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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koala conservation and the role of private land – UPDATE of EMR feature

Daniel Lunney, Alison Matthews, Chris Moon and John Turbill

[Update of EMR feature – Lunney, Daniel, Alison Matthews, Chris Moon and John Turbill (2002) Achieving fauna conservation on private land: Reflections on a 10-year project. Ecological Management & Restoration, 3:2, 90-96. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2002.00100.x]

Key words: SEPP 44, Coffs Harbour, logging, urban development, New South Wales, ecological history, koala plan of management.

Introduction. Our 2002 paper in EMR focused on the local government area (LGA) of Coffs Harbour and reflected on our approach to meeting the challenge of finding a means of protecting populations of  Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) on private land before habitat removal brought about their local extinction. This was prompted by our 1986–1987 state-wide koala survey that found that koala  populations had declined across New South Wales, largely as a result of habitat loss. The remaining koala stronghold, we identified at the time, was on the north coast, in areas such as in the rapidly expanding city of Coffs Harbour. Koalas in Coffs Harbour were found mostly on privately-owned land outside National Parks and Nature Reserves and State Forests.

It took 10 years (1990-2000) of struggle with politics, bureaucracy and vested interests to achieve a plan of management across one local government area (Coffs Harbour) to save koala habitat from the relentless clearing of private land. The reward for our efforts was a Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM), prepared under State Environmental Planning Policy 44 – koala habitat protection (SEPP 44), and adopted by Coffs Harbour City Council in 1999. SEPPs apply only to land over which local government has authority, not Crown Land, i.e. National Parks, Nature Reserves and State Forests. The Plan identified and ranked Koala habitat and set out criteria for minimizing local threats. It is a statutory instrument, gazetted in 2000 along with council’s Local Environmental Plan (LEP), which controls land-use planning. It was the first CKPoM in NSW and a demonstrated formula for undertaking such plans. Now in 2019, 20 years after the plan was formally adopted by Coffs Harbour City Council, and in the NSW parliament in 2000 as part of the Coffs Harbour LEP, the plan is still in place. We count that as a success. While revisions to both the SEPP and the Coffs Harbour CKPoM are in the wind, the 1999 plan still stands, as of October 2019.

Further, after five years of operation, Coffs Harbour council commissioned a strategic review of its CKPoM from the consultants, EcoLogical, which found that there was a 1.1% reduction in the area of primary koala habitat. In our view, such a small change over 5 years is an indication of the CKPoM’s impact in halting habitat loss on private land.

Figure 1. Historian, and co-worker, Antares Wells examining a document with items from the history of the Bellinger, the LGA immediately to the south of Coffs Harbour, as part of our study of the ecological history of the region. (Photo Dan Lunney 2013/)

Further studies. To add context to our work in Coffs Harbour, we undertook a range of further studies. These included an historical study, looking at the koala records from European settlement to 2000 through an ecological lens (Fig 1). The first wave of European settlers arrived in the early 1880s, and much of the initial development arose from logging. Collectively, the evidence identifies that the koala population of Coffs Harbour was widespread but never abundant, and that habitat loss has been relentless since European settlement. The transformation of a rural-forest mosaic to an urban landscape over the past four decades is the most recent stage in the incremental loss of habitat.

Also, in 2011, we undertook a repeat study of the koala population within Coffs Harbour LGA from our initial survey in 1990. Analyses showed that the koala population has endured between 1990 and 2011 and showed no evidence of a precipitous decline during this period. Rather, the population change was best characterised as stable to slowly declining.

The extensive koala datasets gathered since 1990 on the Coffs Harbour koala population are attractive for researchers and managers. They provide the basis for revisiting the LGA to look for change (Fig 2.) . Work in June 2019, for example, included the following: Department of Planning, Industry and Environment at Coffs Harbour is finalising a review of the Coffs Harbour LGA koala habitat study from funding by council; surveys completed in April 2019 revisited 68 of the original 119 sites we had selected in 1996, and 89 of those sites we had re-surveyed in 2011, and the total number of sites visited in the current survey was 176 in a report to Coffs Harbour council in September 2019.

Figure 2. Koala team standing in koala habitat near Bonville, Coffs Harbour LGA. From left to right, John Turbill, Martin Smith, Indrie Sonawane, Chris Moon and Martin Predavec. (Photo Dan Lunney 2013).

Mixed results. Rereading our original paper is unsettling. There is an enduring sense that the entire exercise, while locally worthwhile, has not translated into wider successes with respect to policy and implementation. Although our assessment of the success of the Coffs Harbour CKPoM is upbeat, the uptake of the concept by other councils has been modest. Some have opted for a koala plan of management, but not within the SEPP 44 framework, and others have contracted the preparation of the plans, but only using field survey data for koalas, not the citizen science component.

