Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife take out Fairfax Landcare Community Group Award at the NT Landcare Awards

LFW Central Australia Significant Trees Officer, Candice Appleby, and LFW Central Australia Coordinator, Caragh Heenan, receive the award for Fairfax Landcare Community Group. Image credit: Territory Natural Resource Management

 

Land for Wildlife is proud to announce that we have taken the prize for Fairfax Landcare Community Group award at the NT Landcare Awards in Darwin!

Appreciation goes to Bill Low of Low Ecological Services for the ongoing support and assistance as host of the program. Thanks to all our funding providers (Parks and Wildlife Commission NT and the Alice Springs Town Council) and project supporters (Territory Natural Resource Management) for enabling the work we do to be so successful.

The biggest of thanks go to the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife members that put so much effort into conserving wildlife habitat through land management initiatives, revegetation activities, weed removal, feral animal control and the creation of habitat spaces. The Land for Wildlife program is voluntary and relies on private landholders to protect, conserve and restore habitat with often limited resources. As coordinator of Land for Wildlife, my role to provide information resources, engage and educate the masses, and connect like-minded individuals with the greater network is the easy part – the rest is up to our members! So well done to our 101 Land for Wildlife and 137 Garden for Wildlife members for the tireless work you do to protect wildlife habitat across central Australia.

Thanks go to Territory NRM and NT Landcare for the lovely recognition of all of the hard work we have carried out through the program. Land for Wildlife Central Australia has had a huge year, taking on a number of projects in Alice Springs and the surrounding region. Some of the activities we have been involved in this year include:

  • Signing up many new eager members and connecting with existing members.
  • Producing monthly newsletters to provide members with articles of interest.
  • We celebrated the 15th birthday of Land for Wildlife and the 10th birthday of Garden for Wildlife which was supported by TNRM and Olive Pink Botanic Garden and included a range of workshops, such as seed collection by Samantha Hussey from Charles Darwin University and Bat box making by John Tyne from Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife.
  • Engaging cat owners with the Domestic Cat Monitoring Project and developing a range of resources to encourage responsible cat management. This project was supported by TNRM and funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.
  • The NT Register of Significant Trees (initiated by the National Trust of Australia (NT) and Greening Australia) was updated and converted to an online format for central Australia (and the top end is next).
  • Launched the latest edition of the Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs guide by Nic Gambold and Deb Metters, by hosting a workshop by Rex Neindorf at Alice Springs Reptile Centre.
  • Helped to organise and run a Buffel busting tour of Alice Springs, coordinated by Arid Lands Environment Centre, to inspire residents to remove buffel from their properties and encourage native forbs and grasses to grow.
  • Began developing a grass identification book for central Australia with permission from AusGrass2 via the Queensland Herbarium.
  • Encouraged members to learn about the birds in their backyards by running a Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey with camera traps at bird baths, as well as a mist netting survey with assistance from Bruce Pascoe. This was inspired by BirdLife Australia’s Aussie Backyard Bird Count.
  • Ran Biodiversity and Habitat workshops for school groups at the DesertSmart EcoFair schools day as part of National Science Week.
  • Worked with the Bachelor Institute and Centralian Senior Secondary College to do biodiversity surveys and understand the impact of feral species.
  • Ran a workshop for Conservation Volunteers Australia Green Army at Olive Pink Botanic Garden.
  • Hosted stalls at many of the local events in Alice Springs to engage the wider community about the program.
  • Continued to work with the Alice Springs Town Council on environmental management through the advisory committee.
  • Feral cat and spotted turtle dove traps have been booked out all year with eager members trapping invasive species with our support.

To top it off, all of our work has been well supported and encouraged by ABC Alice Springs as well as local community groups such as the Alice Springs Field Naturalists and Australian Plants Society Alice Springs Inc.

Congratulations to all of the other winners and finalists! There were so many deserving groups and individuals – a great set of enthusiastic and passionate people working towards NRM in the central Australian and top end region. Land for Wildlife Top End was also hugely successful this year, taking out two awards for Australian Government Partnerships for Landcare (NT Landcare Awards) and People’s Choice Award (Territory NRM Awards). This goes to show the level of interest in such a great program across the Northern Territory and proves that we are doing something right. At a local level, congratulations go to the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers for their well-deserved award for Indigenous NRM Group in the Territory NRM awards. Land for Wildlife is proud to be able to support the great work done by the ranger team and look forward to assisting with a biodiversity survey out their way next year.

We look forward now to taking on the big guns at the National Landcare Awards next year, going up against the winners from around Australia.

Well done team!

Land for Wildlife Top End and Central Australia. L-R: LFW Top End member Jo-Anne Scott, LFW Top End Coordinator Emma Lupin, LFW Central Australia Significant Trees Officer Candice Appleby and LFW Central Australia Coordinator Caragh Heenan. Image credit: Land for Wildlife Top End

Seed Collection in Central Australia

Hakea seeds have been released from their follicles, leaving the shell on the tree.

 

At the recent Land for Wildlife birthday event, Samantha Hussey from Charles Darwin University presented a workshop on seed collection to our members and it was of great interest and debate among attendees. Seed collection is something that may interest you at the local level, as you may be interested in revegetating your property through propagation practises. At a commercial level, nurseries will collect seed to propagate stock for sale. At a national level, agencies will collect seed for storage in seed banks. In Australia, there is a National Seed Bank at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, which has a role of conservation, research, propagation and supply of seed to researchers.

While many plant nurseries will have several local native species for sale, the ability for nurseries to stock a large variety of local native plants can be limited. Collecting local native seed and germinating the stock yourself can allow you to revegetate an area efficiently and with species that interest you. You can collect seed to germinate in growing houses or conduct direct seeding for revegetation purposes. Thus, we provide some information here to assist you with seed collection in the local area to maximise your ability to propagate local native plants.

Knowing where to collect seed will be your first hurdle. Seed collection in the Northern Territory requires a permit, which can be obtained through the NT Government. This is especially necessary when you are dealing with threatened species, such as Cycads. Ensure that you have a permit to collect seed from the locations that you have in mind. In addition, written permission from the landowner is required before collection can begin, including aboriginal land, roadsides, private land, pastoral properties, national parks / conservation reserves, or council reserves. There may also be sensitivity around collection from some locations – ensure that you respect and don’t compromise the cultural values regarding trees and seed when collecting from an area.

Knowing what to collect in the acceptable locations is the next step. It’s best to choose plants that are native to the region, representing provenance, as they will be best suited to the soil and climate. Check out the vegetation maps of Alice Springs to see what plants might be best for your property. If you are searching for particular plants, ensure that you have identified the plant correctly. There are a host of excellent plant identification resources out there to assist you, including Andy Vinter’s Bush Regeneration Handbook. If you have a sample you need identified, you can use the assistance of the NT Herbarium. FloraNT also provides access to the Northern Territory Herbarium specimen data. Be mindful that some sap, fruits, seeds or dust from seeds can be toxic or cause skin allergies, so handle items carefully with appropriate PPE or avoid them altogether.

