News of Friends of Grasslands
Supporting native grassy ecosystems
Also available as a pdf version
In this issue
SAT 8 MARCH (9.30 to 3.30) Working bee at Old Cooma Common. Attending a working bee provides a good opportunity to visit one of the most interesting grasslands on the Monaro, develop skills, and catch up with other FoG members. (See page 3 for further details)
MON 17 MARCH (9.30am) Establishing monitoring of cattle grazing areas at Scottsdale. Working with Peter Saunders and others, FoG will be establishing a monitoring process to observe change in pasture composition at Scottsdale. Contact Geoff (details back page).
FRI 7 MARCH (10am) FoG Consultation and Garden Group garden visit. Contact Janet (details back page).
SAT 12 APRIL (10am-4pm) FoG at Scottsdale. FoG will be participating at the Kosciuszko to Coast (K2C) Open Day at Scottsdale by providing talks on grass identification, assisting in guided walks, and holding a FoG stall. You can come just to find out about K2C, Scottsdale, and/or to assist FoG. See details on Page 3.
SAT 19 APR (9.30am-4.30pm) FoG visit to Bega Valley grassy forests. FoG is joining the Far South Coast CMN to visit three grassy ecosystem sites, learn about their natural history and management, undertake plant identification, and exchange insights into grassy ecosystem remnants. See details Page 3.
Of special interest
4 MARCH Graeme Worboys’ talk on Conservation Connectivity at the Friends of Aranda Bushland AGM – see page 5.
21-24 APRIL ANPC 7th Annual Conference, Mulgoa, W. Sydney. The Australian Network for Plant Conservation is holding its 7th national Conference on the topic Declining Flora – tackling the threats. Further details at: http://www.anpc.asn.au/conferences.
9-10 MAY ANP Symposium, Canberra The National Parks Association of the ACT is holding a symposium on the topic of Corridors for Survival in a Changing World. Further details are at: www.npaact.org.au.
Your society, Friends of Grasslands, enters 2008 after another productive year. Membership continues at around 200, with much the same profile as in previous years: more than half our members reside in the ACT, another third in NSW, with the remainder in other parts of Australia.
Our newsletter, News of Friends of Grasslands, continued to appear at regular bimonthly intervals thanks to tireless editor-producer (and society Vice-president) Geoff Robertson, with able assistance from Margaret Ning. I thank all who contributed to NoFoG in 2007 with their news, reports and articles. These days members also appreciate efficient electronic communication, and an important initiative during the year was the FoG e-Bulletin, a supplementary electronic newsletter circulated monthly to members on email. The e-Bulletin lets us get information out at relatively short notice. FoG's website was also moved and expanded, for which I thank Richard Bomford.
As ever, FoG's activities program was a busy one with field excursions, visits to properties and working bees to repair fences and tackle weeds. Workshops were run on a variety of subjects. In January, Warren Saunders showed members how to propagate native grasses and forbs. David Tongway ran a winter Down to Earth workshop, hosted by Royalla Landcare, to demonstrate his method of landscape function analysis. And following a survey of members via questionnaire, FoG ran a Future Directions workshop in August to examine our focus, direction and approaches for the future.
A controversial issue that FoG became embroiled in during the year was the proposed culling of kangaroos at two of the best quality native grassland remnants close to Canberra. The FoG Committee voted to support the pro-culling stance of the Limestone Plains Group of professional scientists, who argued that the unnaturally high kangaroo population coupled with the prevailing drought conditions was causing heavy damage to the grasslands. Inevitably, the issue caused emotions to run high amongst members of the general public and FoG alike.
2006 was a busy year for submissions and letters written in response to government proposals, plans and draft strategies. FoG secretary Bernadette O'Leary deserves much of the credit for drafting the submissions and accommodating the Committee's suggestions.
My last word will be to thank all those members who I have not thanked already in this report. The FoG office holders dedicated their time and energy once again to make your society's presence felt and to keep its affairs running efficiently and legally. And behind the scenes, all members supported Friends of Grasslands just by being members. May our efforts continue to make our native grasslands better known, better appreciated and better preserved for future generations.
23 FEBRUARY Nineteen people attended the FoG AGM held at Mugga Mugga Education Centre. Kim Pullen, presented his President’s report, and this was followed by reports by Bernadette O’Leary and Geoff Robertson on FoG’s groups: advocacy, program, communications, and cultivation and conservation. Geoff outlined plans to establish an on-ground and extension services group, and pointed out there is a need to re-establish an education group. Sandra Hand presented her Treasurer’s and the Auditor’s report. FoG made a small surplus for the year and had a healthy bank account.
Kim was praised for his leadership as President. He remains on the committee as an executive member and immediate Past President. Those not re-standing for the committee included Roger Farrow, Christine Kendrick and Paul Hodgkinson, each of whom have made great contributions to FoG over many years. Other committee members who re-stood for their positions included Geoff Robertson (vice President), Bernadette O’Leary (Secretary), Sandra Hand (Treasurer), David Eddy, Stephen Horn, Margaret Ning, Janet Russell and Benjamin Whitworth (Committee members). New committee members include Sarah Hnatiuk and Tony Lawson. Andy Russell continues as Public Officer. Bernadette stated that the new committee will be looking into how to fill the vacant positions of President and Vice president, quickly.
The FoG Strategic Plan, published in the previous newsletter was ratified, although it was noted that some elements may already be out of date.
