Restoring remnant vegetation and reducing Biodiversity loss in farmland: The Agricultural Matrix in the Far South Coast of NSW

The Bega Valley on the Far South Coast of NSW is one of the most picturesque coastal regions in Australia, with far reaching coastlines mixed with rich and diverse National Parks, such as Biamanga, Ben Boyd and Bournda.

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Bournda National Park (NSW National Parks 2016)

The area is as well well known for its agricultural produce, with Bega Cheese providing the largest employment for the region, with dairy farms all over the valley, combined with graziers and the odd horticulturalists. The spread of farming combined with the growing need for conservation in the valley has lead to increase in many programs and Government initiatives, from farm forestry, to nature corridors and restoring remnant vegetation.

The Bega Valley is a classic example of European settlement and agriculture techniques, with extensive land clearing and cultivation occurring from settlement through to the present day, which in turn has significantly affected the biodiversity in this region. The increase in protected areas and National Parks has seen greater concern for conservation over the latter parts of the 20th century, while this has improved species numbers and biodiversity, large patches of farmland created an agricultural matrix, and fragmentation for many species.

The Agricultural Matrix

The concept of the agricultural Matrix aims to improve biodiversity in patches of land with separated regions of remnant vegetation. In many parts of Australia agriculture and its economic benefits outweigh conservation goals, leading to fragmentation. To reduce the impacts of biodiversity loss the clearing of natural vegetation for agriculture and the focus on increasing productivity on already converted land is seemingly the most positive method (Vandermeer and Perfecto 2006).

 

This however, is not enough, the importance of reconnecting the remaining vegetation patches through wildlife corridors and the restoration of paddocks and cropland to pre-agricultural floral conditions, to create new patches, in areas where existing patches are either too degraded or too small to suffice for the longevity of biodiversity.

Farm Forest and remnant vegetation restoration

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The effects of erosion due to clearing in the Bega Valley

In a group of properties near the small country town of Candelo, the initiative sparked movement towards both farm forestry and Landcare, which is where I got involved with Landcare. The landscape of these properties, very similar to that across the Bega Valley, was large cleared, grazing and cropping land, with two rivers running through and with a hill dominated landscape. Exotic grasses including fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) and Love-grass (Eragrostis curvula) along with feral introduced pest species such as rabbits, hares and foxes were the dominant ecological community.

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Landscape on the farm prior to re-vegetation.

 

The farmers on these properties while all holding a progressive mindset towards biodiversity conservation also recognised the importance of maintain agricultural viability, and for each acre of land restored to remnant vegetation, an area was offset for farm forestry, through using both pine and native species.

Over 20,000 trees were planted across the 700 acres over a two-year period, with several large areas (several hectares) being solely dedicated remnant vegetation restoration. With aid of qualified farm foresters and Landcare volunteers as well as the farmers themselves, the areas were seeded with direct seeding and spread seeding.

The established goals were:

  • Re-establish native Eucalyptus species in areas completely reduced due to clearing
  • Focus on species with the most viable prospects to survive in the climate and morphology, with an emphasis towards local endemic species
  • Establish wildlife corridors between the two river systems
  • Provide agricultural benefits through windbreaks and shelter for livestock and future rural use such as firewood
  • Create habitat through both living vegetation and debris

The trees that were selected for the initial stages were:

Forest Red Gum                 E. tereicornis

Southern Mahogany       E. botryoides

Yellow Stringy Bark          E. muellerana

Mountain Grey Gum       E. cypelloccarpa

Shining Gum                         E. nitens

Manna Gum                          E. viminalis

Blackwood                             A. melanoxylon

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Forest Red Gum Woodland (Bristow and Vejle 2012)

 

Monitoring and Success restoration

Over the 15 years since the first plantations were completed, the results have changed the landscape of the area completely. What was one bare hills with spread out mature trees on steep slopes and in river beds, there is now tree lines and well vegetated areas on all areas of the property, being both aesthetically and environmentally appealing.

The success of the species were mixed, with Forest red gum failing to grow on ridges, but successfully growing on slopes and the Yellow StringyBark providing seedlings in the understory to great effect. In some areas boron deficiency affected the upper crowns of the trees, but with use of fertiliser was fixed.

In areas where remnant vegetation restoration was prioritised there has been the most significant change, with hare and rabbit numbers, along with foxes, declining due to habitat change and culling, and the return of native birds and mammals. One farmer who has lived in the area for 60 years commented on the return of the White Winged Choughs (Corcorax melanorhamphos) which had been absent until the corridors and native vegetation had been restored. This also coincided with the return of the common wombat, which through the introduced corridors started moving more freely throughout the property, which also led on to unwanted agricultural impacts (dam collapses from wombat holes), but overall represented the increase in biodiversity through the property due to the introduction of the corridors and restoration of the remnant vegetation patches.

 

References

Barnes, Thomas. “Landscape Ecology And Ecosystems Management”. An Ecosystems Approach to Natural Resources Management (2001): n. pag. Print.

“Bega Cheese | Bega. Real Town. Real Cheese.”. Begacheese.com.au. N.p., 2016. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.