Acacia sp. seeds are released from pods but be sure to collect them when they are dry, rathan than green, to ensure they are mature.

Acacia sp . seeds are released from pods, in some cases in an exploding fashion from the pericarp. They are generally joined to bright red arils.

Knowing when to collect the seed will enable you to get on with the task efficiently. It might help you to observe the plants you pass in everyday life and begin making a calendar of when the desired plants are flowering and when they are producing fruit. Collect fleshy fruit when they are round and full, softening, falling to the ground or being eaten by birds or other animals. Dry fruits can be collected when they are brown and woody, or fruit capsules are opening. Grass seeds can be collected when they are changing colour, when seeds strip off easily by hand or the awns are falling off. It is important to collect mature seed, though be mindful that there are some species whose seeds don’t mature for several months after being released from the plant and cracking dormancy in this species is a case of waiting and being patient. Resources such as native seed guides can help to fill in the blanks and provide information on sowing techniques and dormancy strategies that need overcoming. Opportunistic collection may be necessary where seed set is irregular or influenced by seasonal factors such as rainfall.

It is best to collect seed from a range of healthy plants and avoid collecting any more than 20 % of the seed from one plant, to ensure you leave enough to naturally regenerate, add to the seed bank, and provide food for animals nearby. It’s wise to avoid collecting seed from isolated plants, as self-pollination often results in low viability of seed and produces specimens of low vigour. Collect seed from several (10-20) plants that are widely spaced to ensure you have genetic diversity.

Seed can come in a range of vessels, including woody capsules (Eucalyptus, Melaleuca), papery capsules (Dodonaea, Wahlenbergia), seed pods (Acacia, Indigofera), drupes (Santalum), berries (Atriplex, Enchylaena), follicles (Hakea, Grevillea),  nuts (no local native species), grains (Spinifex, Themeda), achenes (Brachyscome, Helichrysum), and cones (Allocasuarina). Find out how much seed a typical fruit of your desired species contains. For example, a Hakea follicle may contain one seed; an Acacia seed pod may contain a dozen seeds; while a Eucalyptus capsule may contain hundreds. Knowing how much seed a fruit contains will help you to know how much to collect to avoid taking too much. Collect a little more than you think you will use to account for poor viability of some seeds, but also avoid collecting much more than your own requirements. Use ecologically sustainable collection practices and adhere to a code of practice, avoiding damage to the environment and wildlife habitat.

Hopbush (Dodonaea sp) seeds are housed in papery capsules.

Some seeds on tall trees may be out of reach and require ladders or long-handled tools. Ensure you are prepared with the tools required before you set out on your mission. You may also wish to coordinate seed collection with annual pruning activities.

Once you have collected the seed, the processing of the seed to maintain viability is integral. Clean and dry the seeds prior to storing them. For example, thick fleshy fruits should be placed in a bucket of water to remove skins and flesh, rubbed on a mesh tray to remove excess pulp, and then dried well. Woody fruits need to also be dried to crack the seed cases. This can be done in a location that is well ventilated, dry, away from the wind and also protected from animals that may wish to eat the seed. Once dried, clean the seed to remove the pods, chaff, sticks and leaves. This can be done by hand or with the assistance of a mesh sieve appropriate for the seed size. You may wish to weigh the seed, especially if you are working under a permit, as you may need to report on this.

When collecting the seeds you can place them in calico bags, paper bags, boxes or buckets, but ensure they are well ventilated to avoid mould killing the seed. Keep the seeds separate (location and species). Storing seeds in paper bags and screw topped jars is preferable, though zip-topped plastic bags can work for very dry seeds. Seeds may keep for several years if they are stored correctly. Store the seed in a cool, dry and vermin-proof location away from sunlight. A fridge at 1-5 oC and relative humidity of 4-8 % is optimal.

It’s important to keep a good record of the seeds that are collected. Record the species, collection location, and collection date as a minimum on or in the bag that the collected seeds are stored in. You may wish to fill out a seed collection record that has more space for information such as the common name, local language name, collector’s name, the location description, and latitude/longitude. You can then simply label the seed container with a corresponding seed lot number, or double up on the important information in case the paperwork is separated from the container. This way you can keep track of the seed stock during the planting process and determine what works based on the records. You can check viability periodically by using a float test (floating seeds are generally viable), cut test (fleshy white centres usually indicate good viability) or by growing it out to check it directly.

When it comes to sowing the seed, some seeds will require treatment to enable germination. Nick the edge of hard-coated seeds or soak them in boiling water to break mechanical dormancy (E.g. Acacias, Swainsona, Indigofera, Gossypium, Erythrina, Senna), sow the seeds in a medium and conduct a smoke treatment (E.g. Grevillea, Ptilotis), remove the hairs from seeds or soak and ferment in water for several days to break chemical dormancy (E.g. Capparis, Ptilotis), or wait and be patient to cope with morphological dormancy (E.g. Daisies, Themeda).

For an additional range of excellent seed collection resources, head to the Flora Bank website.

Wild Passionfruit (Capparis sp) has seeds within a fleshy pulp.

 

We thank Samantha Hussey for her excellent presentation on seed collection, as well as information provided by Sarah Roberts and Charles Darwin University.

This workshop was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management with funding from the National Landcare Programme.

Mist Netting and Bird Banding Workshop

Mist net glistening in the morning sunlight (Image C. Appleby).

As part of National Bird Week 2017 (inspired by the Birdlife Australia Aussie Backyard Bird Count), Land for Wildlife conducted a mist netting workshop for members on a rural property in White Gums. Bird banding is an activity that requires the bander to be trained to handle birds and trap them in an ethical and humane manner with mist nets. Bruce Pascoe, a local bird bander with an A-Class authority, conducted the mist netting and banding and explained the processes to the keen birders in attendance.

The mist netting workshop started shortly after sunrise, on a cool October morning, with the intention of seeing some birds up close and personal. A secondary intention was to observe and survey some of the species that can be found in the region. The final objective was to place band the captured birds so that they can be released and potentially recaptured down the line.

Three nets were set up from the evening before the workshop. On arrival, attendees were shown how to unfurl a net in preparation for a survey and the reasoning behind mist netting and banding captured birds. Mist netting and the subsequent bird banding allows us to see how many species and individuals reside in an area, their lifespan, migration habits, movement to feeding grounds and other long-term demographic questions. The data obtained is important for bird conservation, as well as help to guide habitat preservation activities.

Bird banding in Australia is governed by the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS), who supply numbered metal bands to registered and qualified banders. These bands are fitted around the tarsus (lower leg) of the captured bird. The process is painless and doesn’t cause distress to the birds. According to the ABBBS, over 2.6 million birds and bats have been banded Australia-wide, with 140,000 having been recaptured.

Bird bands ready to be applied to little legs (Image C. Appleby).

