News of Friends of Grasslands
Supporting native grassy ecosystems
In this issue
SAT 28 JAN 9:00am to 12:30pm Workshop on propagating native grasses and forbs. Join Warren Saunders for seed collection and propagation techniques. See page 4for more details.
SAT 25 FEB 4PM to 7:30PM. FOG’s AGM, Mugga Mugga Short but enjoyable AGM followed by the traditional free barbeque. We plan a short slide presentation on FOG activities for the year. This is an important annual event for FOG to discuss its broad directions, elect a new committee, and relax and enjoy the comfortable environs of Mugga. Venue: Mugga Mugga Education Centre, Narrabundah Lane, Symonston ACT (opposite the Therapeutic Goods Administration).
SAT 11 MAR 9:30am to 3:30pm Old Cooma Common Working Bee More details in next newsletter. Enquiries: Margaret Ning (contact details back page).
SUN 26 MAR Scabby Nature Reserve with Geoff Hope We shall visit the area between Mt Scabby and the upper Sams Creek swamp near Yaouk. More details in next newsletter. Enquiries: Margaret Ning.
Of special interest
MON to SUN, 16-22 JAN The annual reptile display by the ACT Herpetological Association at the ANBGhas much to attract FOG members, including getting up close with reptiles, and learning about the frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes of the Southern Tablelands. This year will focus on corroboree frogs – with some 50 in a special display, plus a talk on corroboree frogs. Entry fee. Enquiries: Margaret Ning.
Membership renewal - Margaret Ning
We have only enclosed renewal forms for members who have not yet renewed. Of course, if you renewed only in the last week or so, we may not have everything up to date, so forgive us for putting in a form for you. Many thanks to those who have already sent in their FOG membership renewal or waylaid me to pay it or indeed paid it while attending a FOG activity. A special thanks to those who also added a donation to their renewal amount, as it all helps to keep FOG such a viable organisation.
Cover pictures show an aboriginal theme. The top picture is a display board at Lambie Gorge (see Cooma groups get together, page 7, while the bottom two pictures show young Waradjuri men and a Yam daisy (see Visit to Forbes page 6).
Some diary dates –Margaret Ning
The following are FOG’s program dates for 2006 after March – please record them in your diary. For more details, please contact me (see back page).
Sun. 30 April. 9am to 2pm Greening Australia bus tour of revegetation sites in the ACT, and barbeque.
Sat and Sun. 20 and 21 May. Visit heathland near Mollymook with Jackie Miles.
Sat 17 June. 2-4:40pm. Presentations on Goulburn grasslands (Greg Baines) and Southern Tablelands palaeoecology (Geoff Hope), Mugga.
Sat. 15 July 10am to noon. FOG’s winter grassland tour to Blundells Flat with Mark Butz.
Sat 26 Aug. 2 to 4:30pm FOG’s winter slide afternoon: you decide. Opportunity for members to present 10 to 20 min slide show.
Sat and Sun, 16 and 17 Sept. Visit coastal heathland near Eden with Jackie Miles.
Fri. to Mon., 20 to 23 October. Visit to Terrick Terrick and Hamilton grasslands, Victoria.
Sat. 11 Nov. 9:30 am to 3:30pm. Working bee at Old Cooma Common, Cooma.
Wed 15 Nov. Lunchtime St Mark’s grassland with Benj Whitworth.
Sat. 18 Nov. 1:15 to 5pm. Discovering insects workshop with Kim Pullen and Roger Farrow. Mugga. Small cost.
Wed. 22 Nov.5 to 6pm. Visit to Hall Cemetery.
Sat 25 Nov. 10 to 11am. Mulanggari grassland with Benj Whitworth.
Sat and Sun, 16 and 17 Dec. Southern Grasslands and swamps with Roger Farrow.
Special interest to members
Sat-Thurs 19-23 March Greening Australia Vegetation futures conference at which FOG will give presentation and poster display (see page 6).
2-9 March at Twofold Bay (see page 3)
Wed-Thurs, 29-30 Nov. Australian Network for Plant Conservation ACT Grassy Ecosystem Workshop.
SATURDAY 12 NOVEMBER the FOG workshop on basic grassy ecosystem ecology and plant identification had over sixty people register and so it was a tight fit at Mugga.
As the title of the workshop suggests, the workshop aimed to explain the basics of grassland ecology. There were handouts produced by Geoff Robertson and Margaret Ning on conserving whole ecosystems, grasses: habits and habitats, and weeding to restore and protect your patch. Copies of these are available free to FOG members. They also presented colourful slide displays illustrating many points in their talks.
Sarah Sharp provided a session on her recently produced management kit (see article on page 12)and sold out the copies that she brought. David Eddy’s session on managing native grassland, was based his booklet which is also included in the kit. David challenged people’s thinking by saying that we don’t need to manage grasslands, we just need to stop interfering with them and remove the threats we have imposed.
Rainer Rehwinkel’s presentation, also back up by colourful slides, covered his work on assigning rarity values to indigenous grassy ecosystem plants – this is an important tool in assessing the conservation value of sites. Copies of his presentation should also be available to FOG members shortly.
Tribute to John Betts
13 DECEMBER Sadly, I learnt today of John Betts’ death. John was grazier, native grass enthusiast, innovator, and FOG member. John contributed to the FOG newsletter on several occasions over the years on issues about which he was passionate. Most recently he wrote on his work to remove willows along the Yass River (Sept-Oct 2003). In 2001 Tony Wilson wrote about John’s and his efforts to produce native grass seed (Nov-Dec 2001). John wrote about the production and harvesting or native grass seed and the machines employed to do it in 1998 (July 1998).
As well as well as being a champion of native grasses in the area, he is probably best remembered for being central to the founding of the Yass Area Network of Landcare Groups, making a huge contribution to engaging and educating landholders in the Upper Murrumbidgee catchment so that they would change their management practices for the benefit of the land, the river system and the environment generally. He also worked particularly hard and successfully to have the Yass Council improve water quality in the Yass River below the township.
As a mutual friend commented “most of all he will be remembered as a friend to all - wise and greatly respected. One of a few people I know who are gentle, humble and caring, and who have had big tragedy in their lives.”
