Category Archives: Victoria

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

READ MORE

 

 

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.

Aboriginal community engagement through the Threatened Grassy Woodlands Project – North-east Victoria

Key words: Indigenous Land Management, Traditional ecological knowledge transfer, stone knapping, weaving, Landcare

Richard Mc Ternan and Mary Munro

The Threatened Grassy Woodlands Project focuses on one of Australia’s most threatened ecosystems. As this ecosystem has significant value to Aboriginal people, the North East Catchment Management Authority (North East CMA) and Aboriginal Elders from the Border and North East Victoria have been working together since 2008 to increase Aboriginal engagement with natural resource management across the region.  Priorities have been to (i) help the establishment of an Aboriginal Landcare group; and (ii) conduct Aboriginal community engagement activities to facilitate knowledge sharing and capacity building between local Aboriginal communities and NRM agencies. Experiences to date show there is a strong interest from Aboriginal people in these activities, and involvement in them has increased pride within the Aboriginal community, and recognition from the wider community.

‘Bidja Bila’ (men of the river) Aboriginal men’s Landcare group.  Formed in 2010 through a Memorandum of Understanding document, the group has the support of a dedicated Aboriginal Landcare Involvement Officer. The aspirations identified by the group are to gather to rekindle traditional stories and practices, and encourage interaction between Elders and younger Aboriginal people, reconnecting with the environment.  A primary goal is to take pressure off the elders, reinforcing and carrying forward their work of guiding the community and government.

Fig 1. ‘Bidja Bila’ (men of the river) Aboriginal men’s Landcare group at first planting day July 2011. (Foreground:Dick Murray, Wayne Edwards and Desi Smith. Background: Ray Williams and Richard Kennedy).

The group’s first project was planting 500 native trees and grasses to enhance forest understories for animals (such as the Sugar Glider) reliant on threatened woodlands. Over time these plants will also be a cultural resource for the community and become a focal point for Aboriginal guided tours through the local cultural centre. Other projects in the planning stage involve further exploration of ways to reengage with grassy box woodland, through increased traditional plant knowledge and cultural fire management.

Workshops on stone tool making and weaving. From 2009, a series of stone tool making and weaving workshops, incorporating knowledge from Elders from six nations, have been conducted for the local Aboriginal community. The workshops utilised natural stone – or plant resources – -derived from the Threatened Grassy Woodlands environment.

Stone tool making workshops. Three Aboriginal stone tool-making (knapping) workshops have enabled Elders to demonstrate techniques gained through a lifetime of experience and shared these with participants. An exhibition was also held at the Albury Library Museum showcasing the array of stone tools created by the Elders during the 2009 workshops. Photos and film footage taken during the workshops by filmmaker, Jacqueline Schulz, and local photographer, Chantelle Bourne were shown at the exhibition. This footage and photos. showed the process Aboriginal people use to manufacture stone tools from the raw material right through to the finished product.

Fig 2. Weaving workshop hosted by Indigo Valley Landcare group and attended by (L to R) Ro Lavers (Indigo Landcare group), Chris Dormer (North-east Weaving Association), Sharon Edwards (Ngiyampaa woman), Cheryl Cameron (Wiradjuri woman) and Jackie Tansy (weaving facilitator). (Photo courtesy of The Border Mail.)

Weaving workshop and film. A number of weaving artists demonstrated traditional Aboriginal weaving techniques and showcased their creations at a weaving workshop initiated by Indigo Valley Landcare group and held at the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service in 2011.  Also shown was the film, “Sneaking a stitch”, made by Jacqui Schulz, which conveyed many elements of traditional weaving and pointed out the need to conserve and manage declining plant species used as a weaving resource. This film proved an effective way of communicating important messages about culture and caring for the environment between women and young girls. Further workshops on other topics have been conducted and are planned for the future.

Funding acknowledgement: We acknowledge support from the Australian Government’s ‘Caring for our Country’ initiative, together with contributions from the North East, Goulburn Broken and Murray CMAs, the Victorian State Departments of Sustainability & Environment and Primary Industries, Trust for Nature, Nature Conservation Trust and the Australian National University.