Following the meeting Geoff provided a slide show on FoG’s 2007 activities which included slides on FoG’s many varied activities, as well as covering FoG’s informal program of property visits and support for other groups' activities. Then it was party time, enjoyed by all.
The next working bee at Old Cooma Common (OCC) is on Saturday 8 March 9:30 to 3:30pm.
OCC is a grassland reserve, located off the southern end of Polo Flat Road, Cooma, and has been established by FoG and Cooma Monaro Shire Council. It is fascinating to visit any time and is one of the most interesting grasslands on the Southern Tablelands. It contains two threatened and one rare plant species.
FoG holds working bees there in March and November each year which may involve control of St John’s wort and African lovegrass, cutting and daubing briars, seed removal, mapping weeds, and applying monitoring procedures. Some tasks do not involve herbicides. Taking part in the bees is a good way to learn about grassland management.
At lunchtime we buy lunch and retreat to a more shaded area. Enquiries and car pooling: Margaret Ning and David Eddy, see contact details back page.
The first Kosciuszko to Coast Open Day will be held Saturday, 12 April 2008 on the spectacular Bush Heritage Property of Scottsdale.
The ambitious K2C project, including the eight partner groups, will offer bucket loads of information and inspiration. There will be talks, walks, demonstrations and 4WD tours. The themes will include active management to restore and extend native grasslands and woodlands and learning about the animal and plant species that rely on them.
There will be a NSW Fire Service sausage sizzle, real coffee and free tea. A gold coin donation will go to local Landcare. Bring good shoes, hat, sunscreen and your best smile.
Gates open 9.30am. Scottsdale is on the Monaro Hwy, 4km north of Bredbo. From Canberra (approx. 50 min drive) watch for signs at Gungoandra Creek bridge. Slow down for a right turn into property.
The eight partners are Bush Heritage Australia, NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, Greening Australia Capital Region, Molonglo Catchment Group, Nature Conservation Trust of NSW, Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment Coordinating Committee, Friends of Grasslands and Upper Murrumbidgee Landcare Committee.
FoG will be participating in the Kosciuszko to Coast (K2C) Open Day by providing talks on grass identification, assisting in the guided walks, and having a stall. If you are interested in helping on the FoG stall for an hour or so, please contact Janet Russell, contact details back page.
FoG is joining with the Far South Coast CMN on Saturday 19 April (9.30am to 4.30pm) to visit three grassy ecosystem sites in the Bega Valley, to learn about their natural history and management, to undertake plant identification, and to exchange insights into grassy ecosystem remnants.
The three sites belong to FoG members Bernadette O’Leary and Richard Bomford, Jackie Miles and Max Campbell, and John and Alice Buckley. Jackie has been instrumental in surveying and listing grassy ecosystems in the Bega area. Vicki and Dan Williamson, our hosts, are the coordinators for the CMN, a network of landowners with native vegetation on their properties, many of whom have Conservation Agreements.
FoG members can learn from the CMN and land owners about the nature of the vegetation and the experience in conservation, and CMN members are keen to learn from FoG’s experience. The CMN will provide morning tea and lunch.
Those travelling from and returning to Canberra/Southern Tablelands are welcome to stay at Margaret’s and Geoff’s property, Garuwanga, near Nimmitabel on the Friday and/or Saturday night.
For FoG members wishing to participate, or for further information, please contact Janet, details back page.
FoG on-ground and extension services
FoG is facing increasing demand for its on-ground and extension services. These include: organising on-ground work including working bees, visiting properties and sites and providing advice, including plant identification, to landowners/managers, making management contributions to other groups, assisting other groups by providing talks and walks, and providing training on leading on-ground and extension work.
We are examining ways to improve and extend these services, advertising property visits so that more FoG members may participate, and establishing a group to manage these activities and to develop a training workshop later this year. If you want to learn more about this and/or participate, please contact me – details back page.
A cautionary tale
10 DECEMBER I thought it might be of interest to others battling with weeds to hear of an experience I had last week. Sunday afternoon I went off to hand-pull some St John's wort which keeps popping up along our road in spite of my regular efforts to remove it each summer. I might have sprayed it, but I chose to dig/pull it because it was windy, and although sunny, more than likely on current performance to rain later in the day. I didn't wear gloves. I know the stuff is toxic to stock, causing photosensitisation and painful ulcers, but I had handled it in previous years without any detectable effect.
This time I was not so lucky. There was a lot more of it than I had thought (isn't there always?), and with all the rain it had been growing strongly so was probably well stocked up with the toxic ingredient (hypericin). I spent a couple of hours on it.
The next morning I developed the following symptoms: dry mouth, aching joints, slight headache, dizziness, severe lack of energy. I took to my bed, where I dozed the next 24 hours away. I had absolutely no appetite for about 48 hours, and anything I forced down tasted faintly metallic (and went straight through me).second day I spent lying on the sofa, reading; by the third I was up to sitting at the computer, but still dizzy and off my tucker. I finally ate a proper dinner on the night of the third day and was back to normal on the 4th morning. So, a fair chunk out of my week for a stupid mistake which I won't be making again.
I guess there is no certainty that it was the St John's wort that caused it, but it didn't feel like a virus - no sinus or lung symptoms, some diarrhoea (when I ate) but no vomiting. I hadn't been in contact with anyone sick to my knowledge. We looked St John's wort up on the web, and my symptoms matched pretty well the side effects of taking the thing medicinally, except for the aching joints, which no-one mentioned.
