News of Friends of Grasslands
Supporting native grassy ecosystems
March - April 2009
Also available as a pdf version (1.5MB)
In this issue
More information on each activity is provided on page 2.
Sun 1 MAR 10am-noon Golden Sun Moth Site Clean Up at Franklin/Mitchell Grassland, Enquiries: Anett Richter (firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 02 6201 2937), or http://events.cleanup.org.au/?fog. Note: logon and password is ‘fog’ but the map is misleading.
Wed 11 MAR 9.30am-3.30pm FoG African Lovegrass Monitoring at Scottsdale, Enquiries: Sarah (02 6251 email@example.com).
Sat & Sun 21&22 MAR Visit to Wadbilliga Enquiries: Roger Farrow (02 6236 3105, 0427 431 275, or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sat 4 APR 9 am-1pm
(then BBQ lunch), FoG - ANU Fenner School Group, working bee at
Yarramundi Reach, Enquiries: Jess Drake
Sun 5 APR Scottsdale to Colinton, then Ingelara Railway Walk. Enquiries: Janet (email@example.com or 6251 8949) before 2 April.
Sat 11 APR 9.30am-3pm Old Cooma Common working bee. Enquiries: Margaret Ning (margaret.ning@fog. org.au).
Sat 18 APR 9am-noon Hall Cemetery working bee. Enquiries: Andy Russell (6251 8949 or andy.russell@fog. org.au).
FoG’s alpine trip: Top: Merrit’s Creek, Middle: Greg, Heather and Joe, and bottom: Spencer’s Creek.
General note on FoG activities
For any activity you should register with the contact (see page 1) who can assist with directions and possibly car pooling. By registering you assist FoG to organise any catering and provide you with other information you may need.
GSM Site Clean Up at Franklin
Sun 1 March (10am-noon)
This is FoG’s contribution to Clean Up Australia Day. Anett Richter has kindly offered to organise the clean up of this site, at which Golden Sun Moth were seen in good numbers during this year’s flight season by Kris Nash. Kris also noted a reasonable amount of rubbish at the site due to housing construction and building activities near the grassland. This is an opportunity to check out this somewhat neglected grassland, in the south east-corner of Franklin (ACT) and to contribute to the Australia wide “Clean Up Australia” activity. Access is from Flemington Road. Look on the west side of the road between Lysaght Street and Nullabor Avenue for Anett’s blue Holden station wagon with balloons attached. Bring gardening gloves, long pants, sturdy shoes, hat and something to drink. Morning tea provided.
ALG Monitoring, Scottsdale
Wed 11 March (9.30-3.30) This is the third African lovegrass monitoring FoG has held at Scottsdale. On this occasion, we will be joined by Jim Radford, Bush Heritage's Ecologist, to discuss other monitoring options at Scottsdale. Lunch is provided.
FoG/ANPS Visit to Wadbilliga
Sat & Sun 21&22 March
This trip, led by Roger Farrow, will visit the rich grasslands (the trigger plant grasslands) at Karleila, on the Countegany Road between Nimmitabel and Numeralla, and the grassy swamp, heath and other areas of the Wadbilliga National Park (such as Wadbilliga Trig, gentian swamps and Mt Kydra). The group will camp on Friday and Saturday nights at Karen’s and Michael’s property, next after Karleila, on the former southern access road into the park through a locked gate, opened for us. Bring all drinking water - washing water, fireplace and toilets available. You may join for either day, but be there by 9am - two hours from Canberra.
FoG - ANU Fenner School
Working bees at Yarramundi Reach and Stirling Ridge
The FoG – Fenner School Group has been recently formed by Jamie Pittock to engage ANU students, under FoG’s auspices, and working with the National Capital Authority, to work on two important remnant grassy ecosystem sites as a restoration project. The sites are the natural temperate (themeda) grassland at Yarramundi Reach and box woodland at Stirling Ridge sites. On 4 April, work will commence at Yarramundi Reach and on 2 May at Stirling Ridge. Morning tea, lunch and tools will be provided on both occasions.
FoG/K2C Railway Walk - Scottsdale to Colinton then Ingelara
Sun 5 April
FoG will be combining with Kosciuszko to Coast for this unusual and logistically challenging event. It will involve walking along sections of the railway line with vegetation experts who will describe the fascinating landscapes and vegetation. We plan to assemble at 8.45am at the Colinton Rest Area (approx 13km south of Michelago). The rest area is on the right side and is well marked and visible from the Monaro Hwy. Park your car and then be shuttled down to Scottsdale where we will commence the walk. The walk is on a flat gradient and is about 7kms in distance back to the rest area. As an added option we then drive ourselves to the biodynamic Ingelara property (1 km away) to eat our lunch beside the huge swan riddled lake and then take another shorter walk to the railway through revegetating yellow box. Afternoon tea (coffee, tea, water and a bickie) provided. Bring lunch and whatever you need for the day.
OCC working bee
Sat 11 April 9.30am-3.pm.
Attending a working bee at Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve provides a good opportunity to visit a good example of one of the most interesting and diverse basalt grasslands on the Southern Tablelands. You will see expansive views of the Monaro landscape, develop skills, and catch up with other FoG members. OCCGR is 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. It contains two threatened and one rare plant species. At lunchtime we buy lunch and retreat to a more shaded area. (there are some tasks not using chemicals)
Hall Cemetery working bee
Sat 18 April 9am-noon
This is the first cemetery working bee for 2009 and we will not hold more until spring. We will be removing regenerating eucalypts, which are threatening orchids in the grassland areas, and woody weeds (cutting and daubing) in the woodland paddocks. Please bring gloves and tools. Morning tea will be provided. The cemetery is on Wallaroo Road about 200m from the Barton Highway.