Among our reflections on our work is that the languages of planning, conservation and ecology need to be calibrated. Confusion has occurred because SEPP 44 refers to potential and core koala habitat when a Development Application (DA) is being assessed, but in the CKPoM in 1999 we used the terms primary, secondary and tertiary koala habitat. Adoption by local government of a CKPoM replaces the requirement to assess each individual DA for core habitat, because the CKPoM has mapped and ranked this habitat. In fact, the ease of seeing koala habitat on a map, ranked so that you know what development is possible, or not, within the particular ranking, expedites the DA process for all parties. This was a major selling point for Coffs Harbour council, along with our economic study which demonstrated that the value of having a koala population in the LGA exceeded the cost of implementing such a plan (Fig 3). While habitat ranking is appropriate for a CKPoM – a land-use planning and management instrument – one interpretation, a misguided one in our view, has been that primary habitat equals core habitat, and deems primary habitat in a CKPoM to be the only level of habitat to conserve. Such a view not only disregards the value of rankings for the purpose of planning, but also ignores the multiple ways that koalas need to use the landscape. We note that more recent plans have divided secondary habitat into secondary A and secondary B, but that does not change the principle of ranking. We also note that a recent choice is to use ‘core’ habitat in a CKPoM, although with a different approach to defining ‘core’, but this has yet to be consolidated in the proposed revised SEPP 44. On reflection, ‘core’ has become a problematic word because it implies that anything other than core can be ignored.

There have been considerable recent efforts to catch up on survey methods for koalas in State Forests. However, pressure remains on State Forests concerning their koala populations, such as the campaign by the National Parks Association of NSW for ‘The Great Koala National Park’ to add 175,000 ha of State Forests to existing protected areas to form a 315,000 ha reserve in the Coffs Harbour hinterland. National Parks and Nature Reserves are a central element in our efforts to conserve our fauna, but a transfer of State Forests to National Parks does not come to grips with the issue of the loss of habitat on private lands, including in situ habitat and linkages across the landscape.

SEPP 44 was promulgated in 1995, and while we recognise that it needs to be updated, our point remains that it has demonstrated potential to conserve koala habitat on private land, with an explicit role, indeed a key role, for local government. Strategies to conserve and restore koala habitat on private land—particularly on the more fertile lands, which are also the prime lands for farms and towns—will continue to be central to conserving the koala populations in NSW.

Figure 3. Economist Clive Hamilton explaining the economic advantages of conserving koalas in Coffs Harbour LGA. This presentation was given in Coffs Harbour at a national meeting for Ecological Economics. (Photo Dan Lunney 1996.)

Lessons learned and future directions. In 2019, our reflections on our 10-year study (1990-2000) allow us to conclude that identifying koala habitat on private land is possible, that plans to conserve it are acceptable, that the economic aspect is an important factor in the negotiations, and that local government has a role to play in this process. Since 2002 we have expanded our research horizon, crossing other disciplinary boundaries to encompass ecological history, using more sophisticated approaches to citizen science, stretching our geographical horizon to the north-west of NSW, incorporating the pervasive impact of climate change, and teasing out the contribution of koala care and rehabilitation and the value of detailed population studies such as by radio-tracking. We also conclude that local studies, especially repeated studies, e.g. at the LGA or Local Land Services (LLS) scale, are crucial, along with broad scale, periodic, state-wide surveys to keep track of the considerable individual differences across the geographic range of the koala.

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

The arts and restoration – a fertile partnership

David J. Curtis

[Update of EMR feature: Curtis, David J (2009) Creating inspiration: The role of the arts in creating empathy for ecological restoration. Ecological Management & Restoration, 10:3, 174-184. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2003.00152.x]

Key words: creativity, ecological restoration, capacity building environmental attitudes, environmental behaviour


Figure 1. The Plague Demon — a puppet made from 3000 plastic shopping bags by a team of 30 people. It rose to a height of 6 metres and represented the equivalent of 3 hours of plastic bag consumption for the city of Armidale. It was used in the Armidale Autumn Festival parade in March 2004 (pictured) and the production of Plague and the Moonflower in the main arena of the Woodford Folk Festival in 2003 to an estimated audience of 10,000 people. (Photo Garry Slocombe)

Introduction: In my original article for EMR in 2003, I posed the question: Are the arts a valuable partner with ecological restoration? The article was written early in my research into the role of the visual and performing arts in shaping environmental behaviours. I answered this research question through key informant interviews, analyses of several case studies and participant observations, and concluded that there was indeed substantial potential for the arts to create inspiration and empathy for ecological restoration. The research continued until 2007 with the completion of my PhD thesis but the outputs of that research continue to the present day, with numerous journal papers and book chapters (see bibliography). It has also led to the formation of the non-government organisation Ecoarts Australis and the coordination of three international conferences around these themes: 2013, 2016, and 2019, all of which  demonstrate the high potential for fertile partnerships between the arts and ecological restoration.