Other detailed information such as physical characteristics (sex, age, moult), and body length measurements (beak, wing) are obtained from the bird before it is released. For example, the head length can be used to determine sex in some species, but also age. The sex of a bird can also be determined from the plumage colouration or cloacal protuberance and brood patch shape. Feather wear and shape is a good indicator of the age of the bird, but many other characteristics can also be used. Anatomical features of birds, their moult and how to age birds can be found in an excellent section of Birds of the World.

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater having some head measurements taken as part of the recent mist-netting survey (Image C. Heenan).

While the going was slow to start, a fourth net was set up to the north of the property and this was successful at capturing three birds – two Yellow-throated Miners (Manorina flavigula) and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Acanthagenys rufogularis). Both species received size 05 alloy bands and measurements were taken. You can view summaries on the capture/recapture history of the Yellow-throated Miner and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater on the ABBBS website.

Two Yellow-throated Miners were captured in the mist nets in the recent Land for Wildlife survey (Image C. Heenan).

To learn more about the species biology, head to the Birdlife Australia listing for the Yellow-throated Miner and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.

Interested in birds and don’t know where to start your journey? Get in touch with Birdlife Central Australia (centralaustralia@birdlife.org.au) or follow their facebook page to keep posted about bird sightings in the Alice Springs area.

This biodiversity survey was conducted with Animal Ethics approval (Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics 12006 Landscape, fauna and flora survey and impact assessment in relation to mineral and petroleum exploration, infrastructure development and conservation initiatives throughout the Northern Territory), a Parks and Wildlife Commission NT permit (60855 Permit to Interfere with Protected Wildlife) and a Department of Primary Industry and Resources permit (026 Licence to Use Premises for Teaching or Research Involving Animals). An A-Class bird banding ticket was held by Bruce Pascoe, who oversaw the survey.

We thank Cyd Holden and Peter Latz for allowing the Land for Wildlife team to visit and monitor the bird populations on their property. Appreciation goes to Bruce Pascoe for the use of mist nets and assisting with the workshop proceedings.

A thornbill, among many small birds that eluded the nets on the day of the survey (Image C. Heenan).

Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017

A hawk (Accipiter sp.) visits a Garden for Wildlife bird bath while a Kangaroo watches on.

Land for Wildlife has conducted biodiversity surveys on member properties since 2007. They are an important tool in determining the success of land management activities carried out and to create a better understanding of species population dynamics in areas of mixed land use. The information gathered from the surveys adds to the knowledge of species distributions in areas that may otherwise pose access issues to do with land tenure and ownership.

Traditionally, the biodiversity surveys are conducted on Land for Wildlife properties only and involve trapping for a range of wildlife, including reptiles, frogs, mammals and invertebrates, as well as conducting visual transect surveys for birds. In 2017, as part of National Bird Week, Land for Wildlife took the aim of conducting a biodiversity survey targeted only at birds that visit the water baths provided on both rural and urban blocks so that Garden for Wildlife members would have an opportunity to take part in the process.

The survey was conducted using camera traps, which are small cameras housed within a pelican case that is responsive to movement. The camera is operated through infra-red sensors that detect movement and initiate recording. Three brands of camera trap were used for the survey, which included Reconyx (4), Bushnell (7) and Faunatech (1). Reconyx cameras were capable of taking still images, and were set to take 10 consecutive images following the detection of movement. Bushnell and Faunatech cameras were capable of taking moving footage, and were set to take 30 seconds of consecutive footage following the detection of movement. While Reconyx, Bushnell and Faunatech cameras are often called camera traps, they do not in fact capture the animal, but rather record its presence.

Cameras were set to run for a full day for each property. A total of 12 Garden for Wildlife members (including six in Eastside, three in Braitling/Northside, two in Larapinta, and one in Desert Springs) and seven Land for Wildlife members (including three at Ross, three at Ilparpa and one at Connellan) took part in the Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017.

The Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017 was an interesting exercise, highlighting the diversity of avian species that visit artificial or semi-natural water sources provided on urban, peri-urban and rural properties. A total of 566 visits to bird baths were recorded over the monitoring period. Overall, 22 species were observed in the camera traps, of which 16 were observed visiting Garden for Wildlife bird baths and 14 were observed visiting Land for Wildlife bird baths. The most common visitor to bird baths was the White-plumed Honeyeater and the Crested Pigeon, recorded at 10 properties each, whereas the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater was the most persistent visitor to bird baths, visiting 111 times across all properties.

Table 1. Avian species visiting Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife bird baths (^ Indicates an introduced species). Number of properties visited by species is recorded as all properties (Garden for Wildlife properties, Land for Wildlife properties). The list is ranked according to the number of properties visited.

Common Name Scientific Nomenclature Number of Properties Visited by the Species Total Number of Visits to Bird Baths Across All Properties
Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica 1 (1,0) 1
Grey-headed Honeyeater Lichenostomus keartlandi 1 (0,1) 1
Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti 1 (0,1) 1
Mulga Parrot Psephotus varius 1 (0,1) 1
Hawk Accipiter sp. 1 (1,0) 2
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike Coracina novaehollandiae 1 (1,0) 2
Diamond Dove Geopelia cuneata 1 (0,1) 2
Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys 1 (0,1) 3
Galah Eolophus roseicapillus 1 (1,0) 12
Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata 1 (0,1) 12
Australian Ringneck Barnardius zonarius 2 (1,1) 4
Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca 2 (2,0) 85
Peaceful Dove Geopelia placida 3 (1,2) 4
Crow Corvus sp. 3 (3,0) 8
Western Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus guttatus 4 (4,0) 10
Singing Honeyeater Lichenostomus virescens 4 (2,2) 11
Brown Honeyeater Lichmera indistincta 4 (3,1) 67
Spotted Turtle-dove ^ Streptopelia chinensis 6 (6,0) 22
Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula 6 (3,3) 33
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis 9 (7,2) 111
White-plumed honeyeater Lichenostomus penicillatus 10 (7,3) 64
Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes 10 (5,5) 110
Total Species Count 22 (16,14)
Total Visits to Bird Baths 566

The Spotted Turtle-dove, an introduced species, was ranked 5th most common visitor at bird baths, recorded at six of the Garden for Wildlife properties monitored. Garden for Wildlife members can loan traps for free to help actively manage feral bird populations, as well as receiving instructions on how to make your own. Head to our website to see more information on feral dove control.

Several species were observed on only one property, which included four visiting Garden for Wildlife properties and six visiting Land for Wildlife properties. Of the species that visited several bird baths, the Western Bowerbird and the Spotted Turtle-dove were the only ones to visit Garden for Wildlife bird baths only. While the Western Bowerbird is known to visit rural bird baths, it wasn’t observed in this case. On the other hand, Spotted Turtle-doves are rarely seen south of Heavitree Gap and therefore their presence at the Land for Wildlife bird baths is not expected.

Garden for Wildlife properties recorded 10 species on a single property, with the Crouch and Heller properties coming out on top. The Land for Wildlife properties recorded 11 species on a single property, with the Kenna property taking the lead. While it is sometimes expected that there would be fewer species observed in urban areas, this was shown not to be the case in this survey. The Sweeney property received the most visits by birds to Garden for Wildlife properties, totalling 101 visits, irrespective of species. The Kenna property took the prize for most visits to Land for Wildlife properties, totalling 171 visits.

