Category Archives: Threatened species & communities

Long Swamp, Discovery Bay Coastal Park, Victoria

Mark Bachmann

Key words: wetland restoration, Ramsar, hydrology, Glenelg River, drainage

Long Swamp is a 15 km long coastal freshwater wetland complex situated in Discovery Bay Coastal Park, approximately 50 km north-west from Portland in south-western Victoria. The wetland system supports a diverse suite of nationally threatened species and is currently undergoing a Ramsar nomination process. Despite its size, reserved status and impressive biodiversity values, including recognition on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, the local community in Nelson had expressed concern for over a decade about the impact that two artificial outlets to the ocean were having on wetland condition. The outlets were cut during an era when the swamp was grazed, many decades before being dedicated as a conservation reserve in the 1970s.

The wetland originally discharged into the ocean via Oxbow Lake and the Glenelg River mouth at Nelson. These changes to hydrology caused an interruption of flows, contributing to a long-term drying trend within the wetland complex.    This was not immediately obvious to many as the gradual drying of wetlands in a natural area is often less noticeable than in a cleared agricultural area, driven by a seamless and gradual shift towards more terrestrial species within the composition of native vegetation (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Shrub (Leptospermum lanigerum) encroachment into sedgeland underway in Long Swamp.

In 2012, Nature Glenelg Trust (NGT) became actively involved in Long Swamp, working closely with Parks Victoria, the Nelson Coast Care Group, and the Glenelg Hopkins CMA. The initial involvement was to undertake a scientific review of the aquatic ecological values that might be impacted by the ecological shifts anecdotally observed to be underway. This early work identified that the more remote artificial outlet to the sea (White Sands) had in fact naturally closed, with a dune forming in front of the former channel several years earlier during the Millennium Drought (c. 2005). This formed an area of aquatic habitat immediately upstream of the former outlet that is now home to a diverse native freshwater fish community, including two nationally threatened fish species, the Yarra Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca obscura) and Dwarf Galaxias (Galaxiella pusilla). This observation and other investigations led to the planning of a restoration trial aimed at regulating or possibly blocking the second and final artificial outlet at Nobles Rocks to increase the availability, diversity and connectivity of aquatic habitats throughout Long Swamp, in order to benefit a wide range of wetland dependant species.

As well as undertaking basic monitoring across a broad range of taxonomic groups (birds, vegetation, frogs), the project has a particular emphasis on native freshwater fish populations as a primary indicator of project success.

Figure 2 – Aerial view of Nobles Rocks artificial outlet, detailing the location of the three trial sandbag structures.

Figure 2 . Aerial view of Nobles Rocks artificial outlet, detailing the location of the three trial sandbag structures.

Figure 3 - NGT staff members celebrate the completion of the third and final sandbag structure with some of the many dedicated volunteers from the local community.

Figure 3. Nature Glenelg Trust staff members celebrate the completion of the third and final sandbag structure with some of the many dedicated volunteers from the local community.

Reversal of artificial outlet impact over three phases.

The first two stages of the restoration trial in May and July 2014 involved 56 volunteers from the community working together to construct low-level temporary sandbag structures, initially at the most accessible and technically feasible sections of drain under flowing conditions. Tackling the project in stages enabled us to learn sufficient information about the hydrological conditions at the site in 2014, before commencing the third and final stage of the trial in March 2015. On the 27th April 2015, the main structure was completed, following two days of preparation and nine days of sandbagging (using about 6,600 sandbags), which were put in place with the dedicated help of over 30 volunteers (see Figs 3 and 4). To achieve our target operating height, the structure was raised by a further 30 cm in August 2015.

A series of gauge boards with water depth data loggers were also placed at key locations in the outlet channel and upstream into Long Swamp proper, to monitor the change in water levels throughout each stage of restoration and into the future.

Fig 4a. Long swamp

Figure 4a. View of the Phase 3 Restoration Trial Structure location prior to construction in March 2015.

Fig 4b. Long swamp

Figure 4b. Same location in June 2015, after construction of the Restoration Trial Structure.

Results to date.

Water levels in the swamp immediately upstream of the final structure increased, in the deepest portion of Long Swamp, from 34 cm (in April 2015) to 116 cm (in early September 2015). Further upstream, in a shallower area more representative of the impact on Long Swamp in the adjacent wider area, levels increased from being dry in April 2015, 14 cm deep in May, through to 43 cm deep in early September 2015, as shown in Figure 5. This is a zone where the shrub invasion is typical of the drying trend being observed in Long Swamp, and hence will be an important long-term monitoring location.

To evaluate the response of habitat to short and longer-term hydrological change, we also undertook longer-term landscape change analysis through GIS-based interpretation of aerial photography. This showed that we have currently recovered approximately 60 hectares of total surface water at Nobles Rocks, not including larger gains across downstream habitats as a result of groundwater mounding, sub-surface seepage and redirected surface flows that have also been observed.  These initial results and longer-term outcomes for targets species of native plants and animals will be detailed fully in future reports.

Fig 5a. Long swamp

Figure 5a. Further inland in the swamp after the Phase 3 structure was complete, shown here in May 2015. Depth – 14 cm.

Fig 5b. Long swamp

Figure 5b. Same photopoint 4 months later in September 2015. Depth – 43 cm.

Lessons learned and future directions.Meaningful community participation has been one of the most critical ingredients in the success of this project so far, leading to a strong sense of shared achievement for all involved. Monitoring will continue to guide the next steps of the project, with the ultimate aim of informing a consensus view (among those with shared interest in the park) for eventually converting the trial structure to a permanent solution.

