Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

A lonely tree makes plenty of friends

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

Connecting Country has long advocated for raising awareness of paddock trees and their importance in providing habitat in a disconnected landscape.  To the credit of many local farmers and landholders, we often see paddock trees spared from cropping and clearing, allowing them to support many species of birds, insects and arboreal mammals. You can find a number of blogs we’ve published over the years on how to manage paddock and lonely trees – click here and here. 

We recently discovered a great article published on The Conversation, which highlights why and how lone trees can be managed in the landscape to support wildlife to move through agricultural landscapes. The article covers examples and research in a number of countries and concludes that lone trees are vital to provide wildlife stepping stones between healthy patches of habitat. Please see the published article below courtesy of The Conversation. We would love to see some photos of your favourite lone trees in the landscape!

A lone tree in a paddock in Guildford, providing important refuge for travelling wildlife. Photo: Ivan Carter

A lone tree makes it easier for birds and bees to navigate farmland, like a stepping stone between habitats

Vast, treeless paddocks and fields can be dangerous for wildlife, who encounter them as “roadblocks” between natural areas nearby. But our new research found even one lone tree in an otherwise empty paddock can make a huge difference to an animal’s movement.

We focused on the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, a biodiversity hotspot with 1,361 different known species of wildlife, such as jaguars, sloths, tamarins and toucans. Habitat loss from expanding and intensifying farmland, however, increasingly threatens the forest’s rich diversity of species and ecosystems. We researched the value of paddock trees and hedges for birds and bees, and found small habitat features like these can double how easily they find their way through farmland.

This is important because enabling wildlife to journey across farmlands not only benefits the conservation of species, but also people. It means bees can improve crop pollination, and seed-dispersing birds can help restore ecosystems.

Connecting habitats

Lone trees in paddocks, hedges and tree-lined fences are common features of farmlands across the world, from Brazil to Australia.

They may be few and far between, but this scattered vegetation makes important areas of refuge for birds and bees, acting like roads or stepping stones to larger natural habitats nearby. Scattered paddock trees, for instance, offer shelter, food, and places to land. They’ve also been found to create cooler areas within their canopy and right beneath it, providing some relief on scorching summer days.

Hedges and tree-lined fences are also important, as they provide a safe pathway by providing hiding places from predators. For our research, we used satellite images of the Atlantic Forest and randomly selected 20 landscapes containing different amounts of forest cover.

We then used mathematical models to calculate the habitat connectivity of these landscapes for three groups of species — bees, small birds such as the rufous-bellied thrush, and large birds such as toucans — based on how far they can travel. And we found in areas with low forest cover, wildlife is twice as likely to move from one natural habitat to another if paddock trees and hedges can be used as stepping stones.

We also found vegetation around creeks and waterways are the most prevalent and important type of on-farm habitat for wildlife movement. In Brazil, there are legal protections for these areas preventing them from being cleared, which means vegetation along waterways has become relatively common compared to lone trees and hedges, in places with lower forest cover.

Insights for Australia

For example, in Australia, many koala populations depend on scattered trees for movement and habitat. In 2018, CSIRO researchers in Queensland tracked koalas using GPS, and found koalas used roadside vegetation and scattered trees for feeding and resting significantly more than they expected. Likewise, lone trees, hedges and tree-lined fences can also facilitate the movement of Australian fruit-eating birds such as the Olive-backed Oriole and the Rose-crowned Fruit Dove. Improving habitat connectivity can help these birds travel across landscapes, feeding and dispersing seeds as they go.

In fragmented landscapes, where larger patches of vegetation are hard to find, dispersing the seeds of native plants encourages natural regeneration of ecosystems. This is a key strategy to help achieve environmental restoration and conservation targets.

To read the full article, please click here.

 

 

Help with identifying local frogs

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Jacqui

With some better rainfall in our region over the past few months, you may be noticing frogs calling in our local creeks, dams and wetter areas.

If you hear a frog call that you can’t identify, the FrogID App can be handy with identifying tricky frog calls of our region.

FrogID is Australia’s first national citizen science frog identification initiative – a project led by the Australian Museum in partnership with Australia’s leading natural history museums and IBM. It is free but you do need to create a profile to record frog calls which then uploads the records to the Australian Museum frog experts for species verification.

One of the reasons to use the FrogID app is to ensure that all frog records are verified prior to entering records into the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), the largest database of flora and fauna records in Australia. Records entered directly in the ALA are not verified, and it was recently discovered that there were some incorrect records of frog species entered in the Mount Alexander region. The ALA contains a number of sightings in our area of Striped Marsh Frog, which was previously rare in this region. However, upon closer assessment by frog experts, they suspect the frog recordings are actually the Spotted Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis), not the Striped Marsh Frog (Limndoynastes peroni). The two calls are similar and easily confused.

This is an important case study of how incorrect identification can potentially affect distribution datasets. This is not the case with the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, as every record submitted by users is verified for possible errors or mistaken identification.

The frog recordings submitted via the FrogID app are often verified in less than 24 hours, and it is a great resource to improve your skills and learn a lot more about frogs along the journey.

In just one year, FrogID generated the equivalent of 13% of all frog records collected in Australia over the last 240 years – an amazing effort! The submitted recordings have resulted in over 66,000 validated calls and detected 175 of Australia’s 240 known native frogs.

The data has provided information about:

  • Impacts of climate change and pollution on Australia’s frogs including the first evidence of the decline in Sydney of the Australian Green Tree Frog.
  • Spread of the invasive Cane Toad.
  • Breeding populations of 28 globally threatened and 13 nationally threatened frog species.

The FrogID science blog has some interesting articles on frog ID and what happens for frogs in urbanised environments.

To download the FrogID App – click here

Location of all frog records for the first year of FrogID in Australia (image: ALA)

 

Bird of the month: Powerful Owl

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our sevententh Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance and photos from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua)

These guys are huge, Powerful Owls are enormous, amazing and BIG! However, for such a massive bird they can be extremely difficult to find, even when you know their location. My partner has excellent bird spotting eyes (that’s why he’s a ‘keeper’ and I really hope he doesn’t read this) and he describes them as looking like a dark basket ball very high in the canopy, in the biggest tree around. If you’re really lucky, have the patience and magic like Damian Kelly does, and a very long camera lens, you can see Powerful Owls as clearly as Damian’s stunning photos.

I tell you, Bird of the Month would be pathetic if it weren’t for Damian Kelly, but regular readers have probably guessed that.

Back to Powerful Owls and a closer look at their magnificence.