Photo: Happy folk at the AGM. Also see photos on pages 3 and 11.
Membership renewal receipts
Apologies for taking so long to despatch receipts for 2009 renewals. The bottleneck (me) is doing her best to have it all up-to-date by this newsletter.
SAT 21 FEB Seventeen members attended FoG’s AGM. In his President’s report Geoff Robertson pointed out the achievements of FoG during the last twelve months and thanked the large numbers of FoG volunteers who put in a large and effective effort thus making FoG the success it is today. FoG has had to change and adapt in recent years and a new governance model has evolved, where the role of the committee ‘is to receive reports, approve financial decisions, develop policy and direction, and adopt good governance. More and more, operational decisions, within broad guidelines, are left to subcommittee, projects, appointees and office holders. This model works because our governance philosophy is to have respect for and empower volunteers, minimise burden on volunteers, not act as a bureaucracy, and allow the creative energy to flow’ he said. He added that the role of subcommittees and project teams had grown apace. The model for the project teams had started with the Old Cooma Common project. Now there are groups taking on responsibility for chunks of FoG’s work such as the advocacy group, the Hall Cemetery group, and the cultivation and conservation group. In recent years several individuals had come to FoG with exciting proposals. Out of these have grown the African lovegrass monitoring group at Scottsdale, the golden sun moth project, the FoGANU Fenner School Group, and a proposal for FoG to take over responsibility for distributing Grassland Flora and the production of a new book on Woodland Flora.
Following his report there were a number of questions and useful suggestions made.
Geoff also gave a short presentation on how the FoG program is currently organised and asked for ideas and suggestions.
A lengthy set of agenda papers were distributed to those present. The papers contain copies of the annual accounts, the president’s report (published on pages 11-12 of this newsletter), FoG’s strategic plan, a draft 2009 work plan, a statement on roles and responsibilities, and a copy of FoG’s program for 2008 and 2009. Copies of the papers are available on request from Geoff.
Elections resulted in most people keeping their present positions. However, Bernadette O’Leary did not stand for secretary, but will stay on the committee, and Sarah Hnatiuk did not stay on the committee but will remain active in the ALG monitoring group and the GSM project.
As no one else took on the position of Secretary, we have an important vacancy to fill (see advertisement in next column). Details of committee members are found on the back page.
When the meeting finished after ninety minutes, the group got busy with the barbeque. True to tradition, meats and a sumptuous quiche were provided by FoG and fantastic salads and desserts, etc. provided by committee members. The committee is to be congratulated for its year’s achievements and catering skills.
Booklet on Gungahlin, ACT
22 JAN The Conservation Council released Our Gungahlin Environment E-news, published by Tim Palmer and Anna See who are employed under the Community Engagement in Conservation project. They are planning a booklet entitled Gungahlin's Treasurers: a guide to interpreting the region's heritage. They are seeking assistance with this project. They also mention that a special opportunity exists to help establish a community garden within Forde and are looking for volunteers to establish and maintain a vegetable and a native garden.
FoG has already been assisting the project by taking Tim and Anna around some of the grasslands in Gungahlin. If anyone wants to receive updates on what’s happening in the Gungahlin Environment, they should contact gungahlin@ consact.org.au, or phone 02 6229 3204.
GSM Wrap Up
SAT 14 FEB Thirty-three people, mostly moth counters, attended the Sun Moth Wrap Up at the Discovery Centre. Anett Richter, coordinator of FoG’s GSM project, reported on the project’s achievements and outlined how the project might be developed and financed in future years. Already, the ACT Government is showing a keen interest. Attendees provided useful observations and comments. Ted Edwards gave a short presentation on a sun moth (Synemon collecta) not known to be in the region but recently discovered in Canberra.
Anett reported that some 40 people trained and 37 volunteers undertook the field work. These included FoG members, government agency staff and Canberra University people. Project supporters included the Defence Department, the Airport, Commonwealth, NSW and ACT Governments, and of course WWF who funded the project from NHT funds. WWF placed the golden sun moth on its list of ten Aussie Battlers – endangered species who need help to survive. More work is required to wrap up the project, and to draw up a list of habitat management plans.
1 JAN In late December, Margaret Ning and Geoff Robertson were contacted by an excited George Taylor about his discovery of a new population of Zieria obcordata on a neighbour’s property near Wellington, NSW. The three visited the property on New Year’s Day. The neighbour was surprised by the excitement but admitted it was ‘catching’. FoG became involved with the zieria almost by accident, but through the enthusiasm of FoG members and the active support by the Australian National Botanic Gardens, interest in this particular species has greatly increased. The New Year George found yet another population. This increased the known numbers of these plants in Australia by over fifty percent (to c.150 plants).
STEP Tree Planting, 15 March
In 2002 some members of FoG and the Australian Native Plants Society established Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park (STEP) to create a regional botanic garden focussing on the vegetation of the Southern Tablelands. STEP recently received the go ahead from the ACT Government to display and provide educational programs for some key ecosystems for the Southern Tablelands in a section of the Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens known as Block 100. The first plantings of overstorey trees will be on 15 March. This will be followed by understorey plantings and ground cover plants in ecosystem groupings.