Contact: Richard Mc Ternan, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, North East CMA, PO Box 616, Wodonga VIC 3689 Australia. Tel:+61 2 60 249 109; Mobile: 0428 683 878. Email: richard.mcternan@necma.vic.gov.au

The use of fauna gates to facilitate the movement of Southern Brown Bandicoots Isoodon obesulus through a feral proof fence at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne

Key words: fauna gates, feral proof fence

Bronwyn Merritt

The Southern Brown Bandicoot (SBB) Isoodon obesulus, once common along the coast from Sydney through to Adelaide, has dramatically declined in range and number since European settlement. Listed as an endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, SBBs are threatened by habitat loss, isolation, fragmentation, urban infrastructure and predation by introduced predators such as foxes.

The Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne (RBGC) is regarded as one of the most secure remnant populations of SBBs in the Melbourne and Western Port region. The persistence and relatively high abundance of the species at the RBGC can be attributed to ongoing integrated feral animal control, feral proof fencing and vegetation management.

The RBGC is 363 hectares, with approximately 250 hectares of remnant vegetation listed as of state conservation significance. The site is bounded by an 8 kilometre ‘floppy top’ feral proof fence that has been an integral part of the fox control program. It has resulted in ongoing reduced fox numbers and the flow-on of significant benefits for the management of SBB. However, the fence also represents a barrier to the movement of native species and this may affect the viability of populations within and outside the RBGC.

It has been observed that smaller SBBs are able to pass thorough the 50mm diamond mesh cyclone wire of the feral proof fence. This activity is probably sufficient to reduce local genetic isolation for the species. However, in places the fence has been reinforced with a second or third layer of wire skirting to reduce rabbit incursions and has, therefore, become less permeable to a range of native fauna.

The RBGC has an ongoing program trialing different methods to make the fence selectively permeable to some animals, whilst limiting the movement of others. Originally, the RBGC developed custom made gates that allowed the movement of Common Wombats (Vombatus ursinus) and Long-necked Tortoises (Chelodina longicollis). More recently, the RBGC has developed and trialed the use of ‘Bandicoot gates’ that have allowed free movement of the endangered SBB through the fenceline.

The custom designed bandicoot gates were installed in the internal Australian Garden fence of RBGC through 2010-2011. The Australian Garden is an 11 hectare display garden of native plants. The aim of the bandicoot gates was to allow the free movement of bandicoots, but exclude rabbits. The gates were made using 90 mm PVC pipe. Different gate versions were trialed and the successful design included a weighted 100mm wide flap and cover to ensure the gate returned to the closed position. The gates were monitored using Reconyx™ infra-red cameras and have shown frequent bandicoot movement, with no evidence of other species use to date.

The ability of the SBBs to learn how to negotiate the gates has ongoing implications for the construction of semi-permeable feral proof fences. It may be possible that these gates could be modified and used by other conservation reserves with feral proof fencing, for the conservation of other endangered small mammals.

For the RBGC, this has implications for allowing the free movement of the SBB into the wider region beyond the boundary of the perimeter fence. Since 2002, the land surrounding the RBGC has been included in the Melbourne Urban Growth Boundary, which means the RBGC is likely to be land-locked by residential development in the near future. The development of these gates, and the implication of allowing increased movement of SBB from the RBGC into proposed biolinks, will have significant implications for the ongoing management and sustainability of this endangered species.

Acknowledgements: Terry Coates, Ollie Sherlock, RBGC Infrastructure branch, Jill Burness, Dave Hunt and Ricardo Simao.

