75km south of Canberra off the Monaro Highway sits Scottsdale Reserve, a haven of biodiversity conservation and scientific experimentation. Scottsdale Reserve is home to a diverse range of species, with 142 animal species and 217 plant species present within two main threatened communities- yellow box grassy woodland and natural temperate grasslands, both of which are listed as critically endangered under the federal Environmental Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). However, Scottsdale presents a highly fragmented and disrupted environment due to sheep grazing and light cropping since the 1860’s. At least 25% of the reserve has been cleared of native vegetation, and invasive species such as African lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula) are outcompeting native plant communities.
The reserve was purchased by Bush Heritage Australia in 2006 for restoration and rehabilitation, and plays an important role in the Kosciuszko to Coast (K2C) project which aims to connect and restore existing fragmented landscapes across south east NSW. Bush Heritage Australia has five key objectives for Scottsdale Reserve (Figure 1), and rely on volunteers to undertake restorative activities needed to meet these goals, such as large-scaling planting and seed propagation at an in-house nursery.
After several delays due to bad weather, I ventured out to Scottsdale last Friday (7th of October) with ANU researcher and lecturer Dr David Freudenberger to undertake field surveys of tree seedling mortality and growth rates of Box Gum Grassy Woodland restoration. The day involved walking transects of native plants, planted by volunteers in 2013. The species included Eucalyptus pauciflora (snow gum), Eucalyptus melliodora (yellow box), Eucalyptus bridgesiana (apple box), Acacia dealbata (silver wattle), Acacia rubida (red-stemmed wattle) and Bursaria spinosa (Native Blackthorn). Along each transect we measured diameter at 10cm (as few plants warranted a measurement at breast height), assessed plant health (from healthy to dead) and occasionally re-recorded the species type due to their observed characteristics. This data was later entered into Excel.
After arriving at Scottsdale, it sunk in just how important the site is, and numerous other blogs for this course explore the wide-range of activities being undertaken at Scottsdale. Mass volunteer efforts allows the community to both help restore a degraded site, as well as gain a better understanding of the vegetation of their own properties and perhaps pick up better management practices. Scottsdale also presented as a hub of conservation experimentation, with research sprawling as far as the eye can see. Some projects include relocating the striped legless lizard (Delma impar) from development sites in Canberra, testing the effectiveness of weed mats for new plant growth, looking at the impact of fire on the environment and carbon-storage potential in native plants.
While the work we did with David will ultimately contribute to a number of projects while helping restore the Box Gum Grassy Woodland, there was a focus on the potential for carbon-sequestration. Carbon forestry presents as a simple and cost-effective way to implement carbon sequestration policies, and the data we collected will help develop an understanding of the carbon-storage potential of native plants throughout their lifetime. Ultimately, it’s important to recognise that this is a long term project and requires ongoing monitoring and flexible approaches. As David outlined in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, “it takes 120 years to grow a tree hollow suitable for birds, bats and bees but in the short term, we’ll be monitoring what does and doesn’t work”. In turn, this also means there’s plenty of time left to volunteer!
I put my hand up to join this project as I realised while I have completed some conservation work before, I had never worked with plants or within Australia. This being my first year in Canberra, this experience also allowed me to learn more about local vegetation and the restorative efforts in place. Learning to identify the differences between the species was very challenging, but also rewarding- I almost felt like an expert by the end of the day!
However, in the end my experience went beyond simply gaining field experience in measuring trees. Heading out to Scottsdale Reserve highlighted the important of biodiversity conservation and restoration efforts, and in particular the need for these efforts to be scientifically informed. It also exposed me to the world on volunteering (something I had always told myself I was too busy to do). It is a mutually beneficial process- work gets completed on the reserve, and the volunteers gain a deeper understanding of the threats (and the solutions to them) facing south east NSW, and possibly their own properties. This will play a critical role in projects such as K2C, as restorative efforts by many different land owners will help conserve, recover and connect ecosystems across the south east of Australia.