Posted on 30 July, 2020 by Ivan
A new research paper has revealed some astonishing facts about the small amount of money allocated to biodiversity and threatened species across our nation. Records show Australia has one of the highest extinction rates in the world over the past century. One of the main factors in the loss of biodiversity is the increased rate of human population growth, which has led to habitat change through land clearing, urbanisation, hunting and resource extraction. The introduction of new invasive species has also had a huge impact Australia’s biodiversity. The forests of the Mount Alexander region have endured a long history of disturbance since the 1850s, leading to many indigenous plants and animals becoming extinct or threatened.
But what would it cost to halt Australia’s extension and biodiversity crisis? According to this recent scientific research paper, it would cost $1.6 billion to improve the status of all of Australia’s threatened species and return their health to the point where they can be removed from lists of at-risk flora and fauna, through protections from land clearing and invasive species, habitat restoration and other means. $1.6 billion is not small change, but achievable for a nation of our wealth, and much less than many government investments in recent times.
The reality is that we have been spending $86.9 million in 2017-18, $49.6 million in 2018-19 and an estimated $54.6 million in 2019-20 on Australia’s threatened species through the Commonwealth government. Hence it is not surprising that biodiversity and ecological assets are in poor health across the nation and declining rapidly.
The scientific research paper is titled ‘Spending to save: What will it cost to halt Australia’s extinction crisis?’ and is published in the Conservation Letters. A copy of the abstract is provided below. To access this fascinating paper in full – click here
As with most governments worldwide, Australian governments list threatened species and proffer commitments to recovering them. Yet most of Australia’s imperiled species continue to decline or go extinct and a contributing cause is inadequate investment in conservation management. However, this has been difficult to evaluate because the extent of funding committed to such recovery in Australia, like in many nations, is opaque.
Here, by collating disparate published budget figures of Australian governments, we show that annual spending on targeted threatened species recovery is around U.S.$92m (AU$122m) which is around one-tenth of that spent by the U.S. endangered species recovery program, and about 15% of what is needed to avoid extinctions and recover threatened species. Our approach to estimating funding needs for species recovery could be applied in any jurisdiction and could be scaled up to calculate what is needed to achieve international goals for ending the species extinction crisis.
Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan
Hold onto your hats! Connecting Country is excited to host an all-star lineup for a workshop on identifying tricky bird species of the central Victoria. Two highly-regarded birdwatchers and ecologists, Geoff Park and Chris Tzaros, will present at our online workshop on identifying tricky birds on Monday 24 August 2020 at 7 pm. Geoff will be speaking on identifying raptors and Chris on identifying thornbills, followed by an interactive panel discussion and a chance to ask the experts your bird watching questions.
Please click here to register for this event. A link to the online meeting platform will be emailed to you in the coming weeks.
Geoff Park is a Newstead local legend, author of the highly popular ‘Natural Newstead’ blog, and Director of Natural Decisions Pty Ltd. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Diploma of Education. His background is in landscape ecology, teaching and community education. He has a long standing interest and involvement with communities working to improve biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes.
Chris Tzaros is author of the outstanding book ‘Wildlife of the Box-Ironbark Country’, a comprehensive guide to the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians that live in this unique habitat. He holds a Masters degree in Conservation Ecology. His passionate interest in bird and wildlife photography has won him multiple ANZANG photography awards. Chris worked for Birdlife Australia for ten years and runs his own company, Birds Bush & Beyond, based in north-east Victoria.
We are thrilled to present these two conservation superstars. This workshop is suited for our experienced bird watchers, but everyone is welcome. Please join us to learn together, and bring along your tricky bird questions.
This event is part of our ‘Community for bush birds’ project supported by the Australian Government under the Communities Environment Program.
Posted on 23 July, 2020 by Ivan
Connecting Country has worked hard to secure funding and is pleased to confirm we have a brand new ‘Healthy Landscapes’ project through the Commonwealth government’s Smart Farms program. This project is about helping our local farmers and other landholders to manage their land sustainably for the benefit of wildlife, themselves and the broader landscape. We will develop a Healthy Landscapes guide book, especially targeted to the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria, and deliver a series of educational workshops for landholders on sustainable land management.
The Midland Express newspaper recently took an interest in this project and published an excellent article, including interviews with Bendigo Federal MP Lisa Chesters and Connecting Country’s Ivan Carter. To read the article – click here
Here is an overview of the one-year project, which will kick off in August 2020 with planning of the guidebook and workshops.
Healthy Landscapes guidebook
The guidebook will cover practical topics such as:
- Reading your landscape: Assessing a property to identify natural assets (e.g., remnant vegetation and large old trees), threats (e.g., weeds, overgrazing, erosion), the need for shade and shelter for stock.
- Property planning: Whole-property planning tailored to landholder needs and aspirations, to protect and enhance natural assets, increase farm productivity, reduce threats and build farm resilience.
- Managing soil and water: Identifying soil types, managing soil erosion, building soil carbon, managing farm dams as habitat, fencing waterways and off-stream watering to improve water quality.
- Promoting biodiversity: Fencing remnant vegetation, grazing exclusion, revegetation techniques, selecting revegetation areas and plants to achieve landscape connectivity, enhance remnant vegetation, protect soil and shelter stock.
- Managing threats: Weed and pest animal identification, control methods, integrated pest management, staying ahead of new and emerging weeds using the latest online tools.
Three workshops will demonstrate examples of best practice sustainable farm management. Topics will reflect community interest, but may include:
- Integrated weed management and tools to stay ahead of new and emerging weeds.
- Value of native plant and animal assets within the farm ecosystem.
- Shelterbelts for farm productivity and ecosystem health.
- Birds as indicators of farm ecosystem health.
