News of Friends of Grasslands
Supporting native grassy ecosystems
March - April 2009
Also available as a pdf version (1.5 MB) which includes the photos
In this issue
Please register for FOG activities with the FOG contact person who can assist with directions and possibly car pooling. By registering, you assist FOG to organise any catering and to provide you with other information you may need.
SUN 14 MAR FOG at Festival of the Forest. FOG will be joining STEP to hold a stall at the Festival. More information on page 2. We also need some volunteers.
SAT 20 MAR 9.30am-3pm Old Cooma Common working bee. Enquiries: Margaret Ning (6241 4065 or email@example.com). More information on page 2.
TUES 23 MAR 5.30-7pm FOG Annual General Meeting and dinner at Shalimar’s for those interested. To assist FOG to cater, and for dinner bookings, please contact Isobel Crawford by 18 March, and to get advanced papers and/or inquire about the annual elections, contact Al Gabb. More information on page 2.
SAT 27 Mar 9am-4pm FOG-ANU Fenner School working bee at Stirling Ridge. Please let Jamie know if you are willing to lead a weeding team, help set up monitoring points, or run the registration or barbeque, or just volunteer for weeding. Lunch provided. More on page 2.
SAT 18 APR 9am-noon Hall Cemetery working bee.Enquiries: Andy Russell (6251 8949 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
SAT 1 May FOG-ANU Fenner School working bee at Stirling Ridge. Same as for 27 March.
Sarah Sharp discusses monitoring grassy ecosystem sites (Garuwanga, 10 Jan), botanising in a wet land with Jackie Miles on FOG’s swamp trip (6 Feb) and Adam Muyt describing the vegetation at Karleila (9 Jan) - grassland in foreground and Eucalyptus parvula community in background.
FOG at Festival of the Forests
National Arboretum, Canberra
Sun, 14 March 8.30 to 3pm
FOG is combining with STEP (Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park) to hold a stall to promote our two organisations. Come along and enjoy what the Festival has on offer, see the magnificent FOG posters, and see the STEP site and learn about this exciting new venture. If you can volunteer to assist, please contact Geoff (email@example.com/6241 4065)
The Festival of the Forest is an open day with lots of stalls and activities such as talks and guided tours. More details will be advertised in the FOG e-Bulletin. This is an excellent opportunity to find out what is occurring at the arboretum which will become a major Canberra landmark when it opens in 2013.
STEP, of which FOG is a co-founder and active supporter, is fast progressing the establishment a regional botanic garden devoted to showcasing the indigenous plant communities, especially our grasslands and woodlands, of the Southern Tablelands. This is a good opportunity to see what STEP is doing. STEP will also be holding a tree planting on Block 100 from 11.30am to 12.30pm.
The National Arboretum is located off the Lady Denman Drive underpass on the Tuggeranong Expressway.
OCCGR working bee
Sat 20 Mar 9.30am-3.30pm.
Attending a working bee at Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve provides a great 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. There are some working bee tasks not using chemicals. At lunchtime FOG is putting on a barbecue. Petrol costs of 15 cents a kilometre can also be paid. See cover page for contact details.
FOG-Fenner working bee
Sat 27 March & 1 May
9.30am to 4pm
The FOG-Fenner Group is organising its first working bees for 2010 at Stirling Ridge, a spectacular woodland site which is home to the endangered button wrinklewort. The main problems here are woody weeds (blackberry, Cootamundra wattle and exotic trees) and blue periwinkle.
FOG-Fenner School Group aims to involve ANU students and other volunteers at this site and another important ACT grassy ecosystem sites, Yarramundi Reach, both sites are managed by the National Capital Authority (NCA). NCA welcomes FOG’s involvement, and is sponsoring equipment and lunches. NCA has employed a well known grassland ecologist to prepare management plans to facilitate the restoration of these sites and is organising larger tasks, not suitable for volunteers, to be undertaken.
Jamie, FOG’s energetic coordinator, needs volunteers to lead weeding teams, set up monitoring points, run the registration or barbecue, or just assist in any weeding tasks. Working bees provide a great opportunity to learn about these sites and to improve skills and to enjoy good company and food.
We will meet across Alexandrina Drive from the Canberra Yacht Club (car park on Mariner Place), Yarralumla. This is also by the lake-side bike track. Volunteers, please bring old, long sleeved clothing, a water bottle and sun protection. Barbecue lunch provided. Enquiries and registration: Jamie Pittock (firstname.lastname@example.org or 0407 265 131).
Hall Cemetery working bee
Sat 18 April 9am-noon
This is the first cemetery working bee for 2010 and we shall not hold more until spring. We shall 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.
Annual General Meeting
Conservation Council Building
3 Childers St, Acton
5.30pm nibbles, 6-7pm AGM
Followed by dinner at the Shalimar Indian Restaurant in Marcus Clark Street nearby.
Please help FOG by coming to your AGM and participating in discussion about plans for 2010. For catering purposes please contact Isobel (email@example.com or 'phone 6257 1860) by Thursday 18 March. To receive the meeting papers in advance and/or offer your apologies please contact Al Gabb(firstname.lastname@example.org or 0433 357 654).
FOG Annual Elections
Please consider joining the FOG Committee. As this is election time, positions available are for President, Vice president (2 positions), Secretary, Treasurer, and Ordinary Committee Member (11 positions). Our rules require that nominations for any position must be lodged with the Secretary seven days before the AGM (5pm 16 March) and must be in writing signed by two members and accompanied in writing by consent of candidate. The FOG committee has agreed that this may be done electronically. To discuss how, please contact Al Gabb: 0433 35 7 654 or email@example.com.