Acknowledgements. Project partners include Parks Victoria, Nelson Coast Care Group, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA and the Friends of the Great South West Walk. Volunteers from several other groups have also assisted with the trials. Grant funding was generously provided by the Victorian Government.

Contact. Mark Bachmann, Nature Glenelg Trust, PO Box 2177, MT GAMBIER, SA 5290 Australia, Tel +61 8 8797 8181, Mob 0421 97 8181, Email: mark.bachmann@natureglenelg.org.au  Web: www.natureglenelg.org.au

See also:

Video conference presentation

NGH newsletter – including a link to a video on the project

Bradys Swamp EMR short summary

Picanninnie Ponds EMR short summary

 

Victorian Northern Plains Grasslands Protected Area Network: formation and future management

Nathan Wong

Key words: ecosystem decline, conservation planning, grassland restoration, threatened species

Building the network. Since the early 1990s Trust for Nature (Victoria) (TfN) in partnership with State and Federal government agencies and local land owners have been working to protect, restore and improve the condition and extent of Grasslands in the Victorian Riverina. This critically endangered ecosystem has been degraded, fragmented, and cleared over the past 200 years by a range of impacts largely associated with the exploitation of these areas for agricultural production. This use has resulted in the loss of over 95% of the original grassland extent in Victoria and the degradation of all remaining remnants.

The first major achievement of this program occurred in June 1997 when Trust for Nature acquired the 1277 ha ‘Davies’ property following many years of negotiations. This land was transferred to the Crown in April 1999 to form the Grassland section of what is now Terrick Terrick National Park. Since this initial acquisition a significant number of purchases have been added to the public estate with the support of both State and Federal National Reserve Systems Programs. These additions have resulted in Terrick Terrick National Park now covering over 3334ha (Table 1) and the establishment of Bael Bael Grasslands NCR during 2010 and 2011 which now covers 3119ha.

Running concurrently with this increase in the public estate has been a program to build and secure private land under conservation covenant as well as Trust for Nature establishing a number of reserves to build its private reserve network in the Victorian Riverina. These efforts have resulted in the addition of 2804ha owned by Trust for Nature, including Glassons Grassland Reserve (2001), Kinypanial (1999), Korrak Korrak (2001), Wanderers Plain (2009-2010) and 1036ha of private land protected under conservation covenant.

As a result of these efforts the area of grasslands within the Protected Area Network in the Victorian Riverine Plains has grown from virtually nothing in the mid-1990s, to in excess of 10,000ha and continues to expand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fig 1. Very high quality Northern Plains Grasslands in Spring, note the inter-tussock spaces and diversity of flowering herbs (Photo: Nathan Wong).

Table 1. Acquisitions that have resulted in Terrick Terrick National Park, now covering over 3334ha.

Table 1

Current remnant condition. Whilst these grasslands are the best examples of the remaining ecosystem and protected under State and Federal government legislation, all of them have been degraded by past land-use. Therefore the need to not only protect but restore them is critical to the successful management of these systems in-perpetuity. Despite this past loss of a range of grazing-sensitive plant species many still persist in small isolated populations across the reserve network. Management of grazing, when it is applied, to ensure that continued losses do not occur whilst maintaining biodiversity values is one of the key aims of management. As a result of loss of quality, quantity and fragmentation of habitats, a range of important faunal species have also historically declined (Figs 2 & 3).

Need for management and restoration. There is great potential for management regimes to manipulate the composition of grasslands to enhance the likelihood of restoration success. Restoration of a range of grazing sensitive plant species which now either regionally extinct or remain in small isolated population will almost certainly require changes to grazing regimes, reintroduction of fire regimes and species reintroductions to ensure viable populations. Reintroducing faunal species will also require attention to connectivity and habitat availability issues in this context as many are dependent on the existence of large, interconnected territories e.g. Hooded Scaly-foot (Pygopus schraderi).

The Northern Plains Grasslands Protected Area Network: Strategic Operational Plan (SOP) is a landscape-scale strategic operational plan for the conservation management of the Northern Plains Grassland community within Victoria’s Protected Area Network, developed by the Northern Plains Technical Advisory Group in 2011. This Operational Plan now guides TfN and Parks Victoria in the implementation of an adaptive management plan for the landscape. This plan aims to establish and implement a restoration program across the public and private protected areas and is a marked shift from the previous management intent of maintenance of the system.

Fig 2. The area, particularly the Patho Plains and Lower Avoca, provide important habitat for the persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Photo David Baker-Gabb).

Fig 2. The northern plains grasslands, particularly the Patho Plains and Lower Avoca, provide important habitat for the persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Photo David Baker-Gabb).

Strategies for management and restoration. There are two main strategies that are being implemented. The first involves the extension of protected areas through a range of mechanisms; and the second involves active management to restore habitat quality and diversity to the extent possible.

Extent. Expansion of the current approach of reserve acquisition and covenanting that has been undertaken by the range of partners is likely to able to target and establish large areas (20,000+ ha) in the Lower Avoca and Patho Plains landscape. Both these areas are high priorities for Trust for Nature and form significant sections of the Trust for Nature’s Western Riverina Focal Landscape. The Patho Plains is significant as it is an Important Bird Area and a focus of Birdlife Australia to ensure the long term persistence of the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus). The Lower Avoca also provides important habitat for the Plains-wanderer (Draft National Recovery Plan) and is one of the main population centres for Hooded Scaly-foot in Victoria.

Diversity. The increase of diversity and quality of these systems requires direct intervention in management as well as the introduction and establishment of the many rare and regionally extinct species from the system.

