularly flown by Nearmap© (Fig 2). We use this photography to monitor the whole of the headland and, in particular, the various burn areas. In order to extrapolate from our quadrat-based sampling (usually 1% of a burn area), the University of Sydney flew 5mm-resolution UAV-based surveys on our behalf, on one of the 2012 burn areas and on the 2018 burn area in November 2017 (Fig 3) .

Apart from the fire studies, the general program of vegetation propagation and management has been continued by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and the North Head Sanctuary Foundation. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy has also undertaken a “whole of headland”, quadrat-based vegetation survey as the first stage of its “Ecological Health” rolling program for its sites.

Fig 2. Nearmap© site images (top to bottom) pre-fire, immediate post-fire and 7-years post-fire. (Photos Nearmap)

Further results. The original results suggested that fire could be used advantageously to rejuvenate ESBS and produced superior results to thinning. While subsequent photographic monitoring shows distinct vegetation change (Figs 1 and 2), on-ground monitoring showed that by five years after the fire we could no longer say this with any optimism. In summary:

  • In the immediate fire aftermath, there was vigorous growth of many species
  • Over the ensuing 5 years, plants began to compete for space, with many dropping out
  • Species diversity was high following the fire but then dropped below pre-fire levels
  • Some plants (e.g. Lepidosperma and Persoonia spp.) came to dominate via vegetative spread
  • The reed, Chordifex dimorphus has almost disappeared
  • Tea-trees (Leptospermum spp.) are gradually making a comeback
  • Between 2015 and 2017, ESBS species numbers were outpaced by non-ESBS species, but held their own in terms of ground cover.

The total disappearance of Chordifex (formerly an abundant species on North Head and prominent in the landscape) from fully-burned quadrats was not something that we could have predicted. This species is not in the Fire Response database, although some Restio spp. are known to be killed by fire. This contributes greatly to the visual changes in the landscape. The great proliferation of Lance Leaf Geebung (Persoonia lanceolata) has also changed the landscape amenity (Fig 1, bottom).

To summarise, the 2012 burn has not yet restored ESBS, but has produced a species mix which may or may not recover to a more typical ESBS assemblage with ongoing management over time. Given that the area had not been burned for 60 years, it may be decades before complete restoration.

Our further studies on the use of clearing and thinning on North Head as an alternative to fire (“Asset Protection Zone Programme”), indicates that thinning and planting can produce a vegetation community acceptable for asset protection fire management and potentially nearly as rich as unmanaged post-fire communities (Fig 4). It is necessary to actively manage these sites by removing fire-prone species every two years. In addition, a trial has been started to test whether total trimming of all except protected species to nearly ground level in an APZ, is an option for longer-term management.

Fig 3. “Thinning Experiment” fenced quadrat #3 in July 2019. The quadrat was created in 2013 by removing Coastal Teatree (Leptospermum laevigatum) and Tree Broom Heath (Monotoca elliptica). The experimental design is a test of raking and seeding, with each treatment in the longer rows. All non-endangered species plants were trimmed to 0.25 metres height in mid-2017. (Photo Geoff Lambert)

Lessons learned and future directions. It is too early to say whether we can maintain and/or restore North Head’s ESBS with a single fire. Further fires may be required. A similar conclusion has been drawn by the Centennial Parklands Trust, with its small-scale fire experiments on the York Road site. We need new and better spot- and broad-scale surveys and further burns in other areas on North Head over a longer period. The spring 2019 survey, just completed, offers an opportunity to better assess the notion that fire is beneficial and necessary.

It will be necessary to monitor the effects of future fires on ESBS diversity closely and for much longer than five years. More active management of the post-fire vegetation may be needed, as we have previously discussed in the feature, and as happens at Golf Club sites (also see video) .

The 2012 burn was relatively “cool”. There is some evidence that “hot” burns (such as have been carried out by NSW Fire and Rescue at some Eastern Suburbs golf courses) may produce improved restoration of ESBS. The 2018 burn on North Head was planned as a “hot” burn. This was not completely achieved, but we may be able to compare “hot” and “cool” burn patches within it.

Fig 4. A 2017 UAV image of quadrat 23 five years after the 2012 burn. The image has been rotated to show the quadrat aligned on the UTM grid. The red square shows the rabbit-proof fences; the black square shows the survey quadrat and the blue squares show the four 1×1 metre vegetation plots. The resolution is approximately 5 mm. (Photo University of Sydney Centre for Field Robotics)

Stakeholders. Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, North Head Sanctuary Foundation. Australian Wildlife Conservancy, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Fire & Rescue NSW.

Funding Bodies. Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife [Grant No. 11.47], Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Contact Information. Dr G.A.Lambert, Secretary, North Head Sanctuary Foundation, (P.O.Box 896, BALGOWLAH 2093, Tel: +61 02 9949 3521, +61 0437 854 025, Email: G.Lambert@iinet.net.au. Web: https://www.northheadsanctuaryfoundation.org.au/

Still repairing wetlands of the Lower Murray: continuing the learning – UPDATE of EMR feature

Anne Jensen

[Update to EMR feature – Jensen, Anne (2002) Repairing wetlands of the Lower Murray: Learning from restoration practice. Ecological Management & Restoration, 3:1, 5-14. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2002.00092.x]

Key words:         Environmental water requirements, regeneration, wetlands, black box seedlings, Lower Murray Valley

Figure 1. Location of the Lower Murray Valley in South Australia (Map A. Jensen)

Introduction. As highlighted in the original EMR feature this summary is updating, in the Lower Murray Valley 1100 wetlands have been identified in 250 hydrologically-linked complexes (Fig. 1). They have undergone major changes to their water regime over the last 100 years, altering the timing, frequency and duration of floods. Wetlands at lower elevations have become permanently flooded by stable river levels and wetlands at higher elevations are ‘droughted’ by much reduced flooding. All would benefit from environmental watering, to fill gaps in breeding and regeneration cycles.

