Category Archives: Victoria

Re-establishing cryptogamic crust at The Waterways, Mordialloc

By Damien Cook

Photo 1.  Crytogamic crust consisting of mosses, lichens and liverworts in inter-tussock space in restored grassland at Waterways. These spaces provide recruitment opportunities for herbaceous species such as Wahlenbergia multicaulis and Brachyscome parvula

Introduction:  The Waterways is a unique urban development on the Mordialloc Creek, in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs, which combines a housing estate with 48 hectares of restored habitat set aside for indigenous fauna and flora in open space, lakes and other wetlands. (See EMR Project summary ‘The Waterways‘.)

The revegetation of 4 hectares of native grassland and 7 hectares of swamp scrub provided the opportunity to trial the re-establishment of non-vascular plant species, as well as the higher plants which are normally the focus of restoration efforts.

Method. A diversity of cryptogams including Thuidiopsis furfurosa, Hypnum cuppressiforme, Triquetrella papillata and some Rosulabryum and lichen species were collected in the field from nearby remnants of native vegetation threatened with imminent destruction by freeway construction and new housing estates. These were placed in a blender and made into a 2 litre, thick slurry and the slurry was then diluted into a 20 litre a firefighting backpack. The diluted slurry was then applied to bare soils in the revegetated areas at the Waterways in August 2002; some areas were left untreated as a control.

Results. It was not until the wet winter of 2016 that it became apparent how successful this technique had been. There are now quite large areas with a good cover of cryptogams, particularly in the restored grassland and swamp scrub areas. There are some cryptogams in the untreated areas, but the species richness and cover are much lower. Cryptogamic crust cover appears to suppress weed germination, reducing the need for herbicide application, yet provides recruitment opportunities for native forbs (see Photos 1-3).

Acknowledgements. Thanks are due to the Haines family who were the developers of “The Waterways”, and in particular Stephen Haines, for involving us in the revegetation of the site and allowing us scope to trial different ecological restoration techniques. 

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

Photo 2. Swamp Scrub at Waterways. Note the dense layer of mosses in the understory, particularly Thuidiopsis furfurosa

Photo 3. Fruiting capsules of a species of Bryum in restored native grassland at Waterways

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

Photo 1.  Aerial view of Waterways from the west

By Damien Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results

Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo 4. Seasonal rain-filled wetland at Waterways

 Animals.

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

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

Photo 5. Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata) at Waterways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brady Swamp wetland complex, Grampians National Park, Victoria

Mark Bachmann

Key words: wetland restoration, Wannon River, hydrology, drainage, Gooseneck Swamp

A series of wetlands associated with the floodplain of the Wannon River (Walker, Gooseneck, and Brady Swamps), situated approximately 12 km north east of Dunkeld in western Victoria, were partially drained from the 1950s onwards for grazing purposes (Fig 1). A portion of these wetlands was later acquired and incorporated into the Grampians National Park (and other peripheral reserves) in the mid-1980s, managed by Parks Victoria. However, the balance of the wider wetland and floodplain area remained under private ownership, creating a degree of uncertainty surrounding reinstatement of water regime – an issue that was left unresolved for over two decades.

Many years of planning work, including modelling studies and biological investigations by a range of organisations, never quite managed to adequately resolve the best way to design and progress wetland restoration work in this area. To address the impasse, at the request of the Glenelg Hopkins CMA in early 2013, Nature Glenelg Trust proposed a staged restoration trial process which was subsequently agreed to by landowners, neighbours, government agencies, and local community groups.

Figure 1. Image from the present day: showing artificial drains (red lines/arrows) constructed to drain Walker, Gooseneck and Brady Swamps, as it operated from the 1950s–2013.

Figure 1. Image from the present day: showing artificial drains (red lines/arrows) constructed to drain Walker, Gooseneck and Brady Swamps, as it operated from the 1950s–2013.

Trials and permanent works undertaken.