Chalk up one more for the Woods
SATURDAY 22 OCTOBER It was a great spring afternoon, despite the threatening rain, at the Australian National Botanic Gardens for the launch of Don and Betty Wood's Flowers of the ACT and region: a field guide.Rosemary Blemings did the honours and many familiar faces were in attendance.
Don and Betty are well known around Canberra botanic circles for their three-volume books on the NSW South Coast flora, which are never far from me when I am looking up this or that plant. Now they have produced a similar book on Canberra and the region.
The new book has over 500 colour photographs and brief descriptions of native and exotic flowering plants and conifers found in the region. It excludes eucalypts, grasses and sedges. Like their previous books, flower illustrations are grouped by colour. A great addition to my library. Congratulations to both of you.
Above: Betty and Don Wood talking to Jill Langdale Smith at the second visit to Tarengo. Below: COG and FOG members assembling for visit to Callum Brae woodland.
Twofold Bay in March anyone?
For anyone interested in a weeks holiday at Edrom Lodge, a beautiful old home on Twofold Bay opposite Eden, I have the lodge booked from 2 - 9 March 2006. The lodge sits on a headland and has its own beach in twofold bay, great snorkelling, canoeing, swimming, fishing, bushwalking, cliff top walking, exploring by car. The verandah is about 15 ft wide and looks over the bay to Eden. Ben Boyd National Park is the back yard.
The accommodation is backpacker style, (nothing flash) cook your own meals and bunk beds (one person per double bunk). I need 30 people to make the cost $25 per person per day. Deposit of $100.
I can be contacted on phone 4846 1096 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Limit 25-30 people.
SATURDAY 22 OCTOBER the first assembly point was just outside Hall where people gathered to travel to Boorowa to visit the Tarengo leak orchid. When we arrived at the reserve, we were joined by FOG member Jane from Orange, and a friend.
The leek orchid and blue devil (still green) were so thick on the ground that some people used the red leg grass tussocks as stepping stones not to tread on them. Numerous other plants were present such as creamy candles, scaly buttons, greenhood and onion orchids, and many grass species. The colours and mosaics were simply magnificent. However, the kangaroo grass areas were largely devoid of other plants and some disturbed areas are under attack from St John’s wort.
The Tarengo leek orchid, a threatened species, is only known from three sites – this being the most prolific. Another delight was to see brown skylarks. Then it was a race back to Canberra for the launch of the Wood’s book (previous news item).
Two months later (10 December), FOG members again assembled in Hall to travel to the Tarengo Reserve, and were again met there by Jane. No sign of the leek orchid, but this time there were numerous wedge diuris (Diuris dendrobioides), the blue devil had taken on many growth forms and various shades of bright blue, another onion orchid was present as well as many other plants of interest including smooth flax lily (Dianella longifolia). This time it was a sunny but very windy day.
Could not see grass for trees
SUNDAY 23 OCTOBER Canberra Ornithologist Group (COG) and FOG teamed up to visit Callum Brae yellow box red gum woodland. Originally the plan was to visit the Jerrabomberra Grassland Reserve but just prior to the event, a check on access revealed that there was no access off any nearby road. Plan B was quickly improvised with a flurry of e-mails, etc. and a new visit arranged to Callum Brae woodland. A surprisingly large number of people arrived despite the heavy black clouds, but the rain held off.
The woodland was a delight with many species of grasses and forbs illustrating what the understorey of a woodland should look like, although there were some weedy patches, especially under trees where fertility was much higher. For both plant lovers and birdos the trip was a success and fifty-four bird species were sighted.
19-20 NOVEMBER The name alone Garuwanga enticed me to Margaret Ning’s and Geoff Robertson’s property for COG’s and FOG’s November visit. Our group totalled ten including Margaret and Geoff. Garuwanga truly is a beautiful place and despite trekking many kilometres across it I felt there was still so much hidden away, waiting to be discovered.
We did discover three new orchid species for the property. The delicate almost shy-looking Caladenia hildae, the orchid highlight (for me), is listed as rare in NSW. A lone greenhood Pterostylis bicolor which miraculously survived being trampled on by eight birdwatchers was also a newie, as was a golden moth orchid Diuris chryseopsis.
Seas of golden and orange peas intermixed with daisies large and small provided spectacular groundcover. Minute veronicas and pratias and other almost invisible flowers were shown to us by a very enthusiastic
Margaret, as we spent a great deal of time examining the ground and forgetting about looking for birds! Margaret named flowering plant after flowering plant; I quickly jotted names down and recorded over 70 species (I missed a lot too!). Many weeds were ‘beheaded’ by mattock-wielding Margaret or Geoff!
Throughout Garuwanga massive ancient granite boulders have been weathered to create artistic shapes, and I couldn’t help but wonder if any were still waiting to bounce down onto unsuspecting birdos! Geoff and Margaret led us on several walks over the two days which was what we needed to walk off Barbara Cumming’s yummy banana cake and Sue Lashko’s scrumptiumptious cheesecake! Pot-luck dinner on Saturday night was followed by John Cummings’ flute performance.
Animal highlights included a wombat out for a daytime river-side stroll, a couple of baby water dragons trying to look fierce, and an adult male water dragon looking very fierce, showing off its neck of bright yellow. Regrettably only two of our group saw the resident platypus cruise its territory – the rest of us were watching a kookaburra feed young (see Jack Holland’s report). Charles and I were the only campers, and as we packed on Sunday afternoon a family of three Cunningham skinks lazed nearby on a flat rock no doubt waiting for us to go and once again leave them in peace at Garuwanga. I could understand their impatience!
Workshop on propagating native grasses and forbs.
SAT 28 JAN 9:00am to 12:30pm
Join Warren Saunders on seed collection and propagation techniques, and (if you wish) take away and grow in your garden (or property) some of your favourite grasses and forbs. The workshop covers collecting seed at one of Warren’s sites, and planting them in seed boxes at Seeds and Plants Australia to propagate them. You need to bring a polystyrene box to take home plants. Target species include river tussock (Poa labillardieri),snow grass (P.sieberiana), kangaroo grass (Themeda australis), wallaby grasses (Danthonia spp.), spear grasses (Austrostipa spp.), weeping grass (Microleana stipoides), red leg grass (Bothriochloa macra), common everlasting daisy (Chrysocephalum apiculatum), flax lily (Dianella sp.), New Holland daisies (Vittadinia spp.), sticky everlasting (Xerochrysum viscosa), and blue bells (Wahlenbergia spp.). Enquiries: Janet Russell (6251 8949) or email@example.com. To register send name, phone number, and e-mail address, and money ($10 or $5 for low income earners) to FOG PO Box 44, Majors Creek, NSW 2622. Limit 20 people.