Our 2002 feature showed that, from 1998 to 2002, the not-for-profit conservation company Wetland Care Australia coordinated on-ground projects to repair priority wetlands in the Lower Murray. The Gurra Gurra project was the largest of these projects, with engineering works at 17 sites to restore multiple flowpaths through the 3000 ha floodplain complex.

Key funding from the National Heritage Trust terminated in 2002 and Wetland Care Australia relocated in 2003 to northern New South Wales, where project funding for wetland projects was still available. However, individuals involved with the Wetland Care Australia projects remained in the Lower Murray Valley in other jobs, so the intellectual property was retained and wetland conservation activities continued.

In 2002, the extent and severity of drought conditions in the Murray River Valley were just being recognised. By 2004, a survey estimated that >75% of the two main tree dominants in floodplain woodlands –  River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and Black Box (E. largiflorens)  – were dead, dying or extremely stressed along 700 km of the Murray River Valley . The Millenium Drought (2000-2010) caused extreme stress to both ecological and human communities. Government agencies commenced emergency environmental watering from 2004 through the Living Murray program to limit catastrophic damage at eight iconic sites but millions of mature eucalypts were lost from floodplain woodlands along river valleys.

The Millenium Drought changed the governance context radically, with the Water Act 2007 establishing a new Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Basin Plan. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) was able to purchase water for environmental use.

Nature delivered life-saving floods in 2010-12, which broke the drought and sent flows through the Gurra Gurra complex flowpaths, so the works completed back in 2000 finally fulfilled their function (Fig. 2). Water flowed through the pipes at Tortoise Crossing for 170 days in 2010-11 and again for 71 days in 2012.

Figure 2. The sign at the key Tortoise Crossing flow path explains that replacing three pipes with 160 pipes back in 2000 now allows 50 times more flow when the river floods, as seen at the flood peak in December 2016 (Photos A. Jensen)

The sequence of floods led to mass germination of Black Box at medium floodplain elevations, with mass River Red Gum seedlings at lower elevations. A range of studies show that the survival of these seedlings is critical to fill age gaps and replace the losses from the Millenium Drought, as survival rates from germination events in the 1970s and 1990s were very poor and the last successful mass recruitment of Black Box in the Lower Murray Valley was from the 1955-56 floods.

Following the floods in 2010-2012, conditions were dry in 2013-15 and the fields of mass seedlings began to dry out and die. A further short flood in 2016 watered the surviving fields of Black Box seedlings for at least two weeks, adding to prospects of survival and flowing through the Tortoise Crossing pipes for 75 days. However, conditions in 2018-19 and into summer 2019-20 are once again extremely dry, with stress appearing in mature trees and saplings dying off. The Lower Murray Valley is still recovering from the Millenium Drought, thus needing more frequent watering over a sequence of years to bring mature trees back to health and full seed production, so this is a significant setback.

Further works and activities since 2002. Since 2008, the environmental charity Nature Foundation SA (NFSA) has been undertaking environmental watering projects on smaller, privately-owned sites in the Lower Murray, many from the original Wetland Care Australia list. In the Lower Murray Valley, water needs to be lifted up to 3 m from the river channel to reach wetlands on the floodplain, requiring costly energy. This is done using irrigation techniques, including pumps, pipes and sprinklers. These smaller projects complement government agency projects using major infrastructure to deliver environmental water to much larger wetland complexes.

In 2008-09, the primary purpose was to acquire water and use it to limit extreme environmental damage in the drought. In 2009 NFSA provided supplementary water for Little Duck Lagoon, one of the sites from the Wetland Care Australia Gurra Gurra project.

From 2012-19, NFSA has held a contract partnered with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) to deliver up to 10 GL/y of environmental water to selected sites. A priority for the NFSA Water for Nature program has been to sustain the mass germination triggered by the 2010-12 floods, watering fields of seedlings and saplings so they can fill the very large gap in age structure of Black Box populations. Stressed mature Black Box trees are being watered to improve their condition and volumes of seed produced. While delivering water to a defined wetland is relatively simple, with water pumped to an inlet point and allowed to pool in the wetland, watering scattered fields of seedlings and saplings on relatively flat floodplain land is a challenge, especially when they are in gaps between mature trees. The solution has been to use high-throw sprinklers (simulating rainfall) and operating them at night, to allow soakage into clay soils and to avoid evaporative loss during the day.

Since 2008, NFSA has delivered almost 13 GL of water to 97 watering sites in 20 wetland complexes, covering 27 different ecological targets across 12 habitat types. A total of 4.9 GL was delivered to 15 sites in 2017-18 and 1.55 GL was delivered in 2018-19 to 25 sites covering 126 ha. Rolling 5-year watering plans have been developed for each site, able to respond to annual water availability, Basin-wide priorities, environmental water requirements, climatic conditions, site watering history and feasibility of delivery.

One of the NFSA sites is Lyrup Lagoon in the Gurra Gurra complex, being watered to reduce accumulated salinity from groundwater inflows. Importantly, the infrastructure of the Central Irrigation Trust was used to deliver water to the lagoon. Thus, local irrigators are partners in delivery of water for regional environmental benefits and river health.

Figure 3. Watering guidelines developed by the Water For Nature program for stressed and healthy woodlands, for (a) River Red Gum and (b) Black Box (Water for Nature).

Further Results. The initial watering guidelines reported in the original EMR feature have been expanded through research and monitoring of responses to watering events, developing guidelines for timing and frequency of wetting and drying cycles to promote recovery in mature trees and support germination and survival of seedlings. These have been applied for each site in the rolling 5-year watering plans, which then determine the annual list of sites due for watering (see NFSA 5 year strategy and Fig. 3).

Watering by NFSA 2013-2019 has sustained Black Box seedlings and saplings through four dry summers, with watered plants 2-3 times taller than non-watered plants (Fig. 4). The Water For Nature monitoring report shows that, at NFSA sites, mature Black Box trees that have received periodic environmental water as determined by their 5-year watering plan during 2015-2019 were 21-46% (average 36%) better in health than adjacent non-watered sites, with denser, more vigorous canopies and the relative improvement was greatest during hotter and drier periods. The watering events thus provided water between natural floods to sustain growth in saplings and crop cycles in mature trees. Watering at other NFSA sites has provided vital habitat for vulnerable and endangered fauna including the Murray Hardyhead (Craterocephalus fluviatilis), Southern Bell Frog (Litoria raniformis), Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus) and Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii).