Initial trials. The restoration process began in August 2013 with the installation of the first trial sandbag weir structure to regulate the artificial drain at Gooseneck Swamp. Its immediate success in reinstating wetland levels led to similar trials being initiated at Brady Swamp and Walker Swamp (Fig. 2) in 2014.

Figure 2. The volunteer sandbagging crew at the artificial drainage outlet from Walker Swamp - August 2014.

Figure 2. The volunteer sandbagging crew at the artificial drainage outlet from Walker Swamp – August 2014.

Permanent works were ultimately undertaken to reinstate the breached natural earthen banks at Brady and Gooseneck Swamps (Figure 3), implemented by Nature Glenelg Trust in early 2015.

Figure 3a. Trial Structure on the Brady Swamp outlet drain in 2014

Figure 3b. The same view shown in Figure 3a, after the completion of permanent works in 2015

Results. The works have permanently reinstated the alternative, original watercourse and floodplain of the Wannon River, which now activates when the water levels in these wetlands reach their natural sill level. This is predicted to have a positive impact on a wide range of flora and fauna species.

Monitoring is in place to measure changes to vegetation and the distribution and status of key fauna species, such as waterbirds, fish and frogs. Due to drought conditions experienced in 2015, to is too early to describe the full ecological impact of the works at this time.

4. Gooseneck Swamp in Sept 2014: the second season of the restoration trial, just prior to the implementation of permanent restoration works

Figure 4. Gooseneck Swamp in Sept 2014: the second season of the restoration trial, just prior to the implementation of permanent restoration works

Lessons learned. The success of these trials has been based on their tangible ability to demonstrate, to all parties involved, the potential wetland restoration outcome for the sites; made possible by using simple, low-cost, impermanent methods. To ensure the integrity of the trial structures, the sandbags used for this purpose are made of geotextile fabric, with a minimum field service life of approximately 5 years.

The trials were critical for building community confidence and collecting real operational data for informing the development of longer-term measures to increase the depth and duration of inundation.

A vital aspect of the trials has been the level of community participation, not only at the sandbagging “events”, but also the subsequent commitment to ecological monitoring, for helping evaluate the biological impacts of hydrological reinstatement. For example, the Hamilton Field Naturalists Club has been undertaking monthly bird monitoring counts that are helping Nature Glenelg Trust to develop a picture of the ecological value of these wetlands and their role in the wider landscape, including the detection of international migratory species.

Acknowledgements. Project partners include Parks Victoria, Hamilton Field Naturalists Club, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, Macquarie Forestry and other private landholders. 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:

Long 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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Case Study: Restoring the Lost Shellfish Reefs of Port Phillip Bay

Simon Branigan

Key words: shellfish reefs, native flat oyster, blue mussel, ecological restoration, marine ecosystem

Background. Globally, shellfish reefs are the most threatened marine habitat on earth.  Research published by The Nature Conservancy documented that that over 85% of shellfish reefs have been lost from coastal areas worldwide, with 99% of shellfish reefs ‘functionally extinct’ in Australian coastal waters, including within Port Phillip Bay (Shellfish Reefs at Risk Report).

This dramatic loss of shellfish reef habitat in Port Phillip Bay had occurred by the mid to late 20th century, caused by over-harvesting through destructive dredge fishing, further compounded by pollution, predation and disease in later years.

In an Australian first, The Nature Conservancy Australia (TNC) are part of a research partnership that are trialling different approaches to restoring Port Phillip Bay’s lost shellfish reefs (video link).