I’ve said they are big and they are in fact Australia’s largest owl, with a body length of 60cm and wingspans of 110cm to 140cm. It appears pairs mate for life and may be together for up to 30 years. Males are generally larger than females, she will do all the 35-38 days of egg sitting through winter, while the male feeds her. If you see a Powerful Owl through winter, it should be the male snoozing with the food he has hunted for the female, in his talons. Usually a possum such as a Ringtail, or Glider, as well as some bird species including cockatoos, ravens, magpies and choughs, which would have been snatched from their roost during the night. Looking at the species Powerful Owls eat, it’s evident they are all arboreal, in fact 95% arboreal. The remaining 5% is not preferred food and is made up of rabbits and larger insects when obtainable, like longicorn and scarab beetles. Pellets of partially digested bones and fur that are brought up can sometimes be found on the ground under roosts, along with whitewash, which is their poo.

Cryptic adult on the higher branch, and juvenile Powerful Owl with pale breast. Photo: Damian Kelly

Data shows Powerful Owl populations have fallen to around 30 breeding pairs in what remains of Box-Ironbark Forests, and they are listed as “threatened” as populations continue to struggle. Pressures include lack of large old trees with suitably sized hollows, as well as declines in arboreal mammal populations. Additionally, with a home range of 300ha to 1500ha, suitable habitat for these huge owls is not be easy to find. Having said that, they will roost in non-native trees as well as natives, and can be found in a variety of habitats from moister to dryer forests, but have also been found in urban areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Clearly an adaptable bird, but with limits, perhaps due to its large size.

As a note, the whereabouts of Powerful Owls is kept a bit of a secret, this is due to their rarity and susceptibility for disturbance by humans. If you wish to go looking for them, expect long hours in the cold and wet, a sore neck by the end of it and a high chance of failure, however rewards are huge if you manage to spot a Powerful Owl, and please make sure it is not disturbed in any way.

To listen to the Powerful Owl distinctive call and for more information about local Owls, see our previous blog here.

A Powerful Owl with its dinner, probably a magpie. Photo: Damian Kelly

 

Lets celebrate our region’s wonderful Landcare: new video launched

Posted on 29 July, 2021 by Ivan

We love our Landcare community! We are forever grateful for the restoration and revegetation projects Landcare and Friends groups have achieved over the past decades and all of the volunteers hours they dedicate to our natural landscape. This needs to be celebrated!

Connecting Country is excited to announce that we have recently completed our ‘Landcare Celebration’ video, a tribute to our hardworking and passionate groups across the Mount Alexander region in central Victoria. 

The video features a number of Landcare volunteers talking about why Landcare is important to our community and the vast diversity of projects across our region. Landcare is for everyone, including the natural landscape and all its diversity, and is a great way to meet your neighbours and make new friends.

We could have made a few full-length movies about our wonderful Landcare groups if the budget was unlimited, but we have had to settle on a 5-minute video. We also have a shorter version of the video, for promotion and social media.

To watch the full 5-minute version of the Landcare Celebration video, please click here.

To watch the 1-minute version of the Landcare Celebration video, please click here.

(Please note that we are hoping to add subtitles as soon as we can.)

“I have seen first-hand what community groups can achieve and the real difference they make on the ground every day,” says Asha Bannon, Mount Alexander Region Landcare Facilitator. “We hope that this video will give our broader community a snapshot of the opportunities that Landcare can give you to help care for our precious local environment, while also having some fun!”

The video would not have been possible on our budget without co-sponsorship from our favorite film-media company, MRL Media, who have generously funded part of the video production. We really enjoyed working with Steve and his team on the development and production and would like to thank them for helping us out make this project happen with professional outcomes.

This project was funded through the Mount Alexander Shire Council Community Grants Program, which contributed to the costs associated with making the video, as well as some hours for our amazing Community Engagement Coordinator, Ivan Carter.

Connecting Country would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the many community members who played crucial roles in making this video special, including Beth Mellick, Uncle Rick Nelson, Ian Higgins, Marie Jones, Drew Marshall, Jane Rusden, Brian Bainbridge, and the Landcare Steering Group.

Landcare in our region

Landcare is about caring for your land and your local area so it continues to support our community and natural resources for generations to come. This volunteer movement began in Victoria in 1986 and there are now more than 600 Landcare Groups in Victoria, with around 30 in the Mount Alexander region surrounding Castlemaine.

Landcare and Friends Groups care for our land through practical actions like revegetation, weed and pest control, erosion control, improving water quality, and helping farmers be more sustainable. They also engage and support community members through workshops, interpretive signs, recording history, building walking tracks, and more.

Intrepid Landcare working bee with Ian Higgins from Friends of Campbells Creek. Photo: Asha Bannon.

Get involved

Joining a Landcare or Friends group is a great way to actively help your local environment and get to know local people. You can get involved at any level, from dropping in to a working bee occasionally to taking a management role.

Visit the Landcare page on our website to learn more about local Landcare and how to contact your nearest group – click here

 

Managing Serrated Tussock in winter: VSTWP

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Ivan

We recently received a media release from the Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) regarding how to identify and manage the invasive grass serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma) in the winter months. It is a timely reminder to have an inspection of your property, keeping an eye out for new invasive species and making a treatment plan to implement prior to seeding in spring. Central Victoria is lucky to have only a handful of serrated tussock infestations, with known sites around Harcourt, Sutton Grange, Castlemaine and Golden Point. All of these sites are being managed, with very low numbers at each site.

Across Victoria, serrated tussock has now infested over 250,000 hectares of land, and caused great damage to agriculture and native grasslands. Serrated tussock can be very difficult to identify from other similar grasses in our region, making it less likely to be removed at the early stage of infestation. The VSTWP have developed a great identification factsheet and video, which can be viewed by clicking here. Please find the article below, courtesy of the VSTWP.

Winter is the time to inspect for tussock

Serrated tussock often strikes fear in landowners who have been battling it for years in southern Victoria. The spread of this invasive grass has been minimal in the Mount Alexander region to date, but there is no doubt that it is starting to immerge and spread around Harcourt, Castlemaine and Talbot regions. The climate in central Victoria is well suited to this weed of national significance, and there is no doubt it will invade the drier climates in our region if given the chance.

Now is a good time to inspect your property for serrated tussock, with increased plant visibility due to frost bleaching. In frost prone areas, the tussocks are bleached a golden yellow to white colour by frost during late autumn and winter. Serrated tussock has a white leaf base, while the tips of old leaves often have a bleached tip.