Further works undertaken: The main case study in the 2003 article for EMR was the ecological oratorio Plague and the Moonflower that was staged in Armidale NSW in 2002 by the Armidale community. The Armidale community went on to restage the work and take 300 performers to the Woodford Folk Festival in 2003 to perform it in the main arena to about 10,000 people (Fig. 1). A further seven case studies were developed including: an examination of attitudes and practices of about 100 arts, farming and natural resource management practitioners; the Nova-anglica: the web of our endeavours event staged in Armidale in 1998 to an audience of approx 5,000 people (Tables 1 & 2); the Gunnedah Two Rivers Festival in 2002-04 and the Bungawalbin Wetlands Festival, both of which incorporated visual and performing arts (Tables 1 and 2); a play-building study with secondary aged school children in 2002 examining the greenhouse effect; participant observations of my own work from 1990-2000 in which I incorporated the arts into natural resource management extension (https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/6713/) and the Ecological Society of Australia conference in 2003 in which we incorporated an ambitious performing and visual arts program (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. As part of the arts program of the Ecological Society of Australia Conference, Armidale 2003, this commissioned image, In the Balance, summarized the themes of the conference. (Image Anna Curtis. Lino reduction print on paper, 30 x 30 cm, 2003)

Findings from the subsequent research. Papers listed in the bibliography referred to above show that the arts have an important role in:

  • raising awareness and communicating environmental information (Table 1) through environmental education and extension;
  • changing and challenging environmental beliefs (Table 1);
  • communicating scientific information (Fig. 2);
  • mobilising rural communities to achieve environmental sustainability and community capacity building for Landcare and environmental action (Table 1; Fig. 1);
  • creating empathy for the natural environment and ecological restoration (Fig. 3);
  • transforming our highly energy-intensive consumer society to one that is ecologically sustainable through community development and embedding the arts in ecologically sustainable development .

In addition, particular art events could encourage people to want to adopt pro-environmental behaviours (Table 2) as well as:

  • encourage people to reflect about their impact on the environment;
  • make them feel strongly towards the natural environment;
  • expose them to ideas they hadn’t thought about much before;
  • affirm their beliefs about people’s relationship with the environment;
  • help people learn about environmental issues; or
  • provide a vehicle to express feelings about the environment (Table 1).

Figure 3. Ephemeral clay sculptures with impregnated native seeds, Artist Andrew Parker. These sculptures were part of an ephemeral art project organised by Ecoarts Australis as part of the Black Gully Music Festival in Armidale in 2016. The sculptures were integrated into the ecological restoration project along Black Gully. As they decayed, the seeds were released and germinated, adding to the revegetation of the creek. (Photo David Curtis)

Implications for arts : restoration relationships:  It is clear that the work of individual artists can influence the behaviour of citizens through ‘internally derived’ interventions, which impinge on a person’s values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, self-identity and habits, and through these, on social norms (Fig. 4). However, desire by individuals to adopt pro-environmental behaviour can be hampered by situational or infrastructure constraints. The arts can also have a role in reducing some of these constraints, through ‘externalist interventions’ where the arts are embedded into ecologically sustainable development. This might be where community and public art are incorporated into urban planning as a means of making active transport modes more attractive, or where the arts provide alternative forms of consumption which are lower in embodied energy and higher in embodied labour. The degree to which a person responds to the arts will depend on personal characteristics (e.g. gender, class, etc.), situation, institutional factors, as well as the type of art. The accumulated result of individual behaviours leads to macro-level impacts on the environment. A knowledge of these impacts in turn influences individual artists, and affects their practice.

Figure 4. Model of how the arts affect environmental behaviour.

I found that the arts can foster pro-environmental behaviour through one of three ‘pathways’ (Fig. 5). The first pathway is where the visual and performing arts are used to synthesise complex ideas and to communicate them to non-specialist audiences in an engaging form. A second pathway is where the arts and particular artists connect their audience to the natural environment through thoughtful or evocative representations of the environment or by being in the natural environment itself. The third pathway is where the arts are embedded in ecologically sustainable development, through the combined effects of community development, economic development, and changes in the patterns of consumption.

Figure 5. Three pathways in which the arts can be used to help achieve ecological sustainability.

The three Ecoarts Australis conferences were a culmination of the work that I did following the 2003 EMR article. These three pathways provided the structure for each conference, and enabled the innumerable Australian and international examples that were presented to be organised into a coherent conceptual framework. It was evident through these conferences that there has been a shift in projects that link the arts to environmental sustainability. In the first two conferences a majority of the papers provided examples of where the arts fell into the first or second pathways. In the most recent conference there were more examples where the arts were integrated into ecologically sustainable development in some way, for example in transport or manufacturing. Also there seemed to be a shift towards multi-artist projects.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:  Funded by Land and Water Australia and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Contact information: Dr David Curtis, Honorary Senior Fellow, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, Faculty of Social Science, University of Wollongong NSW 2522 Australia.

Table 1: Comparison of case studies as to how the event affected respondents. Respondents were scored: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree.