I'm now rather more convinced of the possibility of absorbing toxins through the skin (though I could have inhaled a bit of pollen too I suppose), and rather more likely to wear gloves when handling weeds known to be toxic e.g. fireweed.
To learn more about natural resource management in the ACT you can obtain the free electronic newsletter, News of Our World (NOW) put out by ACT Regional NRM/Landcare Facilitators, Rebecca Blundell and Anna van Dugteren. Regional facilitators are part of a national network (NHT funded) to support community engagement in natural resource management. To learn more, contact 6205 2913/4 or firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
FoG will be participating in the youth members of ACT Scouts Learning the Land project, by providing a one hour session on the 15 or16 March at Camp Cottermouth. The intention for this project is to increase both intellectual and aesthetic awareness of the local environment. Art works made in response to the weekend will be exhibited at the Belconnen Community Arts Centre and the Tuggeranong Arts Centre in the second half of 2008. FoG will also lend its posters for display. If anyone wants to assist Geoff Robertson in this exercise please contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org or on 6241 4065.
Conder Parkcare group
A Parkcare group is being formed for Friends of Tuggeranong Hill and Conder Wetlands. Many years ago FoG successfully lobbied to have Conder 4a and Conder 9 reserved because of their high quality woodland values, and in more recent FoG has assisted with aspects of maintenance. FoG welcomes this development. Michael Bedingfield, an active FoG member, has been the recorder and conscience of the area.
The group will be launched on Saturday 1 March (3-4pm) at Callister Cres, Theodore access road to Tuggeranong Hill for the launch of the group. For further information contact Cath Blunt 6291 1827 or Rebecca Blundell 6207 2145.
The FoG e-Bulletin advertises events and provides news to members and supporters of FoG, and often contains information not included in the newsletter. If you don’t receive it, it is because we do not have an up-to-date email address for you – to correct this please contact Margaret Ning (details back page). If you want to advertise events in it contact the Editor, Tony Lawson email@example.com or 6161 9430.
Farrer Ridge and Mt Wanniassa
Many members have commented that the rains led to both a wonderful flowering of native grasses and forbs, accompanied by an outbreak of weeds. Julie Linder's patch on Farrer Ridge and Mt Wanniassa has become inundated with weeds (see photo).
Unfortunately the ACT Government, while focussing on St Johns wort and some briars, have not put verbascum, thistles, horehound and Paterson's curse, which have especially enjoyed the wet weather, on their radar.
Julie and partner Tony go to their patch almost every day and pull out the verbascum on Farrer Ridge. She says, ‘It has been easy after the rain but there are still thousands of flowering ones left.’ She reports that the summit of Mt Wanniassa is a bed of thistles and verbascum. She considers that it is so depressing because in thirty years she has never seen it as bad as it is now.
Julie states, 'I am not sure what has caused it to become so weedy but I suspect it was from building fences around their water tanks on Farrer Ridge and below Mt Wanniassa, and clearing under the powerlines. The fire abatement on both Farrer Ridge and Mt Wanniassa and the mowing of the trails throughout the park have also contributed.’ She considers that use of contractors ‘that are not always Canberra based and always seem to do work when it’s either wet or very dry encourages the weeds.’ Julie says that she ‘has written to the government on several occasions but nothing changes!’
Graeme Worboys will be talking on Connectivity conservation: a critical national response to climate change, at the Friends of Aranda Bushland (FoAB) AGM, which starts with drinks and nibbles from 7.15pm, Tuesday 4 March.
Graeme has more than 34 years protected area management experience and is Vice-Chair (Mountains Biome) for the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). He is also a member of the WCPA Steering Committee, and will be representing the IUCN at the 3rd World Conference on UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Spain in February. Graeme may also reflect on that experience in the context of the proposed nomination of the ACT as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Please RSVP to Hanna Jaireth, FoAB Convenor, 6251 7438 (ah)/mob0415 144 283 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FoAB is also organizing a working bee 8 and 9 March to restore some of the ground layer plants to the Aranda Snow Gums Nature Heritage Site (corner of Caswell and William Hovell Drives). The species to be planted include common everlasting, scaly buttons, narrow leaf New Holland daisy, weeping grass, river tussock, silver wattle, and tall sedge. Contact Hanna for further details.
Landscaping with native grasses
15 JANUARY Warren Saunders of Seeds and Plants Australia (and a member of FoG) introduced Ian Chivers, CEO of Native Seeds Pty Ltd, who presented an information session on growing grasses and their use in various projects. This was part of an open forum organised by Warren on Revegetation and landscaping with native grasses. The focus was on grasses for landscaping, but with some reference to re-vegetation particularly to restoring mine sites, and pasture establishment. Ian’s company is also a partner in research projects involving finding solutions to seed dormancy, developing grasses that will grow in alkaline soils such as mine sites, and working to develop a porous cap for landfill sites that will consume the methane that these sites produce.
Ian talked quite extensively about individual species, their uses, advantages and disadvantages. He highlighted the benefits of using native grasses, such as lower water requirements and needing no lime. He also mentioned the low fertility rates as an advantage, which seems counter-intuitive unless it refers to not being so invasive. In the seed production plots he makes extensive use of fertilisers. He also has moved his production plots further north to take advantage of better rainfall in these dry times.