9 JAN The event had been titled Showcase with All Stars Team, and it lived up to its name. Geoff Robertson started the workshop held at Garuwanga by providing a broad context for FOG on-ground and research projects. Then six speakers outlined FOG’s on-ground projects: FOG-ANU Fenner School project (Jamie Pittock), Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve (Margaret Ning), Hall Cemetery (Andy Russell) African love grass monitoring at Scottsdale (Geoff speaking from notes supplied by Peter Saunders), golden sun moth (Sarah Hnatiuk) and STEP (Cathy Robertson). Each presentation was a powerhouse of energy. Many common themes were present, but in totality there was a wide variety of diversity and experience.
To place these into a broader perspective, Naarilla Hirsch spoke about the links between FOG’s advocacy and on-ground and research work, Adam Muyt spoke about the framework for all such work, namely Bush Regeneration, and then Sarah Sharp had the task of drawing together the common themes. These sessions were likewise powerful and thought provoking.
Plenty of time had been allowed for discussion and to draw out the lessons and refine future direction. You will hear more about this discussion in future.
After an excellent lunch many participants car pooled and travelled to Karleila, where Adam led a walk through the various vegetation communities there, including the riparian zone, several different grasslands, and different woodlands and forests - another rewarding activity.
Back at Garuwanga, the group piled into different vehicles to see that property, mentioned many times in FOG newsletters. Then it was party time as some new folk turned up to celebrate the opening of the Garuwanga Shed, where the workshop had been held.
The following morning Sarah Sharp ran a field workshop on using the monitoring methods that are presented in the soon to be released Community Monitoring Guidelines. Several sites at Garuwanga were visited.
Overall a fantastic learning, direction setting and friendship making event.
6 FEB Saturday had promised to be bleak and in fact Jackie Miles, our guide and mentor, from her over-watered property closer to the coast had suggested on the Friday that the planned FOG swamp visit might be washed out. However, Pat and Arminel Ryan were very keen that the trip go ahead and in any event the Monaro around Nimmitabel had not been deluged. Nevertheless as we looked from the bakery window early on Saturday morning, conditions look somewhat poor and the group did not hasten to venture into the wilds. The time was usefully used by Jackie to explain what she believed to be the vegetation structure on the eastern fringe of the Monaro, to the escarpment. She said that the grasslands on the granite soils were very different to grasslands on the cracking basalt soils and were the result of water logging, i.e. they were essentially swamps. Given the threat of rain and the fact that some areas on the planned visit may be difficult to drive to, it was decided to stay away from the escarpment and keep to drier country and closer to Nimmitabel.
The first site visited was the Old Meatworks Travelling Stock Reserve (TSR) a few kilometres south of Nimmitabel. This turned out to be, as Jackie had suggested, quite a nice bit of grassland - black sallee woodland on basalt, although it was somewhat weedy.The meatworks building was in itself fascinating - a huge isolated concrete building set in a pleasant riparian grassland and woodland valley. It had cost five million dollars to build during world war two and now was slowly deteriorating. The TSR was a secondary grassland on a steep and rocky slope that led down to a fascinating watercourse, on the other side of which was a woodland. There were many different plants to identify. Masters student Tim McGrath who is studying reptiles in the region and more particularly the grassland earless dragon was soon finding frogs and many reptiles. Andrew Zelnik needed no invitation to join in the search. Kim Pullen, a very knowledgeable entomologist, found many fascinating invertebrates which greatly delighted all.
Like many FOG trips it was difficult to keep the group moving. However the group finally reached Lake Williams, Nimmitabel, for lunch and the day was now a little warmer as the sun had come out. Each person produced their own lunch and talked, but it was not long before various individuals were roaming to see the many birds that were around and the grassland, containing the Monaro golden daisy, located near the lake.
After lunch the group headed south eastward and we stopped at two delightful swamps. At the first stop the rain started and umbrellas and raincoats came out quickly but there was no retreating to the cars. The photo on the cover page shows botanising in the rain. As elsewhere, there was a keen interest in the fauna. The ground fauna seen included two frogs, seven skink, two snake, and a number of invertebrate species. First time for me was seeing MacCoy’s skink, distinguished by its yellowish to orange ventral surface, something it shares with the three toed skink, also seen, although the two species are easily distinguished. The eleven participanta on the trip were pleased that the weather had not deterred them.
20 DEC Margaret, Andy and Geoff visited the property of Lynn and Scott about fourteen kilometres to assist in identifying native grasses. Lynn and Scott (in photo with Andy and Margaret) have owned the property for many years and grow fine cattle. Recently, they have become concerned at not having C4 grasses to help them through the summer months and Lynn in particular is keen to learn how she might encourage native C4 grasses to increase on the property.
We drove around this lovely property established on Crookwell basalt and sedimentary soils (see photo). We found some areas of C3 native grasses, especially wallaby and short spear grass. We also found one patch of river tussock. Native wheat grass also grew extensively. All C3.
We also found several patches of kangaroo grass, a treasured C4, and limited patches of red leg grass. While not experts on pasture management, we were able to identify the native grasses, talk about their growing and seeding patterns, and the best times to graze and not to graze them, and we hope also pointed Lynn in the direction of whom else to talk to, although she was already well versed in this area.
Apart from grasses, there was much else of mutual interest to talk about. We wish you the best of luck Lynn and Scott with your endeavours.
Reveging with kangaroo grass
28 DEC Jamie Pittock, John Fitzgerald, Linda Spinaze, Christina Zdenek and Sarah Sharp met early at Yarramundi Reach to spread kangaroo grass hay on areas that had been cleared of heavy infestations of chilean needle grass (CNG) at the last working party in September. Unfortunately, the weather beat us to the seed, and most seed had already dropped. We did however hand-weed the patches. Few CNG plants remained alive, and there was little overspray onto existing native plants – a good job done by the sprayers from the last working party.
there was a good amount of mature and immature kangaroo grass tussocks present, which were counted for future monitoring. We collected hay with some seed in it and spread it in one area, and left the two other areas - one to be reseeded with kangaroo grass in the appropriate season, and another area to be left to see how well the kangaroo grass regenerates and fills the area. No doubt further intensive weeding will be required while the cover remains low.