Full details on the Biodiversity Survey 2017, including images and species summaries for individual properties can be found in the survey report.

All the birds recorded in 20-minute intervals on Garden for Wildlife properties were entered into the Birdlife Australia Aussie Backyard Bird Count to provide the national group with some interesting data from our little central Australian town.

The Bird Bath Biodiversity Survey 2017 showed that there is a range of species that visited bird baths around the Alice Springs area within a one-day monitoring period. However there are over 200 species that can be found in and around Alice Springs. A comprehensive list of birds likely to be observed in the region is given in the Land for Wildlife fauna list.

If you feel that you could be attracting more birds to your garden, you could try some of the hints and tips from Land for Wildlife on the biodiversity fact sheet.

Are you interested in taking part in the next Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife biodiversity survey? Head to the Land for Wildlife Biodiversity Surveys Page to find out more information.

Until next time, happy bird watching!

This biodiversity survey was conducted with Animal Ethics approval (Charles Darwin University Animal Ethics 12006 Landscape, fauna and flora survey and impact assessment in relation to mineral and petroleum exploration, infrastructure development and conservation initiatives throughout the Northern Territory), a Parks and Wildlife Commission NT permit (60855 Permit to Interfere with Protected Wildlife) and a Department of Primary Industry and Resources permit (026 Licence to Use Premises for Teaching or Research Involving Animals).

We thank the survey participants for allowing the Land for Wildlife team to visit and monitor the bird baths on their property. Appreciation goes to Parks and Wildlife Commission NT for use of several additional camera traps. Thanks also go to Birdlife Central Australia for identifying several bird species.

Pruning Grevilleas

By Candice Appleby

Honey Grevillea (Grevillea eriostachya) is a local native that produces a sweet and sticky nectar, highly attractive to honeyeaters.

 

Little known fact: Grevilleas can cause skin irritation and some people can be quite allergic to the foliage and flowers. Be careful while pruning, wear gloves and long sleeves and be sure to wash your hands, arms and legs when you are finished.

One of the best times to prune your grevilleas is in spring. It can be devastating to see the beautiful blooms fall to the ground. But don’t be afraid to sacrifice a few flowers! Pruning in spring is very beneficial, as the plant is experiencing a surge of active growth. The plant will recover very quickly from the prune and you will be rewarded with thicker foliage and an abundance of flowers in no time. Young Grevilleas respond well to a tip prune, whereby you simply cut around 5 to 10 cm of newer growth from the tip. Do this every 3 months or so for the best results. Older Grevilleas may require a hard prune if they are starting to become top heavy and woody. This hard prune should be done in two stages: first by cutting back around 1/3 of the growth (October is the best time for this) then following this up two months later by cutting back another 1/3.

After pruning, be sure to give your Grevilleas a little treat of a low phosphorus native plant fertiliser. Also, why not try your hand at a spot of propagation with the left over cuttings. Head to your local nursery and grab some hardwood rooting hormone gel (Clonex red) and some propagation media – give it a try! Check out this video for a great Grevillea cutting propagation tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELH6anJdID8

~ Candice Appleby

Property Planning for Wildlife

 

We all love the plants, animals and other aspects of the natural world that we are surrounded with and want to learn how to protect them – the best that we can. You can aim as high as you like – or as humble as you like. Just do what you can. At the basic level, it could mean increasing your own awareness of wildlife and its needs. At a moderate level, it could mean installing a bird bath and providing fresh water to those in need and removing a few weeds. At the upper level, it could mean planting out your property and designing it in a way that maximises wildlife habitat.

The environment has been changed drastically with European arrival and increasing population levels. Much of the remnant vegetation has been cleared for agriculture, housing and infrastructure. In addition to habitat loss, there are many species that were introduced that subsequently became pests, causing enormous environmental and economic loss. Such species include rabbits, cats and foxes. At an invertebrate level, the European Honeybee, while providing economic benefit for pollination of crops, is a threat to native pollinators and ecosystems. The extreme changes to the environment have resulted in severe species loss, with 1 bird and 11 mammals having become extinct in the Northern Territory. In addition to the loss of fauna species, we are also experiencing a loss of plant species and erosion problems.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With advances in research, we have come to understand the unique qualities of our native flora and fauna and the ecosystems of which they are a part. Wildlife is an asset that we should strive to retain. Landscape planning is important for flora and fauna considerations. In addition, biodiversity is important at many levels economically – environmental restoration, ecotourism, bush food cultivation, carbon credits, plant propagation and provision to the public, parks/reserves, environmental education to schools… and the list goes on!

Rural communities play an important role in protecting and rehabilitating the environment through groups such as Landcare, Land for Wildlife and other community based programs. Many parcels of land are locked up in pastoral leases, residential freehold and crown land. Remnant vegetation is often only visible on roadside verges and uninhabitable hillsides. As a result, National Parks are often preserving the extremes – ranges, gorges, valleys. The flat and degraded landscapes are often overlooked and require private landholders to get involved, especially if the land includes precious remnant habitat.

3 R’s – The priority for conserving flora is to Retain remnant vegetation, Restore the quality of degraded habitats, and Revegetate cleared areas.

There are a few general considerations when it comes to property planning for wildlife, including integration of land uses, time, space and species thresholds, and quality the habitat available.

Integration of land uses

Ensure you are meeting all your needs with respect to land use. Do you need space for working outdoors? Relaxation spaces? Active spaces for sport? Cover your needs and work with the rest.

Time

Time is required for habitats to develop, for pioneer species to be replaced by those of older stages, and for trees to develop hollows. Plan and be patient.

Quantity and Space Thresholds: Connect and Consolidate

The bigger the better! Larger and more compact areas support a greater diversity of habitats on different land systems, more species due to quantity and diversity of resources (see the species to area relationship), larger populations, and a greater chance of linkages between habitats. A space threshold is the minimum area required for a certain species to establish. If you are targeting selected species, ensure that you have the space required to support it before dedicating planting and planning activities towards it. For example, the Hooded Robin requires a territory of around 5 hectares, so many rural blocks may not be sufficient in their own right. Remember, getting your neighbours involved helps to widen the habitat corridor and larger patches are achievable with coordinated efforts. Complex large patches are integral during drought, as many bird species congregate in resource-rich sites in poor conditions, known as drought refuges.

For vegetation, compact areas are important as there is a greater core area away from edge disturbance (weeds, predators, surrounding land use). In the undergrowth, there are usually more weeds around edges, so smaller forbs and native grasses are likely to thrive in the core area of a larger patch. For larger trees, there is often more Mistletoe found in trees around edges that can put stress on large trees. Many species of fauna avoid edges due to the risk of predation and prefer core areas that provide safety. Yellow-throated Miners may dominate in linear patches of habitat and out-compete other smaller White-plumed Honeyeaters, Babblers etc, that prefer to take safety in core areas. Having some larger core areas will enable the wildlife to reach a balance.