Figure 4. Watered River Red Gum saplings at Thiele Flat, Loxton; November 2013 (top) and March 2018 (bottom). Note 2016 flood level mark on foreground trees (Photos A. Jensen)

Lessons learned and future directions. The significant benefits of environmental water have been demonstrated at NFSA’s Water For Nature sites, for floodplain vegetation communities and in temporary wetlands. Evolving research indicates that watering in late spring-early summer mimics peak flows in the natural water regime, coinciding with highest chances of breeding and germination events and thus ecologically ideal timing (See bibliography). Benefits are increased if seasonally filled wetlands are topped up in early summer, to ensure sufficient duration to sustain frog and waterbird breeding.

As well as ideal timing, studies have shown that watering at any time of the year can be beneficial, including enhancing soil moisture storage in the unsaturated zone and sustaining volume in bud and fruit crops. A key finding has been that watering in late autumn-early winter sustains soil moisture, priming sites to give an enhanced response to watering in the following spring-summer.

However, dry climatic conditions and political pressures to minimise water recovery volumes are combining to reduce availability of environmental water, with only very highest priority sites likely to receive water in the 2019-20 water year. Environmental water cannot create floods, it can only provide water to selected priority sites during dry times and enhance the benefits of any natural floods. Current volumes can only meet the requirements of a limited number of sites, leaving many sites without the water needed to sustain them through dry times or to recover from the severe impact of the Millenium drought.

Bureaucratic processes for approvals also hinder effective delivery of environmental water. With the water year coinciding with the financial year from July to June, water delivery stops in June to allow water accounts to be finalised. Approval to water in the following year can take 2-3 months, meaning no water can be delivered during the winter months for priming, missing the advantage of low evaporation rates and higher chances of piggy-backing on rainfall events.

Funding for environmental projects tends to be short term, leading to job insecurity for project managers, loss of continuity and project knowledge, and inability to complete watering sequences. Very significant volunteer resources are required to make these watering projects happen, including inputs from landholders who have donated electricity connections to the floodplain, transported diesel to re-fuel pumps, loaned pumps, tractors and irrigation equipment, plus use of irrigation and local government infrastructure to deliver water, and physical assistance and maintenance from local volunteer groups.

Practical on-ground watering knowledge is maturing well; what is needed now is sufficient water and ongoing consistent funding to support projects to deliver minimum environmental water requirements for the wetlands of the Lower Murray Valley. The pipes at Tortoise Crossing, installed in 2000 and only flooded twice, are more than ready for the next high flows to pour through!

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. The monitoring project was supported as part of the project Ecological Responses to Environmental Watering in the South Australian River Murray Valley, assessing the benefits of salinity interception schemes on floodplain vegetation, coordinated by Australian Water Environments for SA Water from March 2015 to June 2017. Continuing funding for monitoring in 2017-2019 was provided in a grant from the Ian Potter Foundation to Nature Foundation SA, as well as funding from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (2018-19). Water for the environmental watering projects studied here was provided through annual allocations of water from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office to Nature Foundation SA.  Water delivery was managed by the NFSA Water For Nature program through Program Manager Natalie Stalenberg. Practical support and site access was provided by Steve Clark, landholder and committee member for Water for Nature program, and landholders John and Bronwyn Burford.

Contact. Dr Anne Jensen, Environmental Consultant; Volunteer member, Water for Nature Committee, Nature Foundation SA; part-time consultant Wetland Ecologist for Water for Nature Program of Nature Foundation SA (7 Ford Street, Maylands SA 5069, Australia; Tel: +61 407 170 706; Email: ajensen@internode.on.net

Registration of domestic cats on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean: stage one to an eradication program for stray and feral cats to mitigate social and environmental impacts – UPDATE of EMR feature

 David Algar, Neil Hamilton and Caitlyn Pink

[Update to EMR article: Algar, David, Stefanie Hilmer, Don Nickels and Audrey Nickels (2011) Successful domestic cat neutering: first step towards eradicating cats on Christmas Island for wildlife protection. Ecological Management & Restoration, 12:2, 93-101. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00594.x]

Key words: domestic and feral cats, eradication program, cat de-sexing and registration, cat management, pet cat survey, local cat legislation

Figure 1. Stray cat on Christmas Island (Photo Neil Hamilton DBCA)

Introduction: In 2010 a ‘’Cat Management Plan’’ was commissioned by the various land management agencies on Christmas Island to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of cats (Felis catus) on the island (Fig 1). These impacts included contributing towards the decline of a number of native species through predation, as well as being a source of Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasite that can lead to serious human health complications.

The plan proposed a strategy to eradicate cats entirely from the island as the domestic population died out and was adopted in late 2010. The essential first stage of the management plan was therefore the registration of all domestic cats. As part of this plan, amendments to the Local Cat Management Laws (Shire of Christmas Island Local Law for the Keeping and Control of Cats 2004 (WA)) under the Local Government Act 1995 (WA) were endorsed in August 2010. These revisions required that all domestic cats in the Shire of Christmas Island were legally bound to be de-sexed, tattooed, microchipped and registered with the Shire. The revisions were designed to limit domestic and stray/feral cat impact on the native fauna, promote responsible cat ownership, compliance and enforcement of cat management laws and prohibit the importation of new cats. Micro-chipping of domestic cats would enable the identification of those animals during trapping campaigns for stray and feral cats, so that they could be released rather than destroyed. De-sexing would prevent potential natal recruitment into the domestic, stray and feral populations. A survey of domestic cats was conducted prior to the veterinary program in October 2010 (see original feature), to guarantee that all domestic cats would be registered. One hundred and fifty-two cats were recorded during the initial survey in October 2010 of which 136 were registered as domestic pets.