Photo: George Taylor and Margaret Ning
FoG members are invited to attend a ceremony to mark the planting of the first trees in the STEP at 10:00 am on Sunday 15th March in the Arboretum. The tree planting is part of the first Festival of the Forests to be held at the same venue. For further information and/or to offer assistance contact Tony Lawson asap (firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 6161 9430). Also see www.step.asn.au.
FoG wins plant ID prize
FoG won $500 in the Braidwood Showground Native Pasture Competition and shared their winnings with second place getters, the Braidwood Urban Landcare Group. The Braidwood Showground 355 Committee and the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare Council ran the competition to see which group or individual could record the most flora species. This information will be used as a baseline data set to begin monitoring changes in the pasture over time. The Committee has recently destocked the showground and is working with Landcare to improve the biodiversity values through planning and further tree plantings.
FoG members Margaret Ning, Andy Russell and Sandra Hand recorded 136 flora species, which included 61 native species (inc. 12 grasses), and 75 exotic plants. FoG is no stranger to the Braidwood region.
Visit to Harold Cross
SAT 13 DEC A small FoG contingent visited Warreen, a 40 acre (16ha) property, about 800m+, in the Harold's Cross area near Braidwood. Mary Appleby and Geoff Robertson led the party, after indulging in a scrumptious morning tea of scones, jam and cream that Mary brought. One of the owners, Libby, accompanied the group and welcomed opinions/ advice on documenting and managing the property. While Libby obviously knew a lot, she and other group members were keen to learn more. The group wandered through a surprising number of landscapes and vegetation communities, given it was a relatively small plot of land. These included a riparian gully, a dry forest, black-sallee and ribbon-gum/ peppermint woodland, a large area of native grassland and boggy patches running down to the creek. Mary made an extensive plant list. A truly wonderful experience!
6 NOV Six FoG members, including Peter Saunders, attended the second African lovegrass monitoring survey at Scottsdale, and after some relatively fun work, Peter put on a fantastic barbeque. The first monitoring took place on 17 March 2008 (see May-June newsletter) and Peter wrote up the methodology and results in the July-August issue.
Peter has now presented FoG with the results of the second survey which he discussed at the recent ALG control workshop (see last newsletter). It is of course too early to discern any change since the first survey. On 6 November the monitors undertook 20m x 20m plot plant surveys within each of the five monitoring sites, some of which have small scattered remnants of natural temperate grassland – will these be sources from which NTG can relaunch? Between 17 and 35 species were found in each plot. Native grassland species varied between 2 and 18, and exotic grasses and forbs between 4 and 28 species. Copies of results to date are available from Peter (email@example.com).
20 DEC At part of the Conservation Council’s Biodiversity Group, I visited the northern end of Throsby which sits between Mulligan’s Flat and Goorooyaroo. The Council has been advocating that this area should be retained as a corridor and buffer area for these two large woodland and secondary grassland reserves. Having been led to believe that the area itself was ‘clapped out pasture’ we were surprised by what we saw which were extensive areas of high quality and largely weedless native wallaby grass pastures. As we advanced through the area, we observed a diversity of grasses and many forbs, some 33 in all, including many patches of blue devil, lemon beauty head and chocolate lily, suggesting that the area was a natural grassland and possibly even natural temperate grassland. Given the prevalence of Austodanthonia carphoides we started seriously looking for golden sun moth and to our delight we saw a lone male. The group were also delighted to see three shingleback lizards sunning themselves in the grassland.
7 JAN Today with Tom Baker, I visited the Poplars, a large privately owned natural temperate grassland and box woodland property on the outskirts of Queanbeyan. The Poplars figured heavily in FoG’s early history, but this was the first time that I have actually been on site, apart from an occasional look over the fence. Despite the lateness of the season and hot dry weather, the site was spectacular. There were extensive patches of button wrinklewort, blue devil, hoary sunray, lemon beauty head, common everlasting, and yellow rush lily, not to mention many others flowering vigorously. The woodland area is vigorously regenerating and to Tom’s delight there is a good population of holly leaf grevillea (Grevillea ramosissima), a regionally uncommon plant.
The Poplars is located on the zone where woodland merges into native grassland and is adjacent to Letchworth Nature Reserve on the west side of Lanyon Drive and across the border from ACT grassland nature reserves. Many would like to see the Poplars become a grassland/ woodland reserve, but this will not happen until various urban planning issues, which Tom has been closely monitoring over many years, have been resolved.
In recent years, the weeds have been getting the better of the argument, and Tom last year pursued a weed management plan, arranging with the assistance of Queanbeyan Council, Greening Australia, NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and Queanbeyan Landcare, a weed management strategy. Tom was able to show me the results of that work. Large areas of woody weeds have been sprayed by the owner, the serrated tussock was sprayed by contract sprayers, and volunteers hand removed and cut and daubed many herbaceous and woody weeds. Still there is much more to be done and more grant applications and working bees are planned. If you would like to know more about this work, please contact Tom Baker on mobile 0415 839 017 and home 02 6297 4920.