We walked over the length and breadth of the property (Garuwanga), looking at its birds and plants. Fifty-one species of birds were recorded in or just outside Garuwanga, an impressive total considering some of the common birds and expected summer migrants were absent. The definite highlight was the brush cuckoo allowing very good views as it was calling very loudly within twenty metres of the house.
Other highlights were a tawny frogmouth flushed from a low perch, yellow-tufted honeyeater down by the Kydra River, and several satin flycatchers, a male of which was seen by all participants. Nesting was in progress with the Australian wood duck, Pacific black duckandgrey teal all with ducklings on the full dams, laughing kookaburra young begging very loudly and easily seen in a split in a large tree and dusky woodswallow feeding young in a nest. The only new species for the property list was the common bronzewing, a somewhat surprising addition since several were calling loudly and flying about close to the house early on Sunday.
Both Margaret’s and Jack’s pieces are reprinted from Gang-gang Dec 2005.
Blooming wonderful- St Marks grassland walk - Benj Whitworth
WEDNESDAY 18 OCTOBER The St Marks lunchtime walk was a great success, with 43 people turning up. People were interested to see the flowering with many scaly buttons (Leptorhynchos squamatus) and Goodenia pinnatifida in full flower. Billy buttons (Craspedia variabilis), yam daisies (Microseris lanceolata), bulbine lilies (Bulbine bulbosa) and creamy candles (Stackhousia monogyna) were still in flower but perhaps a tad past their prime. The St Marks’ groundskeeper discussed the history of the site and management strategies, such as weeding, using seedheads of kangaroo grass for revegetation, burning and mowing.
As we moved east people were excited to see carnivorous sundews (Drosera sp.) and the threatened button wrinkleworts (Rutidosis leptorhyncoides). Twenty five people signed-on to be involved in the community group for the grassland, with a further five or so who could not attend on the day showing interest. On leaving the grassland Margaret Ning and I were excited to find some relict button wrinkleworts in a separate patch. The next week I took another group of six into the grassland and quite a few button wrinkleworts were just starting to flower.
Impromptu garden visit
TUESDAY 15 NOVEMBER At very short notice FOG advertised (through its e-mail list) a visit to Elizabeth Davey’s garden in Kaleen to see her grassland garden. Fifteen people attended a very cold event, although the rain kept away.
The garden looked fantastic with many different patches, and within each patch there were a large number of compatible plants and colours. The mauve burr daisy, a threatened species, was in my view the most showy as it wended it way through the garden. As Elizabeth pointed out, the garden takes a lot of looking after but she loves it (it has been established for twelve years). She was also a treasure house of knowledge on what grows where and how, and many dos and don’ts.
Readers will recall that Elizabeth is involved in the Kaleen High School grassy ecosystem land project (see Nov-Dec 2005 issue). As part of FOG’s promised contribution to that project, Geoff Robertson gave a short presentation on grassy ecosystems to the project team on 9 November.
Impromptu garden visit to Elizabeth’s (above) and Mulanggari grassland with Benj (below).
Outing - Mulanggari grassland
26 NOVEMBER A stormy Saturday morning luckily cleared for an hour to allow FOG to walk through Mulanggari. This grassland is a part of the Gungahlin Grassland complex. Mulanggari is about 57ha with 50ha being wallaby grassland (Austrodantonia sp.) and the rest wet kangaroo grassland (Themeda australis). The grassland provides habitat for threatened striped legless lizard (Delma impar), golden sun moth (Synemon plana) and grasshopper (Perunga ochracea), but unfortunately we saw none.
As time was scant we headed towards a good spot, passing through extensive stands of phalaris and into a transect of kangaroo grass that reminded Merlyn of grasslands back in her native South Africa. Also present were white flowered common woodruff (Asperula conferta), fragrant chocolate lilies (Dichopogon fimbriatus) which I made everyone sniff, and lines of blue devils (Eryngium rostratum) mostly green, but with the bigger ones a brilliant blue.
Jumping the gate (because it was the only one without a stile) we walked up the hill. Recent grazing of the other Mulanggari paddocks had tip pruned the forbs and resulted in a change to our trek. Up the hill walkers were mesmerised by exotic shivery grasses (Briza spp.)and Geoff and Adrian removed a large African lovegrass tussock (afterwards we noticed about six other mature plants). Geoff was called away by Margaret with a flat tyre, but we forged on.
A bit further up the hill we were rewarded by a carpet of daisies. On the hill scaly buttons (Leptorhynchos squamatus), common everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum), new holland daisies (Vittadinia muelleri) and many onion orchids (Microtis sp.) were all in flower andlomandra were also present. Wallaby grass was interspersed with stands of spear grasses (Austrostipa spp.). As we headed back to the start we saw yellow rush lily (Tricoyne elatior) in flower and chatted about plants.
A great day was had by most (except Geoff, heh heh) – fourteen attended. Unfortunately I did not advertise the walk broadly as planned, but it was a learning experience. A sign was erected on Gungahlin Drive for several days, and brought in one extra person. Let’s hope the thunderstorms were an excuse.
Grassy woodland recognised
28 OCTOBER Friends of Threatened Ecosystems are pleased to report that the Victorian Government has listed red gum ecosystem as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. FOG newsletters readers might recall (May-June 2005 and January-February 2003 issues), Ray Maino’s efforts to have two Victorian communities listed: red box woodland and river redgum woodland.
Western basalt plains (river red gum) grassy woodlands extends from Whittlesea to Epping and west to Craigieburn albeit degraded over most of that area.
According to the Friends “The listing draws attention to the plight of this highly vulnerable ecosystem. It is part of the Victorian volcanic plain, designated by the Department of Environment and Heritage, one of Australia's fifteen biodiversity "Hotspots" (one of only two in Victoria). It also occurs in a major development corridor.”
