Friends of Grasslands – supporting grassy ecosystems
by Kim Pullen and Geoff Robertson
(Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation, Vol. 15, No. 3, December 2006 - February 2007, pages 28-29)
To protect and ultimately recover grassy ecosystems, it is necessary to build strong community understanding, skills, and support. Friends of Grasslands (FoG) was launched to provide such support. FoG’s first newsletter, 22 November 1994, shows that FoG’s founders saw the need to attract attention to grassland conservation through community liaison, public education and information, development of posters, publication of an informative newsletter, and data collection and storage. Infrastructure and community building were also recognised as necessary, including more mundane issues such as incorporation, finances, sponsorships and grants.
Getting off to a good start
To be successful, a new group must get off to a good start. The founding FoG members drew on many highly skilled people and were excited by a new concept of grassland conservation from the ecosystem perspective. The first FoG president, Edwina Barton, was described in an early FoG Newsletter as ‘immensely enthusiastic and effective, with a wealth of experience, network of contacts, and total commitment to grassland conservation’. The eighty people who attended the launch of the organisation included many well known Canberrans who heard a number of talks on the state of grassland conservation. FoG, in its early days, experienced many great bursts of energy and retreat, and from late 1997, after a ‘do we shut down or continue?’ moment, a steady and prolonged flowering. However the FoG leadership continues to question whether FoG should continue in its current form, develop a different focus, or even bow out.
Newsletters were initially infrequent, but in each year from 1999 six have been produced regularly. Seventy-two issues have now been published in total. FoG’s newsletter advertises its program, records its story, and informs and educates members on grassy ecosystem issues. It emphasises quality, good science, advocacy for grassy ecosystems, good news about grassland recovery, and respect for all viewpoints, and receives high praise from many quarters. A complimentary copy is always available for the asking.
Advocacy, education, on-ground work and research
FoG believes that recovering our grassy ecosystems requires advocacy, education, on-ground work and research, based on a good theoretical and practical grounding in grassy ecosystem conservation. FoG has made numerous submissions to governments and stakeholders, and its advice is actively sought. To underpin its approach, FoG has aimed to recruit practising scientists, land owners and managers, and committed conservationists to its ranks, and relied on them to provide their services on a voluntary basis. It has assisted a number of groups and organisations to meet their objectives, and from time to time has helped establish new like-minded groups. For its tenth birthday, FoG published an honour role of persons contributing to FoG. The list was long and contained the names of many impressive people.
FoG activities program
FoG provides a range of activities for its over 200 members, who are mostly from south-east Australia. It aims to cooperate with and compliment, rather than compete with, other groups. The program is varied in terms of geographical area visited and type of activity offered. FoG’s philosophy is if only two or three people attend an activity but gain from it, it is a success and worthwhile doing. FoG has organised field trips in the ACT, in many regions of NSW and in all eastern states at one time or another. FoG has held three major workshops, and in 2003 cosponsored the Third Native Grasses Conference with Stipa Native Grasses Association. Nowadays we focus on more specialised and smaller workshops, catering for between 25 and 50 people, on specialist topics related to grassland ecology.
Friends of Grasslands was created to build community support for grassy ecosystem recovery. A focus on ecosystem conservation is now more common-place, and FoG has contributed to that. FoG’s focus is on what is needed and how to make it happen – an example of adaptive management. An illustration of this approach is FoG’s Monaro Golden Daisy habitat project, described on page 18 of this issue.
Blowing our own trumpet, News of Friends of Grasslands Sept-Oct and Nov-Dec 2003.
Friends of Grasslands, supporting grassy ecosystems, celebrating ten years. FoG slide presentation.