The change in colour makes the plants easier to spot in a paddock, making now a good time to do a survey of your land. The recent rains and autumn break in some parts of Victoria has been good for crops, but unfortunately, also good for the growth of serrated tussock. Controlling serrated tussock before the plant goes to seed is critical to prevent further spread, lost productivity and increased control requirements.

Note the bleached leaves of the serrated tussock plant in early winter. (photo: VSTWP)

Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma) is a long-lived perennial that can invade poor soils and survive fire, drought and frost. It reduces the productivity of pasture and can create a fire hazard. Its fibre content is so high that stock are unable to digest it. Seeds are spread by the wind, machinery and also by water and animals. The seed remains viable in the soil for more than 10 years and can dominate if there is no competition from other pasture species.

Depending on the size of the infestation, plants can be removed manually using a hoe or spade, or spot sprayed using a registered herbicide. Small seedlings recently germinated will appear bright green until they are bleached by frost, and will be erect and stand out from the other grasses in a pasture. The Victorian Serrated Tussock Working Party (VSTWP) has a host of information on treatment options and case studies, including videos and information sheets that can be posted or emailed to landowners.

“We are asking landowners to conduct assessments of their properties before Spring, when the grass starts to flower. Serrated tussock flowerheads develop a distinctive purple colour as the seeds ripen in late spring and early summer. During winter you will be able to see the plants easily when they are bleached a lighter colour,” said VSTWP Chair, Lance Jennison.

The VSTWP has developed an online video and information sheets to help landowners identify the noxious weed, which can be viewed at www.serratedtussock.com.

“Serrated tussock is a costly weed to have on your property, especially when it becomes established,” Mr Jennison said. “It is best to check your property for new infestations and treat plants every season before seeding. A mature serrated tussock plant can produce thousands of seeds in a season, blowing up to 20 kilometres from the parent plant,” he said.

For further information, please visit www.serratedtussock.com, or contact the VSTWP on info@serratedtussock.com

A large infestation of serrated tussock in a grazing paddock near Bacchus Marsh Victoria. (photo: VSTWP)

 

Birdwatching for beginners: VNPA online guide

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Ivan

It was nearly 12 months ago when Connecting Country delivered our ‘Birdwatching for Beginners” event, which consisted of an online learning session and a practical group session in the field. The event was a massive success, providing a solid platform for the next generation of bird-loving watchers and monitors to improve their skills and learn from experts.

Volunteers survey birds in the Mount Alexander area. (photo: Ivan Carter)

We recently discovered a great online overview for beginners interested in improving their birdwatching skills, particularly given we are now in another COVID lockdown and looking for online resources. The online resource covers the topics of:

  • Spotting birds
  • Noticing the feature of birds
  • Identifying birds
  • Recording bird sightings
  • Using binoculars.

Please check out the VNPA resource below, and also our Birdwatching for Beginners event by clicking here, which has some useful resources and a video of our presentation featuring local bird guru Damian Kelly.

Birdwatching really is just watching birds! 

Having special gear and knowing birds really well is wonderful and can take the experience to another level, but the simple act of watching and admiring birds can make you a birdwatcher too.

One of the wonderful things about watching birds is that it brings you in to the present moment. If a bird appears, now is the time to observe it because in a moment, it could be gone.

Birding is such an engaging way to bring new excitement to your adventures in nature. If you are keen to give birdwatching a go think ‘watching birds’ as your starting point. Try the tips below to make it easier and fun.

Let’s go birding

If you are keen to give birdwatching a go, try spotting, observing and identifying 5 different species of bird on your next adventure, then you can step it up over time.

Please click on the link below, and off you go!

Birdwatching for beginners

 

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests AGM – 9 August 2021

Posted on 22 July, 2021 by Asha

The Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (FOBIF) 2021 Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be held in the Senior Citizens Hall, Mechanics Lane, Castlemaine VIC (right next to Castlemaine Library), on Monday 9 August 2021 at 7:30 pm.

The guest speaker will be Ian Higgins, who will talk about native peas in the region. FOBIF hopes the event will be a delayed launch for their new guide, ‘Native Peas of the Mount Alexander region’, which was released during a lockdown early this year (but still selling well!).

Nominations are now open for the FOBIF committee. You don’t need a special form to nominate. All that’s required is that you be a member, and that your nominator and seconder both be members. Nominations should preferably be sent to the Secretary before the meeting.

Contact FOBIF for more information:

Phone: (03) 5470 5161 or 0499 624 160

Email: info@fobif.org.au

What and who is FOBIF?

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests (Mt Alexander Region) was formed in 1998 by people in the local community interested in working towards highlighting the significance of the Box-Ironbark Forests and Woodlands. There are over 100 members with a committee elected yearly at the Annual General Meeting.

We believe that the health of the land is intimately linked to its vegetation cover and the wildlife it sustains: that forests, soil and water are ‘an inseparable trinity.’ That’s why we work to encourage and support sound land management practices, on private and public land.

Learn more about their work by visiting the Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests website – click here

 

Platypus mysteries to be revealed – Baringhup Landcare Group

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Asha

See below information about Baringhup Landcare Group’s exciting upcoming event with the Australian Platypus Conservancy:

The platypus is one of the world’s most amazing animals.  This furry, warm-blooded mammal lays soft-shelled eggs like a lizard, uses its bill to navigate underwater, and sorts out arguments with the help of venomous spurs.  The platypus is also among the most popular of Australia’s animal icons – a great flagship species for freshwater conservation.  But what about the platypus’s own environmental needs?  How is the species faring in the wild?  And what needs to be done to ensure that populations survive in our local rivers and creeks?

Baringhup Landcare Group has arranged for Geoff Williams from the Australian Platypus Conservancy to share his knowledge of this amazing monotreme on Tuesday 3 August 2021 at Baringhup Community Hall starting at 7.00pm.  Visitors are welcome. Bookings essential (see below).

Geoff will highlight the features that make the platypus so special, explain its conservation needs and how to go about helping these animals. He’ll then give some hints on how to spot platypus in the wild and outline the possibilities of becoming involved in ‘citizen science’ programs to monitor local populations.

Geoff Williams has been studying platypus since 1994 when he helped found the Australian Platypus Conservancy, an organisation dedicated to researching platypus conservation needs.  Prior to his work with the APC, Geoff was Director of Healesville Sanctuary for five years from 1988 to 1993 and, before moving to Victoria, was Assistant Director of Sydney’s Taronga Zoo from 1985 to 1988. Geoff has presented numerous public talks on platypus at venues throughout Australia, including various universities, the National Museum in Canberra and the Melbourne Museum (on behalf of Australian Geographic).