Ray Maino, spokesman for the Threatened Ecosystem Network, who nominated the vegetation for listing, said that property owners are unlikely to be adversely affected but in any case they should be protected by article 17 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that prohibits the arbitrary withdrawal of property rights without proper compensation.
Launch of Watson woodland
13 NOVEMBER Many people turned up to the launch of the Watson woodland. FOG was represented by Kim Pullen. The launch follows the long campaign to save the area of yellow box red gum grassy woodland that was earmarked for urban development. One of the first announcements of the Labor Government (see Mar-Apr 2002 FOG newsletter) was that the woodland would be protected. The Watson Woodland Group expressed some disappointment that the area of nearby grassland was not similarly protected.
Another important achievement by the group has been the attempt to restore the original understorey. It was delightful to see many local native grasses and forbs established to complement the species already present. In 2001, the group received $5,000 to undertake this work (FOG newsletter Jan-Feb 2002). John Briggs has been the driving force behind this project.
There is tension around the issue of whether Environment ACT should graze the area to reduce biomass. While much area is covered with tall speargrass, there is much inter-tussock space and the biomass is probably not that large. However, the biomass of areas of phalaris is more problematic. The group is examining ways of controlling biomass, particularly around the edge of the reserve so that grazing can be avoided.
Visit to Forbes
WEDNESDAY 2 NOVEMBER After a long drive from Canberra, I arrived at the Lachlan CMA open day where FOG had been invited to set up a stall. It was a well organised and fantastic day and an opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit other stall holders and meet people from the Forbes area to talk about issues of mutual interest, as well as promote FOG. As space is brief I shall just mention one highlight.
The welcome to country was given in the Waradjuri language and there was a group of young Waradjuri men who did several traditional dances based on brolgas, roos, cutting trees and bees (photo on page one). It was great to see the new blossoming of culture. There was also a display of aboriginal tools and plants as well as tasty roo and emu sausages. I was particularly interested to see yam daisy (photo cover page) which is traditionally roasted and a possum rug (possum skins stitched together were very important as protection from the cold). I spoke to Linton Howarth who is working on a project for the NSW government to undertake cultural mapping – this is largely plant based (although landform and dreaming areas are also important), where plants are scored according to their use in ceremony, decoration, fire, food, gender specific significance, habitat, implements, medicinal and other uses.
Veg Futures 2006 conference
Greening Australia and Land and Water Australia are organizing a major conference in Albury-Wodonga on the role of vegetation in productive landscapes: from policy to regional planning and into practice. It aims to provide an opportunity for anyone involved in vegetation management at the regional level to have their say, pass on their knowledge and experience to others, and pick up some new ideas.
Veg Futures 2006 is a conference for tree planters, regional planners, bush managers, policy makers, direct seeders, researchers, seed collectors, extension agents, botanists, teachers and trainers, bush regenerators and sustainable farmers and graziers. It will be covering all types of native vegetation, from grasslands to rainforests, and from woodlands to rangelands. It will tackle the ‘big questions’ about native vegetation in Australia:
- What is the role and value of vegetation in the regional landscape?
- Who pays for vegetation management?
- How do we integrate conservation and production?
- What are we doing about the threats to native vegetation (action and on-ground works)?
- How do we know if we are making a difference (monitoring and evaluation)?
You can register online at www.greeningaustralia.org.au (click Veg Futures icon), or download a registration brochure, or request a hard copy brochure from Haydn Burgess on 02 6281 8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOG will be giving a presentation and a display. If you have any ideas for the display, please contact Geoff Robertson (details back page).
70,000 insects collected
28 OCTOBER Louise Harrison reported in the November issue of the Murrumbidgee Naturalist that a recent study by staff from Charles Sturt University (CSU) netted some 70,000 individual insects of almost 600 different types. The invertebrates were collected from patches of native vegetation in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) as part of the Biodiversity Benchmark being conducted through the MIA EnviroWise program.
Fourteen sites were selected for surveys and four different survey methods were used to target species in different vegetation layers. Survey methods included: pitfall traps, sweep nets, beating shrubs and fogging tree canopies. Surveys were conducted over a two-week period during spring 2004 and samples were taken back to the CSU laboratory for sorting and identification. What a huge task!!
The results found that ants, bees and wasps were the most diverse group with almost 150 different species. Spiders, beetles and flies were also well represented with about 100 different types of each collected during the surveys. Another interesting result was that the different vegetation communities and different layers of vegetation were found to host different groups of insects. Generalist or “weedy species” often replaced more specialist species in simplified habitats that lacked a shrub layer or fallen timber.
Given that invertebrates are the biggest and most diverse group of animals found in the world and the critical role they play in healthy functioning ecosystems, it is important to know what species are out there and how to retain beneficial species.
A comprehensive report has been completed on the study and is available on the MIA EnviroWise website www.mia-envirowise.com.au (although it is a very large pdf file and may take some time to download). An A4 fact sheet has also recently been prepared to summarise the findings of the study and a copy is available from Annette Pavese at Murrumbidgee Irrigation on phone 69 620 200.
Managing the urban edge
Shelly Cooper, Ginninderra Catchment Group (GCG) Co-ordinator
The urban edge in the Canberra Region is growing rapidly and over the next five years it is likely that the length of the interface between many of the grassland reserves in Canberra’s north will double. This increase in the interactions between the reserve and urban populations poses a number of potential threats to existing biodiversity. GCG an umbrella group representing Landcare, Waterwatch and Frogwatch in the Belconnen, Gungahlin and Hall areas of the ACT, and funded by the Natural Heritage Trust, aims to deliver a project that will inform new residents of threats and issues facing these areas and recruit them to play an active part in monitoring, preserving and enhancing these areas.
There are also plans to undertake surveys and continuous monitoring of biodiversity, especially threatened species, on the interface between urban areas and nature reserves, and to conduct an education and awareness raising campaign about the potential impacts of urban development on biodiversity assets and the way to minimise these impacts. The project also aims to implement community activities to manage the effects and minimise the threats.