On the other hand, edges offer a greater variety of resources for some fauna species that are able to utilise the adjacent habitats equally and can result in greater species diversity. For example, Kangaroos benefit from edges as they can take protection in woodlands and graze in open paddocks and dusk and dawn. The aforementioned Mistletoe, common around edges, is also necessary. It is native and has a symbiotic relationship with native Mistletoe Birds and the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, so don’t be hasty to remove it.

To help alleviate the effect of edges on remnant habitat, start by increasing the core area by undertaking revegetation activities around narrow areas. You may also wish to separate two differing and incompatible land uses with an intermediate complementary land use – a buffer. For example, if a portion of your property is being used for livestock and an adjacent patch of remnant vegetation has a significant edge, consider planting alongside the edge with an intermediate habitat to lessen the edge effect.

There is an increased risk of impact from random events in small and isolated patches, and limitations on dispersal of wildlife may be an issue. Therefore, if you have several small patches of habitat and no opportunity to expand them in size, you may wish to consider connecting the patches with wildlife corridors or stepping stones. Connected habitats protect area-limited and dispersal-limited species by providing an avenue for secure movement.

Remnant vegetation is represented as dark green; Edges are represented as yellow borders; Revegetated areas are represented as light green; Buffers are represented as pale orange; Movement by wildlife is represented as black arrows

 

How much you can achieve will depend on how large your property is. If you have the time, space and resources – aim high! If you have a small area and are unable to increase patch size, you can adopt alternative management strategies such as restoring cover and connectivity to improve habitat for various species. Start with realistic goals, you can always expand if time and space allows it.

Quality

The quality of the habitat, the degree of degradation, and how well it functions are all important aspects to consider. So once the major aspects have been thought through, you can make your way down to the nitty gritty. What are you aiming for? For many, a generally healthy ecosystem is the goal. A healthy habitat is one in which most of the layers of vegetation are present and dominated by native plant species typical of the region. It is also a system that is free from disturbance, including introduced weeds and feral animals. High ecosystem function includes adequate pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and birds, natural wood decay for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows, as well as the presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area.

Vegetation Layers and Habitat Diversity

Adding layers of complexity in the garden increases the diversity of life that uses it as habitat. At a large scale, complexity can be in the form of different habitat types such as woodlands (many bird species), grasslands (Zebra Finch), creek lines (Kingfisher, Frogs, Fish), caves (Bats), gullies (Frogs), and hillsides (Euros, Wallabies).

Most species are highly dependent on water availability and quality so ensure you include water courses in your plan where possible. Protect existing watercourses and avoid modifying them to allow them to remain natural. If degraded, consider revegetating with native plants to prevent erosion, enhance wildlife habitat and encourage healthy water. In areas that don’t have natural water courses, you may consider installing a bird bath that can provide a water source. A bird bath that is raised above the ground and abutting shrubbery on one side will protect small birds from predators. Ponds are also suitable water sources for reptiles and frogs. Water baths can be topped up manually, or via a drip irrigation system as part of the whole garden. Install water tanks and a method of catching excess rain water to make the most of the water available.

Within a habitat type, complexity includes the provision of large canopy trees (Parrots, birds of prey) with tree hollows (Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Bats) and loose hanging bark (Shrike Tit), complemented by a protective understorey (Rufous Whistler, Robins), ground cover, herbs, grasses and soil-crusting cryptograms. For example, a minimum of 30% tree cover is needed to maintain woodland birds. Smaller bird species are not as abundant in areas with little understorey, rather such open and scattered habitats favour the more aggressive Yellow-throated Miners. Healthy habitats include flowering trees and shrubs to support native pollinators (Honeyeaters, Invertebrates) and Mistletoe (Mistletoe Bird, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater), and provides logs (Treecreepers, Reptiles), termite mounds (Perentie), rocky areas (Reptiles, Frogs), sandy areas (Snakes, Goannas), and mulch or groundcover (Reptiles, Invertebrates).

In terms of structure, the complexity of a habitat should provide breeding and sheltering sites, foraging sites, basking and hibernation sites, perching sites, runaways and refuges, camouflage, nurseries, and leaf-litter traps.

Native Plants

In Alice Springs, there are more than 600 native plant species, distributed over 27 individual vegetation types (as classified by Albrecht and Pitts in 2004). The vegetation present at a particular site is a result of regional and landscape factors such as rainfall, temperature, altitude, and topography; local factors such as soil type, geology, slope, aspect, and prevailing weather; individual factors such as environmental tolerance; and historical factors such as fire, disease, human impact, evolution, and species introductions. Local native species are best suited for revegetation activities as the wildlife has coevolved with the plant life – they often rely on each other for survival.

In arid Australia, it’s important to conserve water. You can do this by planting wisely. Local native plant species require less water than introduced species and lawns once established. Native plants are also hardy, giving you ‘bang for your buck’.

Be sure you keep updated about when the plant sales are on and what to buy – get in early to avoid missing out on the appropriate plants of your choice. Consider propagating your own plants to save money if revegetating large areas. This requires good timing and patience, as many native plants take many years to establish. If planting young individuals, choose your timing to avoid hot days and stress to plants, avoid planting before going on holidays or have a house-sitter that can look after them.

Plant wisely – use local native species where possible, account for growth of tree roots and canopy size (some species may interfere with each other or disrupt infrastructure), avoid lawns (they are water thirsty and don’t really add to the biodiversity – consider Lippia or Creeping Boobialla as an alternative), consider irrigation planning before planting (applies water where it is specifically needed, reduces water loss through evaporation, and encourages deep root growth). It’s a good idea to include wattles (Acacia sp.) in your planting plan for their nitrogen fixing abilities.

Free from Disturbance

Weeds and feral animals can have a serious impact on native flora and fauna populations. Invasive species often out-compete native species for resources, thereby reducing their chance of survival. The removal of Buffel Grass (not a declared weed) will often result in the reestablishment of a host of native forbs and grasses that act as a food source for native wildlife. Purchase plants, soil and mulch from local retailers to minimise the introduction of weeds. Protect seedlings from rabbits and other herbivores with guards and protect seedlings from water loss with mulch. Remove feral species such as Cats and Spotted Turtle-doves with an active and ethical trapping program. The establishment of feral and pest bird populations can be prevented by enclosing chicken feeders to eliminate access to seed.

Wood Decay

Natural and termite-induced wood decay is important for recycling of nutrients and provision of nesting hollows. Avoid pruning dying branches if safe to do so to ensure adequate perching sites and to allow decay, in turn providing habitat and nesting hollows for diversity of bat, insect and avian species. Leaving fallen branches to decay naturally will not only provide habitat for native reptiles and invertebrates, but allow Termites to feed and recycle nutrients back into the system.