Message from Mount Taylor
The rain has helped vegetation on
Mt Taylor, and the weeds are thriving. However, we have a bigger problem with
vandalism, which has smashed the interpretive displays up the zig-zag path on
the north side. Only one display has remained intact so far (the summit). Park
rangers and staff and have debated the next action, as this destruction has
gone beyond belief, especially as Farrer and
other hills have had repeated attacks too.
As a group, we can assist with some photography showing the damage, the distress caused by this destruction to our group and the Parks rangers involvement in the removal of the damaged displays. We will await the Parks staff decision and action to cope with this disaster, and the best way we can assist them. Thank you to all of them.
On a happier note, reading Jim Williamson’s article in the FOG news, I though you would like to know that I found a group of anchor plants at Mount Taylor. I had been looking for them in the area where there had been many over the yearshad been eaten out. However, walking in another direction there they were! Delight!
Forbs making a comeback
I am very thrilled to find that some forbs are coming backmy white box grassy woodland.Recently I discovered a whole vista of Bracteantha viscosa (top photo). It looks wonderful, and some of the flowers were not, but cream or almost white (second photo).I found some Linum marginale, and lo and behold there was an article in the newsletter! It's such a pretty plant. Blue devil plants are up, and lots of other smallthat I don't know.
This occurs in an area where we had a very rundown boundary fence along the roadside, so instead of renewing it, we planted red box and yellow box (which used to be there) and a few acacias, hakeas, etc., and put a new fence about ten metres in.idea was to encourage the forbs which were really good along the roadside, and to give the birds a corridor. It is working really well so far, and can only improve in the future.
At his request, FOG visited Chris Devitt’s property on Williamsdale Road (4 Dec 2009) to discuss the impact of the proposed Murrumbidgee to Googong Pipeline on the box-gum woodland (an endangered ecological community) on the property. The proposed pipeline will go along the eastern (Williamsdale Road) side of the property, through areas of good quality box-gum woodland and secondary themeda grassland. Actew have already dug three holes on the property as part of the preliminary project work, filled in these holes and rehabilitated them by seeding with some sort of grassy mix (the landholder was unaware of the species in this mix).
In inspecting the three rehabilitation areas, FOG noted the presence of rye grass (an exotic grass), which was evident no where else in the surrounding grassland and woodland, which raised concerns about the quality of future rehabilitation if the project goes ahead. After six months growth it was difficult to tell what other grasses were present in the rehabilitation areas, and if all of these were already present on the property. FOG’s understanding is that one area of the proposed pipeline easement on this property was classified as non-native pasture, but we could not locate any specific area along the easement that was not predominately native vegetation. There were also some other issues, such as the exact boundary of the working easement and the impact of the scour valve and air vent (also to be placed on the property) being resolved with the landholder before he is expected to sign an agreement to Actew’s acquisition of the land. FOG has written to Actew, the ACT Planning and Land Authority and the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Water Heritage and the Arts (since the project is currently being assessed under the EPBC Act) about these concerns.
15 DEC The Chronicle, as did many other news sources, reported on the release of 42 brown treecreepers, in Mulligan’s Flat. This is the first release of animals into the Mulligan’s Flat now protected by an 11k predator proof fence. The birds, transported from Wagga Wagga, consisted of a number of family groups. Their being social animals should assist them to acclimatize to their new home. Brown tree creepers, a threatened species, were last seen at Mulligan’s Flat some years ago.
Setback for breeding program
DEC 11 700 tadpoles and 300 young northern corroboree frogs died when the refrigeration unit in their container overheated. The failure has caused a setback to the ACT's northern corroboree frog breeding program.
The frogs had been bred in captivity over the past two years. Sharon Lane from the Department of Territory and Municipal Services (TAMS) says the breeding program staff are shattered. However TAMS still has a substantial breeding population and will be able to get back on track for a planned release next year."We hope to have another 1,000 frogs produced next year based on our current breeding success" she said.
The latest determination (10/1) by the NSW Scientific Committee includes listing of several ecological communities and fauna and plant species. Those most closely associated with Canberra region woodlands and grasslands are black gum (Eucalyptus aggregata) flame robin, scarlet robin, varied sittella, little eagle and spotted harrier.
Cultivation Corner - Experimenting with seed germination
On 30 November last year, I sowed seeds of the blue devil (Eryngium rostratum), yam daisy (Microseris lanceolata), hoary sunray (Leucochrysum albicans), pink bindweed (Convolvulus erubescens) and flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi ). Within a week, the sunrays had started to germinate. I managed to germinate 20 each of the flannel flowers and sunrays and four each of the other two except for the blue devils which did not germinate at all. The others took up to a month to germinate. I then went away for a week, and in the meantime all the seedlings died except one bindweed and fourteen flannel flowers. All the seeds were at least a year old.
I did endeavour to keep them alive but there were some basic errors I think. The sunrays damped off and the yam daisies and most of the bindweed were too dry. I had re-potted the sunrays into cardboard potting tubes that I made out of toilet rolls. This is because I was carried away with the ecological soundness of it and a rather impressive youtube video of a young woman making them. I left the seedlings on a bed of damp sand in the laundry. What I had failed to take into account was how the cardboard would absorb the moisture and create a rather humid environment and so damp off the sunrays. With the others which were left in their seedling trays, I was afraid of damping off and left them in too little moisture in the sand. So much for that.
It is interesting to look closely at the two dicotyledon leaves which grow before the true leaves appear. In the case of the flannel flower, counter-intuitively, these are fine, long, medium-green and have something of a sheen. They are nothing like the true leaves which are greeny-white and woolly. We have watched flannel flowers grow before as we have a pot of them and the current ones are the offspring of the three plants we bought some years ago which dispersed their seed in the pot. The seed that I used came from these plants. The dicotyledon leaves of the sunrays are more like the plant’s true leaves while those of the bindweed are leathery and extremely shiny. This should have all given me some clues.