Please note: To help manage COVID restrictions please booking via www.trybooking.com/BSPNW or contact Di Berry using the details below. COVID limits and regulations will apply. Bookings essential.

For further information, please contact:

Baringhup Landcare:

Diane Berry (Sec) 0403 020 663

Email: dianejberry@hotmail.com

Australian Platypus Conservancy:

Geoff Williams 03 5416 1478/0419 595939

Email: platypus.apc@westnet.com.au

 

Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region – Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Ivan

We are at the beginning of wattle season, with some of the early flowering wattles already in bloom in our region. There are few things more colourful in our landscapes than the wattle blooming crazy, also often a wonderful scent accompanies. We thought it would be a good time to revisit Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forest’s (FOBIF) excellent publication, Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region. We love this guide, with excellent photographs, descriptions and information about each of the local wattles, and some interesting facts about their preferred habitat and ecological value. The book was written by Bernard Slattery, Ern Perkins and Bronwyn Silver and is a tribute to the talent of these local, knowledgeable ecologists and the FOBIF community.

Please find details below, including where to purchase and what to expect in the beautiful developed guide.

Acacia, known in Australia as wattle, is one of the largest genus of plants in the country — nearly 1000 species! Its brilliant flowers transform winter and spring landscapes. Our sporting teams wear its green and gold colours. Sprigs of wattle flowers adorn official events, and Golden Wattle is our national floral emblem.

But how many wattle species can the average citizen name and recognise?

This 112 page guide, Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region, helps the beginner to make a start. In plain language, and generously illustrated, it presents 21 species which flourish in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. And a general introduction explains different features of wattles, helping in identification and appreciation of these tenacious and beautiful plants.

The book is published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests in association with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and Connecting Country. The authors are Bernard Slattery, Ern Perkins and Bronwyn Silver.

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) sample pages from ‘Wattles of the Mount Alexander region’

  • Recommended Retail Price: $10.00 plus $3 postage and handling ($13)
  • Price for buyers outside Australia: $18.00 (includes postage and handling)

To purchase your copy through the FOBIF website, visit www.fobif.org.au/wattles-of-the-mount-alexander-shire       

or click here to download an order form to pay by cheque or bank transfer.

Wattles of the Mount Alexander Region

 

Rakali sighting at Expedition Pass Reservoir

Posted on 15 July, 2021 by Ivan

The gorgeous Rakali keeps a low profile in our community, with few sightings and some misconceptions about what is often called our ‘native otter’ or ‘Australian water-rat’. The Rakali is the largest native rodent and is a very attractive animal weighing up to 1.3 kilograms – as big as a medium-sized platypus. The Rakali’s ancestors are believed to have originally dispersed to Australia from New Guinea, where several closely related species are found today.

Connecting Country has been delighted to receive a sighting and video footage of a Rakali bathing in the glorious sunshine at our local Expedition Pass Reservoir. This is hugely impressive and important, as it validates a healthy waterway and restoration works for habitat and biodiversity. The footage was taken by local Chewton legends John Ellis and Marie Jones, who have been involved in many environmental and social projects in our region over the past decades. Marie said, “We stopped at Expedition Pass Reservoir to take a photo of a plant leaf to send to my daughter this morning and a rakali came along at the place where people tend to enter the water.  John luckily had his camera ready and this is the result. It made me feel as though we must be doing something right with the work we do – but then again perhaps it shows how versatile and adaptable these little creatures are!”

Please enjoy the footage below from John and Marie, uploaded to our Vimeo Channel. Further details about the Rakali and their distribution are also provided below, courtesy of the Australian Platypus Conservatory.

Rakali distribution

The scientific name of the Australian water-rat is Hydromys chrysogaster, which translates as “golden-bellied water mouse”. Early European settlers sometimes referred to this animal as a beaver rat, though it’s actually much more like an otter than a beaver in both its appearance and behaviour. Since the early 1990s the water-rat has also been referred to as Rakali – the name used by the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people in the lower Murray River and Coorong region of South Australia.

Rakali occupy a wide variety of natural and man-made freshwater habitats, including swamps, ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks and irrigation channels. They also inhabit brackish estuaries and sheltered ocean beaches, and may populate ephemeral rivers and lakes in inland Australia when these fill with water after periods of unusually heavy rain. They tend to be most active in places where thick grass, low-growing shrubs, reed beds or large rocks provide plenty of cover on or near the banks. As shown below, water-rats are widely distributed on both the Australian mainland and Tasmania and also inhabit many offshore islands.

Capture map

Map courtesy of R. Strahan. (1995). The Mammals of Australia, 2nd edition. (Reed Books: Chatswood NSW)

Size and appearance

w-rat KangLake 2018 Aug (James Pettit) K1__3067 15%Adult Rakali measure up to 35 centimetres in length from their nose to rump, with a slightly shorter tail. Adult males typically weigh 0.8 kilograms (up to 1.3 kg) and adult females typically weigh 0.6 kilograms (up to 1.0 kg). Animals living in different places often vary in colour. Most commonly, the head and back will be dark brown (with golden-yellow belly fur) or a lighter shade of brown, reddish-brown or grey (with fawn- to cream-coloured belly fur). However, apart from animals born near Shark Bay in Western Australia, virtually all individuals have a distinctive white tail tip.

Rakali fur is moulted twice a year, becoming thicker in winter. Like platypus fur, it consists of fine dense underfur covered by coarser guard hairs. However, Rakali fur is much less effective than platypus fur at keeping its owner warm – Rakali cannot efficiently maintain their body temperature in water below 20°C and therefore need to exit colder water periodically in order to warm up in a burrow or other sheltered site.

Please click on the link below for further images and details about the Rakali:

Rakali/Water-rat – Australia’s “otter”

 

Online event: ‘The Sleepy Lizard’, Friday 9 July 7.30pm

Posted on 8 July, 2021 by Ivan

Our friends at Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club are hosting a wonderful online event called ‘Behavioural ecology of the Sleepy Lizard: when life gets tough, monogamy has its advantages’

The event is via the Zoom platform and features guest speaker, Dr Greg Kerr, from the Nature Glenelg Trust. Greg will be talking about the Shingleback or Stumpytail Lizard, also known as the Sleepy Lizard, and its unique behaviour and habitat requirements.

Please read on for details from Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club website.