We aim to address the common questions we regularly get from landholders, and make the guidebook and workshops as useful as possible. Please let us know if there are any specific topics you’d like to see covered (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Posted on 21 July, 2020 by Ivan
The dung beetle is one of the natural world’s wonders and the role of this hard-working insect is rarely recognised. We occasionally see dung beetles moving copious amounts of dung when out in the field, but rarely have time to stop and ponder their importance in ecosystem function and soil productivity. Thankfully, there is an expert who has devoted his life to Dung Beetles – Dr Bernard Doube – who recently delivered a presentation on behalf of the North Central Catchment Management Authority.
Dr Doube works for Dung Beetle Solutions International and delivered the presentation to bring us up to date with dung beetle species, the history of introduction to Australia and the benefits to agriculture. This presentation was delivered in June 2020 with the support of Landcare Victoria and North Central Catchment Management Authority.
Dr Doube is an international expert on dung beetles, earthworms and the biological basis of soil health. He worked with CSIRO for 29 years and was in charge of the CSIRO Dung Beetle Research Unit in Pretoria, South Africa, for seven years. He has published many research articles on dung beetles, earthworms and the biological basis of soil health. He has conducted grant-funded research since 2003 in association with many research partners, including water authorities, federal agencies, universities, Landcare and other landholder groups.
Australia has more than 500 species of native dung beetles and 23 species introduced from Hawaii, Africa and southern Europe. The introduced dung beetles are useful in Australia’s agricultural regions because our native dung beetles evolved with marsupials and are not adapted to use and disperse cattle dung.
Sometimes referred to as ‘nature’s architects’, dung beetles are part of a healthy agricultural landscape and can significantly improve the overall health of your soil. They benefit your property by breaking down organic material, transporting nutrients from the surface to the subsoil, improving water infiltration and reducing runoff.
It has also been concluded that dung beetles also reduce flies and odours by physically removing dung from the soil surface. This also helps to control dung-borne parasites. To learn more about dung beetles – click here
Please enjoy the presentation below, delivered by Dr Doube.
Posted on 9 July, 2020 by Frances
Mushroom foragers will know that 2020 has been an exceptionally bountiful year for fungi in central Victoria. Recent rains have promoted an amazing flush of fruiting fungi to appear across our native woodlands, plantations and gardens.
We came across this beautifully recorded informative video about a recent trip to hunt for fungi on Mount Alexander, made by Liz Martin with Joy Clusker. Joy Clusker is the co-author of the wonderful book ‘Fungi of the Bendigo Region’ (2018). Joy and Liz have been going to check for fungi and to see if there is anything new for an updated book. Mount Alexander is a favourite spot and they recorded this trip in July 2020.
Posted on 7 July, 2020 by Jess
Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) are hosting an online event the evening of Friday 10 July 2020 titled ‘The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas: its purpose and significance’, featuring Elizabeth Newton, who has worked for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and currently works with Trust for Nature. This free online webinar is open to the community to learn more about this important topic.
At Connecting Country, we encourage the community to submit fauna and flora records to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas. You can read more about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (click here) and about our amazing volunteers who have submitted hundreds of records to this important database (click here). Learning more about the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, and uploading any of your own fauna and flora records is a great way to contribute to nature conservation, especially if you have some extra time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CFNC meetings are usually held on the second Friday of each month (February to December) starting at 7.30 pm. Due to government requirements, the CNFC committee has decided to suspend all club face-to-face activities until further notice.
Details of this event, including how to register, are provided on the CNFC website (click here)
The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) is a foundation dataset that feeds into biodiversity tools used in the government’s everyday environmental decision making. Approvals and permits, funding decisions, and burn planning all rely on biodiversity observations submitted to the VBA.
This presentation will cover what the VBA is, contributing your data, and how your own flora and fauna records can make a difference.
It will also explore why the Department of Environment, Land and Water (DELWP) uses the VBA, and how it differs and interacts with other biodiversity databases such as Atlas of Living Australia, iNaturalist, and Birdata.
If you wish to attend this webinar, please email Peter Turner at email@example.com to receive details on how to attend.
If you previously registered for CFNC’s May webinar you will receive an email with details on how to register for the July session.
For further information please contact Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club – click here
Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan
Welcome to our fifith 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 and Geoff Park, and photographs from Ash Vigus.
Black Falcon (Falco subniger) and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) comparison
Ash Vigus (local bird enthusiast) took some stunning photos of Black Falcons this month, so here’s a bit of a comparison between this raptor and its cousin, the Brown Falcon. In Central Victoria Brown Falcons are relatively common, whereas Black Falcons are relatively rare, but both species are quite hard to tell apart.
As usual on this blog, I have been assisted by local writer, photographer and bird expert, Damian Kelly. He had this to say:
‘A few thoughts on the Black Falcon, it is a nomadic species that prefers the drier inland. However, it can be seen at places as diverse as the Moolort Plains and the Western Treatment Plant near Werribee. Being an opportunist, it likes places with easy pickings as it is the pirate of the raptors – aggressively chasing down other raptors with prey and snatching it from them. Hence the Western Treatment Plant with lots of prey, including Brown Quail and plenty of other raptors such as Brown Falcons and Black-shouldered Kites, which it tries to pirate. Sometimes referred to as the bully of the raptor world, it has long, sharply pointed wings and flies rapidly – quite a sight! I have seen them following cattle and sheep as they flush up prey such as Pipits and they will hang out around areas with quail. I have also seen them along Rodborough Road (Moolort), a place where mobs of Brown Quail can be seen near clumps of taller grasses. Around this area, Moolort and the road to Clunes are likely spots. Further afield the Western Treatment Plant in near Werribee, is the place to see them.’
Newstead local, prowler of the Moolort Plains, blogger and bird expert, Ecologist Geoff Park has sound advice on Black Falcons and how to distinguish them from Brown Falcons. He says the flight pattern of the two species is quite distinct, with the Brown Falcon appearing sluggish whereas the Black Falcon is more like a Peregrine Falcon – very fast. When perched the Black Falcon appears to be crouched, with a distinct long tail extending past the wings, unlike Brown Falcons whose tails are shorter. Also the Black Falcon has a dark chest, unlike the Brown Falcon.