FoG petrol money
FoG was recently given $2,500 for petrol money for volunteers, under the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs' Volunteer Grants Program. FoG will be paying its volunteers, on a first come first served basis, 15 cents a kilometre for attending any of the following FoG activities in 2008-09: a working bee, a stall, golden sun moth training and field work, and committee, collation or workshop meeting. Payments will also be made to persons who organise activities, provide presentations to other groups, represent FoG at meetings, or provide transport to others. We will be asking many of you to put in claims.
Leunig: Gentlemen make passes at women who wear native grasses. 13 Dec, Sydney Morning Herald
I've included summary information on recent advocacy below. Copies of submissions and related letters are made available on the FoG website at www.fog.org.au.
FoG made a submission on the environmental impact statement for a proposed computer data centre campus and natural gas cogeneration facility (Canberra Technology City) at Tuggeranong, under ACT legislation. FoG noted that part of the pipeline route is adjacent to the Jerrabomberra Grassland Reserve, protecting lowland native grassland and a core conservation site in the Action Plan 28; some private land outside the reserve includes lowland native grassland values; both the gas pipeline and the electricity lines proposed will affect some mature native trees. FoG expressed concern that accidental damage may occur to remnant grassland during the construction phase, and potentially in the maintenance phase, and urged that this risk is noted, and that every effort is made to keep all construction/maintenance activity away from the remnants, and to minimise tree loss. FoG suggested mitigation measures.
FoG made a submission on the EPBC referred (08/4621) ActewAGL 132kV sub-transmission line, Williamsdale to Theodore. FoG noted that the proposed route goes through the middle of Box Gum Grassy Woodland, a threatened ecological community, in Rob Roy Reserve (part of Canberra Nature Park). FoG's comments included: concern re routing public utilities through conservation reserves; potential loss of woodland within the reserve (along the proposed alignment) and for accidental damage outside that alignment, during both the construction and maintenance phases; need for ACT Government/ ActewAGL standard operating procedures for line management in reserves; and a response on proposed 'compensatory habitat' (offset - specifically and re general approach). FoG suggested mitigation measures.
FoG made a submission to the independent inquiry into the EPBC Act (Cth), in response to matters raised in a discussion paper: FoG noted that the size and complexity of the Act was reflected in the number of matters/questions provided to comment against. Given limited resources, FoG's approach was to reflect on its experience of commenting on referrals in recent years, and refer to relevant correspondence previously sent to The Australian and ACT governments. FoG sought 'an improved EPBC Act that protects biodiversity (not simply that documents what is to be lost) and provides opportunities for effective community participation in decision making'.
FoG received a substantial response from the Chief Minister Jon Stanhope on its letter (12/08) re the new ACT government.
Cultivation Corner - Vittadinia
I drove along Bandjalong Crescent (Aranda, ACT) last week to post a letter and noticed a vittadinia growing in the gutter outside the Aranda shops which are slowly becoming derelict. The daisy was well past its flowering and was covered in characteristic fluffy heads. There was another specimen growing out of what remains of a red brick wall that looks as though it had been partially raided for some of its bricks. I checked the waste ground around and spotted two epilobium plants with their slender silvery seed pods catching the very hot afternoon sun. Australian plants’ capacity to survive days of punishing temperatures on exposed open ground always astonishes me.
I have never seriously tried to grow vittadinia but have thought that I would like to try to get them established in our woodland garden at the front. They grow in the woodland areas of Aranda that border Belconnen Way and Caswell Drive, and they also grow in Aranda Bushland. I was interested to see that they are not considered horticultural specimens either in Wrigley and Fagg’s, Australian Native Plants or in the current edition of Australian Plants for the Canberra Region (published by the Australian Native Plants Society, Canberra Region). There are no entries on vittadinia in either of them. The vittadinia I found is likely to be Vittadinia. cuneata as this is the species that has been found in Aranda Bushland. Its common name is fuzzweed which is very evocative of the vittadinia which develops a mass of small dandelionlike seedheads. I find this stage of the plant as attractive as when it is flowering. It does not seem to have any nutritional or medicinal uses and stock seem to graze it only when other more palatable species are absent. It seems even camels in the Northern Territory do not find the local vittadinia species there very tasty and they rarely eat them. This allows this species to be a great survivor.
Fuzzweed is widespread and grows in all the eastern states and Tasmania and seems to not favour any particular habitat, although Burbidge and Gray in Flora of the Australian Capital Territory states that it is common in grassland, woodland and dry forest habitats. It is also one of those plants that will quite happily grow in disturbed areas typified by those that I found in Aranda. It is interesting how Chilean needle grass and African lovegrass can migrate and seed everywhere, and yet often local plants, even though they can behave like weeds, do not seem to find their way into local gardens. There was a grass verge in Bandjalong Crescent that was once sporting a pretty crop of bluebells (Wahlenbergia sp.). I went by there again within a day or two and there was no sign of them. They had been mown down.
If there was a native plant corridor through the suburbs, we could now be enjoying in our gardens the convolvulus, epilobium, and vittadinia, and who knows what other species, along with the wallaby grass (Austrodanthonia sp.) and weeping grass (Microlaena sp.) that form the basis of the woodland understory in our garden.