The seedling trays were plastic strawberry punnets with holes in the bottom that I then placed on top of the lid of the punnet (with no holes), half-filled with sand. This system worked quite well and I would use it again. I have to put the seedlings away in our small shade-house in the evening to keep them safe from slugs. I will be re-potting the flannel flowers and the bindweed in the next day or two. I had grand plans to sow a lot more seeds than I did, however, time got away and the punnets are sitting there ready for next year.
Seedlings: sunray, bindweed and flannel flower.
Stories about Joe McAuliffe have appeared in this newsletter before. Joe is known for his passion and extraordinary knowledge of Australian plants, but his passion for and knowledge of Australian reptile fauna is equally astounding. On a recent January afternoon, after opportunistically accompanying Joe and his son Jake on a brief excursion to capture nobbi dragons for inclusion in the Snakes Alive display, I found myself in Joe’s garden, looking at his very unusual collection of native plants, most of which I had not encountered before. Then we visited his reptile breeding house. Soon my mind was blown away as he showed me and told me what he was doing to breed centralian earless dragon (Tympanocryptis centralis) - photo taken at Snakes Alive Display in January.
The breeding area has a large number of open plastic tubs containing dragons. Joe started with a few individuals several years ago and now has sixty of various ages as well as several boxes of incubating eggs. The original dragonswere bought from herpetologists working at the Alice Springs Desert Park, who had captured and bred the dragons for a season and then discontinued the program, selling off the animals that it had bred. Joe bought some of these dragons, which were quite expensive. These were captive bred from animals captured in the wild.
Joe’s animals appeared to have two forms, which he calls a red form and a paler form. Keeping careful records of parents and their offspring, he was successful in breeding the dragons, but was concerned when he was left with only gravid (pregnant) females when his last male died. However, when the females successfully laid eggs Joe incubated them, and so he had his next generation. Remember that these dragons have short life spans, so there is a very limited opportunity to get it right.
Jokingly, I have often said that Joe thinks like a reptile. When I mentioned Joe’s efforts to someone involved in the Corroboree frog breeding program, she said this was a necessary precondition. Joe has great skill in finding reptiles in the wild and his magnificent photos of many Australian fauna species illustrate this. When breeding reptiles, Joe puts a lot of thought into thinking about their ecology and what will create breeding success. He has given a lot of thought to the dampness of the sand in each of his tubs. While dry on the surface, the sand has to be moist enough for the animals to dig the shallow non-collapsing burrows necessary for breeding. Generally he has gone for simplicity in placing structures in each tub, while trying to identify and supply the key needs of the dragons to maintain a healthy breeding population. Of course it goes without saying that he had to get things like lighting and temperature just right, but then he has had a lot of experience with such matters.
Once the animals have laid their eggs, several to a clutch, Joe places them in his incubator, largely his own creation. Joe long history of using incubators, and his experience with getting it all just right means that he gets an amazingly high level of hatchings. Currently Joe has three sets of earless dragon eggs which will hatch at different times and thus add to the collection.
One mind-blowing element is to look at the dragons of all ages that Joe has. The parents of course are very small but the new hatchlings are almost minute, and dare I say, cute!
So why is this so exciting! The obvious answer is that from what Joe has achieved, it may be possible to run a successful captive breeding program for this species’ near cousin, the grassland earless dragon, and to reintroduce them into the wild in the ACT region. Joe is convinced that he now has enough knowledge to do just this. Joe, as far as we know, is the only person breeding earless dragons. When the Desert Park sold the original dragons, I understand that there were several other purchasers-breeders who failed to successfully breed them.
Why do we need to do this now? Grassland earless dragons exist on a number of ACT grassland reserves – they may also be found further south around Cooma, but these may be a separate sub-species. While the creation of the reserves helped to secure their future, several threats have emerged. We have seen how drought and over-grazing by kangaroos brought a sharp decline to dragon numbers a few years back, although hopefully the numbers are recovering! There are constant development threats. In Canberra there are threats posed by the Canberra International Airport, where dragon habitat is being constantly whittled away. The Majura Freeway may also result in the removal of some marginal habitat. The proposed relocation of the long stay caravan park will also reduce habitat. In NSW there is a wind farm proposal that will directly destroy habitat. There are also the unknown impacts that may result from climate change.
In other words we have been engaged in a ‘holding onto what we have’, and not a recovery program. In the Canberra community there has been discussion of reintroducing these creatures into the Belconnen Naval Station grassland, for example. It would be a good opportunity, taking on board what Joe has discovered, to look at this possibility seriously now.
2009 has seen achievements on many fronts as evidenced by the January workshop where many FOG projects and underlying strategies were showcased.
Advocacy is the hard edge of grassy ecosystem conservation. Tremendous thanks goes to the advocacy group and Naarilla Hirsch for her work and leadership of the group. Bernadette O’Leary who stood down from this role earlier in the year had set an outstanding example of what could be achieved. I am impressed with the fine honing of the group keeping its eye on the ball, developing the art of advocacy, using its overworked resources to best effect, networking with and gaining the respect of decision makers, and maintaining a high scoring record.
The group is both pro-active and reactive. It monitors the issues, especially notices under the EPBC Act, and decides on its responses. Submissions are numerous and of a high quality (and reported on in the newsletter and placed on the website). The group researches many issues (e.g. mitigation and offsetting) to speak authoritatively and more broadly to influence the nature of the debate. It visited almost all of Canberra’s grasslands to develop workable strategies on their management. It maintains its commitment to good science and respect for those who may differ from us. Finally advocacy work feeds into everything else that FOG does, while equally, what FOG does elsewhere (e.g. contact with members, on-ground work) informs advocacy.