To confuse the issue, Brown falcons come in three different morphs – pale, intermediate and dark – making it confusing when looking at a Black Falcon. However, the flight pattern, perched stance, tail length and chest colour will give you a nice identification tool kit. For further information on Black and Brown Falcons (or any birds local to Newstead) check out Geoff Park’s fascinating blog, Natural Newstead. Or take a drive on the Moolort Plains west of Newstead in central Victoria, and have a look for various raptor species, including Brown Falcons, and if you’re lucky, Black Falcons.
A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden, Damian Kelly and Geoff Park – for their amazing knowledge and advice, and to Ash Vigus for his gorgeous photos.
For more information about these birds and to listen to the call of a Black or Brown Falcon – click here
Posted on 25 June, 2020 by Ivan
The rise and rise of citizen science projects across our region has been heartwarming over the past decade. The passion shown by the Mount Alexander community has been outstanding, with Connecting Country recruiting many skilled and dedicated volunteers to conduct ecological monitoring that collects vital information about the state of our wildlife and environment. In recent years we’ve adapted Connecting Country’s ecological monitoring programs to be directed and delivered by a team of dedicated volunteers, coordinated and supported by a paid staff member. We celebrate our much-loved citizen scientists wherever possible.
Connecting Country’s monitoring projects are only a few of the hundreds of citizen science projects across the nation. Many of these keep important research going and improve the knowledge pool in sectors that cannot attract funding.
We came across an excellent summary of the numerous and varied citizen science projects across the nation, listed on the Australian Broadcasting Commission website. As the article suggests, the recent COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in many people reporting feelings of moderate to high levels of anxiety and depression during this period of uncertainty. The article explains that in a survey of more than 54,000 people last year, more than three-quarters of Australians thought that spending more time in nature would make us happier.
Connecting Country aims to connect our community with the landscape and build their capacity to manage the land sustainably. We feel that our citizen science projects enable the community to be part of caring for our landscape and environment. Our projects can enable people to feel a little hope about reversing ecosystem degradation and be part of the solution at a local scale, while contributing to the larger picture.
Please enjoy a selection of photos from our various citizen science projects and events over the past decade.
The ABC article summarises some impressive projects that are currently up and running working wonders across our nation. The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) has a project finder that currently lists 513 citizen science projects right across Australia that you can get involved in. This is a great way to see what is happening in your local area, or to find a specific topic or cause that may interest you as a volunteer.
To access the full ABC article – click here
Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan
Connecting Country would like to extend a huge thank you to our community for the fantastic entries into our 2020 woodland birds photography competition. We received a very high number of quality entries for this competition, far more than we expected.
The theme was woodland birds and the competition was open to all Connecting Country members and the broader Mount Alexander region community. The aim of the competition was to highlight our special woodland bird community and share the passion and skills of our passionate local photographers, as well as produce a beautifully printed calendar for 2021.
The judging panel have completed reviewing all the entries and awarded 13 winners to feature in Connecting Country’s 2021 woodland birds calendar – one for the front cover of the calendar, and one bird for each month of the year. Please enjoy the winning photographs below, including the talented photographer behind each image.
The 2021 calendar will be available to purchase in the coming months, so stay tuned and don’t purchase a new calendar quite yet!
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a copy put aside for you.
Posted on 18 June, 2020 by Ivan
We received a great newsletter update from Harley Douglas, Dhelkunya Dja Project Officer with Djandak, about recent cultural surveys in our region, as well as some impressive flora and fauna surveys. The results of these surveys will feed back into fuel reduction plans and management practices for these important public land assets within Dja Dja Wurrung Country in central Victoria. It is heartening to see the wisdom and knowledge of Traditional Owners influencing land management practices across our treasured parks and woodlands. There is also an important survey to complete regarding what the community enjoy about these parks and reserves.
Walking Together – Balak Kalik Manya – update
The Walking Together- Balak Kalik Manya Project is a four-year project committed to writing site-specific management plans for two sites within Dja Dja Wurrung Country; Kalimna Park in Castlemaine and Wildflower Drive in Bendigo. Both sites were selected due to their proximity to growing townships and the increasing pressures of urbanisation slowly encroaching both park boundaries. The project is exploring how we can increase community connection with nature, how to improve visitation rates and encourage healthy use of these sites, all while maintaining and improving biodiversity. The project will promote Djaara employment and assist in Djaara reconnecting with traditional practices of land management.
Since the previous newsletter, our flora and fauna assessments have now been completed with terrific results in mapping Eltham Copper Butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida) populations and clusters of Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) habitat within Kalimna Park. Similar surveying was completed at Wildflower Drive to detect the presence of the Eltham Copper Butterfly but sadly, there were none detected. The elusive Pink-tailed Worm-lizard’s (Aprasia parapulchella) presence was discovered at Wildflower Drive. This is an important find as our surveying information and mapping of this species, and other threatened and important species, has been provided to DELWP to inform their scheduled fuel reduction burns at the site.
We have also recently completed an extensive camera trapping program across both sites with Tactecol Consulting, in total 36 cameras were setup for a month to record and monitor the presence of a broad range of animals; but with a focus on arboreal marsupials such as Tuans, Sugar Gliders and Possums. Kalimna Park had promising results with Tuans but unfortunately, Wildflower Drive did not record the presence of any Tuans, Sugar Gliders or Possums. This was extremely disappointing given that the One Tree Hill area of the Greater Bendigo National Park (just a stone throw away from Wildflower Drive) is known to have healthy populations of these animals. However, this disappointing result provides an opportunity to investigate a range of management actions to help these struggling animals. Such as a rope bridge over Strathfieldsaye Road connecting the One Tree Hill block to Wildflower Drive, and this also provides an opportunity to construct and install nest boxes onsite in conjunction with school groups and local community members to help attract and provide a home for these important species at Wildflower Drive.