A Healthy System

Successful pollination of flowering plants by native invertebrates and nectarivorous birds will enable plants to come into fruit and seed and therefore self-generate in the system. Some seed can then be collected for propagation, and the rest allowed to fall and natural regeneration to occur.

The presence of breeding populations of living organisms native to the area is indicative of a healthy working ecosystem.

Help the Needy

It’s important to protect threatened fauna species and their habitats where possible. To do this, you need to know where individuals occur and what habitat they require. Resources for this include Fauna Atlas records on NR Maps and the Atlas of Living Australia, as well as the NT Government Threatened Animals and Threatened Plants pages.

The NT Register of Significant Trees has a list of some of the territory’s most significant trees, but access to AAPA can also highlight other culturally significant trees or sites that are worthy of protecting.

Summary: Make a Plan

Begin by mapping or drawing your house and block. Google Earth, Google Maps and NR Maps can help you to get an idea of the shape and layout of your property.

Identify any significant sites that need protection.

Where are the water courses and wetlands?

Identify the remnant habitat patches. Which ones can be expanded?

What is the distance between healthy patches? Where can stepping stones and corridors be placed to increase connectivity? Where can buffers be placed to reduce effects of surrounding land use?

Improve the quality of degraded vegetation. Enlarge, widen or create linkages?

Revegetate areas of concern with local native species, including endangered species where possible

What is the percentage cover as it stands? How much do you want to add and where? Plan ahead to avoid overcrowding and competition for resources.

Are the needs of the desired wildlife species being met? How can this be improved?

Consider smart fencing – allow for movement by wildlife.

Encourage Others

Display your Land for Wildlife or Garden for Wildlife sign – this shows others in the area of your commitment to wildlife habitat preservation and restoration and helps to encourage others to follow your lead. This in turn creates a vegetation corridor or network of properties for wildlife to move between.

Tim and Jannah Leane are Land for Wildlife members in the rural area of Ross (Image T&J Leane).

 

 

This workshop was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management with funding from the National Landcare Programme.

Building Bat Boxes

By John Tyne (Parks and Wildlife Commission NT)

John Tyne (Parks and Wildlife Commission NT) and Erin Westerhuis (Charles Darwin University) gave an excellent presentation and workshop on bat boxes at the Land for Wildlife birthday event recently. Here, John gives some hints and tips on how to create bat boxes of your own.

Thanks for your interest in the bat boxes that I was showing on Saturday!

Parks and Wildlife Commission NT’s John Tyne and Erin Westerhuis presented a bat box building workshop to the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife members at the recent birthday event. (Image B. Low)

The bat boxes I built were all made from one plank of untreated softwood timber. To make one of the smaller boxes, you’ll need approximately 1.5 m of timber that is 190 mm wide and 45 mm thick. I was able to find a piece like this at the Home Hardware shop in town. I used 70mm long exterior timber screws to piece it all together.

The back piece 350 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick
The front piece 200 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick
Two side pieces 200 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick
The roof piece 380 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick
The base/floor 100 mm long x 170 mm wide x 45 mm thick

(this is the only piece that isn’t 190 mm wide!)

Two spacers for back: 50 mm long x 190 mm wide x 45 mm thick

(these are to put on the back of the box so when you hang it is off the tree/post a little ways)

On the inside I used a staple gun to put up some old shade cloth. Instead of shade cloth you could score lines into the back so that the bats are able to climb it more easily. On the extension out the bottom that the bats will have to land on to climb up, I scored the timber using a hand saw. You could also put shade cloth on this instead. The gap at the base should be around 20 mm wide to allow the bats to climb in. On the boxes I made, I put an exterior grade metal hinge and two magnetic clasps on the lid so that I could open it. You could simplify things by just fixing the lid down with screws and not using a hinge. Depending on where you hang it, you could just screw it straight to an object (shed/post), or you could strap it to a tree. Try and hang the box at least 3 meters high, in a sheltered area but with a clear flight path to the box entry.

Bat Box Design (Image R. Ferrari).

Good luck putting this together, and let me know if you have some success with bats moving in. Any questions feel free to ask!

~ John Tyne

Build bat boxes to install on your property and provide them with a safe space by following John Tyne’s helpful instructions. You can also download some fact sheets that were provided by the crew on the day, including Boxes for Bats and also the Bat Roost Box Kit.

This workshop was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management with funding from the National Landcare Programme.

Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife Central Australia: Celebrating 15 years of Wildlife Habitat Preservation, Enhancement and Restoration

Land for Wildlife is celebrating 15 years of the program in central Australia, and Garden for Wildlife is celebrating 10 years of the program! We hope that the two complementary programs have been beneficial to our members and we look forward to continuing to support local landholders to preserve, enhance and restore wildlife habitat on private properties in the years to come.

Thanks to our host Low Ecological Services and current funding partners (Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife, Alice Springs Town Council, Territory NRM), as well as those that have funded and supported us in the past (so many!). We couldn’t have done it without you!

Many thanks to all Land for Wildlife coordinators past and present for building the program up to be what it is and providing expert assistance to landholders throughout central Australia. Thanks also go to the local organisations and groups that have supported us over the years to get the word out and assist us with the program at large.

Land for Wildlife celebrated the occasion with an event at the end of September, held at Olive Pink Botanic Garden (a long standing LFW member themselves who were gracious to provide assistance with the event venue). The event was very successful with roughly 35 LFW and GFW members in attendance for a range of great workshops and presentations. Presentations included a summary of the program, a property planning for wildlife presentation, an NT register of significant trees update, a seed collection workshop by Charles Darwin University, a bat box building workshop by Parks and Wildlife Commission NT, and a documentary Wild Brumby Run. The event included catering for morning tea, as well as lunch, provided by the Land for Wildlife team.

Thanks to Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting the event through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. In addition, Olive Pink Botanic Garden provided in kind support towards the fabulous venue. Local groups provided door prizes as in kind support, including books from Land for Wildlife, two vouchers from Red Kangaroo Books and two vouchers from Alice Springs Desert Park. The lucky recipients were drawn at random from those present—we hope that the vouchers and books are well received (they are certainly well deserved!).

There has been some excellent feedback from the event, with many of the attendees showing great appreciation for the informative workshops and a chance to mingle with other members. As part of the 15th birthday event, we provided some background and a summary on the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife program in central Australia (presented below).

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Land for Wildlife is a not-for-profit program that runs in various capacities throughout Australia. Land for Wildlife is aimed at assisting landholders in peri-urban and rural areas to preserve, enhance and recreate wildlife habitat.  A parallel program, Garden for Wildlife, was developed in the biodiverse hotspot Alice Springs to assist members residing on urban blocks. The programs rely on voluntary and non-legally binding efforts from local landholders.