 

 

Responses to survey

Those who agreed (score 4-5) as a percentage of all respondents
Plague and the Moonflower

(n = 169)

Nova-anglica (n = 9) Gunnedah (Twin Rivers)

(n = 11)**

Gunnedah (Common Ground)

(n = 46)

The event moved me emotionally 73 44 18 45.6
The event made me reflect on humanity’s relationship with the natural environment 74

(n = 168)

67 36 61.7

(n = 47)

The event made me feel strongly towards the natural environment 60

(n = 168)

78 18 58.7
The event made me feel an appreciation and pride in community 81

 

89 91 73.9
The event exposed me to ideas that I may not have thought much about before 31

(n = 167)

89 36 34.8
The event affirmed my beliefs about humanity’s relationship with the natural environment 59

(n = 167)

44 18 60.9
The event allowed me to express my feelings for people’s relationship with the natural environment 50

(n = 98)

29

(n=7)

20

(n=5)

The event allowed me to strengthen my beliefs about certain issues 53

(n = 98)

67 18 46.7

(n = 45)

The event allowed me to learn about some environmental issues 43

(n = 96)

56 9 28.3
I enjoyed being part of a large team working together 94

(n = 98)

56 60

(n=5)

It made me more appreciative of where I live and work 57.4

(n = 47)

** Gunnedah data are combined data from both focus groups. (–) = not asked.

Table 2: Comparison of case studies as to whether the event made people want to change their behaviour. ‘Yes’ and ‘A bit’ combined into ‘Yes’. Gunnedah data are combined data from both focus groups.

 

Did the production make you want to do something different for the environment?

 

Percentage of all respondents   
Plague  and the Moonflower

(n = 170)

Nova-anglica

(n = 9)

Gunnedah (Two Rivers)

(n = 11)

Gunnedah (Common Ground)

(n = 46)

Yes 67 67 18 52.1
No 21 11 64 39.1
Unsure or unanswered 12 22 18 11.6
People who listed things they would do differently 43 44 18 26.1

 

 

 

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

Bruce Clarkson, Catherine Kirby and Kiri Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waterponding the Marra Creek, NSW rangelands – UPDATE of EMR feature

Ray Thompson and Central West Local Land Services

[Update of EMR feature – Thompson, Ray F (2008) Waterponding: Reclamation technique for scalded duplex soils in western New South Wales rangelands. Ecological Management & Restoration 9:3, 170-181. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00415.x]

Figure 1.  Scalded country with 30cm of sandy loam topsoil swept away by wind after extensive overgrazing. (Photos NSW SCS)

Introduction. Overgrazing of native pastures in the second half of the 19th Century stripped vegetation and led to the wind erosion of sandy topsoil during inevitable dry periods.  By the 1960s, tens of thousands of square kilometres of rangeland sites in western NSW had a legacy of moderate or severely bare or ‘scalded’ lands. This left bare and relatively impermeable clay subsoil which prevents water penetration and is very difficult for plants to colonize (Fig 1.)

Waterponding is the holding of water on the scald in surveyed horseshoe-shaped banks, each covering 0.4 ha. The ponds retain up to 10 cm of water after rain which leaches the soluble salts from the scalded surface. This improves the remaining soil structure, inducing surface cracking, better water penetration and entrapment of wind-blown seed. Consequently, niches are formed for the germination of this seed and recovery of a range of (typically around 15 out of a total of about 30) locally native chenopod (saltbush) grassland species on the sites.

The original 2008 EMR feature described how barren scalds at a range of properties in Marra Creek, near Nyngan in semi-arid NSW were transformed during the 1980s and 1990s into biodiverse native pastures through a technique called ‘waterponding’ developed after five decades of work by consecutive soil conservation officers exploring a range of prototype treatments.  Over time, a wide range of machines have been used to construct waterponding banks including standard road graders (ridged frame and articulated) or similar. Pre-1985 road graders were generally too small to construct banks of sufficient size, which resulted in too many breached banks. Over a 4-year period, the Marra Creek Waterponding Demonstration Program, backed by committed landowners, researched different horsepower road graders, constructing different size banks, winning the dirt from different locations, and evaluating the economics of construction methods. The results showed that the higher-powered articulated road graders exceeding 200 HP proved to be the most economical and efficient for waterpond construction. This type of machine has the power to  form the bank with one pass on the inside of the bank and two passes on the outside, achieving a bank with well over 2 m base width and over 60 cm in height (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. The process of of waterponding including (a) ute-mounted laser levelling to design the waterpond for a particular site, (b) bulldozing the pond walls to the designed levels, (c) rainfall filling the pond to allow deep watering and cracking of the clay subsoil and (d) resulting revegetation within the walls of the pond. (Photos NSW SCS)

Update and the broader program.  Photos and pasture measurements undertaken on ‘Billabong’ Marra Creek NSW, till 2014 show that the waterponding site had increased ground cover (predominantly native species) from 1% in 2005 to 84 % in 2014. After five to seven rainfall years a typical treatment can result in recovery of up to 15 native species from a range of up to 31 species (Table 1). The method in the last 20 years has also included broadcasting seed of some of the more important perennial species of healthy native chenopod grasslands including  Oldman  Saltbush  (Atriplex nummularia), Bladder Saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria) and Mitchell Grass (Astrebla   lappacea) (Fig 3).  Landholders in the Marra Creek district observe a range of fauna frequently on and between the ponds, including Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus), Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus), Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), Brolga (Grus rubicunda) and the Eastern Bluetongue Lizard (Tiliqua scincoides). A species of Monitor (Varanus sp.) also sometimes traverses the waterponds. Formal monitoring of smaller reptile and invertebrate use of waterponded sites is yet to occur.