Cultural surveying will continue as more rockwells and other areas of cultural significance have been discovered and recorded within Kalimna Park, many thanks to the vigilant community members who are keeping an eye out for items of cultural significance and making us aware of the location for verifying. So far, all the items of cultural heritage I have been asked to look at have been legitimate- showing that some members within the Castlemaine community have a keen eye for Djaara culture.
During April this year, we were planning on beginning consultation with the community to better understand what it is the community aspire their parks to be. Given the current global circumstances with COVID-19 we have had to delay this process until we knew how to best approach the situation. We will be going ahead with community consultation, starting NOW, in the form of a short, online survey. The survey asks questions about demographics and prioritisation of specific management actions that have been suggested for the parks. This survey is just the beginning of the community consultation we are planning to do, and I am hoping that we can meet in person within the next couple of months; when COVID-19 restrictions ease. Please fill in the survey and redistribute to other interested members of the community if you feel like doing so.
Here is the link to the survey- https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2MF7B2Z
If you or the group that you are involved with would prefer to give input in a different way other than the survey or a future face-to-face meeting, please let me know what process you would like to follow and I will try and accommodate as best I can to allow for everyone’s opinions to be voiced. These parks are incredibly special sites, and one of the things that make them special is having a community of people that care for them.
If you would like to discuss the survey with me, or if you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to get in touch. I would love to have your input.
Dhelkunya Dja Project Officer- Djandak
P: 5444 2888
Posted on 9 June, 2020 by Ivan
Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club (CFNC) are hosting an online event the evening of Fridan 12 June 2020 titled ‘Solutions to insect armageddon’, featuring a speaker from the University of Melbourne ’s School of Biosciences, geneticist Professor Phil Batterham. This free online is open to the community to learn more about this important topic.
CFNC meetings are usually held on the second Friday of each month (February to December) starting at 7.30 pm, in the Uniting Church hall, Lyttleton St, Castlemaine VIC. Due to government requirements the CNFC Committee decided in March 2020 that all club face-to-face activities will be suspended until further notice.
Details of this event, including how to register, are provided below from the CNFC website.
Prof. Phil Batterham’s career has spanned almost four decades at the University of Melbourne. Throughout his career, Phil has wrestled with the problem of insecticide resistance, providing both practical solutions for more sustainable control of the insect pests of agriculture and major contributions to our understanding of evolution. In recent times Phil’s focus has switched to the impact that low doses of insecticides may be having upon global populations of insects that are in decline.
Insects are everywhere, and vital to human food production and natural ecosystems. While most of us are familiar with the tasks of some beneficial insects, we rarely stop to consider just how fundamental their role really is. Bees pollinate crops, dung beetles recycle nutrients, ladybirds control pests and bogong moths are food that sustains endangered pygmy possums.
Globally, there is evidence that beneficial insect populations are in freefall, and insecticide use to control pest insects is a key suspect. So how can humans control the insects we don’t want, while avoiding collateral damage to the insects that we need? Solutions to Insect Armageddon addresses this question, showcasing four fascinating stories of breakthrough research from the University of Melbourne driving new, non-chemical ways to control insects.
If you wish to attend this webinar, please email Peter Turner at email@example.com to receive details on how to attend.
If you previously registered for CFNC’s May webinar you will receive an email with details on how to register for the June session.
For further information please contact CFNC.
Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan
Connecting Country are busily preparing to roll out our 2020 revegetation projects across the region over the next few months, with an abundance of moisture and perfect growing conditions. Recent rainfall in central Victoria means planting conditions are likely to be particularly good compared with in recent years, which has us excited about the prospects for the 4,500 plants ready at the Connecting Country depot.
Of the 4,500 plants, 1,500 have been provided by TreeProject and the remaining provided through Connecting Country’s funded landscape restoration projects TreeProject is a wonderful not-for-profit group that connects landholders and community groups with volunteers who propagate low-cost indigenous seedlings to revegetate degraded landscapes. TreeProject is able to keep seedling costs as low as possible thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the volunteers who propagate the seedlings in their backyards from materials TreeProject supplies.
Our Landscape Restoration Coordinator, Bonnie Humphreys, has spent the past few weeks preparing for plant delivery and ensuring the plants are in top condition. Bonnie said ‘Connecting Country has 23 landholders signed up for the current 2020 batch of plants and projects, but we will be looking to expand to reach further landowners if more funding comes along. We are very lucky to have some terrific local plant suppliers, such as Newstead Natives, an indigenous plant nursery that propagates local plants for our region for habitat restoration’. Please enjoy some photos of the delicious plants, with our staff members Bonnie Humpheys, Jacqui Slingo and Ivan Carter.
Over the past decade, Connecting Country has worked with over 250 landholders and groups to enhance more than 10,000 hectares of habitat across the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria. This equates to approximately 6 percent of the Mount Alexander Shire. ‘It has been my pleasure to again be part of delivering Connecting Country’s revegetation program this year. We have some great projects enabling us to support landholders to restore and create valuable habitat across the shire.’ said Bonnie.
Unfortunately, we do not have any current capacity for additional landowners to join our restoration projects, but are actively seeking further funding. We do encourage landowners to fill out our expression of interest form, or contact us for advice how to conduct restoration work on their properties for optimal biodiversity outcomes. Once we have your details on file, we can let you know of opportunities for assistance as they arise. To access the expression of interest form – click here
To find out more about our current projects or discuss your eligibility, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have filled out an expression of interest form in the past 12 months, we have you on file and you don’t need to fill in another form, but you can always let us know you are still interested via email.
Posted on 4 June, 2020 by Ivan
While we love our furry feline friends, it’s well documented that cats can have a devastating impact on our native wildlife. Why do cats always get their way: because they are very purr-suasive, and owners often let them out to forage and hunt during the day and night. The following interesting article from the clever folk at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub highlights some new research about Australia’s cat problem and potential solutions. For more information, the book Cats in Australia by John Woinarski, Sarah Legge and Chris Dickman discusses the impact of cats in Australia, their relationship with people, and their management. It can be purchased from CSIRO Publishing and accessed from The National Library of Australia.