Land for Wildlife as a brand was established in 1981 by the Victorian government and Bird Observer’s Club of Australia. Land for Wildlife in Alice Springs and its partner program Garden for Wildlife have been running successfully for fifteen years, and ten years, respectively. They have been hugely successful programs and are widely regarded in the Alice Springs region. The program was initially run through the Alice Springs Town Council on a three year federal government grant. The Alice Springs Town Council ran it for a year, with Low Ecological Services taking up the remainder of the contract and hosting the program ever since and seeking grant moneys from a variety of agencies. The program is currently funded locally through Parks and Wildlife NT and the Alice Springs Town Council remains a sponsor. The program also has funding for individual projects through support from Territory Natural Resource Management and funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare programme. Additional previous funding bodies include Territory Eco-Link, Territory Natural Resource Management, Caring for Country, Landcare, Natural Heritage Trust, Envirofund, PowerWater and Low Ecological Services with in kind support and endurance.

Many of the member properties are situated within the MacDonnell Ranges Bioregion, containing the highest number of vulnerable and rare species listed with conservation status nationally and at the NT level. As a result, preserving even small patches of vegetation is a worthwhile venture in terms of providing habitat for native fauna species (and protecting the local native flora species themselves).

The member base extends to Yulara in the south-west, Andado Station and Ross River in the south-east, Narwietooma Station to the north-west and Tennant Creek Airport to the north. Cumulative property area covered by the 103 Land for Wildlife and 156 Garden for Wildlife members is 291,531 hectares, and rising.

Collaboration with private landholders is a successful method of conserving habitats and nature corridors, to address the challenge of species decline though habitat loss. This is achieved through regular engagement activities (workshops, participation in public events and monthly newsletters), providing networking opportunities, as well as providing on-going support and management advice specific to each block.

When signing up a new Land for Wildlife member, an assessment is conducted on the property, which includes identifying the flora and checking for tracks or scats of fauna, as well as identifying special value habitats and any management issues the property may have. An assessment report is then prepared for the property owner, which includes detailed information about the assessment, property management concerns and suggested methods for going forward. Ongoing assistance in the form of support, advice, information resources and links to other professionals and specialist organisations in the region is provided. Garden for Wildlife is more informal and membership does not include an assessment or report, but rather a resource package and informal site visit to assist with development planning, any queries and plant identification.

Attention in both programs is given to encouraging landholders to plant local native plant species, as these species are self-reliant and there is a subsequent reduction in water use in our water-limited semi-arid zone. Retaining and protecting remnant vegetation is recommended to members. To allow regeneration of habitat, members are advised to fence areas from livestock and restrict the access of livestock to ephemeral rivers and drainage systems. Encouraging distribution of run-off and controlling erosion is oft-needed advice. Members are encouraged to control weed and feral species, such as removal of Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) to allow room for native grasses, and trapping feral cats (Felis catus) to limit the predation pressure on native mammals and reptiles. Protecting various elements of wildlife habitat, such as fallen wood, leaf litter and dead branches and trees with hollows are also encouraged.

While the programs have been successful for many long-term members, Alice Springs has a notoriously transient population. While this has benefits in people taking ‘the message’ with them to other regions, it also makes maintaining contact with member properties and their current owners an ongoing challenge. This challenge has been overcome through a combination of efforts, such as the use of MailChimp as an online newsletter mailing tool – bouncing emails promote impetus to contact members to clarify their current status, regular interaction with members to stay up to date with their conservation efforts and the encouragement of communication through the monthly newsletter. The small community of Alice Springs has the benefit that networking with members through chance meetings around town is a useful tool.

As well as the transient membership, the coordinator position has been run by many energetic and qualified specialists over the period of the program in central Australia.  While this can be a challenge for members with respect to different levels of engagement, each coordinator comes with a different focus, drive and experience – which can be a benefit in that the information and energy is kept fresh. A potential benefit for incoming coordinators and for LFW members is the amazing expertise and experience available amongst the LfW landholders and their willingness to share that expertise.

Land for Wildlife has been incredibly successful and is a much-loved program in the region. One of the major avenues of communicating with and engaging members and the wider community is through the monthly newsletter and social media posts. Newsletters contain relevant and current information on hot topics, which members can use to manage their properties. The newsletter also provides opportunities for members to share their experience and wildlife snapshots with other members. The website blog and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, give multi-media savvy members avenues of staying engaged with Land for Wildlife on a more regular basis between newsletters – whether it be through the posting of a photo from a member, sharing upcoming events, or posting an article relevant to the day. It also gives Land for Wildlife members the ability to interact as much or as little as they wish, without intensive moderation from the coordinator. Social media followers are steadily increasing with regular interaction. Social media also enables Land for Wildlife to engage with people that are outside of the membership network – the Alice Springs community, Australia and internationally.

Land for Wildlife collaborates with many government agencies, which provides a conduit to gain and pass on information – such as PowerWater for water conservation, Department of Land and Resource Management for weed management and erosion control information, and Parks and Wildlife for flora and fauna information. The experience of the LfW coordinators and the networks provided by the role means that the coordinator is able to handle a wide variety of issues.

Engagement with the youth of Alice Springs occurs through a range of community events, with the DesertSmart EcoFair providing one very useful lead. Land for Wildlife ran a ‘Biodiversity’ workshop to four school groups at this year’s EcoFair, with positive feedback coming from all involved. Exposure is gained from our involvement in other community events such as the Olive Pink Botanic Garden Plant Sales, EcoFair markets, Pets on Parade, Alice Springs Show and Mini Bilby Festival.

Collaboration with the Tjuwanpa Women Rangers and the Ntaria Junior Rangers on a regular basis has resulted in the development of a good working relationship with the indigenous communities in the West MacDonnell Ranges, as well as cross-cultural information transferral regarding important NRM issues of the region.

The land assessments give the property owners knowledge regarding the flora present on their block. Many members find plant identification a challenge and are hesitant to do extensive weed control at the risk of removing natives. With a little guidance regarding plant identification, members are much more willing to get active in the garden removing the pesky species, resulting in a healthy garden full of local natives. Land for Wildlife encourages nurseries to provide local native plants and encourages the nursery association to assist in spreading the word, but maintaining those connections is always a challenge due to the transient nature of Alice Springs.

Several properties are now Buffel grass free and only require minimal maintenance to keep the Buffel at bay, and some property owners have even made their way out onto the verge to clear the buffel. Consequently, many native forbs and flowering annuals have returned, providing fruit, seed and foraging vegetation cover for native birds and other fauna.

Erosion control and education has been a priority, which has been extremely helpful for members and other residents in the rural area of Ilparpa.

A long-term success on central Australian Land for Wildlife properties has been the ongoing trapping support given to members for feral animals such as cats, rabbits and spotted turtle doves. Members can borrow traps and get the information resources necessary to assist them in their trapping journey.

In the last couple of years, Land for Wildlife has been running a domestic cat monitoring project in Alice Springs. This is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. The project focuses on engaging domestic cat owners regarding responsible pet management by tracking the movements of pet cats with a GPS tracker. The project has been picked up by the local media on several occasions and has gained a huge amount of interest in the community.

The NT Register of Significant Trees was conceived in 1982 by the National Trust and Greening Australia and is now management by Land for Wildlife central Australia. It includes central Australia, Katherine and the Darwin region. Candice Appleby has been working hard to revitalise the register and convert it to an online format.