Monthly Meeting – Friday 9 July, 7.30pm, by Zoom

Guest speaker: Dr Greg Kerr, Nature Glenelg Trust

“Behavioural ecology of the Sleepy Lizard: when life gets tough, monogamy has its advantages”

Victorians will know the Sleepy Lizard as the Shingleback or Stumpytail. For our July monthly meeting, Dr Greg Kerr, Senior Ecologist, Nature Glenelg Trust, will give fascinating new insight into the social behaviour of this species. In mammal and bird species there are many advantages of monogamy, particularly where parental care is critical to successful reproduction.

Sleepy lizards are socially monogamous and a male will closely follow a female for many weeks prior to mating. Greg’s research into the behavioural ecology of sleepy lizards leads to a rejection of the old idea that males are guarding the females, but rather suggests that it is the female who wears the pants in this relationship!

The meeting will be held by Zoom. If you have not joined earlier webinars and wish to attend, please email Peter Turner at munrodsl@iinet.net.au

Not so Sleepy Lizards! Learn more at our July meeting. (photo: Jenny Rolland)

 

Seeking birdwatchers for surveys in 2021

Posted on 6 July, 2021 by Jess

Connecting Country’s bird monitoring program allows us to see if all our hard work restoring habitat is actually making a difference, and to assess the status of our woodland birds in the Mount Alexander region of Central Victoria. Back in 2010, with help from experts, we carefully set up a bird monitoring program at selected locations across the region. Every year we go back to survey theses sites, providing valuable information to guide future decisions.

These days, our surveys are done entirely by volunteers – our community champions.

Volunteers survey birds in the Mount Alexander area (photo by: Frances Howe)

We’re now looking for more people local to the Mount Alexander area to be part of this program and assist with our bird surveys.

To be involved in this program you will need to:

  • Be able to confidently identify bird species in the Mount Alexander area by sight as well as from their call
  • Have a reasonable level of fitness and able to traverse rough ground
  • Know how to conduct a 2 ha 20 min area search (we can help with this)
  • Liaise with private landholders
  • Be comfortable navigating to and from survey sites using a GPS on your phone (we can help with this)
  • Attend an online induction
  • Follow safety protocols and adhere to current COVID-19 restrictions

We will support you, and can provide training on conducting surveys and navigation if required. However, having great bird ID skills is essential.

If you’re keen to be involved please email Jess Lawton (Monitoring Coordinator) including a brief description of any experience you have with bird identification and surveys, and a phone number: jess@connectingcountry.org.au

Jess will then get in touch to discuss and provide more information.

 

 

Victorian Landcare Awards – nominations close Sunday 11 July

Posted on 6 July, 2021 by Jacqui

Nominations for the 2021 Victorian Landcare Awards close this Sunday 11 July.

Newsletter Closing

In 2019, local winners were celebrated at Government House in Melbourne. They included:

  • Malmsbury District Landcare Group – Winner of the Australian Community Media Landcare Community Group Award.
  • Harcourt Valley Landcare Group – Highly Commended for the Australian Community Media Landcare Community Group Award.
  • Ian Grenda – Highly Commended for the Australian Government Individual Landcarer Award.

Read on to find out more about the Victorian and National Categories.

About the 2021 Victorian Landcare Awards

The State and Territory Landcare Awards are coordinated nationally by Landcare Australia, with each state and territory coordinating their own awards ceremony.  The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning through the Victorian Landcare Program coordinates the Victorian Landcare Awards ceremony.

In addition to the eight national award categories, Victoria awards additional categories which are independently sponsored at a state level.

The Awards are a celebration of the significant work undertaken by groups, networks and individuals who contribute their time and care to the conservation of Victoria’s land, water and biodiversity.

The Victorian Government is proud to support and celebrate the efforts of those environmental volunteers who are working to the protect our land, water and wildlife, and the communities who love and depend of them.

Nominations close 11 July 2021. To submit your application – please visit https://landcareaustralia.org.au/landcare-awards-2021/  

2021 VICTORIAN ONLY CATEGORIES

  • Dr Sidney Plowman Travel and Study Award ($4,000)
  • Heather Mitchell Memorial Fellowship ($4,000)
  • Environmental Youth Action Scholarship ($2,000)
  • Landcare Network Award ($500)
  • Environmental Volunteering Award ($500)
  • Urban Landcare Award ($500)
  • Joan Kirner Landcare Award ($1,000)

2021 NATIONAL CATEGORIES

  • Australian Government Individual Landcarer Award ($500)
  • Australian Government Partnerships for Landcare Award ($500)
  • Australian Government Landcare Farming Award ($500)
  • Coastcare Award ($500)
  • Landcare Community Group Award ($500)
  • Woolworths Junior Landcare Team Award ($500)
  • Indigenous Land Management Award ($500)
  • Young Landcare Leader Award ($500)

 

Castlemaine Copper Butterfly upends city rail plan

Posted on 1 July, 2021 by Ivan

Our beautiful Eltham Copper Butterfly (aka Castlemaine Copper Butterfly, as we do have the largest population in the world!) has been in the news again! The Endangered butterfly has been discovered next to a suburban railway near Eltham, VIC, and has triggered a change in the large railway infrastructure project, to ensure the population is not threatened. The Age newspaper featured a large writeup on the community discovery and subsequent revision of the railway project, due to the Endangered listing of the butterfly under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small and attractive butterfly with bright copper colouring on the tops of its wings visible during the summer flight season. Connecting Country has been a strong advocate for the further protection of the butterfly and has facilitated surveys in our region and hosted educational events to engage our community of the importance of our regions populations. For more information about the butterfly, and why we love this fascinating beauty, click here.

Some interesting butterfly facts:

  • This unusual species has a close symbiotic association with a group of ants from the genus Notoncus and the shrub Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa).
  • Adult butterflies lay their eggs on the roots and stems of Sweet Bursaria. Once the eggs hatch, the ants guard the caterpillars (providing protection from predators), ushering the larvae to and from the ant nest at the base of the shrub, to feed on the Sweet Bursaria leaves at night.  In return the ants feed on the sugar secretions exuded from the body of the caterpillar.
  • The butterfly prefers open flight paths and receiving direct sunlight. It likes vegetation with an open middle and understorey.
  • Castlemaine region has the largest known population in the world, with suitable habitat and woodlands. Fire is the major threat to this species, as well as loss of habitat.

The Eltham Copper Butterfly is one of our regions threatened species (photo: Elaine Bayes)

 

The full article courtesy of The Age website is below, a good example of how community and citizen science can ensure better protection of remaining populations.