Shellfish reefs are intertidal or subtidal three-dimensional habitats formed by oysters and/or mussels at high densities. Shellfish reefs can vary in appearance depending on the dominant reef-forming species. There are many common attributes of shellfish reefs including:

  • They provide habitat and refuge for other species including sessile and mobile organisms, supporting high levels of species diversity and unique assemblages;
  • They can accrete dead shell material such that the reef grows in size and mass over time;
  • They provide food for other organisms, either when consumed directly or through the species assemblages they support.
Figure 1. Clumping native Flat Oysters at 9ft Bank in Port Phillip Bay

Figure 1. Clumping native Flat Oysters at 9ft Bank in Port Phillip Bay

Figure 2. Remnant Oyster Reef in Georges Bay, St Helens, Tasmania. (Photo: Chris Gillies)

Figure 2. Remnant Oyster Reef in Georges Bay, St Helens, Tasmania. (Photo: Chris Gillies)

Restoring the Lost Shellfish Reefs of Port Phillip Bay. A three-year trial was established in late March 2015 to investigate the following research questions:

  • Can the oysters simply grow on the bottom or do they need a rubble base?
  • Can oysters be deployed at a young age and survive, or is it more beneficial for a grow-out on aquaculture leases to gain a ‘headstart’?
  • At what densities do we need to deploy mature mussels? (i.e. Can they create mussel beds naturally on the sediment or require substrate?)

 Reference ecosystem. Historical information and relictual evidence shows that the shellfish reefs of Port Phillip Bay were subtidal with the dominant species being native flat oyster (Ostrea angasi) and Blue Mussel (Mytilus (edulis) galloprovincialis). Healthy reference sites for such reefs are very limited in Southern Australia. Within Port Phillip Bay the only site found so far is a dispersed clumping reef called 9ft Bank (Fig 1). A remnant shellfish reef also occurs in Georges Bay, off St Helens in Tasmania (Fig 2). Further research is planned for the Tasmanian site to complete a biological assessment to inform long-term restoration targets and reef design at Port Phillip Bay and other future sites in the region.

Locations of the restoration trials: The intent is to conduct restoration trials in three locations within Port Phillip Bay, although currently works are occurring at only two sites: Wilson Spit (Outer Geelong Harbour) and Margarets Reef (Hobsons Bay) (Fig 3). These are both old shellfish reefs that are largely dead and covered by sediment (Fig 4). The depth range is between 6 to 8 metres depth with Wilson Spit being a silty mud bottom and Margarets Reef sand.

Figure 3. Port Phillip Bay Shellfish Reef Restoration sites.

Figure 3. Port Phillip Bay Shellfish Reef Restoration sites.

Figure 4. Relictual evidence of previous oyster reef at Wilson Spit restoration site. (Photo: Paul Hamer).

Figure 4. Relictual evidence of previous oyster reef at Wilson Spit restoration site. (Photo: Paul Hamer).

Works Undertaken. As Port Phillip Bay is both reef substrate- and recruitment-limited a reconstruction approach (involving rebuilding substrates and reintroducing oysters and mussels) is a necessary starting point for the restoration, with the longer term expectation of natural colonisation.

The trial has involved the deployment of a total of 6 tonnes of limestone marl substrate in a patchwork of 1m x 1m plots at both sites. Native flat oysters are being raised at the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery and their larvae settled on recycled scallop shells (called cultch) (Fig 5). The larvae are then left for a 3-6 month period on an aquaculture lease before being deployed onto the substrate base (Fig 6). To date over 20,000 live oysters have been deployed to seed the reefs. In addition, over 6 tonnes of blue mussel have also been deployed at different densities and in 3 x 3m plots (Fig 7).

Figure 5. Cultch spat growing out at the Bates Point Aquaculture Lease. (Photo: Ben Cleveland)

Figure 5. Cultch spat growing out at the Bates Point Aquaculture Lease. (Photo: Ben Cleveland)

Figure 6. Limestone rubble base with cultch spat. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

Figure 6. Limestone rubble base with cultch spat. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

Figure 7. Deployed mussel bed at Margarets Reef. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

Figure 7. Deployed mussel bed at Margarets Reef. (Photo: Paul Hamer)

 Monitoring Methodology. The University of Melbourne are contracted to lead the monitoring in Stage 1 of the restoration trial. Baseline sampling was conducted of the trial pre-deployment (trial layout is shown in Fig 8) and subsequent monitoring to be carried out 6 months and 12 months after deployment. Monitoring includes measuring:

  • Oyster survival per shell on the various substrate treatments
  • Oyster growth on the various substrate treatments
  • Mussel survival (inner cores only) and mussel growth as well as shell cover and predator density
  • Baseline community sampling (pre-deployment) of mobile fish, cryptic fish, mobile invertebrates, benthic biota and benthic substrate.
Figure 8. An example of the oyster reef experimental design at the Margaret Reef site.