Figure 3. Curly Mitchell Grass (Astrebla lappacea) sown on pond banks. (Photo NSW SCS)

Marra Creek was not the first series of waterponding programs in the Nyngan area – nor the last. The outputs of the entire program by 2019 included over 80,000 waterponds laid out and constructed, resulting in 40,000 hectares returned to local native vegetation. A total of 164 properties in the rangelands area are now using waterponding, the majority of landholders in the Marra Creek district and representing an increase from 17 landholders back in 1984 when we first ran the waterponding.

Figure 4. Landholders themselves are teaching the Waterponding technique to other landholders. (Photos NSW SCS)

Economic model of waterponding. The primary driver for land reclamation was not biodiversity conservation but returning the natural capital of rangelands. As such the program has returned a clear profit to the landholders in terms of increased native pastures that can be grazed, improving ecologically sustainable income sources for farming families.

With the reinstatement of vegetation, there have be increases in total stock feed, resulting in an increase in lambing percentages and wool cuts, as well as the ability to carry stock further into prolonged dry periods with overhead cost per head remaining static. Once rehabilitation has been completed, stocking  rates have been raised from zero to one sheep to 1.5 ha. This iseffectively the long-term grazing average for  saltbush pastures in the Nyngan district.

A treatment involving the full design and survey, pond construction and revegetation cost the landholder about $144.00 per hectare. (This includes approximately $25 a hectare for seed.) If the landholder does all the work the cost is reduced to $72/ha. The type of land involved was calculated in 2008 to normally  have  a  resale  value  of  about $365.00 per hectare In its unproductive state.  Scalded land does not contribute to the farm income yet still incurs rates. Investment in rehabilitation, in contrast, improves carrying capacity thus reducing hand-feeding costs, improving lambing percentages and avoiding forced stock sales. This allows landholders to pass the property to the next generation in a far better condition than it has been previously.

Research has found that the scalds store approximately 18.7 t/h of soil organic carbon to a depth of 30 cm. Once the landscape has been restored by waterponding and revegetation, we have found there is a rapid increase in soil organic carbon up to 25 t/ha within five years. The results are indicating that land in the rangelands that has been rehabilitated using waterponds does sequester carbon. This could lead on to waterponding being eligible for a carbon abatement activity and hopefully lead to Carbon Farming Initiative activity for carbon credits.

Figure 5. Australian National University students attending ‘21 years of participation in Rangelands Waterponding’. (Photos NSW SCS)

Potential for further application. After decades of field days and uptake of the methodologies by local graziers (Fig. 4), waterponding now forms part of standard district farming methodologies and landholders are now passing on knowledge to new generations, including through universities (Fig. 5). The methodologies have also been applied at one national park and one Trust For Nature site in Victoria, and are being applied in the Kimberley, with potential for far greater application in desert conservation reserves throughout Australia and the rest of the world (See Fig. 6 and https://justdiggit.org/approach-2/#).

Contact. Kyra Roach, Central West Local Land Services, Nyngan, 2825 Australia. Email: kyra.roach@lls.nsw.gov.au

Figure 6. A total of 79 trainees from 26 Africa countries (including Ghana, Tunisia, Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti) over a three year period were sponsored by AusAid to study waterponding in Nyngan. Resullting work in African countries is making a big difference to degraded lands particularly in North Sudan and Kenya (Photo NSW SCS)

Table 1. Species found in waterponds after standard revegetation treatments and five to seven rainfall years. The species found by Rhodes (1987b) are still commonly found, with additional species (marked with a diamond +) observed by Ray Thompson. (Plant names are consistent with the New South Wales Herbarium database PlantNet, http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/ and  growth forms are consistent with Cunningham et al. (1981) (Exotics are marked with an asterisk)