Bristow, Carole and Julie Vejle. “Restoring Grassy Understorey Under Forest Red Gum – Wolston Creek Bushland Reserve, Riverhills, Queensland”. Ecological Management & Restoration (2012): n. pag. Print.

Farm Weekly,. “Bega Goes Bush To Milk Suppliers”. 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2016.

“Great Eastern Ranges – Greening Australia”. Greeningaustralia.org.au. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

Power, Lawrence. “Lumera Eco Lodge And Chalets Tasmanian Wildlife Nature Reserve”. Lumerachalets.com.au. N.p., 2016. Web. 1 Nov. 2016.

“White-Winged Chough [Bushpea 5/21]”. Bushpea.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

Vandermeer, J, and Perfecto, I. “The Agricultural Matrix And A Future Paradigm For Conservation”. Conservation Biology 21.1 (2007): 274-277. Web.

 

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Biodiversity monitoring with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

This year I completed two days of work experience for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH). This experience taught me a lot about the broad responsibilities OEH has and the kinds of work OEH does in NSW. OEH is a state government office that falls under the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. OEH, as the name suggests, cares for and protects NSW’s natural environment and aboriginal, cultural and built heritage. As a result, OEH works closely with NSW National Parks and Wildlife service for many of their projects along with a host of government and non-government entities. This responsibility is state-wide and multifaceted, and as a result OEH projects are varied and often complex. Ranging from development proposals, biodiversity monitoring, heritage matters and indigenous affairs.

 

The two days work I completed each related to a different project. First, I accompanied Genevieve Wright into the snowy mountains to do an ecological impact assessment of a new bridge being built. On the second trip I accompanied Damon Oliver to the Murrumbateman region to take part in a long term Superb Parrot survey. The diversity of the project and stakeholders captures the varied nature of projects the staff of OEH work on.

 

The ecological impact assessment took place at the south eastern side of Tantangara Reservoir, where the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee river exit the reservoir dam. The site had a wooden bridge that was due for replacement. Owing to the shape of the river, the proposed site of the bridge was moved 50m downstream to reduce the bridge span. This meant the new bridge was a single span bridge, beneficial to the site for two reasons. Firstly, the new bridge location allowed for a less steep, off camber and winding route past the river and adjacent hill. This was allowed easier access for horse riders with heavy floats (horse trailers) to access beyond this bridge. Secondly, the single span nature of the bridge meant there was no disturbance of the riverbed. This site was recognised as an important Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica) habitat, an endangered fish that travels upstream to spawn.

 

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Site of the proposed bridge project

Our task was to evaluate the impact of the proposed bridge and adjacent track and determine the ecological footprint. This particular site was a known as one of the few habitats for Raleigh sedge (Carex raleighii), a thin leaved, small, wiry plant. Little is known about Raleigh sedge other than its limited distribution.

 

We identified three individuals on the southern bank that would be directly impacted by the current bridge proposal. Furthermore, a host of other species, including a number of mature trees, would have been impacted by the project.

 

Our role wasn’t to assess whether the bridge proposal should be built that day, however, it was very concerning that these plants would be impacted by the infrastructure project. Some would argue the loss of three endangered plants isn’t a problem in the context of the whole national park. However, as OEH is tasked with assisting the community to manage NSW natural and heritage assets, it is vitally important that these kinds of surveys are completed. In this way, when impacting processes are undertaken, the impacts are better understood. This allows impacts to be weighed up against the benefits of the project, providing an evidence base for management decisions.

 

This position is typical for many OEH projects. The office holds limited power to prevent environmental damage, but rather acts as an advisor to other agencies who in turn enforce various state and federal laws.

 

The second day of work experience involved superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) monitoring. The day was spent walking three 1km transects over the course of one hour each (to standardise the searching effort) and counting the number of superb parrots observed. The recent heavy rain made access to some of the sites a quite adventurous as bridges had been lost and the roads pretty rough for the Toyota Camry.

 

Through the course of the day we observed a number of superb parrots including a two potential breeding pairs – which was really exciting!

 

This monitoring was part of a long term study in NSW on superb parrots, which have come under threat due to loss of habitat due to agriculture. The program is directed by OEH, but many of the transects are conducted by members of the community as part of a citizen science project. This allows more data to be collected while getting the community involved in conservation in their area.

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Superb parrots (image provided)

 

 

Superb parrot population health is a contentious issue. Currently, superb parrots are listed as a vulnerable species in NSW. However, there has been a push to have them delisted, which would afford less protection for this species. This monitoring program has collected data since the early 2000s across the Canberra region and therefore gives great insight to the population health of this species in this area. Monitoring programs such as this are of vital importance for policy makers to make informed management decisions.

 

The work experience I completed gave a further insight into the role OEH plays in managing biodiversity and other assets in NSW. It was great to learn more about the governance of these assets following on from the workshop in week 2 as part of the ENVS3039 course I am studying at ANU. This work underscored the importance for biodiversity conservation practitioners to be versatile!

 

Many thanks to Damon Oliver and Genevieve Wright for letting me tag along on these field trips.