Plant species: Over the past decade, TfN and others have successfully trialled the reintroduction of a number of threatened and common plant species through hand sowing seed into grasslands. These species include: Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum molle), Leafless Bluebush (Mairena aphylla), Rohlarch’s Bluebush (Maireana rohlarchii), Bladder Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria), Plains Everlasting (Chrysocephalum sp. 1), Beauty Buttons (Leptorhynchos tetrachaetus), Small-flower Goodenia (Goodenia pusilliflora), Minnie Daisy (Minuria leptophylla) and a range of Wallaby species (Rytidosperma spp.) and Spear Grasses (Austrostipa spp.).

Animal species: Local habitat variability for a range of fauna has been achieved through the modification of grazing regimes and the introduction of burning regimes at a range of sites. This work aims to maximise niches and thus opportunities for a broad range of species.

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult by Geoff BrownCOMP

Fig 3. Hooded Scaly-foot adult, a critically endangered legless lizard that occurs in the Northern Plains Grasslands, preferring habitat much like the Plains-wanderer. Photo: Geoff Brown.

Table 2.  Triggers required for various grazing and other management regimes to maintain appropriate intertussock spaces in Northern Plains Grasslands

Table2

Monitoring. The SOP includes a method for rapid assessment of habitat and functional composition of sites to support decision making and track habitat change over time. This is stratified by soil type as grazing and habitat values and floristic communities vary between soil types within the grassland mosaic. Triggers for action or management bounds have been set based on the structure of inter-tussock spaces on red soils. These have been established using the “Golf ball” method which calculates a golf ball score by randomly dropping 18 golf balls into a 1m x 1m quadrat and then establishing a count based on the visibility of the golf balls (>90% visible = 1, 90%-30% visible = 0.5, <30% visible = 0). For red soil grasslands the aim is to maintain the inter-tussock spacing within a golf ball range of 13-16 using the range of tools identified in Table 2. When a paddock reaches a golf ball score of 16 and it is being grazed, stock are to be removed. When the paddock reaches a score of 13 they are then to be reintroduced, within the bounds of the regime that is to be applied.

Additional to this there has also been collection of data in relation to the functional composition of sites with golf ball quadrats also assessed for the presence of a range of functional groups including Native C4 grasses, Native C3 Grasses, Exotic annual grasses, Exotic Perennial Grasses, Native forbs, Exotic Forbs, Native Shrubs, Moss cover, Other Crytptograms (i.e. Lichen, Algae, Liverworts), Bare Ground and Litter. At all these sites photos are also taken of each quadrat with and without golf balls and a landscape photo is also taken.

The capturing of these data and the region wide approach across both public and private areas will increase our knowledge of how to manage and restore these important sites as well as track progress of management actions and their effectiveness in providing protected areas for a range of threatened species.

Acknowledgements. A wide range of partners and individuals are involved in the protection of the Northern Plains Grassland and the development of the Northern Plains Strategic Operations Plan including Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP), La Trobe University, Charles Sturt University, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Northern Plains Conservation Management Network, Elanus Consulting and Blue Devil Consulting.

Contact: Nathan Wong, Conservation Planning Advisor, Trust for Nature (Level 5, 379 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia;Tel: +61 (0)3 8631 5888; Freecall: 1800 99 99 33; Mob 0458 965 329;Email: nathanw@tfn.org.au, www.trustfornature.org.au).

 

 

 

Update of landowner and community engagement in Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project – Lurg Hills, Victoria

Ray Thomas

Key words: community engagement, environmental education, habitat restoration

The Regent Honeyeater Project in the Lurg Hills, near Benalla in Victoria, is a habitat restoration project that emphasises that a key to biodiversity conservation is working well with the people who live in the landscape.  In fact the biodiversity gains in the 21 years of remnant protection, plantings and habitat provision in the Lurg Hills, would not have been possible without the support of landowners (who have given their land, their enthusiasm and time to the project) and the many community groups and individuals who come to help with the plantings.  The latest update on landowner and community engagement quoted from the  March 2016 update is as follows.

Increased social engagement. In the last 6 years we have increased the number of visits to planting days by 50 per cent. There has been a steady growth in the number of new local landholders involved and the total number is now 160 landholders engaged, compared with 115 in 2009. Everyone we come across knows of the project and anyone new to the area hears about it from one of their neighbours. Very few people (you could count them on one hand), say they would rather not be involved. In fact we increasingly get cold calls from new people who have observed what has happened on their neighbour’s place and then phone us to say they want to be involved. It’s a positive indication that the project is part of the spirit of the area. This was further confirmed by the inclusion, of a very detailed Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) mural in a recent street art painting exhibition. The permanent artwork is the size of a house wall, and situated prominently in the heart of the parklands of Benalla.

Much of our work has relied heavily on volunteers, with a total of 10,344 students and 24,121 community volunteers involved over the past 21 years. City folk have fewer opportunities to be in nature, with the bushwalking clubs, university students and scouts in particular, really keen to come and roll up their sleeves.

Typically about 17 to 20 of the local schools, primary and secondary, help us with propagating the seedlings at the start of each year and then planting their own seedlings back out into the field in the winter and spring. And we are increasingly getting interest from metropolitan schools that come to the country for a week-long camp. Some of the schools even have their own permanent camps up here and they want to be involved with our hands on work too. “It’s simply part of our environmental responsibility”, is the way they express it.

Contact: Ray Thomas, Coordinator of the Regent Honeyeater Project Inc (PO Box 124, Benalla, Vic. 3672, Australia; Tel: +61 3 5761 1515. Email: ray@regenthoneater.org.au

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 3. Same photopoint after 6 years

Figure 3. Typical recovery after 6 years

Figure 4. Same photopoint after 12 years

Figure 4. Typical recovery after 12 years

Figure 5. Same scenario after 20 years

Figure 5. typical recovery after 20 years

Figure 6. After 30 years

Figure 6. Typical recovery after 30 years

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

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

Fig 7, Thackway fig rocky creek dam1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocky Creek Dam recovery wheel adjacent to Forest Edge

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

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

Post-sand extraction restoration of Banksia woodlands, Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia.