This article is provided courtesy of the Threatened Species Recovery Hub.
Addressing our wildlife cat-astrophe
Predation by cats is a key threat to at least 123 threatened species in Australia. Better understanding and reducing the impact of feral cats on susceptible wildlife has been a major area of research for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. Hub Deputy Directors Professors Sarah Legge and John Woinarski take a look at our research to address Australia’s cat problem.
Conservationists have worried about what cats do to Australian wildlife for over a century. For example, Archibald Campbell, a prominent naturalist, wrote in a 1906 issue of The Emu: ‘Undoubtedly, if many of our highly interesting and beautiful birds, especially ground-loving species, are to be preserved from total extinction, we must … at no distant date face squarely a wild-cat destruction scheme.’ But these warnings didn’t precipitate much action. The very quality that makes cats such appealing pets – their spectral, cagey guile – makes them noncompliant subjects for research and management. Until recently, compared to other invasive vertebrate species like foxes and rabbits (for which research and management was prioritised because of their recognised detriment to agriculture), we knew much less about cat ecology and the extent of their impacts, and cats had a reputation for being impossible to control.
However, over the past decade or so, there have been some noteworthy successes in the control of feral cats, especially the development of a cat-specific poison bait presentation (Eradicat®) in Western Australia, and eradication of cats from islands and from within large fenced areas on the mainland, with consequent benefits to many threatened species.
From about 10 years ago, some key technological advances, including the miniaturisation of tracking devices and the advent of affordable camera traps, as well as innovations such as using tracking dogs, have enabled new research approaches for cats, and many other relatively small, cryptic species.
The surge of cat research and management has been supported by policy leadership from governments, including the Australian Government, which shone a spotlight on cats in the Threatened Species Strategy, revised the national Threat Abatement Plan for cats, encouraged greater alignment of policy and management of cats across the states and territories, and funded a body of research to improve cat management through the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program.
Issue 14 of Science for Saving Species showcases some of the hub’s portfolio of interlinked and collaborative research projects on cats, developed following a large workshop held in 2015 that identified major knowledge gaps and opportunities. This portfolio has two broad components; one component has gathered the evidence base for the extent and scale of cat impacts, by comprehensively synthesising published and unpublished work. This research established the first estimate for the cat population size in Australia and built on that to describe spatial patterns of cat predation (and overall tolls) on mammals, birds, reptiles, with estimates for frogs and invertebrates available soon.
The hub has many on-ground research projects about how to reduce cat impacts, shown here grouped by broad management option. The map of Australia shows the spatial variation in cat density during wet years, new knowledge which was produced by the evidence-gathering component of the program.
The approach is currently being extended to foxes; the complementary suites of cat and fox studies will help us understand how the relative impacts of these two predators vary over space and time, and thus guide the relative investment in control efforts for foxes and cats.
The evidence-gathering component of the cat research program has also identified which mammal and bird species are most sensitive to predation by cats. Some native species can persist only in the near-absence of cats (and foxes), and have survived extinction only because populations naturally exist on, or have been translocated to, islands or mainland fenced areas that are cat- and fox-free. The hub’s research identified which of these species were currently inadequately protected, and recommended sites for future island and fencing projects that would increase the level of protection most effectively and efficiently across the set of predator-susceptible mammal species.
The second component of the hub’s cat research program comprises a suite of field-based projects that aim to improve the way we manage cats at different scales (from sites to landscapes) using existing as well as novel control options. This has included work to extend and improve the way we use existing poison-baits, in places as diverse as Kangaroo Island, the Pilbara and the Queensland brigalow. At Pullen Pullen, research is aiming to make cat trapping and shooting ‘smarter’ by identifying when and where individual cats need to be removed to protect populations of highly threatened species like night parrots.
An example of research into a novel approach involves trials of whether ‘guardian dogs’ can effectively repel foxes and cats from around populations of eastern barred bandicoots in Victoria.
Several field projects are investigating how we can reduce cat impacts across very large landscapes by managing other threats that interact with cat predation. For example, reducing rabbits can dramatically lower cat density, especially if matched with integrated cat control to minimise prey-switching events. In a reverse example, a project on Christmas Island aims to find out if black rats will increase as a result of the island’s cat eradication program, and how rats can be monitored for increases that could affect populations of endemic birds.
Earlier work showed that managing fire and livestock grazing in ways that maintain structurally diverse ground vegetation can reduce cat predation, at least in some circumstances. Fire and grazing management is an approach to cat control that could be implemented across very large landscapes, with multiple benefits, so the generality of the interactions between predators, fire and grazing is being investigated in habitats as diverse as the Victorian Otways, Kakadu, the stony deserts, the wet tropics and the Tiwi islands .
Other research in western New South Wales Sarah Legge and the Simpson Desert is investigating The Australian National University interactions between cats, foxes and dingoes, The University of Queensland and whether manipulating the densities of larger predators could influence the density and or activity of smaller predators.
The hub’s cat research has generated enormous interest in the print, online and television media, and has contributed to a heightened awareness about cat impacts, and greater support for their management in Australia compared with other countries. This support shouldn’t be taken for granted; in the past year, new research directions have included a focus on how we can continue to shape the conversation about cat impacts and management with a broad cross-section of the public by working with key stakeholders on targeted information exchange. To support this initiative, recent work has compiled detailed evidence about the impacts of pet cats on wildlife, and the economic burden of cat-borne diseases like toxoplasmosis that have substantial effects on human health and livestock production. Stay tuned for these results in future issues of Science for Saving Species.
Campbell was right to worry about cats, and a century later we are still worried. But our understanding of cat impacts, which native species are most at risk, and the range and effectiveness of management options, have improved considerably. Cat management is challenging but not impossible, and blue-sky ideas including using gene drives to reduce cat populations, and accelerating selection for predator avoidance, are just emerging. With continued policy and public support, management effort and research innovation, we may be able to win the fight that Campbell advocated so long ago: to protect our wildlife from the deadly threat posed by cats.