To begin with, this project will focus on Mulligan’s Flat Nature Reserve and the Dunlop Grasslands. Among other things, GCG will be developing educational brochures about these reserves. The target audience for the material developed will initially be the residents living in close proximity to the reserves and will provide information on why these areas have been conserved and how residents can help to protect them in the future. If you would like to know more about this project or other GCG initiatives please call me on 62783309 or email email@example.com
Pam Vipond and Margaret Ning at Cooma Field Day – story below.
Cooma groups get together
6 DECEMBER Four Cooma groups met for a field day to show their sites and explain their goals, techniques, and resources to one another. This followed a highly successful meeting on 20 October where these same groups met to discuss greater cooperation. The field day was suggested at the meeting.
The day included visits to North Ridge (North Ridge Committee), Lambie Gorge (Cooma Reconciliation Committee), Pine Range (Cooma Landcare), and Old Cooma Common (FOG). A barbeque lunch was provided at Cooma River Reserve by the Cooma Landcare Committee.
At the North Ridge site the group visited a colourful grassy woodland dominated by callitris. Pine Ridge was similar to North Ridge and the group look at efforts to arrest erosion.
Lambie George is a rather stunning canyon with wonderful rock formations and in less weedy areas a large range of indigenous plant species as well as a local population of wallaroos. The project was undertaken to illustrate Aboriginal people’s connection to country. One of the signs at the site is shown on the front page.
Last but not least, we visited Old Comma Common which in places put on spectacular flower displays. The issue of how the groups might work together is being actively explored.
Walk in a cow pasture
SUNDAY 20 NOVEMBER Cooleman Ridge Park Care Group, Canberra, had a field afternoon to inspect the exotic grass reduction trial being conducted by Environment ACT. Many members of the group have strong reservations about using grazing to manage the exotic grasses and about the trial itself. Malcolm Gill, one of the scientific troika following the trial, led the group. Joining our group for the afternoon was Clive Hurlstone from National Parks of the ACT and Benj Whitworth of FOG.
The exotic grass depletion trial site had greened up appreciably in the two weeks since the cattle had gone. Hardenbergia violacea had re-shot as had Indigofera australis, but to a lesser extent than the former. There remained a significant level of exotic grasses and forbs. But the effects of trampling on the soil were evident, especially where it had been moist and was in the process of drying out.
In short, the site looked somewhat knocked about with several small eucalypts broken or nibbled and other shrubs stripped bare. The briars were unaffected and seemed to have fared rather well, what with reduced competition. The two separate (cattle free) enclosures for the slashing, wick wiping (herbicide) and do-nothing regimes remain in their shorn, dead and flourishing modes. The wick wiping certainly wiped out the vegetation to which it was applied. But there appeared to be very little oats (a target species of the trial) in those patches.
We can only wait and observe. The grazing trial has not been replicated - hence lacks the rigour to make results valid in a scientific sense. The three years proposed for the trial is also likely to be too short. However, observations of effects of the cattle can be made and the Cooleman Ridge Park Care Group hopes to continue to assist in this way.
On the way up to the site from Kathner Street, Malcolm drew the group’s attention to a separate exercise being conducted by Environment ACT. Behind the houses from Kathner Street to Chauvel Circle a swathe some ten metres wide had been crushed and, in places, bared. Described in a leaflet drop to residents as a “rock picking” exercise, the clearing is a mowing lane – which appears to be intended as a buffer break for fires. The break cuts through some strong stands of kangaroo and spear grasses. No doubt other flora has been affected in the process.
The work represents another encroachment in an area which has already seen the dumping of building waste (with eventual removal and “rehabilitation” of the area) as well as what was deemed to be “minor” incursion of the Nature Park by ACTEW when restoring power lines. With small reserves, small areas matter.
We don’t know what options may have been considered before going ahead with this work. Perhaps control burning may have been more ecologically sensitive. As it is, we have a heavily disturbed area some 400 to 500 metres long which is seemingly at odds with the principles of conservation to which we hoped Environment ACT adheres. However, we recognise the manager’s authority and responsibility to make decisions in the best interests of the community. Hopefully the new buffer strip will aid in fire suppression and in prescribed-burning operations.
Namadgi Plan of Management
30 November was the date for submissions on the draft Namadgi Plan of Management. In its submission, FOG commended the plan as a very useful outline of the matters to be addressed in the future, and generally supported the National Parks Association’s submission which was a very lengthy and considered submission.
Namadgi, and the subalpine-montane areas of the Australian alps, generally are of world importance for the grassy ecosystems they support. Other temperate mountains lack the grassland diversity that probably reflects a long history of evolution of the flora under the steppe-like climates of the Pleistocene. Increased erosion during glacial periods means that substrates are relatively fresh and fertile compared to lower altitude sites, rewarding a particular suite of taxa such as Poaceae and Caryophyllaceae. The rich composite and herb flora is much more diverse than in equivalent northern hemisphere sites.
Namadgi is important biogeographically because it is the northern end of the mountains and also retains the northern frost hollow grasslands that experience extreme conditions. Unpublished studies in the 1980s in Orroral and Nursery Valleys showed that very cold ground temperatures are experienced because the air in the valley floors is sheltered and can lose heat effectively by radiation, compared to more open areas. Thus the valley floors at 1000m may freeze for several weeks in winter and experience frosts greater than –20ºC.
In its submission, FOG suggested that the final plan give some emphasis to the importance of grasslands and grassy woodlands in the park, but that it note that relatively little study has been undertaken of these. The grasslands need considerably more survey time to establish community patterns, variability across the park, floristic make up and possible successional trends in relation to grazing by native animals and fire.
These data are needed to plan management of the grasslands to maintain diversity, and is an immediate need since the grasslands can be expected to change rapidly in the face of changes in grazing that took place with the declaration of the park. We note concerns with woody weed invasion of former pasture at Tidbinbilla by burgen (Kunzea ambigua) as one example.
FOG welcomed the listing of communities in page 48 of the draft, but noted that this is very preliminary. Any ecological surveys should be compatible with broader classifications of the ACT vegetation as a whole. A lot of the basic ecological survey work from former years is derived from forest inventory and hence neglects the herbaceous communities.
As an addition to the simple list of plant communities in the draft plan we believe each community should be supported by a floristic list and hope these lists can be included in the final plan. Such lists can be valuable for management of biodiversity. They also indicate the possible threat of weed invasion.