He showed us slides of some landscaping work he had done and one site which is just out of Melbourne consists totally of Austrodanthonia richardsonii. It looked quite spectacular although I found the idea of developing monocultures slightly disturbing. When grown in this way, the grass gives extremely good coverage and seems to exclude weeds.
New arrival in ACT
Steve Taylor is A/g Weeds Coordinator, ACT Parks, Conservation & Lands, Tel: 6207 2278.
Bob Burdick has recorded the first Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) in the ACT - Sarah Sharp has confirmed it. About 8 mature plants with seed were bagged, and Bob will spray the 30 or so seedlings. They were next to Bendora House. How the plants got there is anyone's guess - but there have been a number of contractors up there in the past year or so.
This site will have to be watched, and surrounding areas checked for seed that may have escaped the site.Bob has said he will spray any new seedlings and record numbers - in a similar way that is done with broom.
Mexican feather grass produces more seed than the related serrated tussock and is a slightly taller plant. The seed is very similar but has a longer awn - it readily sticks to all surfaces including plastic.
The Victorians are very worried about this invasive weed - so don't delay if you see some – contact me.
7 JANUARY Jenny Horsfield, Chair of Minders of Tuggeranong Homestead (MOTH) and also a FoG member, is pleased to report that the environment that surrounds the historic Tuggeranong Homestead is being better looked after by the new lessee, Neil Gillespie, son of the late Lyall Gillespie, respected local historian. MOTH, through the auspices of the Southern ACT Catchment Group, has a partnership with Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) to revegetate the eroded and weed-infested banks of the Tuggeranong Creek which used to flow through the property until its waters were diverted. PWC has also committed money for an autumn planting in the area. There is further cross-community involvement at the homestead as Calwell High School students have been visiting the site and learning about its natural and indigenous history. They will be involved in planting some local species there this year.
Care of the remnant yellow box woodland on the property remains a focus for MOTH. There are good stands of wallaby grass and other local grasses on the edge of the woodland and many fine old trees. Jenny told FoG that MOTH hopes to apply for a Natural Heritage Trust grant this year to continue the work of preserving and restoring this area.
MOTH would welcome new members or even the occasional volunteer. Jenny can be contacted on 6231 4535 or email@example.com.
Chilean needlegrass manual
21 DECEMBER The National Chilean Needle Grass Taskforce released its publication National Chilean Needle Grass Best Practice Management Manual which it correctly described as the first comprehensive source of information on Chilean needle grass (CNG) management in Australia.
CNG (Nassella neesiana) is a Weed of National Significance and is regarded as one of Australia's twenty worst weeds. Since its introduction to Australia in the 1930s it has invaded grasslands, roadsides and farms in Victoria, NSW, the ACT and more recently South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. Its unique survival method and the difficulties of identification make CNG a particularly difficult weed to control.
The manual contains detailed information on the plant, information on current practice in managing it, and many excellent pictures to facilitate accurate identification. FoG has received multiple copies and anyone wanting a copy should talk to Janet, details back page. The Taskforce is going to a lot of effort to ensure that copies are placed in the hands of land managers.
The Taskforce should be congratulated on this project. The manual is quite stunning and extremely well illustrated. For members of FoG, it contains information which will help generally in the identification of grasses. The Taskforce has managed to marshal a great deal of financial and in-kind resources to put the publication and the accompanying Management Guide together. FoG also made a minor contribution to this publication.
As most readers are aware, FoG participated in identifying CNG in the Gungahlin (Canberra) in 2007. It is important that FoG members can recognise CNG, serrated tussock and African lovegrass and control them in land that they manage. The manual should aid members in control of CNG.
I've included summary information below. Copies of submissions and letters are available on the FoG website at www.fog.org.au.
FoG provided comment on a draft recommendation report, further to the EPBC referral of a proposal to transfer Defence land to DoTaRS for onsale to Canberra Airports Group (CAG) to enable construction of a road. FoG made submission to that in October 2007 (see previous newsletter for detail).
FoG restated its opposition to the road as proposed, and comments related to the likely loss/damage to a key remnant of Natural Temperate Grassland, the lack of detail re proposed conditions on CAG, and the history of development/management by CAG. FoG suggested a moratorium be placed on the transfer to allow better public scrutiny of conservation issues, delay of decision until after the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment reports on her investigation into grassland protection/management, and that, should a road be built, any remaining remnant be formally protected (e.g. reserved) by other than CAG.
FoG also wrote to the new Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, further to a letter to the previous Minister and others in October 2007, about concerns re EPBC administration (see previous newsletter for detail). FoG restated its opposition to construction of the proposed road at the Canberra Airport and noted the inadequacy of the proposed conservation agreement. FoG also emphasised the relevance of the current CSE inquiry (see below) and supported the Limestone Plains Group's request for deferral of assessment of the road project until after that inquiry reports. FoG suggested a meeting to discuss the proposal further.
FoG made two submissions to the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment's inquiry into grassland protection and management. The first was about the Belconnen Naval Station site, the Lawson grassland.
FoG's stated concerns were the need for effective management of the grassland and threatened species contained within it, and the conservation of valuable remnants and buffers (and ongoing management) when the suburb is developed. FoG's position was that the number of kangaroos needs to be reduced to sustainable levels if the natural site values are to be retained. FoG noted that its views were based on visits to the site over many years.
The second more comprehensive submission addressed the full terms of reference of the inquiry (see http://www.envcomm.act.gov.au), including comments on existing management arrangements, causes of deterioration, impediments to conservation management, improving stakeholder communication and the need for policy/legislative changes.