Butterfly flaps its wings in Montmorency – and upends $530m rail plan

Hundreds of metres of new railway tracks promised by the Andrews government in Melbourne’s north-east will no longer be built to save an endangered butterfly species.

The $530 million track duplication on the Hurstbridge line was promised before the 2018 state election. The upgrade would benefit commuters in two marginal, Labor-held seats of Eltham and Yan Yean.

The project involved duplicating about three kilometres of a single-track section between Greensborough and east of Montmorency station, and a separate 1.5 kilometre stretch between Diamond Creek and Wattle Glen.

Work started on the project late last year but was paused after a local spotted the endangered Eltham copper butterfly in remnant bushland near Montmorency station in January.

This prompted the Level Crossing Removal Authority to alert the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment about the discovery.

The state government looked set to face a lengthy environmental approvals process to proceed with the works. Instead, the government ditched a section of its planned duplication that would have cut through the butterfly habitat.

Jane Oldfield and Damian Magner, who spotted the endangered butterfly in remnant bushland near Montmorency station in January (photo: The Age)

Under the revised plan, 950 metres of the rail line will no longer be duplicated east of Montmorency station on the Eltham side — where the butterfly habitat is located.

Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said the government had to act quickly to ensure it was following federal environmental legislation.

“We’re already hard at work delivering the Hurstbridge line duplication through this growing part of Melbourne and very soon residents will benefit from more frequent and reliable services,” she said.

The Eltham copper butterfly, which is nationally listed as endangered, is found only at several sites around Eltham and in isolated spots in Castlemaine, Bendigo and Kiata, near Nhill. It was considered extinct from the 1950s, until it was rediscovered in Eltham in 1986.

Montmorency resident Damian Magner, who spotted the butterfly in February, said it was great news that it would be spared. But he said had the government carried out proper environmental assessments before starting the project, instead of relying on residents’ intervention, “they wouldn’t have ended up in this awful mess with egg all over their faces.

“It’s appalling that local residents have had to step in and protect this crucial butterfly habitat, when multiple Victorian state and federal government agencies should have been aware of it from the beginning. They never bothered to look.”

The government counters that it had carried out all necessary environmental assessments and there was no sign of the butterfly before they were sighted in early 2021.

The government says the revised design will not reduce the service frequency it originally promised: a train on average every seven minutes from Greensborough and every 10 minutes from Montmorency and Eltham. This is due to additional signalling and power works that will now be rolled out.

Any changes to the cost of the works being carried out by an alliance of Acciona, Coleman Rail, WSP and Metro Trains Melbourne will not be significant, the government says.

Major construction is to start early next year and will be finished in late 2022. The butterfly habitat will be fenced off while the works are under way.

Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen said the government had to ensure no services would be sacrificed. “It certainly does compromise the duplication and they do need to make sure the rest of the project is optimised to reduce train delays,” he said.

The federal Environment Department said substantial civil or criminal penalties would apply to any person who carried out work that posed significant impact to a nationally endangered species without the proper approvals in place.

 

Tricky birds: revisiting Thornbills

Posted on 1 July, 2021 by Ivan

In August 2020, Connecting Country collaborated with birding experts Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros for our much-anticipated event, ‘Tricky Birds of central Victoria with Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros’. This online free event sold out with 500 bookings recorded the day before the event. We were absolutely thrilled to host this event with Geoff and Chris, who shared their tips for birding in central Victoria.

Geoff covered tips on raptor identification and Chris focused on the tricky topic of identifying thornbills of central Victoria, followed by an hour of interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts those tricky bird watching questions. Both of the presentations were delivered with the passion and precision you would expect from leading bird experts and outstanding photographers, with many beautiful images and helpful tips about identifying these look-a-like birds that can be difficult to distinguish.

To get some further tips on identifying Thornbills, you may like to visit Geoff Park’s recent posts below, through his much-loved Natural Newstead blog. This recently published three-part blog series, is an absolute treat for anyone who loves birds, highlighting a variety of thornbill species. It features stunning photographs and an excellent overview of the tricky thornbills. Please find the three blogs below:

Part 1: Striated Thornbills

Part 2: Brown Thornbills

Part 3: Yellow Thornbills

The Striated Thornbill is a medium-sized thornbill with greenish upperparts (photo: Geoff Park)

 

To see the ‘Tricky Birds’ presentations (PDF) delivered by Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros and discover more about the Connecting Country event, please click on the link below. We sure did learn a lot and the audience was thrilled to see these two leading bird ecologists provide valuable identification skills for tricky birds. 

‘Tricky birds’ event delivered to a packed online audience

 

Whistling Kite surprises with phascogale catch

Posted on 30 June, 2021 by Ivan

(warning: graphic content of predator and prey)

Our region of central Victoria is home to numerous raptors, particularly in the vast plains to the north and west of Castlemaine, where species such as Whistling Kite, Black Kite, Brown Falcon, Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite hunt the plains and farmland. Raptors are near the top of the avian food chain and feed on a variety of mice, rats, birds and native marsupials, as well as various roadkill species. They are excellent hunters, as well scavengers, and are often seen perched on dead trees and fences, eyeing off prey in the grasslands and pastures.

Local ecologist and author Damien Kelly has produced an excellent overview of raptors in our region. To view – click here

We were surprised by recently discovering a collection of images from a local resident, which showed a Whistling Kite grasping a captured Brush-Tailed Phascogale (Tuan). The photos show the brutal reality of the food chain and the incredible hunting skills of the Whistling kite. The photographs were taken by Helen McGeachin, and have been published here with her permission. Helen took the photographs a few years ago (June 2013) when she was working in her workshop in Elmtree Lane, Chewton VIC and looked up to see the kite (with poor little Tuan in hand ), which had landed on a nearby fence post.

The Whistling Kite is a medium-sized raptor (bird of prey) with a shaggy appearance. It has a light brown head and underparts, with pale streaks, and dark sandy-brown wings with paler undersides. The underwings have a characteristic pale ‘M’ shape when open. The head and body are relatively narrow and the tail is rounded. The wings are long and well-rounded, with a wingspan of 120 cm to 145 cm.

They are often seen near water or around farms, soaring in a lazy circling flight pattern. The distinctive call of the Whistling Kite is, unsurprisingly, a clear whistle, which begins by descending down the scale, followed by an up-scale staccato chatter, given by birds as they fly overhead or when perched. During the non-breeding season, they mainly eat carrion, but during the breeding season, they take live prey, especially rabbits and hares, as well as fish, reptiles, birds, small mammals and invertebrates. They sometimes attend fires to catch fleeing prey, and they may steal food from other birds of prey.

