Carrying out a Threatened Species Assessment

U4667034- Hayley Wood

6pm on a brisk Monday night, I find myself in the middle of a forest clearing, perched against a possible ant nest, rocking a high vis jacket. Armed with a pair of binoculars, my gaze has been diligently fixated upon a tree hollow for the past 20 minutes. I am convinced that at any minute now, a Sugar Glider will emerge and I will get to mark it down in my  trusty notebook- my goal for the evening.

I am undertaking work experience with the Environmental Planning and Assessment department of the Shoalhaven city council in Nowra. We are surveying animal species inhabiting the forest on a stretch of council land near Falls Creek. The council has put forward a proposal for a new recycling plant to be built in this area, which will require a threatened species assessment, and reports that comply with the standards set by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. The Council’s Threatened Species Officers have kindly allowed me to come along to their site inspection where they are reviewing flora and fauna in the area to assess the impact which the proposed development will have on the species which inhabit this region.

With two experienced Threatened Species Officers stationed at other vantage points within the surrounding bush, our goal is to observe the corridors used by  Gliders as they glide from tree to tree. This is an impressive feat, as The Sugar and Squirrel Gliders are capable of travelling up to 50 metres in a single leap, while The Yellow-bellied Glider can cover a distance of 140 metres!

After a few hours spent on the lookout for these furry critters, I have yet to see one, (although the others have already spotted three, so I may not have a very good eye for spotting gliders). As the Sugar Gliders seem to be hiding, we go in search for them. By shining torches through the trees to try to spot the eye shine of any marsupials which may be hanging around, we manage to locate five Sugar Gliders. The location coordinates of where the animals are found are recorded using a GPS tracking device which provides insight into their movement and travel corridors. At the end of the night, the locations of where the gliders were found are assessed, and it is decided that any developments within the area must leave the trees by the roadside intact, as they provide a means for Gliders to travel across the roads.

Up bright and early, the following morning finds us travelling to St George’s Basin in order to locate a known patch of Pterostylis Ventricosa. This is a critically endangered species of orchid with a geographical distribution restricted to the south coast region. The idea behind finding this location, where the orchid has been known to grow is to use it as a point of reference.

ventricosaPterostylis Ventricosa only produces buds at certain times of the year, therefore by travelling to this location we are able to check to see if the buds have sprouted yet, and also to take photos and view exactly what we are searching for. Upon arrival at the site, we manage to locate both buds and flowers which serve as a model for what we will be searching for at the site of the proposed development.

Once feeling confident in our ability to identify the buds of this species, we move to the assessment site. After scouring the areas which provide habitat similarity to the one we had witnessed in St George’s basin for buds, we find no signs of Pterostylis Ventricosa on the premises.
This whole exercise has given me some amazing insight into the practical application of conservation. It is amazing to see the amount of time and energy which goes into species protection, and I am so grateful to have been a small part of it.

References

https://www.shoalhaven.nsw.gov.au/Environment/Biodiversity/Threatened-species
http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/Glidingpossums.htm
http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/determinations/pterostylisventricosaFD.htm

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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4 Responses to Carrying out a Threatened Species Assessment

  1. michelle morales says:

    Fascinating work.

  2. Kim may says:

    True dedication to your work, they are lucky to have you for work experience. Such a great experiment.

  3. Glider Boffin says:

    Where can I buy a high vis? Please let me know post-haste.

  4. Chloe says:

    Sounds like you had the opportunity to do some pretty neat work experience. I’d be interested to know more about the process of development approvals in the region – and how threatened species assessments guide or influence development decisions. I’d also be interested to know more about the orchid you were looking for! What kind of ecological role does it play? What would have happened if you found an orchid on the development site?

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