Note: an article on FoG's current approach to advocacy will be included in the next newsletter. FoG proposes a workshop in mid 2008 to discuss and refine this further.
Molongo and other developments
I am glad to read the summary of FoG’s submission in the Jan 08 newsletter, as well as the item Molongo Valley looms ahead (p5).
Sorry to hear that our so-called planners are ignoring the biodiversity values of the Molongo Valley and the Watson developments.
Is there any chance of a rally, where various groups such as ours can voice our concerns? Can we encourage the Conservation Council to take the lead, if not ourselves?
Sadly biodiversity suffers, more or less, as Australia’s, and inevitably Canberra’s population, continues to grow at such an alarming rate. We therefore need to address the issue of growth too! Otherwise, we are not tackling the suite of multipliers impacting on this region’s ecology.
Chris – FoG will be working with the Conservation Council closely on this issue and encourages members to let the ACT Government know their views. A rally at some stage is highly likely – editor.
Janet has been an active FoG committee member for several years with a strong interest in growing local grasses, forbs and sub-shrubs associated with our grassy ecosystems. The cultivation of local plants brings many challenges as most of these plants cannot be obtained through nurseries or even through native plant growers. Cultivating these plants serves several conservation objectives, namely it makes people aware of some of the spectacular plants and their natural ecology, and it helps us to understand how to grow such plants which might aid their protection and broader reintroduction in the wild. Janet has formed FoG’s Cultivation and Conservation Group which initially is focusing on visiting FoG members’ gardens and sharing experiences and possibly plant material. Janet’s contact details are on the back page. Janet has also agreed to produce a regular column. This is the first.
This is the first of a series of columns I hope to produce for the newsletter regarding the cultivation and propagation of native grasses, forbs, and sub-shrubs that live in the grassy ecosystems of the Southern Tablelands.
My husband Andy fostered my interest in growing native plants when we renovated an older part of his Cootamundra garden in 1998. When we moved to Aranda, we established a new native garden after removing all the exotic shrubbery (except one conveniently placed shrub). The back garden and some of the front has been given over to shrubbery. The block as a whole has about 15 gums and two box trees, including scribbly gum (Eucalyptus rossii), brittle gum (E. manifera), Argyle apple (E. cinerea), and red box (E. polyanthemos).
We hand weeded the front garden and mulched it at the end of 2003, leaving the native species we identified. This area of the garden is on a slope facing west and has about a 50m sweep along the edge of the road. The soil is clay on rock. Of grassland species there was (and still is) one Lomandra sp. growing against one of the gum trees. I have never seen it flower. Wallaby grass was also there, predominately Austrodanthonia racemosa which the ANPS Grass Group identified for us. We also found one Austrostipa bigeniculata plant and this is the only plant that exists after seven years unless any germinated seed in the soil has been pulled out in error. We also have weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides) and it recruits at will.
We have been removing for seven years what we thought was a grass weed which I decided to have positively identified last year. The Botanical Gardens identified it as a native, Sporobolus elongatus. I will now be watching to see whether any more of it grows or whether we have destroyed the line altogether. It will be disappointing if we have. We also assumed that we had African lovegrass but after closer examination, we are not so sure so we will have this identified too.
While we have been growing native plants in the garden for seven years, our experimentation with grassy ecosystems plants is more recent. After joining FoG, I became enthusiastic about creating a grassy woodland in the front garden which, before we moved in, had been left as just a grassy verge for years, I suspect. Our garden has mainly been a specimen garden as we have often planted no more than one or two plants of a species.
We have introduced a variety of other grasses with a mixture of results. They include windmill grass (Chloris truncata) and kangaroo grass (Themeda australis) which have both flowered beautifully after the spring rains. I also scattered some wild sorghum (Sorghum leiocladum) seeds in the garden and they germinated and flowered quite readily. We have red-anther wallaby grass(Joycea pallida) but they have not flowered since planting two years ago. We also translocated some clustered everlasting (Chrysocephalum semipapposum) from some friends’ property and this was harbouring a silver plume grass (Dichelachne crinita) that flowered last year for the first time, which was a nice surprise. To bring some diversity we have also introduced other wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia sp.) with more robust seed heads as their larger white tops make such a wonderful display. The wallaby grass (A. racemosa) self-seeds readily and in spite of not being showy, this slight, graceful grass puts on quite a show en masse in the late afternoon when the subtle lights of the westerly sun filter through their white tops.
We do not have a weedy garden but the weedy grasses that are pretty constant are panic veldt grass (Ehrharta erecta),Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), prairie grass (Bromus cartharticus)), and a few odd patches of couch grass. We removed a patch of Chilean needle grass (Nasella neesiana) a couple of years ago and so far it has not returned. After that experience, I realise how useful it is to definitively know how to identify the grass weed species as much as the natives.
In the next newsletter, my subject will be the daisies we have introduced (or tried to introduce) into our garden.
Initially I had hoped to write an extensive piece on the 5th Stipa Native Grasses Association Conference, Native Grasses for a Thirsty Landscape, held 7-10 October 2007 in Mudgee, and the FoG-Stipa field trip which followed it. Unfortunately, space in the newsletter is limited.