To hear the call of the Whistling Kite – click here

 

 

Nature journaling with BirdLife Castlemaine – Saturday 3 July 2021

Posted on 24 June, 2021 by Ivan

Here is a great opportunity to practice some nature journaling through our much loved BirdLife Castlemaine District branch, exploring the natural world through art and creativity. The location will be the woodlands around the popular Crusoe Reservoir, near Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo VIC. We rarely find the time to connect deeply to landscapes in the ever-increasing realm of busyness, so here lies the perfect opportunity!

Please read on for details provided by BirdLife Castlemaine.

For inspiring photos of the wildlife spotted at the reservoir and surrounds, visit the excellent website of Friends of Crusoe Reservoir – click here

Nature journaling – Saturday 3 July 2021

Join some nature-loving creatives and aspiring creatives and explore the natural world through your chosen medium … which can be whatever you want. We will be in the bush seeking inspiration from the natural world, both from the plant and animal kingdoms.

A beautiful drawing of an Eastern Yellow Robin, that Ash Vigus is currently working on (photo: Jane Rusden)

 

All ages and abilities are welcome.

11:30 am – 1:30 pm, 3 July

Crusoe Reservoir carpark, Kangaroo Flat, Bendigo VIC

From Castlemaine. Calder Hwy (A79) then turn left into Furness Street (Harvey Norman is on the corner). Go to the end of Furness Street then turn left into Crusoe Road. Crusoe Reservoir is 500 metres on the left. We meet in the car park there.

From Maldon. Bendigo – Maldon Road (C283) then left onto Calder Alternate Hwy. After 850 metres turn right onto Crusoe Road. After 6.7 km, Crusoe Reservoir is on the right. We meet in the car park there.

There are toilets just inside the entrance, near the carpark.

Be prepared to walk a short distance on flat ground, to find a good spot to settle and create.

Bring something to sit on, lunch, water or flask, very warm clothing, binoculars if you want and have them, and most importantly, your creative materials – pen, paper, pencils, paint, camera, or whatever you need to get creative in nature. Guide books could be helpful to identify plants and animals.

You may like to join our bird walk at 9 am at the same location. For details of all our events – click here

BirdLife Castlemaine District

 

Bird of the month: Galah

Posted on 23 June, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our sixteenth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly.

Galah (Eolophus roseicapilla)

Recently I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Nature Foundation’s property, Witchelina Nature Reserve, near Marree in South Australia and I highly recommend making the effort to visit. Whilst there I saw desert birds that Victorians get very excited about because their ranges don’t extend this far south. These are birds we rarely see and birds we commonly see, like the Galah. This bird is either overlooked or labelled a destroyer of crops, but lights up in clear desert light showing off the most stunning pink face and body.

Cockatoos are known to be very intelligent the world over, and this includes the Galah. They have readily adapted to altered habitats such as farmland, particularly cropping, with accompanying water sources. I saw them at Witchelina utilising open woodland and mallee, with the exception of the driest areas. They can often be seen in mixed flocks with both Corella species and Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, feeding on any area of open ground.

However, Galahs have also learned to utilise tall forests and coastal areas, a seemingly far cry from their original dry interior ranges. Interestingly, while the Galah was known rarely in Tasmania, there is now an expanded breeding population. In another example of the ability of this species to move vast distances, in 1966 in response to drought, a flock of Galahs moved from inland areas to Maroochydore in Queensland, where they now reside and breed. Its wide distribution and abundance positions the Galah as perhaps the most successful member of the cockatoo family.

Female Galah with her pink eye (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

Due to their adaptability, Galahs have landed in the crosshairs of parties with grievances towards them. This is an extra sad dilemma as they form permanent pair bonds for the life of a bird and have complex social structures. They will often use the same nest in a tree hollow year after year, rearing young who remain dependent for several months in the nest, then another month in a creche, still being feed by their parents.

On a lighter note, studies have shown their love of what humans call mischief. Galahs can undo bindings on grain bags for a free feed, will play and swing on wires, roll down inclines and play with objects using their feet, while lying on their backs. To bathe they love to hang upside down with their wings out, in the rain. No wonder the slang for a person being a bit of a goof is ‘you’re a Galah!’

Male Galah with his dark eye (photo by Jane Rusden)

 

To listen to the call of the Galah, please visit Graeme Chapman’s website – click here

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.

 

 

 

 

 

Wheel Cactus community field day – Sunday 27 June 2021

Posted on 23 June, 2021 by Ivan

Old and new volunteers alike are invited to Tarrangower Cactus Control Group’s next Community Field Day on Sunday 27 June 2021. 

Read on for more details from the Cactus Warriors.

The morning’s activities begin at 10:30 am and end with a delicious BBQ lunch and friendly chat around 12:30 pm. We supply all the necessary equipment, so please come and join us for a rewarding morning in the outdoors. Just make sure you wear sturdy boots and long pants and sleeves for protection.

The location for this field day is at the eastern end of Bells Lane, Eastville VIC. To get there, head north out of Maldon along Bridgewater Rd. for 9 km, then turn right into Murphys Rd. Drive another 3 km and turn right into Bells Lane, and you’ll find us another 1.5 km along, on the side of the road in Bells Lane. The route will be well marked with our ‘cactus’ boards.

These events are COVID restriction-compliant and family-friendly, but children must be accompanied by a parent at all times. If you have any queries or want to see a map for directions, please go to our website www.cactuswarriors.org  

Location: Bells Lane, Eastville VIC
15 km from Maldon via Bridgewater and Murphys Roads
Date: Sunday 27 June 2021
Time: 10.30 am to 12.30 pm

The Tarrangower Cactus Control Group Inc. (TCCG) consists of Landcare volunteers dedicated to the eradication of Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta). TCCG, in conjunction with Parks Victoria, holds friendly and informal Wheel Cactus Control community field days to inform and demonstrate control techniques, on the last Sunday of the month from May to October. These field days always end with a free BBQ lunch, cuppa and cake and the opportunity to chat, exchange ideas and make contacts. It is a great opportunity to spend a rewarding morning outdoors, meeting neighbours and others who are concerned about preserving our unique environment. Everyone is welcome, no previous experience is required and all equipment is supplied. View the video below to catch the ‘cactus warriors’ in action.