Communication and education
With communication and education we try to be equally strategic, focusing what messages/experiences that we want to get across and to whom and how we can build our skills to achieve our longer term objectives. Our media: News of Friends of Grasslands, our website, the e-Bulletin, presentations to other groups, participation in governance of other groups, our contribution to 2XX, and occasional pieces in the media remain of a high standard. A particular thanks to Richard Bomford for his fantastic work on the website and to Tony Lawson for keeping those e-Bulletins rolling out. Thanks to Sarah Sharp, FOG has taken over responsibility for distributing Grassland Flora and other grassy ecosystem literature. FOG has also started on a project to publish Woodland Flora in 2012. Potentially there is much more we can do on this front, especially to develop publications of all kinds, material for media and schools, etc. Anyone interested?
In 2009 FOG’s diverse range of activities included core activities (workshops/presentations and field), on-ground and research trips, visits to members’ properties, participation in community events and presentation to other groups, governance activities (committee/sub-committee and newsletter despatch), and support to other groups (participating in governance, consultations, working bees, etc). The 2009 FOG calendar provides the evidence. Activities range across a wide region and are usually effective, whether well or moderately attended. Sometimes they are undertaken collaboratively with other groups.
Each activity aims to increase understanding and enthusiasm for grassy ecosystems, develop skills, and create friendships. FOG’s program group generally coordinates the program, maintains a calendar, develops and monitors procedures, and ensures the workload is shared. This has enabled FOG to develop and diversify its program.
On-ground and research
FOG first on-ground project was the creation of Old Cooma Common Grassland Reserve (OCCGR) as a reserve where its aim was to raise the profile of an important grassy ecosystem site, involve a major partner (Cooma Monaro Shire Council) and community in its management, develop FOG members’ skills in bush regeneration and create friendships. These aims have been achieved but this requires much on-going commitment and sometimes sheer drudgery. FOG has played its part in establishing OCCGR, winning Council commitment, enhancing the local community awareness through the local media and various networks of the resilience and importance of natural systems, and enhancing its reputation in the field of bush regeneration. FOG thanks David Eddy, Margaret Ning and Jim Williamson and many others who remain enthusiastic supporters of this project.
In 2009 the FOG-Fenner Group was established to work on two important National Capital Authority (NCA) sites (Yarramundi Reach and Stirling Ridge) using this model, with the additional aim of encouraging Australian National University students’ participation. This has been a major success. NCA funded a well developed management plan, has undertaken some important work at Yarramundi Reach, and funded FOG’s volunteer work. Thanks go to Jamie Pittock who has been the inspiration, driver, major worker and insightful leader in this project.
Several initiatives commenced in previous years have continued in 2009. The Golden Sun Moth (GSM) project required a major input from FOG organising volunteers in late 2008. In 2009 there were onerous tasks of analysing results and completing the report. FOG is very grateful to Sarah Hnatiuk for her outstanding efforts on FOG’s behalf in this work, working with Anett Richter, the brainchild of the project, and her supervisor Will Osborne. The report may be found on FOG’s website. Work continued on the Hall Cemetery site removing regenerating eucalypts from the secondary grassland to protect the threatened Hall/Tarengo leek orchid and to remove woody and herbaceous weeds from the site. Thanks go to Andy Russell and his team for this effort. The African love grass (ALG) monitoring project at Scottsdale continued in 2009 and was expanded to monitor specially selected sites where ALG and native grassland were vying for dominance. Thanks to Linda Spinaze and Sarah Sharp for organising this work. The Conservation and Cultivation group encourages our learning about local grasses and forbs by growing them in gardens, met on a couple of occasions and Janet Russell and friends continued with the successful Cultivation Corner column in the newsletter.
Support to other groups
FOG continues to play a major role in two groups that it has helped to establish. The Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park (STEP) of which FOG was a co-founder with the Australian Native Plants Society has in 2009 jumped to some pre-eminence having acquired Block 100 within the National Arboretum Canberra and started on a vigorous program to establish a regional botanic garden and ecosystem recovery centre. FOG is working with STEP by assisting with publicity, working bees and governance. Kosciuszko to Coast (K2C) of which FOG was one of eight founding members continues to spread its message and activity in the Canberra region. FOG assists in organising K2C activities, communication and activities. FOG continues to be involved in the Conservation Council, especially the Biodiversity Group, to promote its advocacy of grassy ecosystems. It actively participates in Bush on the Boundary, dealing with interface issues between the Gungahlin suburbs and adjacent Nature Reserves, which are all grasslands or grassy woodlands.
Good governance is a key to any successful organisation and thankfully FOG has always been blessed with forward thinking and sensible people at the helm. The FOG committee meets regularly and provides both good direction and monitoring of FOG’s activities. Over the years much of the operational work has been delegated to the advocacy group, the program group, the publications group and the various on-ground and research work groups. My thanks go to all the decision makers who make my task an easier one. My thanks also to FOG administrative backbone: our Secretary (Al Gabb), Treasurer (Sandra Hand) and Membership and Newsletter despatcher (Margaret Ning).
The Canberra Airport Group released a draft Canberra Airport Environmental Strategy for public comment. In response, FOG acknowledged that the Canberra Airport is managing the natural temperate grassland (NTG) and listed threatened species on the Airport in accordance with the Airport’s 2004 Grassland Management Plan, but remained concerned about the continuing fragmentation and loss of NTG on the Airport. FOG reiterated its opposition to the development of the proposed northern road, and had difficulty in reconciling the proposal to build this road with the “environmentally sensitive manner” of undertaking developments and “ensuring the impact on the environment is minimized” as stated in the draft Strategy. While noting and supporting the management actions for NTG and endangered species in the draft Strategy, FOG’s view was that there must be firm boundaries placed on “no go” areas to conserve NTG and associated threatened species in the Majura Valley, including parts of the Airport site. FOG also felt that the Strategy could outline the Airport’s strategy to prevent and minimise damage to NTG when developments are being undertaken adjacent to high quality NTG areas.