Stipa published the proceedings in advance of the conference, and these are an excellent read. However, the written paper does not always capture the excitement of the presentations (two different media). Additionally, not all presenters provided a copy of their talks, and one that is a serious miss is Leanne Liddle’s talk on Indigenous land management in north west South Australia. Sheis an astounding young aboriginal professional who works with the Indigenous people of SA on land management issues. Many other speakers were outstanding, none were poor. Most challenged traditional views about agriculture and landscape management, and provided new insights on biodiversity. The field activities on the Tuesday reinforced the innovative approach of Stipa. All-in-all, congratulations Stipa.
Following the Stipa Conference, some members of Stipa and FoG had prearranged to tour the vegetation in the region - on the Thursday we started from Mudgee and on the Friday, Wellington. The mix of people varied between the two days and at some sites others joined us.
The two sites chosen on Thursday were some distance apart. First we headed south east of Mudgee to the Windemere Foreshores, Christine McRae’s property. This large grazing property had a number of patches of white box grassy woodland with a very diverse understorey, while other patches were cleared and sometimes a little more weedy. At our first stop on the property (see photo) we found a lot to amuse ourselves with and it was wonderful to see people from different parts of south east Australia wander around and huddle over plants. We then travelled to a second spot somewhat different from the first but equally interesting. Some highlights were austral sunray and a showy Swainson’s pea (see photo).
We retraced our steps to Mudgee, then travelled to Gulgong for a quick lunch and then to Dunedoo Woodland Reserve, a grassy box woodland remnant, and formerly a travelling stock reserve. The land was flat, unlike the slightly hilly country we had left behind. The rain that greeted us on arrival did not deter us and did not persist.
The understorey was superb and we saw many patches of various plants, including everlasting, brachycome, and burr daisies, goodenia, and many grass species—one that impressed was a somewhat robust wire grass. The highlight was to see several Diuris tricolor which are yellow, white and purple (see photo). Leaving that site we travelled through some wonderful roadside vegetation but stopping was prevented as the clock ran against us.
The plan for Friday was to see Sue and Patrick Rahilly’s property, Alma, and then Bulbudgeree owned by George Taylor. At Alma we started in the lower, flatter areas and later walked a long transect from the lower to the dry forest areas. Large parts of the lower parts of Alma have been cleared and cultivated, but there are patches of high biodiversity secondary grasslands. Again, as in all sites, vegetation can change quickly from one form to another depending on slope and soil depth. Sue is attempting to use her native pasture as the basis for cattle grazing, and focuses on building up the soils to support good quality native grass pasture which in turn turns out healthy animals.
Bulbudgeree contains a stunning granite boulder outcrop and we scrambled up it to see a population of Zieria obcordata, which was commented on in the FoG Newsletter for Nov-Dec 2006. Again, as the landscape changes, so does the vegetation - the knoll was certainly different to the surrounding vegetation. Unfortunately the zieria, a highly endangered plant, seems to be seriously declining at the site, and following our trip, we tried to stir up interest in its survival.
George is very interested in pasture-cropping, and we spent some time standing in a wheat paddock with a native grass understorey. Both native and exotic (wheat) grasses were flourishing.
After George’s, we returned to Wellington for lunch and then we visited a property near Wellington managed by the NSW FATE program of the NSW Institute of Environmental Studies. Alex Baumber, who had joined us on the trip, was our host. The Institute is interested in what vegetation was present and how it might be restored to native grasslands/grassy woodlands. This was a highly modified property but we did manage to discover a dozen or so isolated native grasses and forbs.
David Sergeant who had also joined the group had invited us to see his and Beth’s property south of Dubbo. While it was a stretch to travel so far and so late, the group considered it worthwhile as by now we had moved much further west and the landscape and vegetation had changed. Unfortunately, the failing light make photography difficult.
All-in-all it had been a great trip, as we saw many varied sites over the two days and had spoken to many people about their aspirations and approaches.
9 DECEMBER About twenty people attended the combined FoG and Native Plant Society trip to Nungar Plain, north of Adaminaby NSW. The trip was led by Roger Farrow who is one of most knowledgeable people of the vegetation of the Southern Tablelands. His trips are always delightful, but require a degree of endurance, as they are usually long walks. Nevertheless, some armed with walking sticks, illustrating an enthusiasm for discovery, endured the longish trek. As promised by Roger, ‘the Plain is reputed to contain the most species-rich grassland in the alpine area,’ and it lived up to its reputation. Roger’s trips are always well researched. To ensure that nothing of note was missed, he came armed with a paper on Nungar Plain flora by Keith McDougall and Neville Walsh, published in Cunninghamia in 2002, and in the week prior to the trip Roger had explored the area to see what was flowering. The McDougall-Walsh paper refers to 206 species, recorded in a short visit there.
As Roger had suggested, most participants stayed the Friday night in Adaminaby, which enabled the group to leave the caravan park at 9am for Nungar Plain, about half an hour’s drive away. So by the morning the group was well acquainted with each other having shared food and beverages the previous night. The drive to Nungar was, as had been the drive to Adaminaby the previous night, very pleasant as in that part of the world there are remnant grasslands and snow gum grassy woodland, often with fantastic flower displays. From our vehicle on Friday, we kept an eye out for the spectacular weeping snow gum (Eucalyptus lacrimans)but did not see thing that we could say with confidence was that tree. We were therefore delighted when we arrived at the caravan park to find within a garden of many exotics a large number of these trees, the owner being very proud of this endemic snow gum.