Sarah Legge – The Australian National University, The University of Queensland and Charles Darwin University
John Woinarski – Charles Darwin University
Posted on 2 June, 2020 by Ivan
There would be few, if any, landholders across Victoria that have not experienced the tiresome battle with the diverse range of invasive plants and animals. In the Mount Alexander region, many of us are aware of the vast areas of Gorse, Blackberry, Cape and English Broom, Thistles, Wheel Cactus, Bridal Creeper and other weeds, as well as invasive animals such as rabbits, foxes, and increasingly, deer.
Details of a new survey from Agriculture Victoria are outlined below. The survey will give the Victoria government important data to make strategic planning decisions and allocate funding.
Agriculture Victoria is seeking support from private landholders, including farmers, to help combat pests and weeds which cost Victoria more than $1 billion a year in management and control programs. Landholders are invited to take part in a state-wide survey to better understand the social and behavioural factors that influence pest and weed management.
Agriculture Victoria is the lead agency in the delivery of programs to combat established invasive species which is underpinned by the $4.3 million Weeds and Rabbits Project funded by the Commonwealth government. ‘We’ve been working closely with our key stakeholders and community members to better understand the barriers people face with implementing weed and rabbit management practices,’ said Agriculture Victoria Acting Program Manager Heidi Kleinert said. Ms Kleinert said community participation was crucial to understanding this space.
‘Rabbits and weeds are a problem for all landholders, including farmers and public land managers, and we need to tackle this together,’ she said.
‘We are asking land managers to share with us how they manage weeds and rabbits on their property. The survey results will tell us what is working well at the moment, but also where improvements can be made.’
North East landholder and community representative Neil Devanny said a major issue for farmers in meeting their obligations to control pest animals and plants came down to setting and managing priorities.
‘We all need to harvest our crops, shear our sheep, market our livestock and so this work must happen. It is easy to drive past a rabbit burrow or weed and say I will do that tomorrow,’ he said. ‘An effective pest program needs to remind and prompt landholders to take action, especially on a collective basis.’
‘Land manager input will assist in developing collective ownership of the programs to benefit the community as a whole and support the good work that is already being done.’
The survey opened Monday 25 May and closes Wednesday 24 June 2020.
To complete the survey – click here
For more information contact Nicole Cairns (phone 0436 675 030)
The data community provide will be made anonymous and you will be able to read key findings on the Weeds and Rabbits Project website when available.
Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan
In this post we explore some more marvelous ideas from BirdLife Australia for enjoying birds in our backyards and around the home, during this period of COVID-19 related restrictions and cold weather. Fortunately there are many online resources to keep us learning and connected to nature, while we stay safely at home. Remember to you use BirdLife’s Birdata App to enter your bird survey results and observations of our amazing bird life. One of the delights of bird watching has always been that you can do it anywhere, including right at home. No matter where we are, there’s usually a bird not far away.
Here are some ways we can continue to enjoy the beauty of our feathered friends, and have fun and learn new skills while our activities are restricted:
- Test your Aussie bird knowledge and keep your mind limber with quick crosswords! – visit The Cross-Bird
- Find out about that strange bird is perched on the verandah. Bird Finder allows you to search, browse or find information about individual Australian birds. More birds will be added over time. Alternatively you can view the full list of species.
- Keep the kids chirpy. The Birds in Backyards team have put together some incredible resources to keep the family entertained, and help them learn about amazing birds and places at the same time.
- Be inspired by the beauty of Australia’s birds – browse the gallery of winners of the BirdLife Australia Photography Awards, or contemplate what images you’ll enter in the 2020 competition.
- Be transported to the beach from the comfort of your living room with these unique, downloadable activity books for kids, featuring stories, board games, puzzles, and more!
- View the BIBY TV YouTube channel for a wonderful range of videos to keep you entertained – everything from gardening tips, to bird profiles and incredible conservation tales.
- Follow the social media feeds on the link below, including the ‘have you ever asked #whatbirdisthat?’, which allows you to ask for bird identification help with hashtags on social media.
For more ideas, visit the ‘Birding at home’ page of the BirdLife Australia website.
Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan
We received a fabulous Landcare story written by Beth Mellick from Muckleford Catchment Landcare Group, as part of Connecting Country’s ‘Landcare Stories’ series. The story highlights the importance of Landcare in our community, and how Landcare can be fun and engaging in many different ways across our diverse community. Since early 2012 Connecting Country has employed a local Landcare Facilitator to support the work of community land management groups in the Mount Alexander region of central Victoria.
To join a local Landcare group, please visit our list of contact details for the Mount Alexander region – click here
Please enjoy the following words by Beth Mellick. For more details about Muckleford Catchment Landcare and their current activities – click here
Muckleford Catchment Landcare is made up of a vibrant group of landholders who are interested in being sustainable and want to know more about protecting their local environment.
We help each other out, share information and get together to plant trees to increase habitat connectivity. We hold workshops and events, and are active around protecting our roadsides and native species. We monitor nest boxes once a year at the Walmer Conservation Reserve, and have an annual bike ride. We leave weed control to contractors, and concentrate our time on activities that are enjoyable, interesting and social.
Once a year we get together and plan our activities for the following year: looking at someone else’s property, workshops on something we want to know (like how to retain water in the landscape or turn a dam into a wetland), and where we can plant habitat for strategic connections in the Muckleford landscape. We also look to partner with Connecting Country and other local groups on projects that will benefit our members.
We wanted to do something different – something fun that we could make an annual event for members to look forward to. We use the bike lane beside the railway line, starting at the Muckleford train station, going through Maldon and ending up at a local pub for lunch, before we return. We attract new members to this event. They often bring friends and family members of all ages and interests to get involved, and we love it.
Muckleford Catchment Landcare aims to:
- Improve water quality in the Muckleford Creek and its tributaries.
- Conserve soil in the Muckleford Creek catchment.
- Create a healthy and viable balance between farming and biodiversity.
- Encourage discussion, debate, participation and co-operation between landholders within the catchment.
