Conservation of Monaro Golden Daisy habitat
David Eddy, Monaro Grassland Conservation Management Network
Geoff Robertson, Friends of Grasslands
(Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation, Vol 15, No 3, December 2006 - February 2007, pages 18-19)
Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve is a 45 ha natural temperate grassland on a steep hilly rise overlooking Cooma and is dominated by large plants of Poa Tussock (Poa sieberiana) and Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra). It is an excellent example of what the natural temperate grasslands of Monaro probably looked like. Cooma-Monaro Shire Council has been the Crown land trustee of the reserve since 1964 when the commonage was revoked.
Friends of Grasslands (FoG) first visited Old Cooma Common (at that time called ‘Radio Hill’) in October 1998. FoG undertook its first plant survey of the site soon after. Amongst the many native plants recorded were Monaro Golden Daisy (Rutidosis leiolepis), a threatened species, as well as the nationally threatened Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans var. tricolor) and Australian Anchor Plant (Discaria pubescens), a rare grassland plant. FoG also observed large numbers of woody weeds, especially small trees of Hawthorn and Briar Rose, patches of African Lovegrass and some Serrated Tussock, and large amounts of St John’s Wort and Vipers Bugloss.
Funding of $18,338 was received in 1999 under the Threatened Species Network (TSN) Community Grants Program for the project Conservation of Monaro Golden Daisy habitat. The project planned to establish grassland reserves at Radio Hill (Cooma) and the Adaminaby Golf Course. The Adaminaby community subsequently withdrew its support for the project and the project became focused on Old Cooma Common.
Aims of the project
The project was a partnership between the Cooma- Monaro Shire Council, FoG and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Monaro grassland project. The Shire Council has also actively supported the project with funding and resources.
The WWF Monaro grassland project focused on natural temperate grasslands in the Monaro region of NSW. This was one of several WWF grassland projects in south east Australia. These involved grassland identification on public and private land, making recommendations for conservation management (usually only a subtle change to existing management), and targeted public education. The Monaro grassland project has since become the Monaro Grassland Conservation Management Network (CMN) supported by the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (SRCMA) with funding from the NSW and Commonwealth Governments. Old Cooma Common became a founding and flagship area for the Monaro Grassland CMN.
Friends of Grasslands was keen to establish a stronger presence outside the ACT. It viewed this project as ambitious and somewhat daunting, given that Cooma is a seventy-five minute drive from Canberra. However, the project offered the opportunity for FoG to develop its onground skills, and FoG was keen to support the project and the Monaro Grassland CMN. FoG also realised that it could only provide limited resources and would be heavily reliant on the Project Officer for his continuing involvement.
The aims of the project were to:
- protect the grassland vegetation communities and associated threatened species on public land;
- establish greater knowledge of Monaro Golden Daisy;
- provide education resources for local people and tourists; and
- facilitate further scientific research into native grassland species and ecology.
Achievements and reflections
The project removed internal reserve fences, established a perimeter fence and targeted woody and herbaceous weeds, including introduced grasses. The project funds covered herbicide and fencing costs and work was undertaken by a mix of Council employees, hired contractors and FoG working bees. WWF provided additional funds for surveying the legal boundary and repairs to the existing partial boundary fencing and herbicide. The project’s funds also contributed to Andrew Young’s (CSIRO) work on the genetics of the Monaro Golden Daisy, which has increased our understanding of this species.
The first working bee took place in January 2000, followed by monthly working bees throughout 2000, which were reported in the FoG newsletter. By August 2000 some 26 FoG members had attended working bees. Participation continues today and some FoG members have become regulars. Special mention should be made of Margaret Ning who has been the key organiser and weed expert for these working bees.
Over fifty people attended the official opening of the Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve in September 2001 and the event received local press coverage. A promotional and interpretive flier, also funded by the project, was released.
With this firm base, FoG activities around Cooma have blossomed, and for example it attracted 100 people to its Grassland beyond the reserve workshop and grassland tour in December 2001, attracting an audience from across NSW. In November 2003, the Stipa Native Grasses Association and Fog's third native grasses conferences was held in Cooma.
In recent months, Cooma-Monaro Shire Council has drawn up a draft weeds management plan for Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve. Council and FoG have agreed in principle to establish a joint reserve management group, with Council, FoG and local community representation. This group will investigate strategic livestock grazing for weed and conservation management on the reserve. The costs associated with the weeds management plan will be borne by Council and the grazier concerned.
Conservation grazing is a tool used to manage biomass and weeds in grassland reserves and is not without its critics, especially as grazing can create problems of its own. For success, careful management is required, including creation of smaller paddocks so that grazing is controlled to ensure that selective grazing is minimised, and thoughtful design and placement of watering points. Monitoring, if carefully devised, can measure impacts on plant growth and vegetation structure, the presence/absence and/or abundance of particular species, and impacts on soil. FoG is giving some attention to a good monitoring regime.
The biggest winner has been the Monaro Golden Daisy and Monaro grasslands. Since the inception of the project we have found several more populations of the Daisy, whose future now seems more secure. Monaro grasslands, a threatened ecological community, are now regarded as an important part of the regional landscape and heritage. At the reserve’s opening, some locals summed it up. ‘Deep down’ one person said ‘we always thought that our landscapes were special, but we were told that they were unnatural and the result of clearing. We felt like second-class citizens. This project turned that around and made us proud of our grasslands.’ Students from Monaro High School also pointed out that Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve had become a centre for their nature study.
Robertson, G. (2002). Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve: lessons and achievements, Monaro Grassland Mail, Newsletter of the Monaro Grassland Conservation Management Network, Issue 1, Spring 2002.
FoG applies to establish conservation reserve, Friends of Grasslands Newsletter, Mar-Apr 1999, p. 10, and numerous other articles on Radio Hill and Old Cooma Common in Friends of Grasslands Newsletter, November 1998 to Sept-Oct 2006.