 

Putting a dollar figure on threatened species

Posted on 16 June, 2021 by Ivan

We are both lucky and unlucky to have our share of threatened species calling our region of central Victoria home. Plants and animals are driven to the edge for a variety of reasons. Habitat loss and invasive species are recognised as the two largest factors in species decline and extinction. The Mount Alexander region offers a safe haven for some species, but also an abundance of invasive weeds and pest animals.

If money rules the world (which we hope it doesn’t!), then perhaps we need a dollar value to represent threatened species and their plight for survival.

Thankfully, a major research project has explored putting a dollar figure on threatened species. Dr Ram Pandit of the University of Western Australia (UWA), Dr Kerstin Zander of Charles Darwin University (CDU), and their colleagues are taking a close look at how people value threatened species, with some surprising and heartening results.

To learn more, please read the following article, provided courtesy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

To read the full article on the Threatened Species Recovery Hub website – click here

Eltham Copper Butterfly is one of our region’s threatened species (photo: Elaine Bayes)

 

The economics of threatened species

What price persistence? Dr Ram Pandit of the University of Western Australia (UWA), Dr Kerstin Zander of Charles Darwin University (CDU), and several researchers from both UWA and CDU are taking a close look at how people value threatened species, with some surprising – and heartening – results. Here they share their insights into what it means to Australians to avert extinction of vulnerable species.

There is a common misconception that economics is about money. It is not. Economics is the science of allocating scarce resources and making decisions – whether about allocating money or anything else. The total economic value of something includes not just how much money one can get for it on the open market but many other values that do not involve money at all. Dollar values help people understand the worth of something in monetary terms, but they are only one small part of the story in making decisions.

The value of persistence

Threatened species illustrate this point beautifully. The fact that you cannot trade boggomoss snails does not mean that Australian people do not value them. Most respondents will never get the tiniest monetary gain from the snail’s persistence – they will never sell one, eat one, photograph one or visit one of the few boggy mossy springs where they persist in Queensland’s Dawson Valley. Yet, respondents to our species-specific surveys said they were willing to pay around $47 per year to make sure boggomoss snails are not lost forever, with 69% of respondents willing in principle to pay something for the snail to survive. Multiplied across the country’s population, that’s a pretty high existence value. Even when respondents had to choose how much they are willing to pay among three or five threatened species, they were willing to give $0.33 and $0.20 per year, respectively, to make sure the snail no longer qualifies for the threatened species list.

The Critically Endangered boggomoss snail is found only in the Dawson River catchment, in the Brigalow Belt Bioregion of Queensland (photo: John Stanisic)

 

In fact, what we discovered was that the dollar value of a species increases substantially as it approaches extinction. That effectively says that threatened species are beyond dollar value. This was consistent with another of our surveys, in which 70% of respondents thought extinction should be prevented regardless of the cost. Some might think that impractical – except that the US Endangered Species Act aims “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost”, as the US Supreme Court put it.

That’s not to say that people do not value some species more than others. So long as extinction is avoided, the amount people would be willing to pay for conservation varied by species. In contrast to general perception that birds and charismatic species are valued more than the others, we found that charisma-challenged species like skinks are also valued highly. In our multiple species valuation study, we found that people are willing to pay $3.12 per year to conserve the great desert skink and about $0.37 per year to conserve the eastern bristlebird. We also assessed the community’s values for threatened ecosystems like salt pans ($0.10/year) or Sandstone Shrubland Complex ($0.93/year). Much of our research was quite new – nowhere in the world have multiple species been assessed simultaneously, ecological communities been valued, or anyone tried to uncover the community’s values for anything other than high-profile species.

The Christmas Island blue-tailed skink would be extinct if not for the time and care of dedicated staff and captive breeding facilities provided by Parks Australia and Taronga Park Zoo (photo: Parks Australia)

 

As a result, we can work out some general rules for determining a species’ non-market value that will help policy-makers estimate the cost to the public if a development increases the probability of species extinction, or the benefits that can arise from habitat restoration. Such values represent the benefits to society of conserving species, and help to make decisions about species conservation while considering the costs.

Management – and trust

In another study, we assessed how the worth of threatened species was affected by their management. We asked whether people would pay less if a species were kept in a zoo, if feral animals were killed as a part of threat management or if a species’ genetic makeup were managed to avoid inbreeding effects. Somewhat to our surprise, the killing of feral animals was embraced by a large proportion of respondents. They were more cautious about genetic management, but only actually opposed active manipulation of genes.

In all the valuation studies, what came through was a trust of the scientists. If scientists were concerned a species might go extinct, and proposed a process to make sure that would not happen, most respondents were willing to make a contribution. As we know, such trust places a great responsibility on those who are trusted, and can easily be lost.

bridled nail tail wallaby

Saving a species can require a major long-term commitment.

 

The bridled nail-tail wallaby was widespread across eastern Australia at the time of European arrival, but foxes, cats and land clearing drove major declines. The species was thought extinct until a single small population was found in central Queensland in 1973. To prevent the extinction of the species, Taunton National Park (Scientific) was established at the site and feral predator control and other conservation actions have been put in place since that time to conserve and support its recovery. Image: Nicolas Rakotopare / Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

On the money

A final part of our work did also look at the monetary economy and threatened species. For instance, many species may survive only if they are kept in zoos or behind large fences. To help planning for such expenditure, the country’s zoos provided estimates of the costs of keeping different types of animals – and mammals and birds are much more expensive to keep than other, smaller animals. We costed the different types of fencing that are increasingly being erected to protect native mammals from feral predators. For a sample of species, we also calculated the institutional costs of threatened species management. Rangers erecting nest boxes can only do their job if there are people in offices arranging their weekly pay or training them how to climb trees. Such costs are almost never calculated in threatened species budgets, which fall short as a result.

However, not all costs are outlays. Threatened species managers often live in rural and remote communities; their children go to local schools; they buy food from the local shops. For every dollar invested in such a community, there are flow-on benefits in terms of jobs and local investment. That information is being fed into an analysis of threat management needs across the country to allow calculation of at least some of the monetary benefits that communities can derive from hosting threatened species and their managers.

Economic analysis is critical to most policy-making by government. Our work aims to ensure that the very real values Australians place on threatened species, the values that explain the existence of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, and of the legislation aimed at protecting threatened species, are given a seat at the decision-making table. If boggomoss snails could cheer, we are sure they would.

Further information

Ram Pandit
ram.pandit@uwa.edu.au

Kerstin Zander
kerstin.zander@cdu.edu.au

Stephen Garnett
stephen.garnett@cdu.edu.au

 

Threatened Species Recovery Hub