- Harness local knowledge and expertise to improve the environment and productivity.
- Assist landholders to access funding for land improvement projects.
Posted on 28 May, 2020 by Ivan
We came across an upcoming free webinar by the Sustainable Farms initiative on how to enhance your dam for biodiversity and improved water quality. Typically farm dams were constructed solely to provide water for stock and for irrigation, but that has been slowly changing. Although your dam’s primary role may be to supply water for farm production, there are some simple and inexpensive steps you can take to help turn your dam into a haven for local wildlife.
You might recall our recent spotting of Long-Necked Turtles in a farm dam at Golden Point here in central Victoria (click here), which was a good testament to the landowners efforts to improve habitat quality on their property.
Join Sustainable Farms ecologists Dr Mason Crane and Eleanor Lang from the Australian National University, and vet Eve Hall for a webinar to learn about:
- Results of Sustainable Farms pilot study into the benefits of enhancing farm dams
- Water quality and its impact on productivity
- Healthy dams and biodiversity – creating habitat for critters such as turtles
The discussion will focus on how this applies to agricultural landscapes within the North East Victoria, South West Slopes, Central Tablelands and Murray-Riverina. However, much of the information will also be relevant to our region.
Farm dam enhancements: free webinar
When: Thursday 4 June 2020 at 12:30 to 2:00 pm (AEST)
To register: click here
For enquiries: contact Tamara Harris, Sustainable Farms, Australian National University by phone (0428 621187) or email (email@example.com).
This workshop will be held using Zoom. Prior to the event, participants will be sent instructions on how to sign in. Participants will need a computer, tablet or phone device with speaker and microphone (camera is not necessary).
For more information on the Sustainable Farms initiative: click here
Posted on 14 May, 2020 by Ivan
We were fortunate to receive the following Landcare story written by Sue McLennan from Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA), as part of Connecting Country’s ‘Landcare Stories’ series. The story highlights the importance of Landcare in our community, and how Landcare not only helps restore our local ecosystems, but educates the next generation of land managers. Since 2012 Connecting Country has employed a Landcare Facilitator to support the work of community land management groups in the Mount Alexander Shire. If you would like to join a local Landcare group, visit Connecting Country’s website for contact details for all the groups in our region – click here
Arboretum comes to life in Elphinstone
The Elphinstone Arboretum is a great example of a shared vision coming to life through community engagement, teamwork and dedication, in the true spirit of Landcare. As the brainchild of former Elphinstone Land Management Association (ELMA) member Neville Cooper, who saw an opportunity to enhance and develop a half acre site dotted with mature sliver banksia and eucalypts at the Recreation Reserve in Elphinstone, the arboretum has become an important part of our local landscape.
When established in 2010, aided by a grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council, the project captured the hearts of ELMA members and has been the most successful of our group’s planting days and working bees. With assistance from native plant guru Frances Cincotta from Newstead Natives, indigenous plants were carefully chosen and planted according to habit, with many species grouped together to allow for greater visual impact and easy identification. Over 400 seedlings have been planted over the years to showcase trees and shrubs indigenous to the area, encouraging visitors to learn about native plants and how to use them on their own properties, while providing habitat for native wildlife.
Some years later, when the plants had become well established, ELMA was successful in obtaining a grant for signage through the North Central Catchment Management Authority. In 2017 we installed fixed full colour signs with photos providing information on habit, flowering and cultivation of over 25 different plants including various species of acacia, eucalypts, correas, melaleuca and hopbush, to name a few.
The arboretum is an ever-evolving space. Although we’ve lost a few plants along the way, we’ve gained knowledge in which species have thrived under the local conditions and have planted more of those species, ensuring that each year it grows in abundance.
Not only is it a wonderful asset for our community, it’s a celebration of our botanical heritage and an example of how we can make a positive impact on our environment. We hope that visitors to the Recreation Reserve can enjoy the arboretum, not only to admire its beauty but as a botanical and educational reference for many years to come.
The Elphinstone Arboretum is located behind the Elphinstone Hall in Olivers Lane, Elphinstone VIC.
ELMA is a Landcare group in Elphinstone, in central Victoria, just outside of Castlemaine. This group of volunteers work on public and private land to enhance biodiversity, carry out land restoration, offer advice on best practice land use, and manage pest plants and animals. ELMA is a member of the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Farm Tree and Landcare Association (FTLA). Please visit ELMA’s website for more details on membership and upcoming events– click here
Posted on 12 May, 2020 by Ivan
Are you looking for an interesting online bird event this week? Birdlife Australia is running a series of birding at home events and activities, to keep us engaged and learning at home during the COVID-19 restrictions. This week will feature an online event about our birds from the night, the nocturnal community, and will include a questions and answers session with Dr Beth Mott, Birdlife Australia’s Powerful Owl Project Officer.
Here is what Birdlife Australia has to say about the event.
Birding at home: Nocturnal birds with Dr Beth Mott
‘To help everyone who is now #BirdingatHome, Birdlife Australia presents a weekly live series on Facebook where our bird experts will be taking questions and talking about what we love best – birds. Beth is our Powerful Owl Project Officer (NSW) and is fully primed to answer your questions about noises in the night – your nocturnal birds!
Beth will talk about the night birds we are likely to see and hear at home, as well as threatened species such as Australia’s biggest owl – the Powerful Owl– so if you’ve got a query, post your question here! Beth will also touch on how you can help prevent our nocturnal birds from exposure to the dangers of rodenticides.
Even if you are an expert birder, we encourage you to join in for a chat – and please spread the word to all the bird and nature lovers in your life.