Contact: Bronwyn Merritt, Coordinator Land Management and Infrastructure, Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, 1000 Ballarto Road, Cranbourne, Victoria 3977. Ph (03) 5990 2221. Bronwyn.merritt@rbg.vic.gov.au

Yarrilinks: a vital bridge between city and country

Key words: community volunteers, environmental repair, revegetation, multiculturalism

Rae Talbot

A successful one-off revegetation project in the Yarriambiack Shire, Victoria, has led to ‘Yarrilinks’ – an annual revegetation event that combines environmental benefit, community involvement, cultural exchange,  lots of fun and friendship. Yarrilinks is one of several Wimmera Biolink Plantout events which happen throughout the year across the region. The plantouts build on broader biolink programs coordinated by Wimmera Catchment Management Authority as part of the Federal Government’s Caring for our Country program.

Betty Barry of Minyip is a regular host of volunteers at Yarrilinks. Mrs Barry is pictured with Adut Chol, one of the chefs from the not-for-profit restaurant chain ‘Lentil As Anything’ who help cater the Saturday night feast at Yarrilinks each year.

The unique feature of Yarrilinks is its partnerships with the Melbourne-based Adult Multicultural Education Services and Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning programs. This offers an opportunity for new residents of Australia, often refugees from wars in their own countries, to engage with local families closely working within a rural Australian environment.  Through this event, held each August, local families and new arrivals learn from each other, experiencing new cultures whilst building up the environment.

The project works by local families hosting the visitors.  Between 30 and 40 local families participate each year, with about 500 visitors being hosted from 24 different nationalities over the past 12 years.  The weekend community events have enabled the planting of 120,000 plants on 40 different sites on farms and roadsides.

On 6-7 August this year, paddocks in the Yarriambiack Shire came alive with volunteers from the local area and the Melbourne-based Adult Multicultural Education Services and Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning programs. The 2011 weekend was the 13th Yarrilinks event.

Contact: People wanting to find out more about Yarrilinks can phone Rae Talbot at Wimmera CMA on (03) 5382 1544 or email wca@wcma.vic.gov.au

Wimmera CMA Catchment Tender model – evaluation after 5 years demonstrates significant improvements in efficiency and value for money

Key words: ecological sustainability, incentives, market-based instruments, salinity

Robert Moir

Wimmera Catchment Management Authority (WCMA) helps manage natural resources across 2800 square kilometres of land in western Victoria. In 2005, the WCMA teamed up with environmental economic researchers from CSIRO to design and implement an innovative market-driven model to address salinity problems in key parts of the catchment. This has resulted in a $4.6 million investment in environmental projects on farms in the past six years, in turn, delivering a dramatic increase in on-ground works such as fencing, weed and pest animal control, revegetation and protecting waterways compared with traditional incentive programs of the previous decade.

Through this initial Catchment Tender model, the CMA invited farmers to submit tender proposals and be paid for establishing and maintaining vegetation on their farms. The model, an alternative to grants, targeted specific farms where revegetation work would help reduce salinity problems across the catchment. The computer-based model assessed the costs and benefits of the tenders and selected the ones which offered the best value for money of terms of salinity benefits per dollar of public funds invested.

Participation in this first round of Catchment Tender far exceeded expectations, with more than $730,000 invested into salinity management across 762 hectares of land in just 10 months. This is the equivalent of at least the previous five to six years of revegetation achievements through the CMA’s previous grants scheme. There have been efficiency gains of up to 160% in delivery, and 69% of the project’s total budget has been paid to landholders; this includes development costs dating back to 2002. Based on an evaluation done with the CSIRO we found that by comparison, traditional incentive projects would on average require a budget 60% higher than Catchment Tender to generate the same outcome. Because of this result, the CMA extended this market-based approach to other programs including biodiversity conservation and protecting wetlands and riparian corridors along waterways, and since the first round in 2005, Wimmera CMA has helped invest $4.6 million across the region.

The CMA has completed 12 tender programs including River Tender, Habitat Tender and Buloke Tender. These programs help protect our region’s waterways, wetlands, plants and animals. Six years down the track, the CMA and the CSIRO are now evaluating these market-driven programs as well as other natural resource management investment programs such as grants and Landcare group support.