On Friday night, 2 January, a largish contingent of FoG members, some travelling from diverse areas, gathered at Thredbo Village for the beginning of FoG’s two day alpine trip. FoG had organised the trip with Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) staff, Joe McAuliffe, Heather Sweet and Greg Flowers (see photos cover page) who have been working on the alpine project, namely studying alpine plant community adaptation to climate change, for some time now. The aim of the trip was to acquaint FoG members with alpine vegetation communities, and to hear first hand the methods used in this project. Joe had given a presentation on the project at the What have FoG members been doing event in July 2008. FoG has since written to ANBG Director, Anne Duncan, congratulating the ANBG for designing and undertaking a project which is important in concept, simple yet effective in methodology, and has broad application well beyond the immediate project.
The project has several aims. The first is to identify and collect a herbarium specimen for each species within each alpine vegetation community, thus facilitating the updating of the taxonomy of each species. The focus on linking each species to its community should also assist in focusing conservation effort at both species and community levels.
Second, the project is collecting suitable material (seeds and/or cuttings), that is genetically diverse, for horticultural study purposes. This is being done under collection protocols that the project is developing. In fact the third aim of the project is to develop protocols for collecting diverse plant material. An important emphasis here is to collect material from many plants in a population rather than one or two plants.
The fourth aim is to study seed viability and horticultural potential of each species. This is the novel aspect of the project and essential for the long-term conservation of each species. As Joe pointed out, some progeny, grown in captivity, exhibit very different characteristics from their ancestors grown in situ. This is an important by-product of the study and should clarify our understanding of the taxonomic characteristics of some species.
The final aim is to devise, if possible in collaboration with interested others, practical recommendations, strategies and on-ground procedures for the recovery of rare and threatened species. Many alpine species already fall into this category. With the progress of global warming many more species will, unfortunately, also fall into this category.
After a merry evening on the Friday, the crowd slowly assembled on the Saturday and shuffled into cars and then drove to Charlotte Pass to make the relatively easy walk to Merrit’s Creek. Because the group soon strung out it was not always possible to stay with our hosts and hear their wonderful insights into the stunning landscapes and alpine vegetation communities we were travelling through. However, when we arrived at Merrit’s Creek the audience was captivated not only by the rich alpine landscapes, with which most readers are no doubt familiar, the spectacular flower displays and the delightful pools that that make up the creek (see picture on cover page), but also by the exciting discoveries related to us by Joe, Heather and Greg, who through many visits to these areas have come to know the plants and fauna intimately.
The walk back seemed somewhat harder, and weariness was starting to overtake the group by the time it reached the cars at the end of the day, but energy and spirits greatly lifted at the wonderful restaurant our hosts introduced us to.
For the Sunday, a somewhat easier walk was planned, - Spencer’s Creek to Rainbow Lake. This subalpine woodland was totally different to the vegetation we passed through on the previous day. First we stopped at Spencer’s Creek where we wandered (see photo on cover page) looking for Ranunculus productus, recorded here in the past. Joe thought that this would take some time because the plant is endangered and it was not known if it still existed here. However, within minutes the group found many specimens.
From there we travelled to Rainbow Lake, a man-made lake created in an earlier time to allow folk staying at the now disappeared hotel to fish. Again, there was a lot to be seen there, and Joe also set the group on its next task of seed collection. He figured that both FoG and the ANBG should gain from the trip. Like the previous day we saw many wonderful flowers and the occasional smattering of reptiles not to mention other fauna. It seems a pity not to mention many of the plants that we saw. So maybe at our next slide afternoon, we might encourage some members to show photos of this trip.
FoG is also planning a visit to the ANBG Nursery in August this year to see how this work is being carried out. More generally, we are interested in exploring how to develop broader (scientific and community) support for this work. Thanks Joe, Heather and Greg for an educational and fun weekend.
Photo: an alpine water skink seen on the trip.
On 29 July, I attended a European wasp (EW) workshop organised by the ACT Department of Territories and Municipal Services (TAMS) to find out more about this pest which I have encountered on our property, Garuwanga, near Nimmitabel.
Opening the workshop, Brett McNamara (ACT Government), admitted that he like others was too slow to respond to the EW as a threat and unfortunately, there was no magic bullet to control EW and its potential impacts, such as the destruction of native pollinators and adverse impact on visitor services and staff. Climate change might exacerbate the EW threat.
In her overview, Jenny Conolly (Invertebrate Pest and Weed Officer, TAMS) said that in 2007-08, there were 510 EW nests reported. The first ACT EW nest was found at Pialligo in 1984. In 2003 TAMS received reports of 144 nests. Unlike honey bees, EW nests are generally very well hidden in the ground, and are only very occasionally in trees, and even more rarely exposed under eaves.
In days gone past, EW nests had been treated for free, and while those days have gone, TAMS still keeps statistics on the number of reported nests and stings. Before 2008, there had been no funding for baiting and no qualified rangers, so minimal eradication occurred. In a recent change in ACT policy, rangers can treat nests. This works out cheaper than employing pest controllers. EWs are natural scavengers and the ACT, to eradicate them, uses the powdery chemical Permethrin in a squirty sauce bottle. Pictures of the process showed very well covered operators in bee suits, with the added protection of rubber bands around their ankles and wrists. After all, the wasps will attack if a nest is disturbed. There is a concern that baiting may be ineffective. At Woods Reserve, the destruction of three nests had minimum effect on wasp numbers.