Figure 2. Red-tailed Tropic-Bird with chick May 2012. (Photo Neil Hamilton DBCA)

Further works undertaken: Two further veterinary visits were conducted in May 2011 and 2012 following the domestic cat surveys to complete the veterinary program. Subsequent domestic cat surveys have been conducted each May in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2016 prior to the domestic cat survey, it came to our attention that a number of un-registered cats were being kept as pets. It was decided by the ‘’Christmas Island Cat Eradication Steering Committee’’ that a short-term amnesty on pet cat ownership be invoked so that these animals could also be de-sexed and registered. Following this amnesty, a final veterinary program was endorsed and fines were still issued to those residents who wanted their otherwise illegal cat to be de-sexed and registered, or unregistered cats could be handed in and euthanased without charge. Further domestic cat surveys were conducted in May 2017 and October 2018.

Further results to date: Since October 2010, 184 cats have been registered following the various veterinary programs. The survey conducted in 2018 recorded 66 registered cats remaining. The total number of domestic cats registered each year, the sex population structure, the number of new registrations and number deregistered are presented in Table 1, with the decline of two-thirds relatively steady over the years.

Table 1. Total number of domestic cats registered each year, the sex structure, the number of new registrations and number de-registered.

Date No. registered New/re-registers De-registers
  Total Female Male Total Female Male Total Female Male
October 2010 N/A N/A N/A 136 66 70 N/A N/A N/A
May 2011 138 69 69 18 10 8 16 7 9
May 2012 135 66 69 12 5 7 15 8 7
May 2013 111 53 58 0 0 0 24 13 11
May 2014 101 50 51 0 0 0 10 5 5
May 2015 87 45 42 0 0 0 14 5 9
May 2016 75 41 34 2 1 1 14 5 9
June 2016 93 49 44 18 8 10 0 0 0
May 2017 74 38 36 1 0 1 20 11 9
October 2018 66 36 30 0 0 0 8 2 6

Lessons learned and future directions: At the conclusion of the domestic cat survey in 2018, there were 66 registered cats present on the island. An additional seven domestic cats are known to have died before the planned 2019 domestic cat survey. Death of registered cats over the past nine years has been caused by a number of factors including: road fatalities; old age; disease; requests for cats to be euthanased for a variety of reasons and cats exported back to the mainland.

Domestic cats will remain on Christmas Island for a number of years, with the youngest cat approximately three years of age. Initially, as reported in the 2011 feature, it was predicted that the island would be domestic cat-free by 2024 however, this is unlikely given the subsequent and final veterinary program in 2016.

Further amendments to the island’s cat local laws were adopted in 2018, following consultation with the community and the Christmas Island Cat Eradication Steering Committee. This included an increase in penalties for illegal unregistered cats and compulsory transfer of ownership procedures to prevent future movement of registered pet cats into the designated pet cat prohibited zone. This zone protects nesting habitat for the ground-nesting Red-tailed Tropic Bird (Phaethon rubricauda, Fig 2.), where cat predation led to 90% failure of fledgling rates pre-control. Subsequent cat management in this zone has been successful in improving fledgling survival (See 2012 report).

There are several benefits of repeating the domestic cat survey each year as pet numbers decline: continue program awareness to all residents; maintain community support and involvement; offer pet health advice; thoroughly check for illegal cats to report to the Shire and respond to stray cat reports within the township. This continued effort will help ensure there is little opportunity or temptation to obtain new kittens as illegal pets while later stages of the eradication are progressing, and responsible cat ownership is maintained until the domestic cat population has died out.

The goal of eradicating cats remains highly relevant and is supported by the island community, local land management agencies and the federal government. The feasibility of long-term success is high and the outcome is likely to provide valuable lessons for other jurisdictions with social and environmental issues surrounding the presence of feral and domestic cats.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This is a collaborative project between Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and Parks Australia. The authors would like to thank Parks Australia, Christmas Island Phosphates, Shire of Christmas Island, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development and Australian Border Force for their financial, in-kind and logistical support. Special thanks to Robert Muller, Khaleisha Amin and Chris Su for their assistance in annual surveys. The warm welcome and assistance of the whole Christmas Island community during all domestic cat surveys has been appreciated.

Contact information: David Algar, Biodiversity and Conservation Science, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, Western Australia, Australia 6983) Email: dave.algar@dbca.wa.gov.au

 

 

Butterfly population persists 10 years after emergency habitat restoration and translocation – UPDATE to EMR feature

[Update to 2008 EMR feature  –  Raymond Mjadwesch and Simon Nally (2008) Emergency relocation of a Purple Copper Butterfly colony during roadworks: Successes and lessons learned. Ecological Management & Restoration,  9:2, 100-109.   https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00400.x]

By Simon Nally and Raymond Mjadwesch

Fig 1.  The endangered Purple Copper Butterfly (Paralucia spinifera) (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Key wordsParalucia spinifera, Purple Copper Butterfly, reintroduction, invertebrate, threatened species.

Introduction: As reported in the original EMR feature, the unintended destruction of the habitat of a population of the endangered Purple Copper Butterfly (Paralucia spinifera, Fig 1) north of Lithgow, Australia in 2004, precipitated a bold, innovative, and rapid emergency program of habitat restoration and butterfly larvae translocation.

A stand of the butterfly’s larval host plants, Blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa subsp. lasiophylla), had been largely destroyed to enable road construction (Fig 2a). The butterflies had commenced emerging from their nearly nine-month-long pupation in the attendant ant’s (Anonychomyrma itinerans) underground nests to find an absence of host plants.

Construction work ceased immediately, and supplementary Blackthorn plants were planted throughout the area of predicted butterfly emergence. The Blackthorn were planted in their pots, to allow for later removal and replanting in the area where the habitat was being restored.  The Blackthorn were sugar-baited to attract the attendant ant as the ant was assumed to affect the male butterfly’s selection of home ranges, and ultimately, egg-laying on these larval host plants. Concurrently with the provision of Blackthorn for egg-laying, an adjoining degraded area of potential habitat was treated for infestations of woody weeds and growth of emergent Eucalyptus trees that excluded Blackthorn or blocked sunlight, precluding its suitability for occupation by the species.  Once weeds were controlled, Blackthorn was established in this area using tube-stock planting.