Deanna Rokich

Key words: research-practice partnership, adaptive management, smoke technology, cryptic soil impedance, topsoil handling.

Figure 1. Examples of undisturbed Banksia woodland reference sites.

Introduction. Banksia woodlands were once a common and widespread feature of the Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia (Fig. 1); today less than 35% of the original Banksia woodlands remain in metropolitan Perth. When sand extraction activities were permitted over 25 years ago, Hanson Construction Materials opted to go well beyond the statutory minimum requirement of re-instating local native species. Instead, Hanson committed to meet the challenge to return post-sand extracted sites (Fig. 2) to an ecosystem closely resembling the pre-disturbance Banksia woodland. To achieve this high resemblance to the reference ecosystem, Hanson operations sought the assistance of the Science Directorate team within the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority in 1995. BGPA developed and implemented a research and adaptive management program with Hanson, resulting in a collaboration involving graduate and post-graduate student research programs into key facets of Banksia woodland ecosystem restoration, application of outcomes into restoration operations, and finally, restoration sites that are beginning to mimic reference sites (Fig.3).

Prior to the partnership, species richness and plant abundance, and thus restoration success, was limited in the rehabilitation. Research and adaptive management subsequently focused on improvements in soil reconstruction; topsoil management; seed germination enhancement (including smoke technology); seed broadcasting technology and whole-of-site weed management.

Monitoring. BGPA scientists have been undertaking annual plant monitoring of Banksia woodland restoration activities within reference and restoration sites for ca 15 years. This has resulted in data-sets on seedling emergence and plant survival within a range of sites, culminating in the development of annual performance criteria and ultimately, the ability to measure restoration performance in the short (e.g. from seedling emergence) and long-term (e.g. from plant survival).

Fig2d

Figure 2. The greatly reduced Banksia woodland sand profile following sand extraction, with topsoil being spread onto the pit floor.

Results. Consolidation of ca 15 years of data from >50 sites (encompassing a range of topsoil quality and climatic conditions) has revealed that stem density and species richness fall into three levels of restoration:

  • good restoration quality (high topsoil quality and favourable climatic conditions).
  • medium restoration quality (poor topsoil quality or unfavourable climatic conditions).
  • poor restoration quality (poor topsoil quality and unfavourable climatic conditions).

The integration of key research areas has resulted in:

  • Identification of first year species re-instatement being the blueprint for long-term species re-instatement.
  • Observation of cryptic soil impedance and extremely high plant loss in the standard ‘topsoil over overburden’ profile during the 2nd summer following restoration, but higher plant re-instatement and better ecosystem dynamics in the long term.
  • Improvement in seedling re-instatement, illustrated by perennial species return increasing from less than 10% to more than 70% (i.e. >100 perennial species), and stem density return of >140 perennial plants per 5m2 in Year 1, primarily due to improved topsoil handling methods – i.e. good quality, fresh and dry topsoil.
  • A ten-fold increase in the stem density of seedlings derived from direct-seeding due to innovative seed coating technology, delivery to site technology and sowing time optimisation.
  • Trebling of seedling recruitment success due to application of smoke technology.
  • Minimised weed invasion through the use of good quality and fresh topsoil, burial of the weed seedbank and prompt active weed management.
FIg3a

Figure 3. Restoration sites after 8 years, illustrating the return of the Banksia trees.

Implications for other sites. The post-sand extraction sites have provided important lessons and information about the management and restoration needs of Banksia woodlands – e.g. a high level of intervention is necessary, whilst cross-application of general restoration principles are not always possible for Banksia woodlands – useful for all those involved with managing and restoring Banksia woodland fragments within the broader Perth region.

Current and future directions. Hanson is committed to ongoing improvement through research – continually testing and employing new research techniques, programs and equipment that are recommended from BGPA research programs.

Post-sand extraction restoration practices now involve:

  • re-instating the soil profile in its natural order of topsoil over overburden, in spite of the cryptic soil impedance witnessed in the overburden in the 2nd summer following restoration;
  • striving for highest seedling establishment in the first year of restoration, prior to onset of soil impedance;
  • stripping and spreading only good quality (free of weeds), fresh and dry topsoil;
  • conserving topsoil by a strip:spread ratio of 1:2 (i.e. stripping over 1ha and spreading over 2ha);
  • burying direct-sown seeds given that seed displacement from wind and invertebrate activity is prolific during the typical seed sowing season; and
  • ceasing the common practices of mulching sites and tree-guarding plants as they provide negative or no benefits.

The partners are considering re-doing sites rehabilitated during 1991-1994, prior to research, in order to improve species diversity.

Acknowlegments: Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and Hanson Construction Materials are the key parties in this project; involving many individual managers, researchers and students.

Contact: Deanna Rokich – Deanna.Rokich@bgpa.wa.gov.au

Update on Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project (7 years on) – Lurg Hills, Victoria

Ray Thomas

Key words: Agricultural landscape, faunal recovery, community participation, seed production area

Twenty-one years of plantings in the Lurg Hills, Victoria, have seen a consolidation of the work described in the 2009 EMR feature Regent Honeyeater Habitat Restoration Project.  The priorities of the Project are to protect and restore remnants and enlarge them by add-on plantings. Together, this work has protected relatively healthy remnants by fencing; restored depleted remnants by planting or direct seeding; and revegetated open areas that had been cleared for agriculture. Other restoration activities include mistletoe removal, environmental weeding, environmental thinning; feral animal control, kangaroo reduction, nest box placement, and systematic monitoring of a range of threatened and declining woodland birds and hollow-dependent mammals.