To date, there have been 18 sting incidents reported to the EW hotline, including one to a working sheep dog! A sting anecdote mentioned was a Red Hill resident stung 28 times in his backyard while removing a nest. An interesting side effect of the wasp plague is that road kill kangaroo carcasses last longer as eagles cannot land due to the numbers of EWs on them. Jenny said that there appeared to be different behaviour between urban and conservation area EWs.
The next presentation was by Dr Phil Spradbury, social wasp expert, ex-CSIRO, and now in his own consulting business. At aged 16, he was called upon to count them coming and going from a nest, and to relate that to the prevailing weather conditions. His book Wasps: An Account of the Biology and Natural History of Solitary and Social Wasps, describes their arrival in Australasia in the1920s at a similar time to New Zealand. In Australia they were largely dormant for many years. In 1959 two nests were reported in Hobart and the numbers spread rapidly from there. In 1977-78 timber containing EWs was unloaded in Australia from NZ. Phil believes the number of nests in Canberra has increased by sixty percent in the last two years, and he does not believe that they are just being reported more.
Phil also described two local native wasp species, the paper wasp and mud dauber. (I didn’t need to hear him tell the audience that the paper wasps can also be aggressive, as I was stung by one last year while walking four metres from our garage door to our front door - a completely unprovoked attack!)
PHOTO: a picture of a nest that Margaret destroyed at her property, Garuwanga.
EW queens hibernate over winter and that can last many months. It is very easy for them to be inadvertently transported while hibernating, and as they are already impregnated they can establish a nest themselves, laying their eggs, and collecting the food to feed the larvae which then become the first worker wasps. The worker wasps then take over the foraging duties and the queen no longer leaves the nest. Phil told us that it is during this establishment stage that the queen is very vulnerable. She could get lost or be predated on. (I killed a EW queen at our Nimmitabel property in mid November last year while she was looking for a nesting place.) There are two EW species in Australia, Vespula germanica and V. vulgaris, but the latter is currently only in parts of Victoria and Tasmania.
The actual nest can be a mere centimetre, or up to a metre, away from the entrance to a nest. The wasps use water to excavate and construct their nests. The larvae are fed on protein, spiders, insects, cat and dog food, road kill. The wasps are smaller at the beginning of a season, and the queen is twice the size of the workers. The queens produce chemicals to sterilize female workers, but if there is no queen, these workers are able to lay eggs within a week. Behaviourally queens can compete and attempt to usurp. They can become cannibalistic. The wasps flourish in Australia’s conditions, compared to Europe, with its longer summers, plentiful insect prey, availability of plentiful road kill and pet food, and lack of predators. Even house construction in Australia, compared to Europe, assists them. In Europe, maximum size of nests is 8,000 cells, with 1,500 adult wasps and 2,000 new queens. Comparable figure for Australia are 20,000 cells, 3-5,000 adults and 16,000 new queens.
EWs can have a huge agricultural cost for bee keepers, grape and berry growers (via restricting bee pollination) and on native animals and plants. A NZ study estimated that in a 12 month period, one nest consumed 100kg of insect prey which was the equivalent of 3.5 million blow flies. The wasps can even predate on nestling birds, or compete for food. EWs can also make life very unpleasant for tourists, e.g. fishing.
The next speaker with many years EW research as well as 25 years bee keeping experience, was Dr Greg Sherley, NZ Department of Conservation in Wellington, who spoke on Wasps as threats to conservation assets. He mentioned another genus, Polistes sp. EWs, he pointed out, in NZ are dangerous to visitors (including anaphylactic shock), and in some areas of NZ they are so plentiful that there is a deep hum in the air. In some areas of NZ they do intensive pest control to protect biodiversity assets. He suggested the need for discussion, modelling and monitoring.
Research has not yet come up with a bio control. NZ uses the chemical, Finotron and manual removal of nests. Greg mentioned that they used to be concerned about V. germanicus but now V. vulgaris has become a bigger problem, and removing the former may facilitate build up of the latter.
The next speakers were Dr Mick Statham (Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture) and Dr Cathy Young (DPIW) who spoke on vertebrate pest control. Previously they laid baits using carbaryl, sulfuramid and tinned fish in a hanging clear container, but they have now graduated to a double-decker tin can effect which virtually operates on the same principle (but which keeps out possums), and uses Fipronil and wallaby mince. (0.1% of Fipronil to 20g wallaby bait – mixed and then frozen.) Apparently EWs are very loyal to a food source, and generally they are after protein for the larvae, not fat. He also suggested that it is worthwhile to do free feeding to check if wasps are about.
While the baits are effective, bait preparation and distribution is very cumbersome. A new bait from Patagonia (Yellow jacket by Bayer Patagonia) may soon come onto the market which would be extremely effective as it is in a freeze-dried form and works well. Luke McLaughlin (NPWS, Jindabyne), the last presenter, reported that after 2003 there was a noticeable increase in EW numbers and by 2007 about fifty percent of stone fruit crops in the area contained wasps. (I am able to add that we first sighted them at our property at Nimmitabel in early 2008, killed two nests, but were still faced by wasps buzzing around the house area around Easter time). Luke said NPWS had still been treating nests with Permethrin but it does not appear to be particularly effective. They will now be going down the Fipronil track, but there are problems of availability with this product. In conclusion, EWs need urgent attention, but controlling them is difficult, especially finding and despatching their nests. The NZ experience is that they forage up to 200m from the nests, and that they are line-of-sight fliers, i.e. they will go the least distance for maximum food benefit. They are easiest to follow in a dull light, towards the end of the day.