Figure 8. An example of the oyster reef experimental design at the Margaret Reef site.

Lessons Learned and Future Directions. Early monitoring results from both sites show that oyster spat survival is greater if deployed on a rubble base than directly to the seabed, with cultch loss high on sand, due to burial. Oysters grew on average five times as fast on rubble than sand over winter. We conclude from this that elevation is important for both the survival and growth of oysters.

For the mussels the highest density treatment had the highest mortality at both sites, suggesting that the low density treatment improves survival and may be the most cost effective approach.

The most abundant predator was the native Eleven-arm Seastar (Coscinasterias calamaria).

We consider that scale is important in helping to minimise early losses and this hypothesis will be tested in the second stage of the trail. Planning is in place to scale-up the trial to 20 x 20m plots in late 2016, with a mixed-species approach, combining mussels and oysters rather than having separate treatments. Elevation through large and small limestone rubble will also be tested, integrated with recycled shells sourced from restaurants and wholesalers.

Stakeholders and Funding. The Restoring the Lost Shellfish Reefs of Port Phillip Bay Project is a key element of The Nature Conservancy Australia’s Great Southern Seascapes Program and delivered in partnership with the Victorian Government (Fisheries Victoria) and Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club. All partners have contributed funding towards the project and continue to fundraise.

Contact. Simon Branigan, Estuaries Conservation Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy Australia, Suite 2.01, The 60L Green Building, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia. Tel: 0409087278. Email: simon.branigan@tnc.org

WATCH FIRST VIDEO: Shellfish reef restoration in Port Phillip Bay

WATCH SECOND VIDEO: Trialling shellfish reef restoration techiques for potential application across Australia

Recovering biodiversity at Trust for Nature’s Neds Corner Station, Victoria

Doug Robinson, Deanna Marshall, Peter Barnes and Colleen Barnes

Key words. Private conservation area, natural regeneration, ecological restoration, rabbit control.

Introduction. Neds Corner Station is Victoria’s largest private conservation property. This 30,000 hectare ex-sheep and cattle station was purchased for nature conservation by Trust for Nature (Victoria) in 2002.

The property occupies the driest area of the state with an average annual rainfall of only 250 mm. As such, it has strong ecological links to the arid regions of Australia and Australia’s rangelands. Neds Corner sits strategically at the hub of an extensive network of public and private conservation lands bordering or close to the Murray River in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. The reserve is bordered on three sides by the Murray Sunset National Park and borders frontages along the Murray River and associated anabranches for more than thirty kilometres, where the River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) dominated riparian zone connects with Chenopod Shrublands, Semi-arid Chenopod Woodlands and Chenopod Mallee Woodlands. Trust for Nature’s restoration efforts are targeted at restoring woodland connectivity across the property to improve habitat extent and condition for woodland and mallee plants and animals, including the nationally threatened Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus). A biodiversity survey in 2011 found 884 native species at Neds Corner Station, including 6 threatened birds and animals, 77 threatened plants, and 21 species new to science. Trust for Nature continues to find new records for the property.

Fig 1 Neds 2003

Fig. 1. Highly degraded area (near watering points) in 2003 just after Trust purchased the property.

 

Fig 2 Neds 2011

Fig. 2. Same photopoint in 2014 showing extensive natural regeneration of Low Chenopod Shrubland after removal of livestock and extensive treatment of rabbits.

 

Planning for recovery. In 2002, when Trust for Nature first took on the property, the land was severely degraded from continuous over grazing by stock, rabbits and native herbivores; weed infestations; historic clearing of extensive areas of woodland for firewood and forage; and lack of flooding. Native vegetation was sparse over much of the property, soil erosion was extensive and the floodplain and semi-arid woodlands were all showing signs of extreme stress.