Scientific name Common name Growth form
Alternanthera denticulata Lesser Joyweed Annual forb
Astrebla lappacea+ Curly Mitchell Grass Perennial grass
Atriplex leptocarpa Slender-fruited Saltbush Perennial subshrub
Atriplex lindleyi+ Eastern Flat Top Saltbush Annual subshrub
Atriplex nummularia+ Oldman Saltbush Perennial shrub
Atriplex pseudocampanulata Mealy Saltbush Annual subshrub
Atriplex semibaccata+ Creeping Saltbush Perennial subshrub
Atriplex spongiosa Pop Saltbush Annual forb
Atriplex vesicaria Bladder Saltbush Perennial subshrub
Centipeda thespidioides Desert Sneezeweed Perennial forb
Chamaesyce drummondii Caustic Weed Annual or short-lived perennial forb
Chloris truncata Windmill Grass Annual or perennial grass
Diplachne fusca Brown Beetle Grass Perennial grass
Eragrostis parviflora Weeping Lovegrass Annual or short-lived perennial grass
Eragrostis setifolia Neverfail Perennial grass
Hordeum leporinum* Barley Grass Annual grass
Hordeum marinum* Sea Barley Annual grass
Maireana pentagona Hairy Bluebush Perennial subshrub
Malacocera tricornis Soft Horns Perennial subshrub
Marsilea drummondii Common Nardoo Perennial forb
Medicago minima* Woolly Bur Medic Annual forb
Medicago polymorpha* Burr Medic Annual forb
Osteocarpum acropterum+ Water Weed Perennial subshrub
Phalaris paradoxa* Paradoxa Grass Annual grass
Pimelea simplex Desert Rice-flower Annual forb
Portulaca oleracea Common Pigweed Annual forb
Salsola kali var. kali Buckbush Annual or biennial forb
Sclerolaena brachyptera Short-winged Copperburr Short-lived perennia
Sclerolaena calcarata+ Red Copperburr Perennial subshrub
Sclerolaena divaricata+ Pale Poverty Bush Perennial subshrub
Sclerolaena muricata Black Roly-poly Short-lived perennial
Sclerolaena trycuspis Streaked Poverty Bush Perennial subshrub
Sporobolus actinocladus Katoora Grass Perennial grass
Sporobolus caroli Fairy Grass Perennial grass
Tragus australianus Small Burr Grass Annual grass
Tripogon loliiformis+ Five Minute Grass Perennial grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addressing ghost nets in Australia and beyond – update of EMR feature

Britta Denise Hardesty, Riki Gunn and Chris Wilcox

[Update of EMR feature  – Riki Gunn, Britta Denise Hardesty and James Butler (2010) Tackling ghost nets: local solutions to a global issue in Northern Australia, Ecological Management & Restoration, 11:2, 88-98. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2010.00525.x]

Key words.  derelict fishing nets, ghost gear, GGGI, Indigenous livelihoods

Figure 1. Dead turtle caught in a derelict ghost net. (Photo: Jane Dermer, Ghost Nets Australia)

Introduction. The focus of our 2009 feature was to highlight the work of Indigenous rangers in addressing the local but widespread problem of abandoned, lost or derelict fishing gear (ALDFG) in Northern Australia, particularly ‘ghost nets’ that are carried on the currents and continue to fish long after they are no longer actively used (Figs 1-4). We also aimed to raise awareness of the efforts required to address this complex issue, whilst highlighting the work of Indigenous rangers working in the region.  The feature reported ghost net removal efforts taking place in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria – which, by 2009, involved the removal of 5532 nets by over 90 Indigenous rangers from more than 18 Indigenous communities.  This highlighted the transboundary nature of the ghost gear issue, and identified that most nets likely originated from beyond Australia’s waters.

Figure 2. Napranum ranger Philip Mango releasing juvenile turtle trapped in ghost net. (Photo: Ghost Nets Australial)

Further work. Since 2010, the understanding of and approaches to addressing the derelict fishing gear issue have increased substantially. This has been reflected both in domestic efforts within Australia, and more broadly in the international community.

Domestically, in the last decade, the ranger program across northern Australia has evolved and grown, enabling more Indigenous people to remain culturally connected to their land and sea country through meaningful employment.  Ranger activities generally involve a range of restoration activities including feral and weed management, in addition to (for  coastal groups) ghost net removal. Across northern Australia, Indigenous ranger groups continue to remove nets on their country, demonstrating the success of the initial program supported by the Australian government. To date, nearly 15,000 ghost nets (three times the number reported in 2010) have been removed from the region. The net removal program has extended beyond Ranger groups working in the Gulf of Carpentaria to include the Torres Strait, the western part of the Northern Territory Coast, and parts of the Kimberly coastline in Western Australia.

Globally, the world is focused on the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) which aims to provide a ‘shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future’ (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs).

A key focus for the SDGs is to help preserve the world’s oceans, a topic which touches on food security, poverty and economic growth, among other goals. Ensuring fishing practices are aligned with these goals includes reducing gear losses into the marine and coastal environment. In recognition of the issue and to end ALDFG, there is now a multi-stakeholder alliance of fishing industry, private sector, multinational corporations, non-government organizations, academics and governments, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which is focused on solving the problem of abandoned, lost and derelict fishing gear worldwide. Both CSIRO and GhostNets Australia were founding members of this alliance and have been instrumental in engagement and scientific endeavours which inform the GGGI.

Fig 3. An enormous effort is invested by Indigenous rangers in removing ghost nets from beaches along the northern Australian coastline (Photo: World Animal Protection/Dean Sewell)

Based on collaborative research between GhostNets Australia and CSIRO, it was determined that the primary source of derelict nets washing ashore along Australia’s northern coastline was the Arafura Sea. Engagement with fishers in the region through a series of workshops identified that major causes of gear loss included snagging of nets and over-capacity in the region. We also identified opportunities to help resolve ghost net issues in the region, though stakeholder engagement, points of intervention and livelihood tradeoffs. Much of this overcapacity and overcrowding has been attributed to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Subsequently, Indonesia went through a substantial change in practices with regards to allowing foreign vessels in their waters, effectively closed their borders to foreign fisheries operators. Anecdotally, information from multiple ranger groups in Northern Australia suggests that this highly publicized and significant change in practice has resulted in a substantial decrease in the number of ghost nets washing ashore along at least part of the northern Australian coastline.