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Conservation Management in the ACT – ParkCare and Nature Reserves

 

During countless hours spent studying at the university library, I’d wondered what it would be like to work outdoors again, as I stare out at the sunny early-October day.  I remembered an old Banjo Patterson poem – Clancy of the Overflow – and could sympathise with the city dweller, who romanticises the rural life.  I began to wish I could be outside, in a nature reserve, a national park, or even a wildlife sanctuary; instead I tried to enjoy the sun vicariously through a third-floor window.

Before too long, I’d signed up for two days’ work with Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA), in the mid-October of 2016 – my first experience working as a volunteer, particularly for an organisation such as CVA.  With no ideas or expectations of things to come, it seems I’d got my wish – I met the small CVA group, piled into the back of a troop-carrier, and headed off for a sunny day’s work at the Isaacs Ridge Nature Reserve, shown on the map below:

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Figure 1 – Aerial extent of the Isaacs Ridge Nature Reserve, which includes the Isaacs Pines Recreation Area and various walking, cycling and equestrian trails (shown in the inset, adapted from Watson 2015).

 

The reserve covers roughly 1.02km2 in southern Canberra, and is characterised by a prominent north-south ridge, stretching from Mt Stanley (842m tall, to the south) up to Mt Mugga Mugga (812m, to the north).  The western side of the ridge has been cleared for forestry in the past, and is dominated by replanted Radiata Pines (Pinus radiata), adjacent to the suburbs of Isaacs, Farrer and O’malley.  The eastern side of the ridge is dominated by Scribbly Gum/Red Box (Eucalyptus Rossii/Eucalyptus Polyanthemos) woodlands on the hillside, with areas of the critically endangered Yellow Box/Redgum (E. melliodora/E.blakelyi) grassy woodland on the lower slopes (Southern Act Catchment Group, 2014).  The eastern boundary of the reserve is marked by Mugga Lane, and the neighbouring Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre (the tip), quarries and agricultural land (mainly used for grazing).

Upon arrival, we met Michael Sim, the coordinator for the Isaacs Ridge/Mt Mugga Mugga ParkCare (one of the ACT’s youngest ParkCare groups), and were introduced to the enemy – Sweet Briar or Briar’s Rose (Rosa rubignosa), which had taken over large parts of the eastern slopes of Mt Stanley (shown below in figure 2), along with smaller populations of Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.).

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Figure 2 – Map of the Sweet Briar infestation area (outlined in red), in the Isaacs Ridge Nature Park (outlined in blue)

These species are key woody weeds in the ACT, as they are highly invasive (in disturbed landscapes) and form thickets that stop native species from establishing.  Mature plants have thorns which help to prevent grazing by native species, and so they are able to grow unchecked, while currawongs and many other bird species eat the fruits of sweet briar and spread seeds (Hatton, 1989).  The thickets also provide shelter for feral species such as foxes and rabbits, but can also provide safe habitat for smaller native birds (Michael Sim, pers. comm.)

The task at hand was to remove Briar’s Rose, Firethorn and Hawthorn using the “cut and paint” method – the plants were cut at the base of the stem or trunk, using loppers, and then a dilute Glycophosphate (Roundup) solution, mixed with red vegetable dye, was painted onto the stumps to prevent regrowth.  The herbicide was applied within 20 seconds of making a cut, before the sapwood could seal over.  This method is preferred over spraying as it generally avoids impacts on non-target species, provided that the method is used on a non-rainy day (otherwise the herbicide is susceptible to washing off, and affecting non-target species).

Figure 3 – Sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa), and the tools used for the “cut and paint” method.

The ongoing hard work of the Isaacs Ridge/Mt Mugga Mugga ParkCare Group and CVA has been invaluable in controlling Briar’s Rose in the reserve, however it is unlikely that the infestation will be removed entirely, due to the difficulty of removing suckers.  So, management efforts will need to be ongoing, to keep populations in check, and will incorporate more cut-and-paint control, and weed surveillance to monitor population numbers and distribution (Michael Sim, pers. comm; ACT Environment and Planning Directorate, 2014).

I was left feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work which lay in store for Michael the IRMMM ParkCare Group, but it was clear how powerful these organisations could be in improving land management in nature reserves and urban open spaces.  It was also inspiring to see members of the community taking a sense of pride and stewardship in the land!

We left the reserve feeling exhausted, but satisfied after a day’s work.

A few days later, we headed out with the CVA team to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, to the south of Canberra.  The this time, the weather was not so kind – cloudy skies and constant rain awaited us at the reserve.  We donned some hi-vis raincoats and headed to The Sanctuary for a day of track maintenance and sign cleaning (these stylish coats are shown below!).

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Figure 4 – Searching for woody debris on trails within Tidbinbilla’s Wildlife Sanctuary

High rainfall in the preceding month (the second-wettest September on record, according to BOM, 2016!) had saturated the soil within the reserve, and so the trails were covered in overland flow debris and fallen timber.  Track maintenance involved the removal of woody debris, and cleaning mould off trail signs.  After the day of cleaning trails, we gained a newfound appreciation for the effort required to maintain nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, particularly in a climate of weather extremes.