The grassy ecosystems include some wetlands, and they often grade into sedge or shrub-moss peatlands on valley floors and riparian vegetation along creeks. FOG supports the restoration and protection of wetlands as a high priority. The integration of Namadgi with surrounding reserves will strengthen the overall resilience of the region. FOG offered its support in developing grassland management principles if needed. Our submission stated that members of FOG have a range of expertise concerning grassland and wetland ecology and will be willing to assist in resource survey and plot monitoring.
Mugga Mugga grassland walk
Heather Green and Sarah Hnatiuk
13 NOVEMBER On the Sunday afternoon, Geoff Robertson led a grassland walk for the Mugga Mugga Education Centre. We started from beside the homestead and initially came across tall spear grass (Austrostipa sp.) growing on higher ground. Apparently it had previously been growing with kangaroo grass (Themeda australis). However, because kangaroo grass is more palatable to stock the tall spear grass is now left behind as the dominant grass. A small amount of barley grass (Hordeum sp.) and perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne) was growing with it.
As we made our way further to higher ground we walked through quaking grass (Briza maxima), red leg grass (Bothriochloa macra), yellow rush lily (Tricoryne elatior) and helichrysum. These last two were both flowering, between them almost making a carpet of yellow. Wallaby grass was fairly abundant, identifiable by its white fluffy seed. Isolated plants of cudweed (Euchiton sp.) were on the verge of flowering. There were some bare patches of ground where soil had been washed away in recent rains, though some of the soil had been stabilized by a black algal growth on the surface of the soil.
Further down the slope there were isolated plants of Lomandra sp. and Eryngium rostratum which was on the verge of turning bright blue in colour, hence the name blue devil. We also saw a small group of twiggy mullein (Verbascum virgatum) and to a lesser extent the greyer softer-looking great mullein (V. thapsus). There was one plant of wiry dock (Rumex dumosus) with its large multi-branched seed head dominating the rest of the plant, and isolated plants of rock fern (Cheilanthes austrotenuifolia) not growing near rock but in lower wetter areas. Groups of barbed wire grass (Cymbopogon sp.) with seed heads from the previous season were growing around rocks. Patches of lichen covered rocks and ground in these lower, wetter areas. There was a small amount of Chilean needle grass (Nassella neesiana). It looked similar to tall spear grass except for its hairy leaves and shorter awns. It is a noxious plant, of the same genus as serrated tussock and just as undesirable. Midway up the slope we found a single plant of pink flowering Convolvulus erubescens.
Those of us on the grassland walk found it very interesting and informative and thank Geoff for sharing his knowledge with us.
Horse grazing in Burra TSR
The issue of horse grazing in Burra Travelling Stock Reserve (TSR) near Queanbeyan, has been raised by FOG member Roger Farrow with the NSW Department of Conservation and Environment (DEC).
The Burra TSR and adjoining former crown reserves contain one of the last remnants of the endangered grassy box woodland community in the Burra Valley. The understorey still comprises the original native forb/grassland dominated by native daisies including the listed hoary sunray (Leucochrysum albicans var. tricolor) and other rare and significant species such as royalla daisy (Brachycome sp aff. formosa), first identified from this TSR, and copper wire daisy (Podolepis jaceoides) among others. The photo by Roger, while losing its impact when printed in black and white, shows a carpet of hoary sunray.
Burra TSR: Photo by Roger Farrow
Roger has been monitoring this site for some time and in June 2004 took up issues around the management of the site with the then Braidwood Rural Lands Protection Board. Issues of concern are trail bike riding and inappropriate grazing. Roger is concerned that to date there does not appear to be any long-term commitment to ensure that the site is managed for its conservation values. We look forward to DEC’s reply.
Nicola, visual artist and also FOG member, has held two recent exhibitions in Canberra, Garden Games (July - August), and Mementos (November). A short piece on her and her work was included in the July-August newsletter. I visited her some months ago and saw some of her fascinating work. I also asked her if she could write a piece on her interest in weeds, which follows. I hope you are as fascinated as I am. Geoff Robertson.
A lone plant was growing through a crack in an urban footpath. My interest was captured by its luscious purple flower, delicately formed and encased within a prickly rosette of leaves. This plant’s resilience and persistence to survive emphasized its opportunistic nature; a nature that allowed it to thrive within the upheaval associated with human habitation. My aesthetic appreciation of its form and wonder at its survival were balanced with the knowledge of its origin and toxicity. This exotic invader was the cause of significant morbidity and mortality in livestock. Despite its beauty it is a dangerous plant, an unwanted plant, a noxious weed, worthy of its name Paterson’s Curse.
These reflections upon the dichotomies present in a single plant triggered my investigations into how to visually represent selected plants so that they could not only be identified by their form but also ensured their categorization as weeds.
The existence and categorization of plants as weeds is a result of human physical and perceptual interaction with the natural world. Consideration of the environmental impact of weeds on a national or global scale reveals a very different significance compared to the perception of weeds as merely nuisance plants in an enclosed suburban garden. A globalization of world ecology is occurring as people, their plants and animals increasingly travel and resettle. Within Australia, weeds rank as the second most significant cause of bio-diversity loss (Dr Trudi Mullet, Plant Invaders, Public Lecture CSIRO, Canberra: 2002). The specific weeds present are a reflection of our historical and contemporary cultural and commercial links. European settlers, uncomfortable in the unfamiliar landscape, established gardens that acted as repositories for memories of their homeland. Some introduced plants thrived in Australian climatic and soil conditions, escaping the confines of the garden to invade the environment and overwhelm native species. The movement of plant species based on the desire to create our own version of paradise in our backyards has been responsible for the creation of some of the most serious environmental weeds in Australia (Tim Low, Feral Future, Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1999, 72). Responsible gardening is usually defined today as selecting plants that require the least use of water or pesticides to sustain them. Such plants are the most likely ‘escapees’ and potential weeds.
The initial position I adopted was that weeds, such as Paterson’s Curse were not only unwanted, but also those things ‘rank and gross in nature.’ My earliest paintings attempted to portray the plant in a manner that alluded to the possession of an uncomfortable, sinister nature despite a beautiful form. The means I used to convey this were an exaggeration of form both of the plant and its shadow. These works were essentially portraits.