Another outcome from the collaborative research effort was a new understanding based on deep citizen science engagement and modelling to identify potential high risk areas where ghost nets were likely to cause the most harm to turtles. In this work, we were able to suggest interdiction points for ghostnets, before they entered the Gulf of Carpentaria where they were likely to kill wildlife. We also identified the nets that were most harmful to wildlife and we estimated that nearly 15,000 marine turtles had likely been killed by derelict nets in the region.

There have also been some technological improvements in this area. These fall into both reporting and in tracking nets. Electronic data collection has improved the quality of data collection and can ensure errors are minimised. Development of the tool has also been designed such that those with reduced literacy are also able to collect valuable information, a feature that can be important in many communities. Using icons and photos to help identify nets improved data reliability.

Also within Australia, alternative livelihoods programs such as Ghost Net Gear evolved into the Ghost Net Art Project where the art works have excited the International art community.  This has resulted in purchases by many internationally renowned purveyors of artwork including the British Museum, the Australian National Museum and the Australian Maritime Museum. Works from Indigenous artists can also be seen at Australia’s Parliament House, and exhibitions have taken place in Monaco, Alaska, Singapore and France as well as in numerous national and regional galleries around Australia. A commemorative stamp was even made from the Ghost Nets artwork that lives in the Australian National Museum.

Figure 4. Large nets can become entangled in coastal vegetation. (Photo: World Animal Protection/Dean Sewell)

Future directions. While GhostNets Australia has not formally continued as a non-governmental organization, many of the components initiated through the program have continued and grown through time, as exemplified above. This early work also helped springboard CSIRO’s engagement in capacity building with the Indonesian government to tackle Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. This had led to a strong research collaboration relationship between the two countries, with a shared goal of reducing IUU fishing, building capacity on marine resource management, and improved monitoring, control and surveillance efforts in Indonesia.

CSIRO is also involved in an aerial (re)survey of the coastline across Northern Australia. In affiliation with World Animal Protection and Norm Duke and Jock Mackenzie from James Cook University, we are looking at changes in the number of ghost nets along the shoreline (Figs 3 and 4). Stereo images were recorded along the entire coastline and we are comparing ghost nets observed across the region with two other aerial surveys that have taken place in the last decade. The team have just completed flights (September 2019), so we are looking forward to analysing the images and comparing ghost net numbers across the region.

ContactDenise.hardesty@csiro.au; CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. rikigunn1@outlook.com; chris.wilcox@csiro.au

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

Gabriel Wilks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 3. Constructing Southern Corroboree Frog enclosures in remote locations

Figure 4. Southern Corroboree Frogs living successfully back in Kosciuszko

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

Figure 5. A Happy Jacks Smoky Mouse.

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

Figure 6. The Junction Shaft Camp in 1955.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Lambert, and Judy Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne Jensen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rise of invasive ant eradications since the success of the Kakadu project  – UPDATE of EMR feature

Benjamin D Hoffmann

[Update of EMR feature – Hoffmann,  Benjamin D and Simon O’Connor (2004) Eradication of two exotic ants from Kakadu National Park. Ecological Management & Restoration, 5:2, 98-105. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2004.00182.x]

Key words. pest species management, invasive species, biosecurity

Figure 1. Kakadu staff in 2001 spreading formicide over a super-colony of African Big-headed Ant. This involved a team of people, aligned in a row, walking from one edge of the infested area to the other in parallel paths. (Photo courtesy of Simon O’Connor.)

Introduction. Invasive species management, especially eradications, has been at the forefront of biodiversity conservation gains over the past two decades. For example, over 1,200 invasive vertebrate eradications have been achieved on over 800 islands worldwide and the conservation benefits of such actions have been overwhelmingly positive and often dramatic. Efforts against invasive ants have also been particularly notable over the past two decades, with ants now being the second-most eradicated taxa globally having been eradicated from more than 150 locations, with the largest eradication covering 8300 ha. Two decades ago there were only 12 confirmed ant eradications using modern baits with a combined area totalling a mere 12 ha.

As reported in our original EMR feature, the last treatments against two invasive ants in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia: The African Big-headed Ant (Pheidole megacephala) and the Tropical Fire Ant, (Solenopsis geminata) were conducted in 2003; and the ants were declared eradicated two years later (Hoffmann & O’Connor 2004). At the time this was a globally significant eradication, and the positive outcome was a partial catalyst for the creation of many other relatively small exotic ant eradication attempts around Australia, including against Tropical Fire Ant on Melville island, and African Big-headed Ant on Lord Howe Island. Incidentally, the work coincided with the approximate timeframe of when two other highly invasive ant species were first detected in Australia: Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) (Solenopsis invicta), and Electric Ant (Wasmannia auropunctata), prompting the initiation of two massive national cost-shared eradication programs. One of these, the RIFA program, has become Australia’s second-most expensive eradication program at AUD $428 million as of at July 2019. Together, all of these actions put ants high on Australia’s biosecurity and environmental management radars, prompting the development of Australia’s Tramp Ant Threat Abatement Plan and yet even more eradication programs.