On the Saturday, once we had arrived at a suitable parking area, we faced a longish walk in. The initial part of the journey was through slightly hilly country. We were starting to get a sense of country, with flora-rich grasslands, snow gum woodlands on the higher reaches and a stream cutting the valley floor. The first challenge was to cross a swiftly flowing creek. Then we went up a slight rise to a geodesic marker. From there we had our first sight of the extensive grassland plain, some 14 sq. kilometres, at an altitude of 1350m. It was surrounded by small hills.
The plain is very slightly undulating, but large areas, as we discovered, were boggy. The plain is dominated by snow (poa) grasses (Roger said that there were twelve species recorded) and Austrofestuca hookeriana, but many other grasses were also present, and there was an amazing flush of yellow. Normally when I see such a yellow proliferation it is flat weed and relatives, but on this occasion, the yellow comprised mountain golden moth (Diuris monticola), yam daisies, native fire weed, copper-wire daisy, billy buttons (several species), buttercup, and bulbine lilies, each with their slightly preferred niche. There was little weed of any description. According to Roger, this was an important summer grazing area, but that ceased in the 1970s. The only intrusion we observed were occasional pig scratching patches.
We made our way across part of the plain, trying to keep our boots dry by carefully placing them on tussocks or the occasional higher ground. This was not an easy trek for those with walking issues. There were many flowers along the way, and most were not quite familiar to those of us who are more knowledgeable about temperate grassy ecosystems. Amongst the tussocks we saw many other wonderful plants, including several caraway (carrot family) species (Oreomyrrhis spp.), eyebright (Euphrasia collina subsp. paludosa), and mountain celery (Aciphylla simplicifolia).
We stopped for morning tea along a stream. Between that and the lunch spot, we headed for an area containing the endemic burr daisy Calotis pubescens which is only recorded on the plain. This was on a rise of dry land above a creek. This purple burr daisy grows in thick patches and is very showy – a nice plant for the home garden!
Beyond the patches of burr daisy, we saw our first leek orchid. There were two species, possibly a third, including Prasophyllum retroflexum, which is listed as vulnerable. Leek orchids are perhaps my favourite – so the adrenalin was rushing. These leek orchids were found on the hillside, generally on well drained soils. Then we started to climb another hill and found sun orchid (Thelymitra cyanea) and a ladies finger orchid (Petalocchilis sp.).
We stopped for lunch at the top of this knoll dominated by weeping snow gum with a mostly shrubby understorey. However, these snow gums, as they are often so spindly, hardy seem to make much impression on the vegetation. The shrubs included Kunzea muelleri, Baeckea gunniana, and Hakea microcarpa, and there were a number of clumps of the vulnerable species, mauve burr daisy (Calotis glandulosa). What a place to lunch, the view was just superb.
After lunch we travelled north again crossing prolifically flowering grasslands with many of the same flowers. But one new plant to add to the list was the shrub Hovea montana. After some hours we walked uphill away from the plain, though a snow gum woodland, where we reached Schofields hut where people stopped to catch their breath. The woodland was shrubby in parts and we also wandered amongst some heath - this looked very attractive, but it was getting late in the day.
Some departed when we returned to the cars, others after an impromptu cheese and wine event at the caravan park, some the next morning, but Roger, Christine and Mike Shihoff headed south to Kiandra and Long Plain - planning the next combined event twelve months hence. Thanks Roger.
Kay and Leon Pietsch
This is Kay’s and Leon’s Christmas message.
We have spent the last three weeks as volunteer caretakers at Epping Forest National Park, in the middle of Qld. It is the only home of the northern hairy nosed wombat, all 113 of them (at the last estimate). There are none in captivity - there was one taken to Dubbo Zoo some years ago to start a captive breeding programit died quite quickly, so that hasn't been tried again. It is the world's fifth most endangered mammal. It is thriving here now, with numbers continually rising since the colony was enclosed with a dingo proof fence. So it is hoped to start a second colony in similar country around St George, several hundred kilometres away.
Being wombat caretakers doesn't mean that you get to see wombats.Some caretakers don't see any in the whole month that they are here.But we have been lucky. The first night we went spot lighting, we saw one and the second night we saw four, including a mother and baby. Last night we went again, with passengers on the back of the ute. Two of the passengers were a bulldozer driver (who does track clearing in and around the Park from time to time, and who is now making a track for mains power supply to come in) and his wife, who have made several spotlighting trips in the Park over the past five years and have never seen a wombat. But last night they saw two and were really chuffed. But the glimpses were so fleeting, that we didn't see them from inside the cabin of the ute. We all saw a couple of rufous bettongs and hundreds of roos. The roo population is very dense, a mix of eastern grey kangaroos and swamp wallabies, and it looks like a cull will be necessary soon. With no dingoes in the Park, they have no predators. So maybe we should say that we will be having a different Christmas this year, up here with the roos! The swamp wallabies even hide in the wombat holes to keep cool during the heat of the day, and can give you an awful fright when they leap out when you drive past. The wombats don't seem to mind, and there are about 300 wombat holes and only just over 100 wombats anyway.