In the early years of ownership, management focussed on addressing the most obvious of these threats, with a focus on rabbit control and weed control. In 2010, with funding support from The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Nature prepared a Conservation Action Plan for the reserve, using the Open Standards for Conservation process, and a subsequent management plan. These planning documents identified the key biodiversity values on the reserve, the major threats to these values and the strategies to reduce threats and improve condition to achieve agreed ecological goals.Fig 6 Neds

Fig. 3. Dune Wattle (Acacia ligulata) natural regeneration after cropping was discontinued.

Fig 7 Neds

 Fig 4. Hop Bush (Dodonaea viscosa) natural regeneration after cropping ceased.

Works undertaken. Trust for Nature’s first action was to remove the livestock to allow the regeneration and growth of native vegetation. Stock fencing was decommissioned to enable free movement of native fauna, and new exclosure fencing to protect sites of cultural and ecological significance were also constructed. Major efforts were made to reduce rabbit numbers through the use of warren ripping, fumigation and 1080 baiting across the property. To date, over 20,000 warrens have been treated. Direct seeding and tubestock planting in the Semi-arid Woodland areas of the property have been continuous, with the cessation of a cropping licence, over 500 ha direct seeded in one year as part of an Australian Government funded project. In partnership with the Mallee Catchment Management Authority, environmental water allocations have been used to inundate areas of Neds Corner, providing a vital lifeline to many of the plants and animals that inhabit the riverine billabongs and floodplain forests. Artificial water points and superfluous tracks have been closed. Targeted fox and other feral animal programs are continuous.

Fig 3 Neds 2003

Fig 5. Highly degraded ‘Pine paddock’ in 2003 just after the Trust purchased the property.

Fig 4 Neds 2011

Fig 6. Pine paddock from same photopoint in n2014 after exclosure fencing, rabbit control and extensive direct seeding of trees and shrubs in 2007 (and again in 2010). The grasses all naturally regenerated.

Results. In the 14 years since domestic stock removal and the ongoing control of rabbits and weeds, there has been a dramatic increase in the cover of native vegetation, notably from natural regeneration (Figs 1-4) but also from extensive supplementary planting and direct seeding (Figs 5-8). In 2011, wide spread natural germination of Murray Pines occurred across the woodland sections of the property and Sandhill Wattle (Acacia ligulata) seedlings were observed on one rise where no parent plant was known to occur, indicating a viable seed bank may exist. The vulnerable Darling Lilies (Crinum flaccidum) continue to extend their range, given favourable weather conditions and the continuous control of herbaceous threats to the extent required to ensure adequate recruitment of these key flora species. Bird surveys undertaken for one of the targeted projects within Neds Corner over the past 10 years show an encouraging increase in reporting rates of Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus victoriae) (>x2 increase), Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps) (>x2% increase) and Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) (>x20 increase).

Fig 5 neds

Fig.7. Revegetation plantings in 2008

Fig 6 NEds 2014

Fig 8. Same revegetation planing line in 2013.

Current and future directions. Trust for Nature are due to revise their CAP and have identified the need to undertake recovery actions at a greater scale. They are currently investigating the feasibility of re-introducing some fauna species back into Neds Corner Station that haven’t been found in the region for decades, provided there is sufficient habitat to sustain them.

Acknowledgements. As a not-for-profit organisation, Trust for Nature (Victoria) relies on the generous support of many individuals, organisations and government entities. The main project partners to date include The Nature Conservancy, RE Ross Trust, Yulgilbar Foundation, Australian Government, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Mildura Rural City Council, Northern Mallee Region Landcare, Traditional Owners and the thousands of hours volunteers contribute to Neds Corner Station.

Contact: Doug Robinson, Conservation Science Coordinator, Trust for Nature: (Tel: +61 1800 99 99 33.) Email: dougr@tfn.org.au; www.trustfornature.org.au

Photos: Trust for Nature

 

 

 

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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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.