NCA tree removal
The Commonwealth asked for public comment on the National Capital Authority's (NCA) referral for removal of trees on national land under the EPBC Act. As this affected Stirling Ridge, FOG provided some comments, supporting the removal of any dangerous trees but in particular requesting that removal of trees should be based in part on the NCA’s 2009 management plans for Stirling Park and Yarramundi Reach. FOG suggested that the removed trees should be offset by restoring a woodland corridor within the Park, and that consideration be given to the removal of exotic trees at Yarramundi Reach that have impacted on the grasslands in this area.
Meeting with Minister Corbell
On 17 December 2009, Geoff Robertson and I met Simon Corbell, the ACT Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, to talk about the issues FOG raised in its letter to Jon Stanhope concerning the Commissioner for Sustainability and Environment’s (CSE) “Report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation”. FOG’s letter is available on the website (dated 30 August 2009, under advocacy).
The four major issues in FOG’s letter were discussed. The first of these concerned complementary management of Commonwealth lands. The ACT government has been advised that the Commonwealth’s view is that no MoUs are needed and that the EPBC Act is sufficient to ensure long term viability of ACT grassland sites managed by the Commonwealth. However, the EPBC Act makes no provision for long term maintenance for high quality grassland sites, and only applies when development proposals are put forward. Although he has already written to the Hon Lindsay Tanner (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) and to the Hon Mike Kelly (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support) about this issue, Simon agreed to write to Mike Kelly and Lindsay Tanner again, and also to the Canberra Airport Group.
The second issue was about rezoning and designation of core grassland sites for conservation. Four reserves have already been declared, and Simon said that a further four will be tabled next year. As well, the Government’s response to the longer term recommendations in the Commissioner’s report should be released early in 2010, along with the Eastern Broadacre Study.
The third issue concerned enhanced management of grassland sites. Simon advised that annual site operational plans are being developed for natural temperate grassland (NTG) category 1 and 2 sites, and that he would see if FOG could be provided with a copy of these plans. An inter-agency land managers group is being set up, and will include TAMS and relevant areas from the Commonwealth and from Simon’s Department. If possible, Simon will keep FOG advised of the progress of this group.
There was some discussion of FOG’s suggestion that the ACT Government apply to host a number of Green Corps teams, under the labour market scheme announced by the Prime Minister last year. The view of the ACT Department for the Environment, Climate Change and Water is that Green Corps do not have the expertise to maintain or rehabilitate grassland sites, with FOG presenting the view that a Green Corps team would be effective if directed by an expert in the area of grassland rehabilitation. Geoff outlined FOG’s thinking around bush regeneration, including setting up long term funds as part of offsetting. Simon advised that the ACT Government’s policy on offsets will not be released earlier than the middle of 2010.
The last issue concerned communication and public participation. The ACT National Resource Management Council (NRMC) is coordinating a grassland forum and will contact FOG about this. NRMC are also looking at establishment of a central register of information and expertise on lowland native grassland, and will advise FOG of progress in this area.
Grassland site visits
Over three days in November and December 2009, the FOG advocacy group visited most of the NTG sites in the ACT listed in Action Plan 28. The idea was to review quickly the state of each site and to decide if there were any particular actions FOG should consider in relation to each site. In some cases FOG’s view was the same as the Commissioner for Sustainability and Environment (CSE) in her Report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation. In other cases, the condition of the site had changed in the interval between the CSE’s and FOG’s visits.
There were several sites that contained exotics such as wild oats and that the advocacy group felt would benefit greatly from one or two targeted working bees, mostly in spring. With some of these sites, once an initial cleanup has occurred, a spring working bee every second year may be enough to maintain their quality and keep the weeds under control. As well, mowing regimes in some of the Yarralumla sites clearly need to be changed to maximise retention of NTG.
In other sites, there were specific issues the advocacy group felt should be taken up with the relevant land manager. For example, the lease at Jarramlee in north Belconnen could be managed better. As Dunlop Nature Reserve is a large area that needs continuous resources committed to weeding, FOG could recommend that a special group is resourced to do conservation project work on the reserve, as well as removal of nearby African love grass as a priority and cessation of grazing during drought conditions. A couple of sites might benefit from signposting to indicate what the site was and what its conservation values were.
There are a number of sites where concerns about future development or land status arose. As far as the advocacy group was aware, some sites (e.g. Isabella Pond in Monash, the Constitution Avenue site in Reid, and ‘Cookanalla’ in Jerrabomberra ) are not targeted for development at the moment, but FOG needs to keep an eye out in case this changes in the future. Of course, developments at the Canberra International Airport remain a concern. The advocacy group felt that the native grassland on the eastern side of the Belconnen Naval Transmitting Station (between Baldwin Drive and the creek) is worth trying to save when the Station becomes ACT land and is targeted for development. At Jarramlee in north Belconnen, a map of the proposed developments in this area and the grasslands is needed, and the road reserve part of the site should be retained and looked after as a conservation area. Another thought was to include the North Mitchell NTG site and Umbagong Park in the Gungahlin Grassland Reserve” (i.e. the Mulanggari, Gungaderra and Crace Nature Reserves).
Sadly, a few sites were in very poor condition. One site in Mitchell has been basically destroyed as a native grassland, with dirt and other material dumped on top of the best themeda area and clearing of some edges of the area. The Amtech site is large enough to support a viable grassland earless dragon (GED) population, but the site itself is very degraded and is isolated from other sites in the area by busy roads.
The advocacy group intends to follow up with many of these and other issues that arose during the site visits, as time permits. Some issues might be best raised at the annual community and stakeholder lowland native grassland forum recommended by the CSE. Sites in the Majura Valley need to be reconsidered once the Eastern Broadacre Study is released (expected early in 2010). Individual advocacy group members will keep an eye on specific sites so that FOG becomes quickly aware of any changes in their conservation status that may occur. The group is also considering putting together a similar list for the ACT’s high quality grassy woodland sites.
