Box – Gum Grassy Woodland is recognised as nationally critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. This class of ecological community supports a diverse mix of Yellow Box and Blakely’s Red Gum trees, native tussock grasses, herbs and shrubs that support faunal communities such as the Brown treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) and the endangered Golden sun moth (Synemon plana).
Did you know that the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is home to the largest remnant Box – Gum Grassy Woodland in good condition? This is likely due to the short-termed leasehold titles that had previously been issued by the government in the 1950s, which discouraged intensive pasture improvement that was occurring in other states. Overgrazing, weed invasion and soil acidification are but some of the causes behind the disappearance of Box – Gum Grassy Woodland habitats across Australian landscapes.
What awaits the fate of clapped out landscapes?
Enter Bush Heritage Australia, which acquired 1328 hectares of degraded property in Scottsdale Reserve, 75km south of Canberra. Since 2006, 300 hectares of this ex-agricultural land had undergone restoration (through community plantings and monitoring) through Greening Australia. Part of the conservation goals for this land is research to better understand the dynamics behind ecosystem restoration.
(Mythbusters, Discovery Channel)
What do bombs, beer-making and ecological restoration have in common? Without data capture and analysis, these would have had less success in their intended goals through poor decision-making processes.
For my work experience, two students and myself, under the guidance of Dr. David Freudenberger, spent a day at Scottsdale Reserve. Monitoring was the order of the day, with pen, paper, measuring tape, cameras and eyeballing our tools of the trade.
In past years, batches of students and volunteers have planted saplings and seedlings upon rows within the 300ha site by hand or direct seeder machines. Our role was to check on these saplings from Eucalyptus, Acacia, Cassinia and Bursaria genera, categorising these plantings according to soil type, genus/species and health. Some rows had differing treatment (weed mats), while others had specified patterns of species planted along the row. From our data collection exercise, we were able to confirm low plant mortality rates (less than 4%) over two years.
At this stage of the monitoring process, plant condition and survival are crucial variables. In future, as these plants establish, it becomes feasible to incorporate monitoring of more than these variables – such as soil chemistry, the presence of diseases, or faunal surveys. At the core of habitat restoration is the importance of having rehabilitation sites focused on conservation, free from the pressures of agricultural and developmental use.
With an ever-growing pool of volunteers numbering more than 20,000, the viability of large-scale and long-term restoration operations appears to be secure, but effective management remains the key driver for success. Through this experience, I have learned that the use of volunteers is a double-edged sword – high enthusiasm and energy to do the tedious work is, more often than not, paired with low experience to accomplish the task at hand. It is likely that first-timers like myself contributed to low data accuracy.
Nevertheless, with NGOs like Bush Heritage doing their bid to secure more potential land for rehabilitation, a future with more robust and resilient native habitats is ever closer towards realisation.
Links for further reading
Scottsdale Reserve (Bush Heritage) – http://www.bushheritage.org.au/places-we-protect/new-south-wales/scottsdale
Description and advice to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage on Box – Gum Grassy Woodland under the EPBC Act –http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/box-gum.pdf