I think that it is extremely important that some good operating documentation is prepared, as the exponential increase in wasp numbers has the potential to take over from the drought as the biggest threat to biodiversity in this area – and elsewhere, of course. While there was some discussion of the procedure to use when destroying a nest, some potentially useful snippets were omitted, e.g. the possible existence of sentries in the entrance of a nest. The use of petrol or diesel is often brought up by people anxious to learn how to destroy nests. My own initial source of information was a fact sheet from my local Rural Lands Protection Board. This was a timely workshop.
An annual president’s report provides an opportunity to examine where we started and finished the year, to list our accomplishments and short comings, to thank all who were involved during the year, and to provide some sort of plan for the future.
The minutes of the previous AGM show that we were very concerned with governance issues and in consolidating the newly emerging direction for FoG. In 2007 FoG looked at reinventing itself by conducting a membership survey and then holding a future directions workshop. During 2008, we finalised our strategic plan, work plan and statement on roles and responsibilities. These three documents have all been tabled at today’s Annual General Meeting. I would encourage you all to read these carefully crafted documents and reflect upon them.
During 2008, we built on this edifice by holding workshops on advocacy and on-ground and extension work. These workshops, in my view, provided a clearer understanding of what we are doing and how to do it more effectively. By the end of 2008, FoG had in place a new governance model, which hopefully we shall fine tune in 2009.
Membership and stakeholders
As an organisation we are probably in close, but not necessarily frequent, contact with most members, catching up with them through our varied, in geography and content, program and activities, although there are some FoG members who just enjoy reading our newsletter. We aim to stimulate and excite our members about grassy ecosystems, to facilitate skills and knowledge development, and to put them in contact with others who share their interests. For many years we have had about 200 members (216 at the end of 2008) which is a manageable number to service.
FoG of course is very widely known amongst certain key decision makers, government agencies, academia and educational institutions, the media, and the conservation, land owner and general communities. It is highly respected for its ability to promote understanding and awareness, to capture a sense of excitement and wonder, to encourage good science and openness to knowledge, to build skills, self reliance and empowerment, to listen to and respect others, and to seek out new directions. It is important to keep our keep our membership base and to continue to build a good reputation and influence in the community.
FoG continues to provide three excellent communication services: the Newsletter, the E-bulletin, and the website. I receive constant compliments on each of these and we receive numerous inquiries through our website. Each of these instruments complements each other. Our website contains our newsletters, the latest e-Bulletin and a copy of our submissions. Communication also takes place within project teams, and the Golden Sun Moth Group has produced its own website and newsletter. We receive numerous phone and email inquiries about activities, advocacy, and grassy ecosystem issues, horticulture, about whom to contact and to request support. On the media front we have published articles in the Rural Fringe and the Cooma Monaro Express, we have a regular spot on 2XX and there have been a number of references to FoG in various literature and periodicals. We probably should keep closer track of these. However, we could lift our game in pursuing a more active media and public relations policy.
Some of the AGM attendees: from left side of table to right: Sandra, Sarah, Isobel, Michael, Stephen, Kim, David, Tony, Cathy, Leon, Kay, Kris, Naarilla, Sarah and Andy.
We have adopted a new strategy in recent years in our program and have developed a framework of all activities to which FoG contributes. We have broken this down under several headings: Main activities (e.g. field trips and workshops), On-ground work, Visits to members’ sites, Governance activities, Community activities (2XX, FoG displays at events) and FoG’s participation/ contribution to other groups. We shall be discussing the program for 2009 later in this meeting. The role of the program group (Janet Russell and me) is to develop, coordinate, monitor and advertise FoG activities, delegate responsibilities (many people are involved in organising individual events), and ensure that there is contact officer, sign-on sheets, at each event.
The founding parents of FoG envisaged that FoG would spawn many sub-groups and in the last two years we have seen that happen. FoG has a number of successful projects. The aim here is that each project has clear terms of reference and within the terms of reference gets on with a task. The creation of a new project takes much effort and often creates some jitteriness, but so far each has proven successful in achieving FoG’s objectives, adding to its reputation. The groups include, in alphabetic order, African Lovegrass Monitoring at Scottsdale, Conservation and Cultivation, FoG-ANU Fenner School, Grassland and Woodland Flora, Hall Cemetery, the Sun Moth Count, Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve, Petrol Reimbursement Project, and Property and Site Visits.
Support to other groups
FoG’s also participates in the governance of other groups or provides advice on governance and technical issues. Groups in which FoG is currently involved include: Bush on the Boundary, Conservation and Wildlife Stakeholders Forum, Conservation Council, Cooma Monaro Shire Council OCCGR Committee, Ginninderra Catchment, Kosciuszko to Coast, Monaro Regional Weeds Committee, Natural Temperate Grasslands Recovery Team, Southern Tablelands Grassy Ecosystem CMN, Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park, and Parkcare.
This needs more attention, but in 2008 we provided a presentation to a Scouting Group and an excellent program to a group of students from St Francis Xavier’s High School at Hall Cemetery.
FoG occupies the low cost niche. We have kept our fees low and most of our activities are free or only have a nominal fee. However, many members do provide us with donations. We have built a healthy bank balance and we aim to spend it to promote our education and onground objectives. In 2008 we received a grant to undertake the Sun Moth Count and this year we have won a grant to reimburse petrol money to volunteers. This year we showed a surplus, but due to our accounting practices the underlying surplus is probably somewhat lower. It is good to be in a healthy financial position.