Updated outputs since 2009. A further 540 ha of private land has now been planted (150 additional sites since 2009). This means the total area treated is now 1600ha on over 550 sites. The oldest plantings are now 19 years old and 10m high (compare to 12 years old and 6m high in 2009) (Fig 1).

The total number of seedlings planted is now approx. 620,000 seedlings compared with 385,000 in 2009. Some 280km fencing has been established compared with 190 km in 2009. Mistletoe now treated on scores of heavily infested sites

Foster's Dogleg Lane 19 yrs

Fig. 1. Ecosystem attributes developing in 19-year-old planting at Dogleg Lane (Foster’s). Note pasture grass weeds are gone, replaced by leaf litter, logs, understorey seedling recruitment, open soil areas.

Improvements in genetics and climate readiness. As reported in 2009, seed collection is carried out with regard for maximising the genetic spread of each species, to prevent inbreeding and more positively allow for evolution of the progeny as climate changes. This has meant collecting seed in neighbouring areas on similar geological terrain but deliberately widening the genetic base of our revegetation work. We are also attempting to create as broad bio-links as possible so that they are functional habitat in their own right (not just transit passages). This may allow wildlife to shift to moister areas as the country dries out. With a species richness of 35–40 plant species for each planting site, we also enable natural selection to shift the plant species dominance up or down slope as future soil moisture dictates.

2016 Update: In recent years we have engaged with geneticists from CSIRO Plant Division in Canberra, to improve the genetic health of our plantings. Many of our local plants that we assumed to be genetically healthy, have not recruited in our planting sites. For example, Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) produces very little if any fertile seed each year because it is sterile to itself or its own progeny (Fig 2 video). In fragmented agricultural landscapes, it seems that many of our remnant plants have already become inbred, and it is seriously affecting fertility, form and vigor. The inbreeding level has affected fertility in this particular case, but we have several other cases where form and vigor are seriously affected as well.

Fig 2. Andie Guerin explaining the importance of collecting seed from larger populations. (Video)

Seed production area. We have now set up a seed production area (seed orchard) for about 30 local species that are ‘in trouble’, to ensure that the plants have sufficient genetic diversity to reproduce effectively and potentially adapt, should they need to as a result of a shifting climate. This will allow these populations to become self-sustaining. Each species is represented in the seed production area by propagules collected from typically10-15 different sites (up to 20kms and sometimes 50kms distant) and as many parents as we can find in each population.

We aim for at least 400 seedlings of each species, to ensure the genetic base is broad enough to have the potential for evolution in situ. The planting ratios are biased towards more from the bigger populations (that should have the best diversity), but deliberately include all the smaller populations to capture any unique genes they may have. We plant each population in separate parallel rows in the seed orchard to maximise the cross pollination and production of genetically diverse seed for future planting projects. We have noticed that the health of some of these varieties is greatly improving as a result of increasing the genetic diversity. On one site we direct-sowed Hoary Sunray, sourced from a large population, and it has since spread down the site very quickly (Fig 3).

Gary Bruce wildflower patch Orbweaver

Fig 3. Small sub-shrubs and herbaceous species are generally not planted in stage 1 of a project, as the weed levels are often too high for such small plants to succeed. These plants are only introduced in stage 2, when the weeds have diminished up to a decade later. This approach has been very successful with direct seeding and planting some of our rarer forbs.

Recruitment of Eucalypts now evident. Nearly 20 years on from the first plantings, we can report that quite a number of sites have eucalypts old enough to be flowering and seeding, and some of them are now recruiting. We are delighted that our early efforts to broaden the planting genetics are demonstrating success with such natural processes (Figs 1 and 3). Ironbark recruitment from our plantings commenced in 2014 and Red Box commenced in 2015.

Recruitment can also be seriously affected by herbivore problems, particularly rabbits. In recent years we have been undertaking careful assessments of rabbit load on a potential planting site and have gained some advantage by deploying an excavator with a ripper attached to the excavator arm. The excavator allows us to rip a warren right next to a tree trunk (in a radial direction), or work close to fence without damaging either. We’re finding this is providing a very good result. On one site we suspected there were a few warrens but it turned out to be just short of 30 warrens within 100 m of the site – each with 30-40 rabbit holes. After ripping all of those, we ended up with activity in only 2 of the warrens, which were then easily retreated.

We have had such good results with the rabbits on some sites that we are trialing planting without tree guards – it’s much more efficient on time, labour, and costs. And adjacent to bush areas, where kangaroos and wallabies are a significant threat to plantings, this process has an extra advantage. It seems that macropods learn that there is something tasty in the guards, so a guard actually attracts their attention. Our initial trials are producing some good results and given us confidence to expand our efforts with thorough rabbit control.

Faunal updates. An important objective of the project is to reinstate habitat on the more fertile soils favoured for agriculture, to create richer food resources for nectarivorous and hollow-dependent fauna including the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia). In 2009 the Regent Honeyeater was nationally Endangered and was thought to be reduced to around 1500 individuals. By 2015, it was thought to be reduced to 500 individuals, and so has been reclassified as Critically Endangered.

Regent Honeyeaters have turned up in recent years in gully areas where the soils are deeper, the moisture and nectar production is better, and there is a bit more density to provide cover against the effects of aggressive honeyeaters like the Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). The Regent Honeyeaters have been able to remain on such sites for around for a week or more, but have not bred on the sites to date. But breeding has occurred about 15kms away on the eastern edge of our project area. Radio-tracking showed that these breeding birds were some of the captive-bred birds released at Chiltern 100km further NE, and that the birds came towards Lurg after the Chiltern Ironbarks had finished flowering. We consider it to be just a matter of time before the Regent Honeyeaters will find the many habitat sites we’ve planted on higher productivity soils in the Lurg area.