Attendant ants were enticed to all the Blackthorn introduced to the site, male butterflies established territories and were successful at attracting females with whom to mate, and these females laid eggs on the Blackthorn. The project partners were relieved at these initial results! However, as much of the site was to be permanently destroyed due to road construction, this temporarily reprieved population had to be translocated.

Over 12 nights, 1,260 of the facultatively nocturnal larvae were collected (along with any associated attendant ants) as they emerged to feed on Blackthorn leaves and translocated to the newly created habitat established on an adjacent restoration area (Fig 2b). Each translocated larva was monitored until it was attended by ants (again attracted to the recipient habitat using a sugar bait). Further monitoring continued to confirm continued growth of larvae until pupation was assumed to occur.

The duration of the emergency habitat restoration and translocation activities from first discovery of the habitat destruction to the assumed pupation of the translocated larvae in the newly established habitat (Fig 3) was less than five months.

After the autumn and winter pupation period, the project partners were delighted to find butterflies emerging, mating, and laying eggs on the remaining restored habitat, one year after the initial habitat destruction was first detected. Monitoring of larval numbers during 2005-2008, which involved systematic nocturnal inspection of all Blackthorn plants at the site, indicated that the population was secure and had grown after an initial reduction in calculated numbers in the first year after translocation.

Figure 2a. 2004 – The site as found showing the extent of habitat destruction (when the butterfly and habitat loss was initially detected). (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Figure 2b. 2005 – Larvae from yellow-delineated area were translocated (after temporary introduction) into the blue-delineated area and bushland further right. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Monitoring update: In 2013 and 2015 monitoring reverted to an area search method, counting flying butterflies – a technique routinely used to indicate butterfly distribution / areas of activity at each of the other known populations. In 2015, ten years after the emergency translocation and habitat restoration, 48 butterflies were observed in the restored habitat, the second highest number recorded for this site.

Note that the results of monitoring counts can vary with date of survey relative to the flying period, time of day, and weather conditions on the day, and represent an indicator of presence and activity rather than a measure of absolute abundance. During some years multiple monitoring events occurred; in 2013 and 2015 there was only a single monitoring count.

There have been no further nocturnal larvae counts since the culmination of the project.

A 2019 site assessment identified the need for further woody weed maintenance works (which has been ongoing in the interim, funded by the LLS) to avoid potential degradation of the habitat quality due to competition with and shading of the host plant, Blackthorn.  Longer term maintenance of this site may require active management to ensure persistence of Blackthorn either through burning or mechanical damage to Blackthorn to promote re-sprouting from the rootstock and juvenile leaf production. Juvenile leaves lack the hairy indumentum present on the lower surfaces of intermediate and adult Blackthorn leaves, and have been observed to be preferentially skeletonized by early-instar larvae.

The 2019 site inspection also revealed that powerline easement works had resulted in weedicide spraying of eucalypt (Eucalyptus ssp.) saplings throughout the restored habitat, with Blackthorn plants and other native plant species affected.

Figure 3a – the site in 2005, after restoration works were complete, showing the initial flush of pioneer species after soil disturbance and restoration. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Figure 3b – the site in 2019 showing the final shrubby understory of sedges and shrubs (including scattered Blackthorn) typical of the locally native open forest community. (Photo Raymond Mjadwesch)

Lessons learned and future directions: Several factors contributed to the success of the habitat restoration and translocation program, some of which were of notable serendipity. It was extremely fortunate that the species was detected within the affected area (after the initial survey of the site had failed to detect habitat for the species); that Blackthorn tube-stock (upon which the restoration relied) was available; that an area considered likely to support Purple Copper Butterfly suitable for rehabilitation lay adjacent to the affected area; and that the timing of the damage in the annual lifecycle of the species allowed the partners to work with the opportunity to establish larval food plants  when it was required.

However, we believe that it was human factors that fundamentally combined to create the environment for success:

  • the commitment of the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (then the RTA) to immediately and fully support restoration works to ameliorate the damage and maximize the chances of the population surviving in the long term, including changing the design of the works to reduce the extent of permanent damage, and the funding of the restoration, translocation, and monitoring activities.
  • the project partners, including the authors, the RTA, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and Lithgow LandCare unified in collaboration, ceasing other activities to direct all necessary effort to maximize chances of success.
  • the quick, resourceful and bold action to trial and implement innovative techniques that were risky and speculative, such as luring attendant ants to planted Blackthorn using sugar, trial translocating attendant ants, and translocating larvae.
  • that there had been sufficient field observations to  predict the likely behavior of butterflies and larvae and to predict the likely response of the species’ habitat to management intervention.

We encourage restoration practitioners to immerse themselves in the environments they intend to manipulate, and ponder on the behavior, function, and interactions between each element of the ecosystem before them. When choosing to act – to intervene – to manipulate, do so sensitively to what you both know and feel that you have learned in the field, and act decisively, quickly, and boldly. Most importantly, corral a team of partners who believe in the endeavor and who fully commit their support to each other for a common restoration objective.

Endnote: In September 2019, an unplanned fire burnt much of the site. Given the monitoring data available for this site, further monitoring to study the effect of fire on the species and its habitat is being considered.

 Stakeholders and Funding bodies:   NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (now NSW Roads and Maritime), NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (now NSW Office of Environment and Heritage), Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Lithgow LandCare, Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy

Contact information: Simon Nally, 8 Gurney Place PAGE ACT, Australia, Tel: +61 407870234, Email: suseandsimon@bigpond.com. Ray Mjadwesch, Mjadwesch Environmental Service and Support, 26 Keppel Street, Bathurst, NSW 2795 Australia, Tel: +61 423949789, Email:  ray@mjadweschenvironmental.com.au

Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Habitat Restoration Project at Gordon, 2000 – 2019 UPDATE of EMR feature

Nancy Pallin

[Update to EMR feature –  Pallin, Nancy (2001) Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve Habitat restoration project, 15 years on.  Ecological Management & Restoration 1:1, 10-20. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00003.x]

Key words:         bush regeneration, community engagement, wallaby browsing, heat events, climate change

Figure 1. Habitat restoration areas at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve within the urban area of Gordon, showing areas treated during the various phases of the project. Post-2000 works included follow up in all zones, the new acquisition area, the pile burn site, the ecological hot burn site and sites where vines have been targeted. (Map provided by Ku-ring-gai Council.)