Committee & governance
The Committee’s role is to receive reports, approve financial decisions, develop policy and direction, and adopt good governance. The roles of officer holders are set out in our statement on roles and responsibilities. More and more, operational decisions, within broad guidelines, are left sub-committee/projects/appointees and office holders. This model works because our governance philosophy is to have respect for and empower volunteers, minimise burden on volunteers, not act as a bureaucracy, and allow the creative energy to flow.
In 2009, we face many challenges which include: finding some new people to take on important tasks, ensuring that our projects work well and adapt to changing circumstances, and filling in the gaps in our mandate such as to publish more about what we have learnt.
FoG is a great organisation to be involved with. Its members are energetic, committed, thoughtful, want to learn, care about country and its people, supportive and encouraging. Many members contribute to FoG in diverse ways and never hesitate to volunteer or offer hospitality, generously contributing their time, even though they are overloaded with other commitments. Each committee member has consciously attended our committee meetings, played a major role in organising some FoG activity, and most importantly contributed to our philosophy and strategy. In the last twelve months, several individuals have approached FoG and have committed to undertaking a major activity under FoG’s auspices – a number of our projects have resulted from this. Through their ability to break new ground and their efforts, sometimes just dogged persistence, some members have achieved amazing on-ground, education and advocacy outcomes. Some members have contributed enormous hours on many fronts. Without mentioning any names, I would like to thank each of you on behalf of FoG for your outstanding contribution and I would like to thank you personally for your support and friendship.
If you are a human being, you may be able to grow a beard on your face. But if you are a plant, it would seem that you can have a beard on other places. The common beard-heath is known botanically as Leucopogon virgatus. “Leucopogon” comes from the Greek and means “white beard”, referring to the white flowers which are very hairy, and which are a feature of this genus, and “virgatus” comes from the Latin for “rod” and is translated as “twiggy”, alluding to the many thin branches that comprise the structure of this shrub. The name is pronounced as follows: Loo-co-PO-gon ver-GAH-tus.
Like the other Leucopogon species, the common beard-heath has white, fuzzy-looking flowers which are densely hairy. The flower consists of a short tube known as a “corolla”. The corolla opens at the top with five petals or “corolla lobes” with the hairs growing on the inside of the corolla and thus on the upper surface of the petals. The flower is only 5mm across, so a good magnifying glass is useful in observing this phenomenon, and reveals a dense fur-like covering of short hairs which are about a half mm long. The flowers grow in small clusters on the tips of branches or in the angle between a leaf and the stem.
Leucopogon virgatus is a small shrub, flowering in early spring. The leaves of the common beard-heath have the shape of a narrow lance head, tapering to a sharp point. These are slightly concave, vary in length from three to 18 mm, grow close to the stem, and are scattered along the branches. The branches are slender, and the overall appearance is straggly and low growing, and those I’ve seen were typically 30 to 50 cm tall. In a similar way to other members of this genus, the plant produces lots of flowers, which can hold their colour for some weeks. Leucopogon sometimes occur in large patches, presenting a fine display, occasionally dominating the understorey and giving the appearance of a light covering of snow.
A small number of other Leucopogon species occur locally, each with small pointy leaves and furry flowers, and to describe the differences between them would be difficult. But hopefully these notes and the drawing shown here will help to identify this species. In the drawing several small branches are shown at normal size, as well as a portion of a branch showing the flowers and leaves magnified three times. The preferred habitat for this plant is dry open forest, and it occurs to a lesser extent in woodland. It is widespread in our region and also occurs in some other parts of NSW, as well as in Vic., Tas. and SA.
When you examine the fauna and flora of our local grassy ecosystems, the variety of shapes and forms is quite astonishing. The common beard-heath is yet another interesting feature.
Friends of Grasslands
General enquiries: Contact Us. Geoff (02 6241 4065), Janet (02 6251 8949), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Friends of Grasslands newsletter
Do you want to subscribe to the newsletter? It comes out six times a year, and you can obtain it by joining FoG. You do not need to be an active member - some who join often have many commitments and only wish to receive the newsletter.
However, if you own or lease a property, are a member of a landcare or parkcare group, or actively interested in grassland and woodland conservation or revegetation, we hope we have something to offer you. We may assist by visiting sites and identifying native species and harmful weeds. We can suggest conservation and revegetation goals as well as management options, help document the site, and sometimes support applications for assistance, etc.
Of course you may wish to increase your own understanding of grasslands and woodlands, plant identification skills, etc. and so take a more active interest in our activities. Most activities are free and we also try to arrange transport (or car pool) to activities.
If you are already a member, why not encourage friends to join, or make a gift of membership to someone else? We shall also send a complimentary newsletter to anyone who wants to know more about us.
To join or renew
FoG membership entitles you to receive our newsletter and e-Bulletin, to attend FoG’s many and diverse activities, and much more.
The cost is small: $20 for individuals and families, $5 for students/concessions and $50 for organisations. Membership is due on 1 January each year. Membership forms are available on our website: www.fog.org.au and you may pay by cheque or electronically. While donations are not tax deductable, they are always very welcome.
For inquiries: Contact Us
Friends of Grasslands Inc
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608