Tony and Gill Robinson
One of the pleasant things about retirement is that you can potter around at leisure learning things that are well known to others but were hidden from you under a busy working life. While wandering around our river flat on the Murrumbidgee we noticed that some of the acacia trees (Acacia dealbata) had been damaged, exposing hollows in the trunks at ground level. A number of possibilities came to mind as to what might cause this including rabbits, wallabies or parrots. After consulting the experts it was concluded that the most likely culprits were yellow-tailed black cockatoos which are after the grubs that burrow in the stems, so called “bardi” or “bardee” grubs.
It seems that these grubs can be the larvae of moths or beetles. A web search came up with the rain moth or Australian ghost moth (Trictina atripalpis) and the beetle Bardistus cibarius but others may like to comment on these species as borers in Acacia dealbata.
Another suggested culprit was the common, or garden, fisherman who prizes these larvae as bait. This species can be eliminated as the culprit in this case, as on close inspection there were signs of scratching on the bark most likely due to teeth or a beak, unless of course the fisherman had forgotten his or her knife.
Another curiosity we have noticed while wandering about are the white blobs on purple wire grass or kerosene grass (Aristida ramosa). We had initially dismissed these blobs as a fungus growing on the dead stems but after taking the time to look at them under a lens they looked more like insect cocoons. Each was shiny or waxy, about 6-7 mm long and tapered at each end.
Consulting the experts again, it turns out that these are “scales” formed by sap sucking coccids. In this case we could find no creature inside the “scale” but there were oval objects inside the fluffy interior that could have been eggs or frass. These scales may not be peculiar to purple wire grass as on one occasion we found them on an adjacent corkscrew speargrass (Austrostipa scabra). Then again, maybe the speargrass was an innocent bystander.
Thanks to Rainer Rehwinkel, Damon Oliver, Kim Pullen, Roger Farrow, Geoff Robertson and Margaret Ning for expert advice.
Photos by Tony showing bardi damage to acacias and blobs on purple wiregrass.
On 8 August 2009, FOG members visited the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) Nursery to learn about the Nursery’s research on alpine and other rare plants as part of a strategy to enhance their chance of survival in the face of climate change. This was the third part of a trilogy of FOG activities that had focused on this project. The visit was reported in the Sept-Oct 2009 newsletter. This material was prepared by Heather for that visit. Thanks Heather.
The project has been going for three years, over which time there has been intensive seed collecting in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). The project is targeting snow patch feldmark, windswept feldmark and the short alpine herbfield communities (the communities likely to be most at risk to the effects of climate change). Seed collections from 2007-2009 have resulted in 291 conservation seed lots which include 148 species from 80 genera processed and stored to Millennium Seed Bank standards. The ANBG is currently undergoing a review which aims to make us more relevant and highlight our contribution to conservation and maintaining Australia’s biodiversity. To do this, the ANBG is looking to build collaborative relationships with research institutions such as the Australian National University (ANU).
The ANBG and ANU have successfully applied for an Australian Research Grant to build upon ANBG’s collecting program. This research will focus on seed longevity and seed storage requirements of alpine species. The researchers are Dr Adrienne Nicotra (ANU), Dr Katherine Steadman (University of Queensland) and Dr Gemma Hoyle (ANU). The ANBG will make an in-kind contribution to this project. Target species are yet to be determined, but likely to include species that occur across an attitudinal gradient that have a dormancy.
Work on alpine plants at the ANBG Nursery will follow research priorities and may include developing low altitude cultivation requirements, documenting morphological characteristics, and some kind of alpine display. Germination testing in the seedbank will continue, and this will provide the opportunity for observations and development of cultivation techniques. However cultivation of alpines is not a high priority at this stage. Our observations to date are that some species are difficult to grow. Some plants collected in KNP are now in their second winter in Canberra and seem to be declining, while others are still thriving.
The ANBG has been approached by Environment ACT to carry out a seed banking and seed orcharding project in line with the recovery plan for this species. This will involve collecting seed from the in-situ population at Lawson and growing plants at the ANBG Nursery, specifically to produce seed to be stored (ex-situ) in the ANBG seedbank. This will have a lower impact on the in-situ population than harvesting all seed for storage from the in-situ population, as only one collection from this site will need to be made.
A pilot program was conducted over the last season and seed was collected from Lawson. Approximately thirty plants grew and seed set. The rate of seed set against temperature was recorded to test the feasibility of the project and to enable planning to maximise efficiency and effectiveness in the field. The plant proved easy to grow. Seed set in early and mid season was close to one hundred per cent but drops off to about twenty per cent in autumn. In ANBG conditions, seed set increased four hundred per cent when temps exceeded 30°C. Optimum germination was at approx 15°C which means that it will not germinate in a summer storm, and germination practically stopped at temperatures above 30°C.
We know that seed viability drops off dramatically after 3-5years storage from testing seed already in the ANBG seedbank, and so to manage a viable ex-situ population seed orcharding will need to be carried out to replace seed held in the seedbank at regular intervals that will be determined by this project. In addition to the seedbanking, we hope to generate enough plants and knowledge of the species to facilitate a translocation, if this becomes a possibility in the future.
We are still waiting on funding for this species. Burrendong Botanic Garden may be interested in establishing an ex-situ collection of this species. The ANBG has conducted spoil tests from samples collected in-situ, showing no unusual results.
This plant which was presumed extinct in 1984 was rediscovered in 1988. It grows near Keepit Dam 30km north east of Gunnedah. It is threatened by grazing and fire, but is now fenced off. The ANBG has an extensive ex-situ collection, and has increased collection over 15 years by propagating using both cuttings and grafting.
The species is a single clone and cannot reproduce itself. It is thought to be sterile. The plant at the ANBG Nursery has produced one unviable seed.