Formal monitoring of Grey-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus temporalis temporalis) for the past last 13 years has documented a rapid rise (due to some wetter years) from 60 birds in 19 family groups to approx. 220 birds in 21 family groups. There is also exciting evidence that the endangered Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa) is returning to the Lurg district. The distinctive shredded Stringybark nests are now found in scores of our next boxes (up to 10km from the site of our first records of 2 dead specimens in the south of our project area in the mid 1990s). This dramatic population spread is presumably a direct result of our carefully located corridor plantings that have bridged the habitat gaps all across the district.

Increased social engagement. In the last 6 years we have increased the number of visits to planting days by 50 per cent. There has been a steady growth in the number of new local landholders involved and the total number is now 160 landholders engaged, compared with 115 in 2009. Everyone we come across knows of the project and anyone new to the area hears about it from one of their neighbours. Very few people (you could count them on one hand), say they would rather not be involved. In fact we increasingly get cold calls from new people who have observed what has happened on their neighbour’s place and then phone us to say they want to be involved. It’s a positive indication that the project is part of the spirit of the area. This was further confirmed by the inclusion, of a very detailed Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) mural in a recent street art painting exhibition. The permanent artwork is the size of a house wall, and situated prominently in the heart of the parklands of Benalla.

Much of our work has relied heavily on volunteers, with a total of 10,344 students and 24,121 community volunteers involved over the past 21 years. City folk have fewer opportunities to be in nature, with the bushwalking clubs, university students and scouts in particular, really keen to come and roll up their sleeves.

Typically about 17 to 20 of the local schools, primary and secondary, help us with propagating the seedlings at the start of each year and then planting their own seedlings back out into the field in the winter and spring. And we are increasingly getting interest from metropolitan schools that come to the country for a week-long camp. Some of the schools even have their own permanent camps up here and they want to be involved with our hands on work too. “It’s simply part of our environmental responsibility”, is the way they express it.

Contact: Ray Thomas, Coordinator of the Regent Honeyeater Project Inc (PO Box 124, Benalla, Vic. 3672, Australia; Tel: +61 3 5761 1515. Email: ray@regenthoneater.org.au

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

Peter Cuneo, Jordan Scott and Katharine Catelotti

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

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

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

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

Hillside African olive invasion

Fig 1. Hillside African Olive invasion

Beneath dense olive canopy

Fig 2. Nil biodiversity beneath dense African Olive canopy

Olive mulching machine

Fig 3.  Olive mulching machine

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

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

Planting Seed prod area

Fig 4. Planting out seed production area

 

Plumegrass

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

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

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

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

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

Direct seeding strips

Fig 6. Direct seeding strips prepared

Mixing bulk native grass seed

Fig 7. Mixing bulk native grass seed

Seed strip established2comp

Fig 8. Seed strip established after one year

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

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

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

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

Watch RegenTV Video : Seed production area

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

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

 

 

Conserving and restoring biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef through the Representative Areas Program (RAP)

Key words: Coral reef, no take zones,

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem (344,400 square km) and a World Heritage Area on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains a high diversity of endemic plants, animals and habitats. It is a multiple-use area with different zones in which a wide range of activities and uses are allowed, including tourism, fishing, recreation, traditional use, research, defence, shipping and ports. Components of the ecosystem have been progressively showing symptoms of decline.

TroutBarra3

Coral Trout is one of more than 1625 fish found on the Great Barrier Reef

Existing ecosystems. Coral reefs are like the building blocks of the Great Barrier Reef, and comprise about seven per cent of the ecosystem. The balance is an extraordinary variety of other marine habitats and communities ranging from shallow inshore areas to deep oceanic areas over 250 kilometres offshore and deeper than 1000 metres, along with their associated ecological processes. The abundant biodiversity in the Great Barrier Reef includes:

  • Some 3000 coral reefs built from more than 400 species of hard coral
  • Over one-third of all the world’s soft coral and sea pen species (150 species)
  • Six of the world’s seven species of marine turtle
  • The largest aggregation of nesting green turtles in the world
  • A globally significant population of dugongs
  • An estimated 35,000 square kilometres of seagrass meadows
  • A breeding area for humpback whales and other whale species
  • More than 130 species of sharks and rays
  • More than 2500 species of sponges
  • 3000 species of molluscs
  • 630 species of echinoderms
  • More than 1625 species of fish
  • Spectacular seascapes and landscapes such as Hinchinbrook Island and the Whitsundays
  • 215 species of bird
Crown-of-thorns single injection (C) GBRMPA cropped

Diver injecting Crown of Thorns Starfish

Impacts on the ecosystem. The main threats to the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem are:

  • Climate change leading to ocean acidification, sea temperature rise and sea level rise
  • Catchment run-off of nutrients, pesticides and excessive sediments
  • Coastal development and associated activities such as clearing or modifying wetlands, mangroves and other coastal habitats
  • Overfishing of some predators, incidental catch of species of conservation concern, effects on other discarded species, fishing of unprotected spawning aggregations, and illegal fishing.
4. GBRMPA staff - public consultation(2)

GBRMPA staff meeting to plan and discuss Representative Areas Program (RAP) at Townsville offices

Restoration goals and planning. A primary aim of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is to increase biodiversity protection, with the added intent of enabling the recovery of areas where impacts had occurred. A strong foundation for this has been achieved through the Representative Areas Program, by developing a representative and comprehensive network of highly protected no-take areas, ensuring they included representative examples of all different habitat types.

The rezoning also provided an opportunity to revise all the zone types to more effectively protect the range of biodiversity.