Figure 2. Ant bait being dispersed aerially by helicopter using an underslung spreader and side-mounted dispersers. (Photos Ben Hoffmann)

Further advancements in ant eradication programs.  As Australia’s eradication programs became more numerous and larger, it became apparent very quickly that the methodologies and technologies available were insufficient to achieve success in the increasingly challenging conditions being encountered. In response, over the next two decades, there has been an impressive range of advancements that significantly improved our capacity to manage and eradicate invasive ant incursions.

The biggest issue was that work needed to be conducted over such large or inaccessible areas that ground-based work (Fig 1) was not feasible. So, treatments quickly became aerial, using multiple helicopter-based delivery platforms (e.g. underslung buckets and side-mounted hoppers, Fig 2). Even so, there have been locations that are too remote, too small, or too difficult (ie cliffs) to treat using a helicopter. To meet this challenge, in just the last five years treatments have been conducted for the first time using drones, and there is a great focus now to improve the technology so that it becomes more cost effective and more autonomous (Fig 3). This is occurring at such a pace that just a few years ago drones could only operate for a few hours at most on battery power, and only carry a few kilograms. This year we will be using a drone with unlimited flying capacity (petrol driven) that can lift 70 kg per load.

Figure 3. The Fazer with side-mounted bait carriers that can lift up to 40kg of payload. This is soon to be superseded by a drone that can lift a 70k g payload. (Photo Ben Hoffmann)

Assessments for the presence of ants, either before or after treatments, was originally very time consuming, involving teams of people walking ground very slowly and often utilising thousands of attractive lures (Fig 4). At most, only small ant populations (about less than 20 ha) within good working environments (ie open landscapes) could be assessed using teams of people, and it took large amounts of time. It was found very quickly that detector dogs could be trained on the scent of each ant species, and a single dog could cover more than five times the area of a team of people in a single day with greater efficacy (Fig 5). There are now more than 20 detector dogs operating in Australia and New Zealand that have been trained on the scent of four ant species. But even a team of dogs cannot fully cover entire areas at the landscape-scale, such as is the case for the RIFA program, especially in areas with long grass or rugged terrain. One of the saving technologies for the RIFA program has been the development of a multi-spectral sensor and associated algorithms that can identify RIFA nests from imagery captured by remote sensing (Fig 6). This allows program staff to assess just a few identified point locations in a landscape rather than the entirety of landscapes, to determine RIFA presence or absence. The next envisaged step is the development of biosensors that can detect the odours of target ant species, just like detector dogs, and with time these will become small enough to be transported by small drones throughout landscapes to detect ants.

Figure 4. An area covered with hundreds of flags marking spoonfulls of catfood being used as lures to attract African big-headed ant to assess eradication success or failure. (Photo Ben Hoffmann)

Figure 5. An ant detector dog searching for the presence of Red imported fire ant. (Photo courtesy of The State of Queensland (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries 2010–2019))

Australia was caught particularly unprepared two decades ago when the two new exotic ant species were detected for the first time because there were no baits registered for their management in Australia, so legally there were no treatment products that could be used. Even with the implementation of Emergency Use Permits for some unregistered products, as well as the use of the few products that were available for other species, it was often found that individual products could not be used in particular circumstances, especially around water, within crops and on organic farms. Additionally, available baits often did not have high efficacy. With time many baits (comprised of combinations of an attractive food laced with an active constituent) have been formulated and tested providing a greater array of baits that can be used on any new incursion and in numerous settings. The most recent has been the development of hydrogel baits that essentially deliver a liquid product in a solid form.

Figure 6 a and b. Multi-spectral camera flown underneath a helicopter to detect Red imported fire ant nests. (Photos courtesy of The State of Queensland (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) 2010–2019)

Among the numerous advances described already, possibly the greatest development is on the threshold of becoming a reality, in the form of genomic solutions for individual species. RNA interference, and gene-drive technology are rapidly being developed for a suite of economically important species, and ants are among the taxa that are highest on the priority list as targets for this research. At best, these genomic advances promise to provide species-specific solutions, thereby alleviating the current non-target issues of using toxicants.

Conclusion. Our ability to eradicate ants has improved dramatically over the past two decades, with technologies and methodologies available now that were as yet not thought of back when our work was conducted in Kakadu National Park. New programs are constantly arising, and forging ahead in increasingly challenging situations, and a great deal of effort is placed in information-sharing among programs. Simultaneously there is a sustained focus to improve biosecurity at Australia’s borders, as well as throughout our region to help prevent the need for eradications in the first place.

Contact. Ben Hoffmann, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Health & Biosecurity (PMB 44 Winnellie NT 0822 Australia; Tel: +61 8 89448432; Email: Ben.Hoffmann@csiro.au).