Introduction. The aim of this habitat restoration project remains to provide self-perpetuating indigenous roosting habitat for Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) located at Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve in Gordon, NSW Australia (Fig 1).  The secondary aim was to retain the diversity of fauna and flora within the Flying-fox Reserve managed by Ku-ring-gai Council. Prior to works, weed vines and the activity of flying-foxes in the trees had damaged the canopy trees while dense weed beneath prevented germination and growth of replacement trees.  Without intervention the forest was unable to recover.  Natural regeneration was assisted by works carried out by Bushcare volunteers and Council’s contract bush regeneration team.  The work involved weed removal, pile burns and planting of additional canopy trees including Sydney Bluegum (Eucalyptus saligna), which was expected to cope better with the increased nutrients brought in by flying-foxes.

Figure 2. The changing extent of the Grey-headed Flying-fox camp from the start of the project, including updates since 2000. (Data provided by KBCS and Ku-ring-gai Council)

Significant changes have occurred for flying-foxes and in the Reserve in the last 20 years.

In 2001 Grey-headed Flying-fox was added to the threatened species lists, of both NSW and Commonwealth legislation, in the Vulnerable category.  Monthly monitoring of the number of flying-foxes occupying the Reserve  has continued monthly since 1994 and, along with mapping of the extent of the camp, is recorded on Ku-ring-gai Council’s Geographical Information System. Quarterly population estimates contribute to the National Monitoring Program to estimate the population of Grey-headed Flying-fox.  In terms of results of the monitoring, the trend in the fly-out counts at Gordon shows a slight decline.  Since the extreme weather event in 2010, more camps have formed in the Sydney basin in response to declining food resources.

In 2007, prompted by Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society (KBCS), the size of the Reserve was increased by 4.3 ha by NSW Government acquisition and transfer to Council of privately owned bushland. The Voluntary Conservation Agreement that had previously established over the whole reserve in 1998 was then extended to cover the new area.   These conservation measures have avoided new development projecting into the valley.

From 2009 Grey-headed Flying-fox again shifted their camp northwards into a narrow gully between houses (Fig 2).  This led to human-wildlife conflict over noise and smell especially during the mating season. Council responded by updating the Reserve Management Plan to increase focus on the needs of adjoining residents.  Council removed and trimmed some trees which were very close to houses. In 2018 the NSW Government, through Local Governments, provided grants for home retrofitting such as double glazing, to help residents live more comfortably near flying-fox camps.

Heat stress has caused flying-fox deaths in the Reserve on five days since 2002. Deaths (358) recorded in 2013, almost all were juveniles of that year.  KBCS installed a weather station (Davis Instruments Vantage Pro Plus, connected through a Davis Vantage Connect 3G system) and data loggers to provide continuous recording of temperature and humidity within the camp and along Stoney Creek.  The station updates every 15 minutes and gives accurate information on conditions actually being experienced in the camp by the flying-foxes. The data is publicly available http://sydneybats.org.au/ku-ring-gai-flying-fox-reserve/weather-in-the-reserve/Following advice on the location and area of flying-fox roosting habitat and refuge areas on days of extremely high temperatures (Fig 3.) by specialist biologist Dr Peggy Eby, Council adopted the Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve 10 Year Management and Roosting Habitat Plan in 2018.  Restoration efforts are now focused on improving habitat along the lower valley slopes to encourage flying-foxes to move away from residential property and to increase their resilience to heat events which are predicted to increase with climate change.

Figure 3. Map showing the general distribution of flying-foxes during heat events, as well as the location of exclosures. (Map provided by Ku-ring-gai Council)

Further works undertaken.  By 2000 native ground covers and shrubs were replacing the weeds that had been removed by the regeneration teams and Bushcare volunteers.  However, from 2004, browsing by the Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) was preventing growth of young trees and shrubs.  Bushcare volunteers, supported by KBCS and Council responded by building tree cages made from plastic-mesh and wooden stakes. Reinforcing-steel rods replaced wooden stakes in 2008.   From 2011, the Bushcare volunteers experimented with building wallaby exclosures, to allow patches of shrubs and groundcovers to recover between trees (Figs 3 and 4).  Nineteen wallaby exclosures have been built. These range in size from 7m2 to 225m2 with a total area of 846m2.   Wire fencing panels (Mallee Mesh Sapling Guard 1200 x 1500mm) replaced plastic mesh in 2018.  Silt fence is used on the lower 0.5m to prevent reptiles being trapped and horizontally to deter Brush Turkey (‎Alectura lathami) from digging under the fence.

The wallaby exclosures have also provided an opportunity to improve moisture retention at ground level to help protect the Grey-headed Flying-fox during heat events.  While weed is controlled in the exclosures south of Stoney Creek, those north of the creek retain Trad and privets, consistent with the 10 Year Management and Roosting Habitat Plan.

Madeira Vine (Anredera cordifolia) remained a threat to canopy trees along Stoney Creek for some years after 2000, despite early treatments.  The contract bush regen team employed sInce 2010 targeted 21 Madiera Vine incursions.

A very hot ecological burn was undertaken in 2017 by Council in order to stimulate germination of soil stored seed and regenerate the Plant Community Type (PCT) – Smooth-barked Apple-Turpentine-Blackbutt tall open forest on enriched sandstone slopes and gullies of the Sydney region (PCT 1841).  This area was subsequently fenced. The contract bush regeneration team was also employed for this work to maintain and monitor the regeneration in the eco-burn area (720 hours per year for both the fire and Madiera Vine combined).

Figure 4. Exclusion fence construction method. Pictured are Bushcare volunteers, Jill Green and Pierre Vignal. (Photo N Pallin).