A further aim was to maximise the benefits and minimise the negative impacts of rezoning on the existing Marine Park users.

These aims were achieved through a comprehensive program of scientific input, community involvement and innovation.

More information on the extensive consultation process is available at http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au.

6. green and yellow zone examples

An example of Green Zones (marine national park) and Yellow Zones  (conservation park)

Monitoring. An independent scientific steering committee with expertise in Great Barrier Reef ecosystems and biophysical processes was convened to define operational principles to guide the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of no-take areas in the Marine Park (Fernandes et al 2005). Science (both biophysical and social science) provided the best available information as a fundamental underpinning for the Representatives Areas Program.

There are currently over 90 monitoring programs operating in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent catchment. These programs have largely been designed to address and report on specific issues, location or management.

Reef management. GBRMPA’s 25-year management plan outlines a mix of on-ground work, policies, strategies and engagement. The actions include:

  • increasing compliance focus to ensure zoning rules are followed
  • controlling Crown-of-thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks
  • ensuring cumulative impacts are considered when assessing development proposals
  • setting clear targets for action and measuring our success
  • monitoring the health of the ecosystem on a Reef-wide scale
  • implementing a Reef Recovery program to restore sites of high environmental value in regional areas — regional action recognises the variability of the Reef over such a large area and the variability of the issues and interests of communities and industries in each area.

Benefits of zoning to date. The benefits reef ecosystem health are already occurring including:

  • More and bigger fish: Larger fish are important to population recovery as they contribute more larvae than smaller fish. James Cook University research shows the network of no-take marine reserves benefits species of coral reef fish targeted by fishers (especially Coral Trout), with not only more fish, but bigger fish in reserves — some zones have around twice as much fish biomass compared to zones open to fishing.
  • Improved fish recruitment: Research in the Keppel Islands suggests increased reproduction by the more abundant, bigger fish in reserves. This not only benefits populations within those reserves, it also produces a ‘spill over’ when larvae are carried by currents to other reefs, including areas open to fishing.
  • Improved resilience: The spillover effects also mean the connectivity between reserve reefs is intact. Spatial analysis shows most reserve reefs are within the dispersal range of other reserve reefs, so they are able to function as a network.
  • Sharks, dugongs and turtles: These species are harder to protect because they are slow growing and slow breeding. They are also highly mobile, moving in and out of protected zones. Despite this, available evidence shows zoning is benefiting these species.
  • Reduced crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks: Outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish appear to be less frequent on reserve reefs than fished reefs. This is particularly important as Crown-of-thorns Starfish have been the greatest cause of coral mortality on the Reef in recent decades.
  • Zoning benefits for seabed habitats: Zoning has improved protection of seabed habitats, with at least 20 per cent of all non-reefal habitat types protected from trawling.

How the project has influenced other projects. In November 2004, the Queensland Government mirrored the new zoning in most of the adjoining waters under its control. As a result, there is complementary zoning in the Queensland and Australian Government managed waters within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The approach taken in the Representative Area Program is recognised as one of the most comprehensive and innovative global advances in the systematic protection and recovery of marine biodiversity and marine conservation in recent decades and has gained widespread national international, and local acknowledgement of the process and outcome as best practice, influencing many other marine conservation efforts.

Stakeholders. As a statutory authority within the Australian Government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is responsible for managing the Marine Park. However, as a World Heritage Area, management of the ecosystem is complex jurisdictionally.

Both the Australian and Queensland governments are involved in managing the waters and islands within the outer boundaries through a range of agencies. GBRMPA works collaboratively with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service through the joint Field Management Program to undertake day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef, including its 1050 islands, many of which are national parks. The program’s activities include surveying reefs and islands, dealing with environmental risks such as ghost nets and invasive pests, responding to incidents, maintaining visitor facilities, and upholding compliance with Marine Park legislation and the Zoning Plan.

A wide range of stakeholders have an interest in the Great Barrier Reef, including the community, Traditional Owners, a range of industries and government agencies, and researchers. The public, including the one million people who live in the adjacent catchment (around 20 per cent of Queensland’s population), benefit from economic activities. In recent years, the number of tourists carried by commercial operators to the Great Barrier Reef averaged around 1.6 to 2 million visitor days each year (GBRMPA data) with an estimate of an additional 4.9 million private visitors per annum.

Resourcing. The resourcing required for rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef over the five-year period of the RAP (1999–2003) was significant. It became a major activity for the agency for several years, requiring the re-allocation of resources particularly during the most intense periods of public participation. However, the costs of achieving greater protection for the Reef are readily justified when compared to the economic benefits that a healthy Great Barrier Reef generates every year (about AUD$5.6 billion per annum).

Further information: www.gbrmpa.gov.au

Contact: info@gbrmpa.gov.au

All images courtesy Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

 

Fire as a tool in maintaining diversity and influencing vegetation structure – Grassy Groundcover Restoration Project

Paul Gibson-Roy

Greening Australia’s Grassy Groundcover Restoration Project commenced in 2004 to investigate the feasibility of restoration of grasslands and grassy woodlands (primarily by direct seeding) in the agricultural footprint of Australia. To date the project has achieved the reconstruction of grassy understories in grassland or grassy woodland on near to 100 sites in ex-agricultural land (predominantly across Victoria, but increasingly in southern to central New South Wales and mid-lands Tasmania). Post establishment we use fire in our sites to reduce biomass, particularly to inhibit grass growth which over time become the dominant life form, just like trees can in other communities. Opening the grass canopy allows for the small forbs and sub-dominant grasses to regenerate. Burning in particular can help create these canopy gaps and in a cost-effective way.