We are currently having talks with Environment ACT. The ANBG has provided plants for reintroduction in the past, and hopefully will do so again in the future. This plant is currently planted in the gardens and is doing relatively well.
The Kurrajong likes to grow on rocky hills and slopes, and because of it dark green foliage, can be recognized from some distance. The foliage of our eucalypts is generally various shades of dull green, blended with a bit of grey, blue and brown, so this tree stands out. It is common to see a Kurrajong standing on the shoulder of a hill, looking quite distinctive in the landscape.
This is a very beautiful, medium sized tree, which is used as an ornamental in parks and along streets. Because of its appeal, it has been spread overseas for the same purpose. It often has a classic picture-book shape with a dense, rounded crown and clean, straight trunk. The trunk is usually wider at the base and tapering, and has grey bark with shallow cracks. The leaves are a glossy, dark green, and have a resemblance to poplar leaves. Some leaves diverge from this shape and have three lobes, and this is more common on very small young trees. The flowers are quite attractive, having a bell shape which is about 20 cm long, and are creamy in colour with lots of red or maroon spots on the inner surface. They form into loosely hanging clusters, and the tree can be covered with masses of them. The fruits are large boat-shaped pods, 5 to 7 cm long, woody, and dark brown or near black in colour. Inside the fruit the rows of seeds form, densely covered in fine but irritating hairs.
The botanical name is Brachychiton populneus and derives from features of the plant. Brachychiton is from Greek; “brachy” means short, and “chiton” means an outer covering or coat of mail, and together this refers to the seeds’ loose outer covering of short hairs; populneus comes from Latin and means “poplar-like” and relates to the leaves. It has some interesting relatives in the Brachychiton genus, such as the Queensland bottle tree (B. rupestris), which has a swollen bottle-shaped trunk, and stores water between the inner bark and the trunk. Also there is the Illawarra flame tree (B. acerifolius), in which the bell-shaped flowers are scarlet in colour and appear in great numbers giving a spectacular display.
The Kurrajong is relatively common in the ACT, occurring up to an altitude of 800 metres, and is distributed widely in NSW, Qld and Vic. It does better in limestone country and can be more common there, so I wonder if it was co-incidence that it was planted along Limestone Ave in Canberra. The natural habitat locally is woodland or dry sclerophyll forest. However, throughout its distribution it occurs in a variety of situations on well drained soils, from the wetter coastal areas to the arid plains west of the divide.
It is a slow growing but very hardy tree, and is very drought tolerant. It is not deciduous, but in exceptionally dry times can drop its leaves and appear to be dying. It normally regains its foliage when conditions improve. The seeds are nutritious and were eaten by kooris after roasting. Also, the fibre of the bark was used by some of them to make twine and fishnets. If you are interested in gaining any more information, such as the cultivation and growing of the plant or seeing colour photographs, the Australian National Botanical Gardens has a good web site, giving information about many of our Australian plant species, at http://www.anbg.gov.au
I have shown the leaves, flowers and fruit at half size in the drawing in the rectangle, and some flowers are shown separately at full size. The Kurrajong is an interesting native tree that is appreciated internationally for its hardiness and aesthetic value.
Activities organises FOG field trips, talks, workshops, on-ground works, support to other groups, property visits, and the FOG calendar. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advocacy prepares submissions and advocates for grassy ecosystem issues. It holds occasional meetings and workshops. Inquiries: email@example.com.
African love grass (ALG) monitoring holds monitoring days at the Bush Heritage property at Scottsdale. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Committee & correspondence The Committee organises, coordinates and monitors FOG activities. Members are Geoff Robertson (Pres.), Isobel Crawford (Vice Pres), Al Gabb (Sec.), Sandra Hand (Treas), Kim Pullen (Imm. Past Pres), David Eddy, Stephen Horn, Tony Lawson, Bernadette O’Leary, Margaret Ning, Sarah Sharp, and Benjamin Whitworth. Andy Russell is public officer. Inquiries/correspondence: email@example.com. Postal address: FOG, PO Box 987, Civic Square, ACT 2608.
Communication produces News of Friends of Grasslands and FOG e-Bulletin. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org (newsletter), and email@example.com (e-Bulletin).
Cultivation and Conservation encourages growing of local grasses and wild flowers to learn about their horticulture and ecology, and produces Cultivation Corner. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOG ANU Fenner School, with the National Capital Authority, holds regular working bees at Yarramundi Reach (grasslands) and Stirling Ridge (woodlands). Inquiries: email@example.com.
Financial matters, excluding membership, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Sandra on 02 4846 1096.
Grassland Flora FOG is now responsible for sales of Grassland Flora. Inquiries: email@example.com.
General inquiries Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, Geoff Robertson (6241 4065) or Janet Russell (6251 8949).
Golden sun moth In 2008-09, FOG conducted a major survey of GSM in Canberra region. Inquiries: email@example.com. Report (2MB pdf file)
Hall Cemetery, with ACT Government,holds regular working bees to protect the Hall leek orchid and generally restore the site. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media spokesperson Geoff Robertson (6241 4065). FOG is a regular contributor on Radio Landcare, Tues 9-10am on (2XX, Canberra 98.3FM).
Membership and newsletter despatch See Membership box (page 11). Newsletter despatch is fourth Tuesday of Feb, Apr, June, Aug, Oct. To help, contact email@example.com.
Old Cooma Common (OCC) with Cooma Monaro Shire Council manages the OCC Grassland Reserve. Working bees are held twice yearly. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park (STEP) FOG helped establish STEP (at Canberra’s International Arboretum), a regional botanic gardens and recovery centre to showcase local ecosystems, especially native grasses and forbs. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woodland Flora is planning the production of Woodland Flora, the sequel of the popular Grassland Flora. Inquiries: email@example.com.
Website (www.fog.org.au) full of FOG information, back issues of News of Friends of Grasslands, and program details. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends of Grasslands Inc.
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608