The sanctuary forms part of the larger 54.5km2 Tidbinbilla Reserve (TAMS 2012) – a protected area on the western lower-slopes of the Brindabella Mountains – and is encompassed by exclusion fencing to keep feral species out.  Thanks to the exclusion fencing, the sanctuary provides important habitat for the Eastern Bettong – an insurance population for the Mulligan’s Flat Bettong project.  The Sanctuary also provides habitat for the Critically endangered Southern Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby, and the Northern Corroboree Frog.

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References

ACT Government – Environment and Planning Directorate, 2014.  2014 Review of the ACT Weeds Strategy 2009-2019.  Available from http://www.environment.act.gov.au/__data/assets
/pdf_file/0004/722092/Weeds-strategy-summary-of-achievements.pdf
(accessed 26 October 2016)

ACT Government Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS), 2012.  Planning and Development (Tidbinbilla) Plan of Management 2012.  ACT Territory and Municipal Services Directorate, Canberra.

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, 2016.  Canberra in September 2016: Second-wettest September on record.  Available from http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/month/
act/summary.shtml
(accessed 26 October 2016)

Hatton, T., 1989.  Spatial patterning of sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa) by two vertebrate species.  In Austral Ecology 14(2): 199 – 205

Southern ACT Catchment Group, 2014.  Isaacs Ridge Mount Mugga Mugga Park Care Group.  Available from http://sactcg.org.au/members/current_members/isaacs_ridge%20
mount_mugga%20mugga_park_care_group
(accessed 25 October 2016)

Watson, H., 2015.  Consultation Report:  Isaacs Ridge Mountain Bike Trail Upgrade Project.  Report prepared for ACT TAMS by Canberra Town Planning, ACT.  Available from http://www.environment.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/906462/Consultation-Report_IsaacsRidgeTrailsCanberraTownPlanning_FINAL_150930.pdf

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The Superb Parrot and its future in an urban Canberra

The Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) is a beautiful inland parrot that is considered to be vulnerable to extinction in the wild by both state and federal governments. It is found in two states (New South Wales and Victoria) and the Australian Capital Territory, and despite moves to reduce its threat category is expected to decline in abundance in the future. Canberra is a rapidly growing city, and part of its current expansion is into part of the key habitat of the Superb Parrot around Canberra. As the Superb Parrot is listed as vulnerable federally and in the ACT, this loss needs to be either avoided or offset.

 

The new suburb of Throsby in Gungahlin originally covered an identified Superb Parrot breeding site, but after the value of the site was recognised much of it was preserved. As part of its offset strategy for Throsby, the ACT government asked Doctor Laura Rayner and Professor Adrian Manning to investigate the status and ecology of this population and another offset area in the Molonglo Valley in the 2015 breeding season, continuing on across the 2016 and potentially 2017 breeding seasons. The report delivered on the 2015 breeding season to the Environment and Planning Directorate can be found at the bottom of this post.

The area of the Superb Parrot nests is at the right; and Throsby development occupies the centre of the image

Image 1: The area of the Superb Parrot nests is at the right; and Throsby development occupies the left half of the image, with Harrison at left

My job on the 17th and 18th of October was to help Laura manage the ropes for climbing the trees, and spot her if necessary. This was done to change the batteries in the cameras monitoring the known Superb Parrot hollows, and check which hollows actually contained an active nest. While there was the potential that the tree-climbing could discourage the Superb Parrot pairs from choosing the investigated hollows, they are thankfully relatively tolerant to intrusion, and we tried to minimise the time spent around active nests. Later, the chicks will also be removed from the nests temporarily for banding. I was also keeping an eye out for where the Superb Parrots were moving- we found several pairs that had moved hollows since Laura’s last visit to Throsby Ridge or were still actively searching for nesting hollows.

 

The two main competitors for nesting sites at the site were the Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) and Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans)- there were plenty of other birds nesting, but the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo (Cacactua galerita), for instance, favours a much bigger hole. And while a pair of Superb Parrots will ferociously defend their hollow once established, they are very obliging and will readily abandon preferred hollows to an interested Crimson Rosella before their chicks have hatched. The retention of the group of old nesting trees is highly important, as it appears that Superb Parrots prefer to nest in a group, although not too close together. For such ‘clumping’ nesting behaviour, scattered and isolated remnant old trees like those preserved in other Gungahlin suburbs like Forde are not really enough.

 

As mentioned, this is the second year of monitoring at Throsby Ridge. Many of the hollows being used this year are the same ones as last year, although it appears that Superb Parrots do not return to the same hollow as they used last year. The Superb Parrots are also later arriving this year- with the exceptionally good conditions inland it is possible that the mainly seed-eating Superb Parrots are enjoying the good times, or are even nesting further inland than usual. However, we do not know enough about their population dynamics to really answer this question. Hopefully, more birds will continue to arrive, as it is not yet too late for them to claim nests. Last year, breeding success was limited by the availability of hollows- some of the less experienced pairs, or those who arrived late were in poor hollows. This year, there are currently fewer birds overall attempting to breed at Throsby Ridge, and there is a surplus of hollows. However, this does not render the old paddock trees any less important; this year is more likely to be an aberration than the normal situation. So any loss of the trees to further development, even for recreational facilities, could have a catastrophic effect on the ability of Superb Parrot pairs to successfully breed at Throsby Ridge. Thankfully, only one known nesting tree was lost in the development of the scaled-down version of Throsby, although it is possible that the nearby earthworks is discouraging birds from nesting at Throsby Ridge this year.