To find out more about our Powerful Owl project work in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria – see https://birdlife.org.au/projects/powerful-owl-project’
Topic: Nocturnal birds with Dr Beth Mott
Date: Thursday 14 May 2020 12pm – 1pm
Host: Birdlife Australia
To register: click here
Posted on 7 May, 2020 by Ivan
We are super lucky to have secured local Newstead resident and blog royalty, the wonderful Geoff Park, as a guest blog author this week, exploring the question of ‘Is landscape restoration working?’ This topic is close to our hearts, given Connecting Country’s decade of landscape restoration work and ecological monitoring. We are enlightened to read Geoff’s well thought out article exploring the questions, answers and unknowns. Please enjoy the following insights from Geoff Park and subscribe to his excellent Natural Newstead blog (https://geoffpark.wordpress.com/author/geoffpark/) if you don’t already!
Is landscape restoration working?
Across Australia (and beyond) there are wonderful initiatives, many community led, to restore damaged landscapes. Here in Mount Alexander Shire the work of dedicated landholders and community groups such as Connecting Country is part of a continental effort of landscape restoration – at many different scales from patch to paddock to catchment.
All up it represents a monumental expenditure of time, human resources and money – so how well is it working?
I’d like to tackle this question from three different perspectives.
Firstly, to what extent have we been able to repair the key ecological processes, such as absorbing and filtering water, enabling soil formation and promoting natural regeneration – fundamental things that healthy landscapes do well.
Our local landscapes have been ravaged, especially by mining which began in the 1850s and continued into the start of the 20th century at a significant scale, only to be followed by large-scale timber extraction during the world wars. At least five waves of vegetation clearance have occurred – each time the landscape has bounced back to some degree through natural regeneration, but it’s not the same and it’s certainly not as good. Much of the bush on public land in district is what I would term a thicket – regenerating eucalypts, often multi-stemmed and originating from an ancient lignotuber, at a density perhaps ten to a hundred times greater than the ‘original’ bush.
Repairing ecological processes is no easy task – with a metre of soil stripped from the land and new soil being formed at perhaps 10 mm in 100 years you can do the maths!
Secondly, how well are we succeeding in restoring the missing components?
Well what have we lost? A number of species of birds have become locally extinct – the Grey-crowned Babbler and Bush Stone-curlew have succumbed to loss of habitat and fox predation, while once common birds such as the Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot are on the brink. On the flora side of the equation we have retained most of the diversity of trees and larger shrubs (especially wattles), however smaller shrubs, understorey grasses, and forbs have been decimated. For example, Silver Banksia, was common locally until the advent of extensive grazing from the 1870s or thereabouts. It is now locally extinct around Newstead. It is encouraging to see landscape restoration becoming more sophisticated, moving from large scale establishment of eucalypts to more nuanced approaches such as targeted plantings of shrubs and grasses to an active exploration of how cultural burning techniques might restore something of the ‘original’ look and feel of the bush. Not only will this restore some of the missing parts of the puzzle it will also enable our landscapes to function more effectively.
And thirdly – what is happening to the structure, or put more simply … how does it look?
It’s ironic, but there are now more trees (in terms of stems/ha) in our landscape than there would have been 200 years ago, the thickening of eucalypts in response to repeated clearing has created a very different landscape. Where once there may have been 3 or 4 massive Grey Box per hectare on the low rises leading away from the Loddon River, there may now be upwards of a 1,000 stems per hectare. The open, ‘park like’ appearance that was often remarked on by landscape chroniclers, starting with Mitchell in 1836, was a scattering of large gums above wildflower filled native grassland – it was a mosaic with lots of open space. Sadly, there are few remaining examples – generally postage stamp remnants on private land.
This of course provokes the question, often hotly contested, of what should we be aiming for. One commonly used reference point is provided by what is known as the pre-1750 benchmark for ecosystems. Vegetation communities across Victoria have been described by botanists and ecologists in terms of what we think they might have looked like prior to European occupation, a descriptive reconstruction of the species composition and the abundance of some of the key species in each community, for example the density of characteristic eucalypts. While this can be a useful starting point and a guide, the onset of rapidly unfolding climate change has led to active questioning of this approach. In my home garden, some years back, I started planting beautiful, hardy Riverina wattles from 150 kilometres north – species such Eumong, Weeping Myall and Willow Wattle will I suspect become a feature of future local landscapes.
So … is landscape restoration working? It’s too early to say, however, there are some positive signs.
It’s instructive to look at time series aerial photography and in more modern times, satellite imagery Close to home, at Newstead, the change along the Loddon River between 1949, when the first aerial surveys were done, and 2002 – not long after Catchment Management Authorities were established to coordinate what is proving to be very successful large-scale river restoration, shows a remarkable and positive transformation. Click here for the details. The simple act of removing grazing along the riparian zone has led to extensive and sustained natural regeneration, augmented in recent times by strategic Landcare plantings.
Natural regeneration is happening on a significant scale across box-ironbark ecosystems in Victoria, but it is concentrated on the more marginal agricultural lands, the stony ridges and eroded hillslopes where topsoil is scant and fertility is low. Increasingly, however, a decline in some agricultural commodity markets and our proximity to large urban centres has driven a shift in land use across much of central Victoria, from a largely farming landscape until the 1980s to one where nature conservation is now a serious, widespread and legitimate land use – increasingly this is seeing once heavily cleared alluvial areas, not just the ‘lizard country’, being actively managed for biodiversity.
In my small patch around Newstead I’ve been tracking the disappearance and return of iconic woodland birds, like the Hooded Robin, Crested Bellbird and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. My observations are anecdotal and are by no means systematic, but I am seeing some positive signs. The majority of species are doing okay, and while numbers move up and down with the seasons – there was a significant rebound after the Millenium drought broke in 2010-11 – my sense is that the trend is neither decline or resurgence but a fragile stability. How climate change plays out over the coming decade will be critical.
A core feature of Connecting Country’s work when it started over a decade ago was the establishment of a long-term monitoring program. This program, focusing on woodland birds, nest boxes and habitat assessment is a great example of tackling the question … is landscape restoration working? With monitoring results across reference and restoration site in a variety of ecosystems some patterns are starting to emerge to shed light on the question.
I’ll be interested to see what is emerging from a preliminary analysis of this data and while it won’t definitively answer the question … is landscape restoration working? … it will be a very useful start.