Thomas Paine – U7013853
Habitat loss is the largest threat to biodiversity and whilst fires in the Amazon capture headlines, degradation has occurred much closer to home. Recently I had the opportunity to understand the historical degradation of a box gum grassy woodland at Mt Majura and assist the remediation techniques being deployed by the local Park Care group.
But first, the issue. From the 1830s until 1985 Mt Majura was primarily used for grazing purposes. Dense paddocks of sheep, cattle and horses resulted in overgrazing and the loss of perennial grasses whilst the use of supplementary feed introduced invasive weeds, such as Paterson’s Curse (Echium plantagineum) and St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) (both of which are inedible for local fauna). Hard hooves and the loss of grasses led to soil compaction that now prevents the infiltration of water and the growth of seedlings. Whilst no longer commercially grazed, the impacts of overgrazing continue due to the overabundance of rabbits and kangaroos, a chronic issue for Mt Majura and the ACT. The diverse grassy woodland had been reduced to a weed infested landscape with heavily degraded soils; a woeful, but not uncommon, chapter in the loss of this endangered habitat.
Patterson’s Curse (Right) and St John’s Wort (Left) have been a persistent issue for the growth of native grasses
For the volunteers of Friends of Mt Majura (FoMM) the solution is hard work and toil. Whilst I was present, we broke the impermeable surface crust, caused by overgrazing and lack of groundcover, to improve infiltration and plant growth. Due to the local conservation officer’s concerns about erosion, large scale machinery was not permitted and therefore the trusty mattock was deployed to minimise risk.
The hard surface crust was broken using a mattock, increasing the likelihood of plant growth and water infiltration
Whilst mattock-ing, Patterson’s curse was also removed. This is the time of year just before the plant flowers and spreads its seeds, meaning removal now reduces future workload.
Mulch was also immediately scattered across the broken ground to minimise moisture evaporation. The mulch, sourced from Fire Service cuttings of native vegetation, provides many benefits, including: increased moisture retention; the provision of habitat for insects, birds and reptiles and surface cover to reduce erosion. The mulch also promotes soil chemical and ecological changes by significantly increasing microorganism activity, improving the soil and reducing the nutrients present. Native plants are adapted to poor soils whilst invasive weeds thrive in high nutrient environments. By removing the nutrients, the native plants can out compete the invasive weeds.
Mulching is a simple but effective tool used for habitat regeneration
The road to restoring Mt Majura remains long but the progress has been impressive. The work of volunteers has seen huge reductions in weeds and increases in native grasses, trees and shrubs. Although only a small corner of the globe and a footnote in the state of ecosystems globally, Mt Majura and the work of FoMM highlights the potential of habitat restoration.