 

Where to from here? The Superb Parrot, despite its iconic status, is surprisingly enigmatic. The most pressing problem with Superb Parrots is that not enough is known about their migration patterns. Superb Parrots migrate from the northern parts of their range (north-central New South Wales) to the southern parts of their range (Southern tablelands, Slopes and the Riverina) in spring to nest, returning north in autumn. However, there is very little known about the actual nature of this migration. So, the next step in this research is to begin a banding and radio monitoring programme. Ideally, all the Superb Parrots at Throsby Ridge would be banded so that any newcomers could be spotted the next year.

 

This would tie in very well to an investigation of the greater Superb Parrot metapopulation (a population of populations) in the Australian Capital Territory and the Southern Tablelands. The banding can provide some useful info about the movements of the Throsby Ridge Superb Parrots, but a radio tracking programme would provide far superior results. Unfortunately, the equipment required for this is expensive, and beyond the budget of the current research funded by the ACT government. To try and implement radio tracking at this stage would be an unfortunate example of mission creep, but should be implemented as a future project when funding becomes available. In the meantime, it is vital that the current monitoring at Throsby Ridge continues, with possible expansion to consider adjacent Superb Parrot populations. Superb Parrots are beautiful birds to work with, and I was very thankful to Laura for allowing me to come along help ensure that they have a secure place in Canberra’s urban landscape.

 

Lachlan Bailey- u5584584

 

For more reading-

Technical report by Laura Rayner, Dejan Stojanovic, Robert Heinsohn and Adrian Manning to the ACT Government on the Breeding Ecology of the Superb Parrot:

http://www.environment.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/906945/Breeding-ecology-of-the-superb-parrot.pdf.

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Monitoring Tree Growth in the Scottsdale Reserve – A potential African Love Grass management program.

Monitoring Tree Growth in the Scottsdale Reserve – A potential African Lovegrass management program.

 

Scottsdale Reserve is located 4km North of Bredbo in NSW and is a 1328 Ha Nature Reserve owned in partnership by Greening Australia and Bush Heritage Australia Reserves & Partnerships – https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1o5Z89ln5sT5pQw_ioBOrsU2YmTY&usp=sharing.

Purchased as a conservation property it boasts large areas of box gum grassy woodlands and temperate grasslands, currently listed as endangered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, as well as Tablelands frost hollow grassy woodlands and southern tablelands natural temperate grassland. The property also hosts a remnant of the last ice age, known as the Silver-leafed Mountain Gum (Eucalyptus pulverulenta) which is only known to exist in ten populations throughout Australia.

Figure 1 - Eucalyptus pulverulenta (photo courtesy of Daves Garden http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/66793/)

Figure 1 – Eucalyptus pulverulenta (photo courtesy of Daves Garden http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/showimage/66793/)

Figure 2 - The Peregrine Falcon is a common sighting at Scottsdale Reserve (Photo courtesy of Greening Australia)

Figure 2 – The Peregrine Falcon is a common sighting at Scottsdale Reserve (Photo courtesy of Greening Australia)

Rosenberg’s Monitor (Varanus rosenbergi), the Speckled Warbler (Pyrrholaemus sagittatus) , the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus macropus), and the Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) are also known to frequent the area, while the river system that passes through the Northern most point of the property is home to native fish, Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and the source of more even more conservation action through the Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach (UMDR) project which looks at Carp control and Willow reduction to improve flow and quality in the Murrumbidgee River while enhancing the environment for the Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) and Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis).

About 300 Ha of the property has been grazed, cleared, cropped and sown since the 1870s’ and is now home to the noxious weed known as African lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula). E. curvula was introduced into Australia before the 1900s’ and is now a significant weed across much of Australia’s agricultural landscape. Several experimental trials are underway on the property to look at ways of managing the weed.

Figure 3 - A 100m transect of tree plantings being monitored for growth.

Figure 3 – A 100m transect of tree plantings being monitored for growth.

One feature being monitored at Scottsdale, and the source of our reason for being there, is to monitor trees planted in an attempt to restore the native box gum grassy woodland. It is believed that through those plantings there is a capability to assuage the growth of the lovegrass through competition with native flora, a theory derived from the grass’s notable absence around the base of large paddock trees.

Figure 4 - A stand of paddock trees with a notable absence of E. curvula.

Figure 4 – A stand of paddock trees with a notable absence of E. curvula.

Around 6 km of direct seeded tree lines have been planted across the property with around 40 monitoring transects identified. These transects have been marked out using pegs to identify each end of the transect and labels to identify the transect by number. Dr David Freudenberger, Associate Professor and lecturer from the ANU has been involved in the monitoring activities since the transects were marked out.

Figure 5 - Pegs and labels used to identify the monitoring transects

Figure 5 – Pegs and labels used to identify the monitoring transects

The tools provided included a 100m tape, to measure the point along the transect that the tree is planted, and a set of calipers, used to measure the basal diameter of each tree along the transect.