George Seddon points out that the common definition of a weed as a plant out of place, or a plant that grows where it is not wanted, outlines a point of view that is ‘openly, unabashedly anthropocentric’ (George Seddon, Landprints: Reflections on Place and Landscape, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 17). The perception of a plant as desirable, and thus wanted, is labile and hence its categorization as a weed may change. My initial perception of weeds as fundamentally evil was flawed and simplistic. This anthropocentric position was very far removed from my aim to understand and address what were the inherent qualities of weeds that allowed them to dominate specific ecosystems and hence exist as weeds. I rejected notions that a weed is merely a plant out of place, or that weeds are ‘bad’ plants in favour of investigating a position based upon the relationship of the weed and the environment both natural and cultural.
The specific biological characteristics of a plant that enable it to assume status as a weed are both inherent and relational. These characteristics may be exhibited by both native and exotic species when upon introduction into a specific ecosystem, the weed will display a greater ability to establish, grow and spread than pre-existing species. Nature’s response to humankind’s shifting of species from sites of origin has been the creation of vast mono-cultures where pre-existing diverse plant populations and their associated invertebrate and vertebrate animal and bird life are eliminated. As with the demise of unique cultural practices, a consequence of our global society is that natural ecosystems are irredeemably merged, mutated and lost. In comparison to original location or current desirability, the identification and categorization of plants as weeds due to their actual or potential ability to overwhelm a specific ecosystem is a more meaningful basis to consider these plants.
My personal response to such weed invasions is a mixture of fear, awe and lament at the irredeemable loss of species due to Nature responding to human intervention in such an uncontrollable manner. This subjective response could be described as a response to the sublime. I consider that perception of the sublime in the natural world is achieved when a loss of complacency allows the recognition of uncertainty. Realization of the impossibility of containing and controlling natural forces enables the appreciation of humankind’s vulnerability and is the key to the development of a respectful position that attempts to understand and work with these forces. The identification of my emotional response as that of response to the sublime was an entry point in my search to visually describe the nature of the weed in a manner that may engage with a meaningful ecological debate.
These investigations have been informed by research into the aesthetic concept of the sublime as understood and expressed in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as examination of contemporary theories of the sublime. The investigations ensured the production of a body of paintings that incorporated where many of the visual conventions used by the romantic painters were reinterpreted to give a contemporary relevance.
Within these paintings the figure of the weed was painted in such a manner that it arose and merged with floral patterning that is commonplace within our homes. Such patterning is a reflection of a common cultural desire to appreciate and control the natural world. The reality is though that serious environmental weeds and Nature in general defy such attempts at control and thus in the paintings the balance between dominance of weed or pretty pattern was labile.
22 NOVEMBER the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Planning and Environment released its report on East Gungahlin recognising a number of important issues.
Conservation groups led by the Conservation Council and including Friends of Grasslands have raised strong concerns over a number of years about development in Gungahlin and consequent destruction of areas of natural temperate grasslands and yellow box-red gum grassy woodland, listed threatened ecosystems, and other important remnant vegetation, especially that providing habitat for threatened species. The ACT government has responded positively by producing the grassland and woodland strategies, which have been commented upon on many occasions in this newsletter, and established the Goorooyaroo reserve, adding to the already sizeable reserve of Mulligan’s Flat.
The grassland and woodland strategies have provided a wealth of information and maps showing the location of grasslands and woodlands and threatened habitat. For areas outside reserves, the push has been to establish ecological corridors to maintain large and connected areas of remnant vegetation and habitat. To protect reserves, particular attention has also been paid to the development and management of buffer areas (e.g. ACT government policy is now to have roads edging reserves rather than housing), and threats such as those posed by uncontrolled domestic cats.
Recommendations of the Committee in support of these views are very welcome. The committee’s second recommendation requests the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) to review the boundaries of the proposed suburb of Throsby and re-draw them back towards Horse Park Drive so as to reduce the impact of residential development on Goorooyarroo and Mulligans Flat Nature Reserves. The fourth recommendation requests the ACT Government to explore the opportunity of maintaining a 25ha area yellow box-red gum and red stringybark woodland adjacent to Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve and to provide assistance to conservation groups to manage this area. These recommendations would both increase the area under conservation and provide greater buffer protection to the reserves. They would partially overcome a strong concern in the current plan which allows development in a peninsular of land that almost severs the two reserves and creates a long urban-reserve boundary. Recommendation six recommends that cat containment be made mandatory in the proposed new suburbs of Kenny and Throsby, thus extending the recently legislated cat containment area for the new suburbs of Forde and Bonner.
A number of recommendations pick up the theme of corridors. Recommendation five urges that for all future draft variations involving the expansion of residential areas, or impacting on Canberra Nature Park, maps and data that demonstrate how the proposed variation will contribute to ecological connectivity and regional targets for protection of species should be included in the public documentation produced by ACTPLA. Concerning its recommendation nine, “the committee expects that the proposed Regional Management Framework will provide for biodiversity conservation and recognise wildlife corridors” and recommends that as a flow-on reform, the advisory, program delivery and consultative committees involved in natural resource management on a local and regional scale be reviewed and better integrated.” Recommendation ten “recommends that remnant vegetation with high conservation value on rural leases be better managed as wildlife corridors under land management agreements, with these to be the basis for increased funding applications under the Natural Heritage Trust and National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.”
Picking up the theme of integration, recommendation seven is “that the current array of policy documents on environmental management, including biodiversity conservation, be reviewed, integrated and streamlined, and better integrated with environment protection and planning legislation”, while recommendation eight is “that the ACT Government introduce a reporting system, such as State of the Parks report, which identifies programs to monitor management effectiveness and progress towards achieving protected area objectives.”
Recommendation eleven recognises the importance of the Southern Tablelands Ecosystems Park (STEP) and the committee recommends that the Chief Minister request the Shaping Our Territory Working Group to assess the feasibility of incorporating key elements of STEP in the Canberra International Arboretum and Gardens.