Figure 5. Natural regeneration in 2018 in (unburnt) exclosure S-6 (including germination of Turpentines). (Photo N. Pallin)

Further results to date. The original canopy trees in Phase 1 and Phase 2 (1987 -1997) areas have recovered and canopy gaps are now mostly closed. Circumference at breast height measurements were taken for seven planted Sydney Blue gum trees.  These ranged from 710 to 1410mm with estimated canopy spread from 2 to 6m.  While original Turpentine (Syncarpia glomulifera) had circumferences from 1070 and 2350mm with canopy spread estimated between 5and 8m, those planted or naturally germinated now have circumference measurements between 420 and 980mm with canopy spread estimated from 1.5 to 3m.  A Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) which naturally germinated after initial clearing of weeds now has a circumference of 1250mm with a canopy spread of 5m.  Also three Pigeonberry Ash (Elaeocarpus kirtonii) have circumference from 265 to 405mm with small canopies of 1 to 2m as they are under the canopies of large, old Turpentines.  As predicted by Robin Buchanan in 1985 few Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) juveniles survived while the original large old trees have recovered and the Sydney Bluegum trees have thrived.

In the Phase 3 (1998 – 2000) area south of Stoney Creek the planted Sydney Blue Gum now have circumferences measuring between 368 and 743 (n7) with canopy spread between 2 and 6 m.  in this area the original large trees have girths between 1125 and 1770mm (n7) whereas trees which either germinated naturally or were planted now range from 130 to 678mm (n12).  These measurement samples show that it takes many decades for trees to reach their full size and be able to support a flying-fox camp.

Wallaby exclosures constructed since 2013 south of Stoney Creek contain both planted and regenerated species.  Eight tree species, 11 midstorey species, 27 understorey species and eight vines have naturally regenerated.  Turpentines grew slowly, reaching 1.5m in 4 years.  Blackbutts thrived initially but have since died. In exclosures north of the creek,  weeds including Large-leaved Privet,  Ligustrum lucidum,  Small-leaved privet,  L. sinense,  Lantana, Lantana camara,  and Trad, Tradescantia fluminensis) have been allow to persist and develop to maximise ground moisture levels for flying-foxes during heat events. Outside the exclosures, as wallabies have grazed and browsed natives, the forest has gradually lost its lower structural layers, a difference very evident in Fig 6.

Figure 6. Visible difference in density and height of ground cover north and south of Stoney creek. (Photo P. Vignal)

Coachwood (Ceratopetalum apetalum) were densely planted in a 3 x 15m exclosure under the canopies of mature Coachwood next to Stoney Creek in 2015. In 4 years they have reached 1.5m.  In this moist site native groundcovers are developing a dense, moist ground cover.

Madiera Vine, the highest-threat weed, is now largely confined to degraded edges of the reserve, where strategic consolidation is being implemented with a view to total eradication.

In the hot burn area, which was both fenced and weeded, recruitment has been outstanding. One 20 x 20m quadrat recorded 58 native species regenerating where previously 16 main weed species and only 6 native species were present above ground. A total of 20 saplings and 43 seedlings of canopy species including Eucalyptus spp., Turpentine and Coachwood were recorded in this quadrat where the treatment involved weed removal, burning and fencing  (S. Brown, Ku-ring-gai Council, July 2019, unpublished data).  Unfortunately, however, the timing and location of the burn did not take into account its impact on the flying-fox camp and there was some damage to existing canopy trees. It will be many years before the canopy trees, which are regenerating, will be strong enough to support flying-foxes.

Monitoring from the weather station and data loggers has shown that close to Stoney Creek on a hot day it is typically 2-3° C cooler, and 5-10% higher in humidity, than in the current camp area (pers. comm. Tim Pearson). During heat events the flying-foxes move to this cooler and moister zone, increasing their chances of survival.

Fauna observed other than flying-foxes includes a pair of Wedge-tail Eagle ( Aquila audax plus their juvenile, a nesting Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) and a Pacific Baza (Aviceda subcristata).  Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) individuals continue to use the valley. The presence of raptors and owls indicate that the ecosystem processes appear to be functional. Despite the decline of the shrub layer outside fenced areas, the same range of small bird species (as seen prior to 2000) are still seen including migrants such as Rufous Fantail ( Rhipidura rufifrons) which prefers dense, shady vegetation. The first sighting of a Noisy Pitta (Pitta versicolor) was in 2014.  Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta) individuals appear and disappear, while Swamp Wallaby remains plentiful.

Lessons learned and future directions. Climate change is an increasing threat to Pteropus species. On the advice of Dr Eby, Flying-fox Consultant, Council, KBCS and Bushcare Volunteers agreed to retain all vegetation including weeds such as Large-leaved Privet and Small-leaved Privet, patches of the shrub Ochna (Ochna serrulata) and Trad as a moist ground cover in the camp area and areas used by the flying-foxes during heat events.

Building cheap, lightweight fencing can be effective against wallaby impacts, provided it is regularly inspected and repaired after damage caused by falling branches. This style of fencing has the additional advantage of being removable and reusable.  It has been proposed that, to provide understory vegetation to fuel future burns in parts of the reserve away from the flying-fox camp, further such temporary fencing could be installed.

Ku-ring-gai Council has commenced a  program to install permanent monitoring points to annually record changes in the vegetation, consistent with the state-based  Biodiversity Assessment Method.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies. Members of KBCS make donations, volunteer for monthly flyout counts, Bushcare and present educational events with live flying-foxes. KBCS hosts the website www.sydneybats.org.au. Ku-ring-gai Council which is responsible for the Reserve has been active in improving management to benefit both residents and flying-foxes.  Ku-ring-gai Environmental Levy Grants to KBCS have contributed substantially to purchase of fencing materials and the weather station. http://www.kmc.nsw.gov.au/About_Ku-ring-gai/Land_and_surrounds/Local_wildlife/Native_species_profiles/Grey-headed_flying-fox

Thank you to Jacob Sife and Chelsea Hankin at Ku-ring-gai Council for preparing the maps and to volunteer Pierre Vignal for assistance with tree measurements, downloading data loggers and a photo.  Researcher,  Tim Pearson installed the weather station.