Figure 6 - The tools required to perform the measurements

Figure 6 – The tools required to perform the measurements

With our tools at the ready and Hi-vis vests on we traversed 25 of the transects and collected presence and basal diameter measurements from them as well as photo points. The data collected from these measurements is put into an Excel spreadsheet and the photos are arranged as a time series so that the change through time can be monitored.

Figure 7 - Some of the transects monitored since 2013

Figure 7 – Some of the transects monitored since 2013

The real eye-opener to the impact of the African Lovegrass is when you have to spend all day walking through it. It is a tough, drought resistant grass and requires very little nutrient to thrive. Even though it is quite unpalatable for livestock, it is very highly structured and therefore offers good habitat for birds and lizards, in particular the stripped legless lizard (Delma impar) that has recently been introduced to the Scottsdale reserve as a trial of forced immigration to the area. Along with that the grass offers excellent protection to the soil underneath, through the rain-splash protection offered by the above ground biomass and also erosion protection given by the large root structure that the plant puts down into the soil around it.

Figure 8 - A heavy infestation of E. curvula (Photograph by Greg Ried)

Figure 8 – A heavy infestation of E. curvula (Photograph by Greg Ried)

The tree plantings are still quite young and potentially very many years away from revealing how great the impact will be to the existence of the love grass. Even if the trees are successful in out-competing the grass it doesn’t really present a solution to the average farmer whose property is overrun by the grass. African Lovegrass is very nearly unstoppable once it invades a landscape and the only method of protection available to land owners is achieved by protecting unaffected areas from infestation of the weed (DPI, 2013).

While Scottsdale reserve, and many other conservation properties, are attempting to unravel the complexities of restoring their local heavily grazed or cropped areas to their former box gum grassy woodlands state, many other connectivity programs are being developed to join the landscape across larger scales and Scottsdale is an important piece in the connectivity puzzle. A project known as the Kosciuszko 2 Coast, or the K2C, project has been established to stimulate the movement of biodiversity from the coast to the highlands by increasing connectivity through green corridors.

It is truly rewarding to be involved with an organisation like Bush Heritage Australia, knowing the difference they are attempting to make on both the local and national scale in improving connectivity so that biodiversity can flourish in today’s landscapes.

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AWI & MLA, African Lovegrass: 3D weed management.

Bush Heritage Australia, 2016, Annual Report 2015-2016 – Bush Heritage Australia, Available at: http://www.bushheritage.org.au/about/about-us/annual-reports.

Bush Heritage Australia, Bush Heritage Australia Reserves & Partnerships. Available at: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?ll=-35.90122573%2C149.12869543&z=11&mid=1o5Z89ln5sT5pQw_ioBOrsU2YmTY.

DPI, 2013, African Lovegrass management. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/320158/African-lovegrass-management-web.pdf.

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Crossing the Fence: Turtle Patrol at Mulligans Flat

We swing through the first gate, and meander up through grassy woodland to the main fence, waving to the kangaroos as we pass. We enter the sanctuary through the sturdy metal door, making sure that it’s shut tightly behind us, so that nothing unwanted can follow us in. We unlock the lock box, grab the turtle rescue kit, and off we go, down the fence.

As we hike the perimeter of Mulligans Flat, our eyes are glued to the bottom of the fence, straying occasionally to take in the beauty of the reserve around us. Mulligans Flat is the home of one of the largest remaining communities of critically endangered Yellow Box – Blakely’s Red Gum grassy woodland (consisting of Eurcalyptus melliodora and Eucalyptus blakelyi) in and around the Australian Capital Territory. After years of overgrazing by livestock, rabbits and eastern grey kangaroos (Macropus giganteus), scientists, policy-makers and the wider community are striving to restore this valuable and endangered landscape (Shorthouse et al., 2012: 112).

Mulligans Flat at sunset.

Figure 1: Mulligans Flat at sunset.

The Fence

In 2009, a pest-exclusion fence was built in Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, around the perimeter of Mulligans Flat Nature Sanctuary (Manning et al., 2011: 643). The fence is 11.5 kilometres long, 1.8m high and is electrified and fully feral animal-proof (Ferronato et al., 2014: 578).

Figure 2: Map of Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve and Sanctuary, with plans for future expansion of the fence. Source: Capital Woodlands and Wetlands Conservation Trust, 2015.

Figure 2: Map of Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve and Sanctuary, with plans for future expansion of the fence. Source: Capital Woodlands and Wetlands Conservation Trust, 2015.

The construction of the fence has been highly beneficial for conservation within the sanctuary. It allows the protection of threatened species and communities from exotic predators, competitors and diseases, as well as facilitating the reintroduction of threatened species such as the Eastern bettong (Bettongia gaimardi) (Ferronto et al., 2014: 577, 578).

Feral animals have been removed and excluded from Mulligans Flat since June of 2009 (Manning et al, 2011: 634). Foxes and cats have been eradicated from the area, but other species such as rabbits and hares are still being targeted by removal efforts (Shorthouse et al., 2012: 122).