Contact: Robert Moir, Program Manager- Catchment Operations, Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, PO Box 479, Horsham, 3401, Tel: +61 (03) 5382 1544 or email wca@wcma.vic.gov.au.

Restoring the Winton Wetlands in north east Victoria

Key words: wetland restoration, ecosystem function, Mokoan, woodlands, hydrology

The 8,750 ha Winton Wetlands Reserve is located near Benalla within the Goulburn-Broken Catchment in north east Victoria. The restoration project is one of the outcomes of the former Victorian Government’s decision to decommission Lake Mokoan, previously Victoria’s fifth largest water storage, and to allocate resulting water savings for environmental flows to the Snowy and Murray rivers (Lake Mokoan previously lost over 50 GL annually in evaporation).

The decision to decommission Lake Mokoan was controversial and at the time there was considerable local and regional opposition to the project. Dramatic improvements in wetland condition since de-commissioning have now engendered considerable community support for the project.

Figure 1: Location of Winton Wetlands within the Goulburn-Broken Catchment in North East Victoria

Prior to the establishment of Lake Mokoan in 1971, the Winton Wetlands consisted of a series of more than 11 interconnected redgum and open cane grass wetlands covering more than 3000 ha, interspersed with areas of remnant box grassy woodland and surrounded by farmland with a long history of sheep and cattle grazing. From 1971, the wetlands and surrounding woodlands and farmland were regularly inundated to create a 375 GL water storage covering an area of more than 7000 ha.

The original wetland and surrounding woodland ecosystems and associated ecological drivers, (particularly the local hydrology) have been substantially modified as a result of regular inundation and a long history of agricultural use in the surrounding terrestrial areas.

The aim of the project is to restore the wetlands and surrounding terrestrial areas by encouraging the recovery of ecosystem function rather than necessarily attempting to return the site to exact pre-European condition. The project will be one of the largest wetland restoration projects undertaken in Australia.

With the decommissioning completed in mid 2010, the Winton Wetlands Reserve was established in August 2011 and so the restoration project is still in its early stages.

Progress to date:

  • Completion of a Future Land Use Strategy with considerable community input and consultation.
  • Installation of an extensive pipeline system to provide alternative source of local water supply.
  • Decommissioning of the water storage to reinstate more natural inflow and water levels regimes.
  • Establishment of a skills based community management committee to manage and restore the wetlands.
  • Government commitment of $20M to restore the wetlands and implement the Future Land Use Strategy.
  • Development and implementation of Fire Management and Pest Plan and Animal programs.
  • Completion of flora and fauna, pest plant and animal and cultural heritage surveys.
  • Scientific & Technical Advisory Group to guide development of Restoration and Monitoring Plan.

Results to date: The Wetlands dried out completely in late 2009 due to the severe 2005 – 2009 drought. Substantial rainfall from September 2010 has reinvigorated wetlands (see figures 1 and 2), with water levels from natural inflows at 145% (45 GL) in early December 2010 overflowing into the Broken River system. The wetlands have made a remarkable recovery greatly assisting to build local community support for the project.

Figure 2: Winton Wetlands during the 2006–09 drought

Figure 3: Winton Wetlands after rain (November 2010)

Lessons learnt & future directions:

  • Wetlands are remarkably resilient (as, unfortunately, are carp)
  • Community engagement, understanding, and support is essential for the success of the long term restoration project.
  • Focus on immediate land management issues has assisted greatly in the Winton Wetlands Committee gaining credibility as a land manager.
  • Rapid conversion of land with a long history of agricultural use and inundation to areas of high ecological value is not feasible, so a transitional approach to ecological restoration will be required.

Stakeholders: The $20m in initial funding has been provided by the Victorian Government with the project aiming to be financially self-sustaining within 10 years. The Winton Wetlands Committee of Management is committed to working with traditional owners, the local and regional community, and government agencies to restore the Winton Wetlands.

Contact: Tim Barlow, Restoration Ecologist, Email: Tim.Barlow@wintonwetlands.org; Website: http://wintonwetlands.org.au