Fig 1. Snake Gully CFA burn at Chepstowe.

Fig 1. Snake Gully CFA burn at Chepstowe.

Fig 2. Restored herb-rich grassland on roadside near Wickliffe.

Fig 2. Restored herb-rich grassland on roadside near Wickliffe.

Fig 3. Differential management of Kangaroo Grass at Rokewood Cemetery.

Fig 3. Differential management of Kangaroo Grass at Rokewood Cemetery.

Operational challenges can and often do arise considering sites are located within urban or agricultural footprints where protection of life and property is paramount. This at times prompts us to consider alternative methods of biomass removal such as through grazing (sometimes used as a method for annual weed control) and mowing when burning is deemed inappropriate. These alternative or complimentary biomass reduction methods can also have additional benefits. For example, mowing and producing bales of cut straw, if cut in early spring or autumn, can be used for fodder. This is also the case with grazing. Alternatively, if sites are cut and baled in late spring or summer when grasses contain ripe seed, the hay can be moved and spread at other locations to create a grassland elsewhere.

While the project has carried out various combinations of these approaches at our restored grasslands in recent years, the following list includes a few examples of their use.

  1. Burning at Chepstowe (located to the west of Ballarat, Victoria) to reduce grass biomass and allow forbs to establish and persist. The burn is being conducted by Snake Gully CFA members (Figure 1).
  2. The nationally threatened species – Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans tricolor) and Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrynchoides) were introduced by direct seeding along with many other ground layer species onto a roadside near Wickliffe, Victoria. Following establishment the grassland has been managed with fire by the Wickliffe CFA so that grasses do not dominate and the rare species can recruit and spread. (Figure 2.)
  3. Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) growth has been the focus of differing management techniques within the Rokewood cemetery reserve Victoria (under the Cemetery Trusts grassland management plan). This remnant grassland contains the largest Victorian population of the nationally threatened Button Wrinklewort. To avoid the Kangaroo grass dominating the herb rich areas, it is maintained by fire, whereas in the approaches to the burial area it is kept mown low for function and protection of the memorial infrastructure. (Figure 3).
  4. Similar opening of a restored grassy canopy is achieved at Chatsworth in south western Victoria where a grassland currently dominated by Wallaby Grass (Rytidosperma setaceum) was mown and baled (Figures 4 and 5). This material was used to as fodder by the landholder.
  5. A late autumn burning of herb-rich restored grassland at Hamilton, Victoria, undertaken by the Buckley Swamp CFA (Figure 6).
  6. The aforementioned site at Hamilton taken in the following spring. It shows visitors touring the restoration where Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) and many other sub-dominant forb species are in full bloom (Figure 7).
  7. Diverse restored grassland located adjacent to a wheat crop at Point Henry, near Geelong, Victoria. This site 16 ha site has been maintained over time by combinations of burning and cutting and baling (Figure 8).
Fig 4. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth pre-baling.

Fig 4. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth pre-baling.

Fig 5. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth post-baling.

Fig 5. Wallaby grass dominated grassland at Chatsworth post-baling.

Fig 6. Buckley Swamp CFA conducting a late autumn burn of restored herb-rich grassland near Hamilton.

Fig 6. Buckley Swamp CFA conducting a late autumn burn of restored herb-rich grassland near Hamilton.

Deciding which method or combination of biomass removal techniques to use, and at what time can be complex and there is no textbook. Good management is about constantly assessing the landscape and prevailing conditions to identify prompts for action. It is also about having the right networks and technical capacity available when required. As a general rule we find that when a site has greater than 70% vegetation cover of the ground surface and dry material is being held above 150 mm, there is enough combustible material to carry a flame. This condition also indicates that that the gaps in the vegetation are starting to close up.

Contact: (Dr) Paul Gibson-Roy. Lead Scientist, Greening Australia.Tel: +61 437591097. Email: PGibson-Roy@greeningaustralia.org.au

[This project summary is a precis of a talk presented to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW’s 10th Biennial Bushfire Conference, ‘Fire and Restoration: Working with Fire for Healthy Lands’ 26-27 May 2015. For full paper see: http://www.nature.org.au/healthy-ecosystems/bushfire-program/conferences/%5D

 Fig 7. Spring and wild flowers are in bloom at Hamilton.


Fig 7. Spring and wild flowers are in bloom at Hamilton.

Fig 8. Species and functionally diverse restored grassland adjoining a wheat crop near Geelong.

Fig 8. Species and functionally diverse restored grassland adjoining a wheat crop near Geelong.

Operational planning and logistics – introducing fire into the landscape

Robert Strauch

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

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

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

Fig 1. Broad area burning at North Head

Fig 1. Broad area burning at North Head

1. North Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig 2. High biomass vegetation before burn, North Head

Fig 2. High biomass vegetation before burn, North Head

Fig 3. During burn at North Head

Fig 3. During burn at North Head

Fig 4. Water deliver from air, North Head

Fig 4. Water deliver from air, North Head

Fig 5. Mopping up after burn at North Head

Fig 5. Mopping up after burn at North Head

2. La Perouse

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

3. Centennial Park

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

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

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

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

[This project summary is a precis of a talk presented to the Nature Conservation Council of NSW’s 10th Biennial Bushfire Conference, ‘Fire and Restoration: Working with Fire for Healthy Lands’ 26-27 May 2015. For full paper see: http://www.nature.org.au/healthy-ecosystems/bushfire-program/conferences/%5D

Fig 6. Windrows before the burn, La Perouse

Fig 6. Windrows before the burn, La Perouse

Fig 7. Burn La Perouse

Fig 7. Burn La Perouse

Fig 8. Mopping up after burn, La Perouse

Fig 8. Mopping up after burn, La Perouse