The fence also provides the opportunity for education, ecotourism and research in the sanctuary, which is also indirectly beneficial for conservation (Ferronto et al., 2014 (577). The fence allows researchers and managers of the nature reserve to control conditions and collaborate on research projects, which will hopefully lead to greater ecological understanding of restoration of endangered ecological communities (Manning et al, 2011: 645).

Figure 3: The fence.

Figure 3: The fence.

However, while the fence does a great job of keeping unwanted invasive species out, it also has negative consequences for native species, such as the Eastern Long-Necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis) (Ferronto et al., 2014: 577). C. longicollis move between wetland habitats, allowing them to thrive off of complementary resources (Roe and Georges, 2007: 67). The fence at Mulligans Flat therefore restricts their mobility greatly. Many turtles overheat, are predated upon, come into collision with vehicles, or become entangled in the fence, resulting in death (Ferronto et al., 2014: 577). Ferronto et al. (2014: 577) found that the fence has caused the death of 3.3% of the C. longicollis population, and disrupted the movement of a further 20.9% of the population within the enclosure. Movement disruption and high mortality was also observed for turtles on the outside of the sanctuary attempting to enter it (Ferronto et al., 2014: 577). Therefore, while the fence is clearly beneficial for the conservation of some species, it is detrimental to that of others.

This is where turtle patrol comes in.

Figure 4: A turtle found trying to enter the sanctuary.

Figure 4: A turtle found trying to enter the sanctuary.

Turtle Patrol

Turtle Patrol is an organised group of residents of the ACT and near-by NSW, who walk the fence looking for, and facilitating the movement of, turtles attempting to cross the fence. Armed with a bag containing a hessian bag to put any turtles in to keep them calm, gloves, a snake-bite kit, a can of fluorescent orange spray-paint, and hand-sanitiser, people march along the fence and pick up turtles they find. Turtles are placed into the hessian bag to keep them calm, taken to the other side of the fence, and placed 10 metres away from the fence, so that they can then continue on their way. Any dead turtles found are recorded on the volunteer database, and marked with spray-paint so that they are not recounted. This service by the community has so far relocated more than 80 turtles this year.

 

Picking up a turtle found at the fence inside the enclosure, and preparing to move it to the outside.

Figure 5: Picking up a turtle found at the fence inside the enclosure, and preparing to move it to the outside.

 

Placing the turtle into the hessian bag for transportation.

Figure 6: Placing the turtle into the hessian bag for transportation.

 

This work is critically important for reducing the risk that the fence poses to the turtles. Movement between wetlands is vital for C. longicollis, and having volunteers help them past the fence severely reduces the risk of mortality mentioned above. This is important for maintaining an abundant population in and around Mulligans Flat, which is important for maintaining wider ecosystem diversity and health.

A turtle after transportation to a nice puddle outside of the sanctuary.

Figure 7: A turtle after transportation to a nice puddle outside of the sanctuary.

Canberra Nature Map

The Canberra Nature Map app is used in conjunction with the volunteer database, to record, track and monitor turtle populations. Canberra Nature Map is an app that was launched in 2014 and used on smartphone devices (Walmsley, 2015). Citizen botanists can record and upload photos of species of fungi, plants, frogs, reptiles, butterflies, birds and mammals that they see around the ACT and in NSW up to 300km from the centre of the ACT (Walmsley, 2016). These pictures are then identified by experts, and collated into a database of sightings from around the area. This allows Turtle Patrol to identify high-traffic areas, and concentrate efforts there.

The app is a great way for individuals to learn about the non-human animals that inhabit their environment. A community that is more aware of, engaged with, and educated about biodiversity and conservation issues in their area has more power to influence positive change, and contribute towards conservation initiatives. Furthermore, getting the wider community involved in collecting data about biodiversity is very useful for ecologists and policy-makers restoring the nature reserve. The more information that is known about how approaches to restoration are impacting the ecosystem, the greater our capacity to effectively restore it.

 

FIgure 8: Opening page of the Canberra Nature Map app.

Figure 8: Opening page of the Canberra Nature Map app.

If you are keen to get hands-on with biodiversity conservation and spend some time outside roaming through a beautiful landscape, give Turtle Patrol a go. You’ll be helping some great little creatures out, and you’ll have lots of fun.

Get involved here: https://mulligansflat.org.au/get-involved-2/

 

By Jessie Smith (u5592288)

 

References

Capital Woodlands and Wetlands Conservation Trust, 2015. Contact us, Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, Canberra. Available from: https://mulligansflat.org.au/contactus/ (Accessed 19 October 2016).

Ferronato, B.O., Roe, J.H. and Georges, A., 2014. Reptile bycatch in a pest-exclusion fence established for wildlife reintroductions, Journal for Nature Conservation, 22: 577-585.

Manning, A.D., Wood, J.T., Cunningham, R.B., McIntyre, S., Shorthouse, D.J., Gordon, I.J. and Lindenmayer, D.B., 2011. Integrating research and restoration: the establishment of a long-term woodland experiment in south-eastern Australia, Zoologist, 35(3): 633-648.

Roe, J.H. and Georges, A., 2007. Heterogeneous wetland complexes, buffer zones and travel corridors: Landscape management for freshwater reptiles, Biological Conservation, 135: 67-76.