Contact information. Nancy Pallin, Management Committee member, Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc.  PO Box 607, Gordon 2072  Tel 61 418748109. Email:  pallinnancy@gmail.com

Ecological restoration and rehabilitation at Sydney Olympic Park – UPDATE to EMR feature

Jennifer O’Meara and Kerry Darcovich

[Update to EMR feature – O’Meara, Jennifer and Kerry Darcovich (2015) Twelve years on: Ecological restoration and rehabilitation at Sydney Olympic Park, Ecological Management & Restoration, 16:1, 14-28. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/emr.12150 ]

Keywords: Environmental management, ecological management, threatened species, Habitat management , woodland birds, Green and Golden Bell Frog

Introduction. The 2015 EMR feature described ecological restoration and management works at Sydney Olympic Park, a large urban park containing both remnant and constructed landscapes that underwent significant restoration in preparation for the 2000 Olympic Games. Sydney Olympic Park supports a rich natural environment that includes over 250 native animal species, over 400 native plant species and three endangered ecological communities.  The high ecological values of the Park have resulted in 304 hectares (nearly half of the Park) being zoned under NSW planning legislation for environmental conservation and management.  Key habitats include estuarine and freshwater wetlands, remnant eucalypt forest, saltmarsh meadows and woodland bird habitats.

The Park’s biodiversity is of high conservation significance, and makes a significant contribution to the social and economic values of the Park.  The Park’s natural environments enrich visitor experience, provide a living classroom for environmental education programs, and attract businesses and residents seeking proximity to nature. This project began in 2000 when management transferred from a construction phase after the Sydney Olympic Games to an active management phase and is supported by an extensive long term ecological monitoring program. This update summarises new works and outcomes since 2016.

Further works undertaken. The introduction of new ecological infrastructure for frog habitat targets threatening processes of predation by introduced fish and increasing water availability.  Fish-proof fences have been introduced to wetlands where the predatory fish Gambusia (Gambusia holbrooki) is present in Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea) habitat (Fig 1). The fences are placed around ponds or pond clusters and then the pond is dried out and refilled with fish-free water. Constructed of sediment fences 600mm high and embedded in the ground, these fences stretch to a maximum of 200m and have successfully restricted the fish from ponds for more than three years.

Figure 1.  Gambusia fence

In order to reduce the impact of bird predation on tadpoles in key breeding ponds, bird netting secured by wire cables to the ground and supported by hoops has been introduced.  The netting is also used as a response to the sighting of Green and Golden Bell Frog tadpoles in ponds with Sydney Olympic Park staff deploying temporary netting where successful breeding has occurred. Netting is left on the pond until all metamorphs have dispersed from the pond then removed.

Restoration of the water-holding capacity and connectivity of bell frog habitat in the Brickpit and Kronos Hill has been improved with temporary ponds being created with tarps (Fig 2). The aim is twofold – to extend the number of predator-free, drought refuges, important for adult female frogs and metamorphs and to ensure frog corridors maintain connectivity.  More than 10 tarp ponds have been created and have an expected life span of 3-6 years and are very budget friendly. Annual monitoring has shown a remarkable uptake of these ponds by the Green and Golden Bell Frog.

Figure 2.  Tarp pond with netting

Further results to date. The Parks ecological monitoring program is ongoing and now entering the 16th consecutive year for birds, 15th for reptiles and 21 years for the Green and Golden Bell Frog. In 2018-19 the fourth woodland bird survey was completed, a four yearly assessment of the status of woodland birds and vegetation management at Sydney Olympic Park. Fifteen quadrats are surveyed over the spring and autumn seasons to measure bird communities which is then compared to change in vegetation structure. Results show that small birds were strongly, positively correlated with shrub cover, but strongly negatively correlated with tree cover and Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala).  Since 2006, Sydney Olympic Park Authority has implemented a habitat modification program aimed at increasing the structural diversity and complexity of key areas of the Park to support woodland birds. The program seeks to build connectivity between key woodland bird habitats with the form of habitat enhancement varying depending on site characteristics. The survey shows that this program is successfully creating suitable habitat for this group of birds.

With the prospect of greater demands by the public to access the Park at all hours (see below), Sydney Olympic Park staff have recently collected baseline light level readings from across the Park to inform decision making.  Data on lux levels and light source was collected from over 160 sites ranging from car parks to mangrove creeks. The main drive of the survey was to collect information on light spill into sensitive habitat areas where darkness is a key ecological feature. The survey led to a review of lighting and identification of where lights could be switched off or timed to decrease light impacts. The findings will also inform future planning for illumination within the Park.

Lessons learned and future directions. Sydney Olympic Park is part of a rapidly densifying area with the 30,000 residents currently located within a 3km radius forecast to increase to approximately 100,000 in ten years. Due to the density of housing, Sydney Olympic Park will be/is already the local park for this community, leading to increasing demand for recreation and access to the Parklands. This presents great opportunities for more people to connect with nature and to incorporate community education and sustainability into Park programs.  A new program known as Park Care has been launched recently and currently rolls out community clean up and revegetation activities.

The flipside of this rapid population increase is increasing risk of disturbance to ecologically sensitive areas which needs to be considered and mitigated carefully as the Park continues to evolve. Ensuring the Park is able to sustainably meet this demand is a focus for management now and into the future. New habitat management plans for ecologically sensitive areas of the Park are being developed to better-guide biodiversity conservation on a precinct level. Ongoing ecological management works, and managing the impacts of human disturbance, will be essential to conserving the ecological values of the Park.

Contact. Jennifer O’Meara, Parklands Ecologist, Sydney Olympic Park Authority, 5 Olympic Boulevard, Sydney Olympic Park 2127 NSW, Australia. Email: Jenny.omeara@sopa.nsw.gov.au

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

David Freudenberger, Graham Fifield, Nicki Taws, Angela Calliess and Lori Gould

[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]

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/)