Even though it is hard to see wombats, there is plenty of evidence of them in the form of footprints. The soil here is very sandy (essential for wombat burrows) and so it is easy to spot their footprints on the sandy vehicle tracks through the Park and around the 15 watering/feeding points that have been set up. In fact, a chore for every evening is to sweep around the watering/feeding points to see what animals come up to them during the night (the feed is standard stock pellets that we distribute). Unfortunately, the roos and birds are taking plenty of advantage of these little "restaurants" and so it is often hard to differentiate between the multitude of prints that have been left. The "restaurants" have cages over the top of them with swing doors to keep the big roos out. But the swamp wallabies still get in and the big roos still hop around them because they can smell the water inside, and perhaps the food too. Goannas are also attracted to the water. The biggest sand goannas are up to two metres long. The other day there was a 1.5m goanna inside a "restaurant" having a bath in the water trough. When we came along, it had great difficulty finding its way out of the cage. There are also lots of snake tracks in the sand, and we have seen a number of pythons, a whip snake and some other form of snake we couldn't identify.
The greatest delight is the birds. Within the park, we have identified over 40 species, many of which we have never seen before, at least never seen and identified.
It rained during our first three nights here, but there has not been a drop since, and everything has dried out a lot. It has also remained very hot, with maximums of 35 or higher every day bar one. There is an air conditioner here, which we usually put on in the afternoon for a few hours before going out for the evening chores at 4.30. The air conditioner is not very effective though, struggling to bring down the temperature more than five or six degrees. To run the air conditioner, it is necessary to start a generator because the solar panel power is not sufficient. Bring on the mains power! (Will probably be available from end January.)
We get the most air conditioning when we go to Clermont for supplies and we can use the air conditioner in the ute. As it is nearly two hours each way, and as the shops in Clermont are air conditioned, there is a certain attraction to driving 120km and back to get a newspaper or two, some fresh fruit and veg, and an icecream (and heat rash medication). Unfortunately we haven't found anywhere selling good espresso coffees in Clermont, so the rationale for going to town has been diminished a little as well. We have been into Clermont twice now, and won't go again before we leave.
We got a great bonus the first time we went in. We had lunch with the two Park rangers who are based in Clermont and who are responsible for the non-wombat aspects of Epping Forest National Park (plus 9 other parks and 15 state forests, just the two of them) and they gave us a carton of about 50 mangoes they had picked at an old homestead in another of the parks that they manage. We were supposed to share with a Qld Parks and Wildlife guy who was spending a few days out here and the bulldozer driver (who is camped just outside the Park) but they hardly had any. So it has been fresh mango at least once a day, every day since then.
We won't send any photos now because the internet connection is extremely slow. But you should see Kay zipping around on the Polaris Ranger, a golf-buggy on steroids and the major means of transport here. It is a little 4WD runabout based on a large quad bike, and we drive 40 to 60 km in it most days.
Our replacements are scheduled to arrive on 1 Jan, so we are planning to leave on 3 Jan and arrive home on 6 Jan. But if there is heavy rain in the days beforehand, those plans might have to change. There is a causeway across a major creek halfway between here and Clermont. It was too high to cross the day before we arrived, and was still running very fast at just 0.5 metres when we crossed it on the way out. It had more water than the Murrumbidgee past Canberra. But on our two subsequent trips to Clermont, it was only a trickle.
In recent years my yard has become a small experiment in site restoration with the long drought adding interesting challenges. What remains of the grass could hardly be called a lawn, but many plants do appear when the rain comes. These are mostly exotic weeds and grasses of some sort, but a variety of determined natives do go well. In the summer of 2006/07 we had some good rain and the yard came to life with a surprising abundance of plants, a lot of which were native. The most numerous native plant was the small crumbweed, or small goosefoot.
The small crumbweed is known botanically as Chenopodium pumilio. Chenopodium is Greek for ‘goose foot’, referring to the shape of the leaves; and pumilio means ‘dwarf’ in Latin. The plant is an opportunistic annual, growing quickly after warm season rain. It is low growing, often just a few cm tall, and usually less than 30 cm. The leaves are normally about 1 cm long, but can be up to 2 cm, with a number of lobes. The colour of the leaves and flowers is green or yellow-green. The flowers are small and inconspicuous and grow in dense clusters at the base of the leaf stems. The fruit is crumb-like or crumbly, and the plant sets seed, withers and disappears as the weather dries out or cools. It is an aromatic herb which prefers disturbed ground and colonizes readily. It is common and widespread in the Canberra region and throughout southern and arid Australia. The whole of the plant is shown in the drawings at half size, with a branch at normal size. A close relative is the similar but much larger plant called fat hen, Chenopodium album, which is an exotic weed that is found in gardens and disturbed areas, and it grows erectly up to about a metre or more.
When drawing this plant I had to have a specimen quite close to me because of its small size, and after a while the aroma became rather noxious. This fragrance is a protective mechanism, and the plant is actually cyanogenic, and therefore poisonous. It is unpalatable and is avoided by stock and other herbivores which value their health.
Some people may think it is just a weed, but it has other values. For a start, when you have a good look at it, it is sort of cute. But also, being a colonizer of bare or disturbed soil, it helps prepare and improve the soil for succeeding generations. Being unpalatable means that when it dies it adds to the humus layer of the soil. The dead roots also leave tiny channels in the soil, making it easier for the next season’s plants to grow root systems. There are a number of native forbs which play the colonizing role, such as blue heron’s-bill(Erodium crinitum), nodding saltbush (Einadia nutans), and swamp dock (Rumex brownii) all of which have happily colonized my yard. When the soil is made more suitable other native plants follow, and the biodiversity naturally increases.
Small crumbweed may be described as aromatic or noxious, but it is a valuable part of the ecology and evolution of native grassy ecosystems.
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