Shorthouse, D.J., Iglasia, D., Jeffress, S., Lane, S., Mills, P., Woodbridge, G., McIntyre, S. and Manning, A.D., 2012. The ‘making of’ the Mulligans Flat – Goorooyarroo experimental restoration project, Ecological Management & Restoration, 13(2): 112-125.

Walmsley, H., 2015. Citizen botanists help track rare plants and stop the spread of noxious weeds in Canberra, ABC Premium News 30 June, 2015.

Walmsley, H., 2016. Canberra Nature Map app to include native reptiles in online database, ABC Premium News 19 January, 2016.

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The Empty Forest: When birds are illegally traded in the market

owl

Figure 1 An Oriental Bay Owl (Phodius badilus) for sale at Malang Bird Market (Photo credit:TRAFFIC)

Have you ever been to Indonesia? Please zoom in to Java Island. Keep zooming into the eastern part of Java, and you will find two most developed city there, Surabaya and Malang. If you are a keen bird watcher and wanted to see the diverse Javanese wild birds, please don’t book any itinerary to the natural areas around East Java yet. Turn your smartphone on, type Pasar Burung Kupang or Pasar Splendid Malang on your google maps browser and you might find them easier than in the wild. There you would find the pieces of the sixth mass extinction process occurring in a daylight.

On a three day survey in the three wildlife market in Surabaya, one in Malang and one in Yogyakarta (Central Java), Traffic (a Wildlife Trading Network Organisation) has observed nearly 23 000 birds of 241 species being traded.  Among those, 98% (22 348 individual of 213 species) of the birds were native to Indonesia. Additionally, more than 3.000 birds from 56 species or 15% of those native birds are endemic to Indonesia.

Figure 2 Cage density in the Bratang Market Suarabay (Phot credit:TRAFFIC)

Figure 2 Cage density in the Bratang Market Suarabaya (Photo credit:TRAFFIC)

Many of these birds are now rarely seen in their natural habitat. The Greater Green Leafbird for example, based on my 5 years’ experience of working in one of the national park near Malang, is hardly spotted in our park. I will definitely have greater chance to see this bird at Malang Bird’s market. This bird is a forest dwelling species, although quite tolerant to disturbance, it always live in tree canopies. It is also a favorite bird among hobbyists for its melodious song. Captive breeding success for this species is unknown to date, the traded birds at markets must have been collected from the wild.

Figure 3 Greater Green Leafbird at Malang (Photo credit:TRAFFIC)

Figure 3 Greater Green Leafbird at Malang (Photo credit:TRAFFIC)

The rate of illegal bird trade in Java is at an alarming rate.  Approximately one out of three household in Java are keeping bird as pet. It might be related to the cultural view on birds within some ethnic communities. Javanese and Balinese are among the highest ethnic group among seven distinct ethnic that involved in a survey about keeping bird as pet. It is possibly a misinterpreted cultural value. The interest of keeping bird in those culture might be rooted from a high appreciation of wildlife but turn into disaster for the wildlife in practice.

Another case to illustrate the severity of bird trade in Java is the case of smugglers who tried to smuggle 21 Yellow Crested Cockatoo from eastern part of Indonesia to Surabaya. Those bird were treated very bad. It was stuffed in the plastic bottle and many of them were died.

Figure 5 Yellow Crested Cockatoo smuggling¸ another endemic species from eastern Indonesia (©JG Photo/Fully Syafi)

Figure 4 Yellow Crested Cockatoo smuggling¸ another endemic species from eastern Indonesia (©JG Photo/Fully Syafi)

Figure 6 Endangered Yellow Crested Cockatoo jammed inside the bottles in Indonesia

Figure 5 Endangered Yellow Crested Cockatoo jammed inside the bottles in Indonesia

The protection of wildlife bird in in Indonesian legislation is generally adequate. Ranged from the Conservation Act and the List of National Endangered Species, to The Captive Breeding trade regulation. However, the listing of a species in the endangered list could become a backslash against the positive aim. For example, the declaration of Javan hawk Eagle as National Symbol and protected species in 1993 resulted on the increasing rate of trade and demand of this species in the wildlife market. It seems that the rarer a species, the more keen people on keeping that species as pet.

There are several point that we can raise to reduce the wildlife trade, particularly bird in Indonesia. The first one is through the awareness raising. It could be the key step in plummeting the wildlife trade within a community. However, the awareness campaign should target the right audience. The targeted audience could be examined by conducting a thorough research on the consumer trends. For instance, the target audience could be based on ethnic group, age classes, gender, education, etc. The second option is the law enforcement by government. And the third one is the robust monitoring system. Engaging people in this monitoring system could be crucial because government is unlikely able to handle it without broader stakeholder getting involve in.  Employing technology for instance could be really useful in engaging community in the monitoring program. Indonesian government perhaps could adopt something like Wildlife Witness, an app developed by Taronga Zoo in Sydney and TRAFFIC.  With this app, people could report a wildlife trade activities securely and anonymously. By combining those methods above, hopefully we can see a significant decline of wildlife trade in the future.

U5864222-Mahmuddin Rahmadana

 

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