The role of the Standing Committee, comprising Labor Party members, Mick Gentleman (chair) and Mary Porter AM, and Liberal Party member Zed Seselja, is to review recommended final variations (DVs) to the Territory Plan before the government makes a final decision, which is subject to Assembly disallowance. There will no doubt be debate on the extent to which the committee’s recommendations are adopted. The 82 page report, Wildlife corridors and DV231, East Gungahlin Suburbs of Kenny and Throsby and Goorooyaroo Nature Reserve, November 2005, Report 17 is on the internet or can be requested from the Legislative Assembly Committee Office on 6205 0127.
The kit a great resource for anyone interested in management of grassy woodlands remnants. It is a manual designed for the assessment of grassy vegetation and its associated fauna habitat, and focuses on implementing the best management practices to maximise the natural functioning of remnant grassy ecosystem sites. The authors state that it is suitable for use by regional planning groups, landcare groups, individual landholders and land managers.
The kit comes in a binder and contains a guide which provides useful background on grassy ecosystem remnants and their management, a workbook which is a step by step process to develop a management plan, a case study based on Crace Grassland Reserve, recording sheets for those who develop their own plan, and much reference material, including a list of common grassy ecosystem species. It also includes David Eddy’s managing native grasslands, a guide to management for conservation, production and landscape protection. It comes with a CD containing much of the material in the kit.
The key focus of the kit is a step-by-step approach that can be used to develop a conservation management plan. The steps are designed to answer questions for a particular site about the features of the site, the management aims, what activities should be planned and their timing, and how to evaluate the success of the plan.
The kit is a complex document, so why should grassy ecosystem managers go to all the trouble of developing management plans? The authors’ response is that “grassy ecosystems (grasslands and grassy woodlands) in southern Australia have been changed and greatly reduced in area since European settlement. As our understanding of grassy ecosystems has grown, so too has the recognition that if grassy ecosystems are to be conserved for the future they will require active management. However, grassy ecosystems can be complex and variable and often their conservation is one of many competing management goals. In such circumstances, without a clear management planning framework that takes into account the differing values, attributes and uses of a particular area, management can seem difficult. In recognition of this, a management kit has been developed tohelp people manage grassy ecosystems and to provide a framework for increasing our understanding of theseecosystems. The kit has a set of steps that lead to the development of a conservation managementplan. Because landholders already have experience in managing their land, and have insights into the unique features of their sites, the processes outlined in the management kit can be modified to suit the site and its individual needs.”
The processes outlined in the kit show that conservation can complement existing and proposed land uses, a more complete picture of a site can result in a plan and layout that is in tune with the land - this can help with ongoing management, and thoughtful management can contribute to the recovery of grassy ecosystems.
The kit contains many nice photographs, many of FOG activities, and also many delightful Michael Bedingfield drawings which are peppered throughout the document.
The Grassy Ecosystems Management Kit, a guide to developing conservation management plans by Sarah Sharp, Josh Dorrough, Rainer Rehwinkel, David Eddy and Anne Breckwoldt, and illustrated by Michael Bedingfield, costs $30 (incl. GST) and $10 postage, payable by cheque or money order to Sarah Sharp, Environment ACT, PO Box 144, Lyneham ACT 2602. For more information contact Sarah, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ploughshare Wattle - A small member of a large plant group
The ploughshare wattle is a member of the genus Acacia, which has about 1200 species worldwide, mainly in Australia and Africa. In NSW there are over two hundred species. Botanists refer to the ploughshare wattle as Acacia gunnii (though it was formerly known as A. vomeriformis). Acacia is a word which comes from the Greek and means “a sharp point”. The first naming of this genus was in Egypt in the first century AD for a prickly specimen. This is a feature of many Acacias including A. gunnii. The genus includes Australia’s floral emblem, the golden wattle (A. pycnantha).
Acacias are a diverse group of plants with a peculiar characteristic of the foliage. They consist of leaves which are either bipinnate or which have been reduced to phyllodes, and both may be present. A pinnate leaf is a compound leaf having rows of leaflets along a central stem. If a leaf is bipinnate, then the leaflets themselves are also pinnate. An example of this is the silver wattle (A. dealbata) which is a small tree common to the Southern Tablelands. The ploughshare wattle has only phyllodes, which are the items which look like leaves but are actually leaf stalks that are flattened and otherwise modified to act as leaves. In many species the phyllodes are sharp pointed, but in others they are not, and they can have a variety of shapes. Another small tree common locally is the redleaf wattle (A. rubida). It produces both types of ‘leaves’ - bipinnate leaves for immature growth and phyllodes for mature growth. Its phyllodes are up to 20cm long and 25mm wide, and it grows along creeks and rivers of lower slopes of the Southern Tablelands.
The ploughshare wattle is a small, low growing, sprawling shrub which is usually less than half a metre tall. The flowerheads are fluffy balls of cream or yellow and about 9mm in diameter. They bloom in late winter or early spring, with each ball containing 20 to 30 tiny flowers. The flowerheads usually occur singly, but are sometimes in pairs, along the branch stems, growing from the joint between the stems and the phyllodes. The phyllodes have a triangular appearance which is similar to the shape of a ploughshare, and thus the common name arises. They are tough, prickly, and less than 10mm long and 5mm wide. The fruit is a pod 2 to 4cm long and 3 to 6mm wide. Please refer to the drawings, where a framed branch is shown at half size and a small section of a branch is shown separately at normal size.
The ploughshare wattle occurs locally in grassy woodlands and dry forests. It can be found on the Southern Tablelands and also elsewhere on the NSW tablelands, coast and slopes, as well as in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. It can be fairly inconspicuous among the grassy tussocks, but it is easy to see when in flower. Its low growing habit, phyllode shape and mostly single flowers along the stems make it distinctive from other local species.
Ploughshare wattle - Acacia gunnii - a species of grassy ecosystems and a member of a large and diverse genus that occurs in many parts of the world.
FRIENDS OF GRASSLANDS INC
Supporting native grassy ecosystems
Address: PO Box 987, Civic Square ACT 2608
Geoff Hope Vice President
Kim Pullen Vice President
Janet Russell Secretary
Sandra Hand Treasurer
David Eddy Committee
Roger Farrow Committee (Program)
Christine Kendrick Committee
Margaret Ning Committee (Membership/Program)
Geoff Robertson Committee (Newsletter)
Benjamin Whitworth Committee
Dierk von Behrens Committee
Friends of Grasslands Inc
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608