Land for Wildlife/Garden for Wildlife has won many awards over the years, including: Best Urban NRM Group (TNRM Awards 2015 and 2016), Toshiba Leading Information Award Community Group (NT Landcare Awards 2011), Community Award (Melaleuca Awards 2010), Urban Landcare Award (NT Landcare Awards 2009), and Merit Award (NT Landcare Awards 2007).

Our success has come from a combination of all efforts that have been put in, from workshops and attending events, newsletters, social media interaction to personalised engagement and advice. Overall, Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife have been hugely successful in central Australia for engaging the community regarding the importance of preserving and revegetating wildlife habitat on private as well as public lands and we look forward to another 15 strong years of the program.

Domestic Cat Purrr-ticipants Receive Results

The introduction of cats to Australia is considered to be one of the most significant conservation issues in Australia. Cats will often hunt wildlife through instinct, even if their dietary needs are being met. While they have been known to feed on invasive mammals such as mice and rabbits, they also prey on native wildlife. At a local scale, there are currently 12 threatened native species, for which cats are listed as a threatening process. Land for Wildlife is working with domestic cat owners in central Australia to address responsible cat ownership, a key objective of the threat abatement plan for predation by feral cats.

Despite the staggering statistics, there is a great deal of variation in the behaviour of cats (which comes down to differences in management) and the perception of cat owners regarding their cat’s behaviour. Management of owned cats can be varied, ranging from well-cared for individuals that are maintained indoors, to outdoor cats that do not stray from home, and at the extreme scale to roaming cats that may have a negative impact on their surroundings. Poorly managed domestic cats can have a negative impact on wildlife populations through predation, add to the feral cat population, become a nuisance to neighbours, have an increased risk of catching or transmitting disease, or suffer injury as a result of roaming behaviours.

A recent survey conducted by the Alice Springs Town Council, found that over a third of cat owners allow their cats to roam, which indicates that there are a significant number of cats roaming within the Alice Springs municipality. The Alice Springs Town Council by-laws state that a domestic cat must be registered with the council, and that a cat must be kept within the property boundary at all times of the day. Despite the high number of roaming cats in Alice Springs, most of the general public care about the issue of predation by cats on native wildlife. This gives hope that the management of domestic cats can be modified with some education regarding the local bi-laws, the impact of domestic cats on local wildlife and the extent to which an individual cat can roam.

The Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs program was established to engage domestic cat owners regarding the travelling patterns of their feline friends, to help them to make informed and responsible cat management decisions. We conducted a range of activities, including surveys conducted by domestic cat owners to ascertain their management priorities, GPS-tracking of domestic cats to assess the movements of domestic cats while roaming outside of the house and develop spatial maps for engaging with domestic cat owners, video surveillance of domestic cats to obtain visual footage of the travelling behaviour of roaming cats, and scat analysis to identify the diet of cats that roam outside of the house.

A total of 15 cats and their owners took part in the latest round of Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness, with only a half of the Alice Springs cats being registered with the town council. While all cats included in the study are known to roam away from home, three quarters of the owners agreed that their pet cat could be impacting wildlife while outside.

TeeGee sporting an Eyenimal cat camera and a CatLog GPS-tracker (Image S. Barnes).

CatLog (CatTraQ) devices were used to track the domestic cats for a one-week period. The data obtained was used to develop spatial maps and calculate core home ranges of the domestic cats. According to the trackers, cats were recorded outside of the property boundary on 47 % of occasions, with 53 % of the tracked points occurring on the owner’s property. The cats in the tracking project travelled 31 m from home on average, with the furthest distance from home averaging 352 m. One particularly adventurous cat travelled as far as 500 m from home. The average cat did not venture further from home at night, compared to during the day, which is contrary to popular belief. The area covered by cats during the tracking period was 14 hectares on average (ranging from 3.5 Ha to 27.1 Ha), however the core home range area was 1.4 hectares on average (ranging from 0.2 Ha to 10.8 Ha).

Individual tracks and core home ranges of Possum, a free-ranging Tabby in Alice Springs.

A trial of the Eyenimal Cat Camera was conducted to determine the behaviour of the cats while roaming. Recording video footage of cats while outside of the house helped to highlight what the cat was doing while roaming. The cats involved in the surveillance portion of the project exhibited a range of behaviours, from extensive periods of sleeping, to active roaming in nearby native habitat. Several cats were observed wandering along river beds and neighbouring hillsides, trailing the scent of an animal, or simply exploring. Only one cat was caught on camera feeding on wildlife (a grasshopper). Video summaries for each cat are available on the Land for Wildlife YouTube channel: Domestic Cat Monitoring Stories, or view the playlist below:

To assist us in understanding the impact of predation by cats that are roaming outside, we analysed scats for foreign food items. Food items we were on the lookout for included components of birds, rodents, reptiles and insects. Processed commercial food was expected to break down, while other animals consumed would likely leave portions of bone, scale or fur, which could then be identified. Alice Springs based domestic cat scats contained insect material, Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus) and Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata). The mammal contents were confirmed via hair samples contained in the scats, as well as a fragment of lower mandible (jawbone).

Fragment of lower mandible of a Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata)

Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata). Image Bernard Dupont.

The Dunnart findings are surprising, given that there is very little knowledge regarding the habitat preferences of Fat-tailed Dunnarts close to urban areas. This native animal is commonly found in grass, shrub or woodland in native habitat surrounding Alice Springs. The species is listed as ‘Least Concern’ and is therefore not threatened, despite many other native mammals becoming threatened by introduced predators, such as feral cats. The presence of Dunnarts in town blocks of Alice Springs is great news and the findings indicate that the Dunnart is capable of residing on, or travelling through, suburban town blocks.

The finding that a scat contained remains of Red Kangaroo is not as surprising, given that kangaroos can be found more commonly on the outskirts of Alice Springs. Kangaroo tail is also often brought into town by Indigenous community members returning from hunting trips. The skin and small meat remains of this species can often be found near fire pits following such visits to town. Kangaroos living on the outskirts of town may also succumb to demise through other means, before being fed on by roaming cats.

The domestic cats involved in this study roamed to neighbouring properties, road verges, adjacent bushland and some cats were observed to impact the local wildlife through predation. The results of the study show that even the domestic cats that do not leave their property boundary often, still have the capacity to negatively impact native wildlife. This suggests that the management of the domestic cats could do with improvement. We encourage all domestic cat owners to consider managing their domestic cats in a manner that will protect our native wildlife.

Responsible cat management options include:

  • De-sex your cat to prevent it from adding to the feral cat population
  • Microchip and register your cat with the Alice Springs Town Council so that it can be returned to you if it goes missing
  • Keep your cat indoors so that it is not a nuisance to neighbours and does not negatively impact the local wildlife
  • Install an outdoor cat play area to provide your cat with environmental stimuli that won’t impact on the local wildlife
  • Provide toys and play options for your cat to keep it stimulated indoors
  • Fit your cat with a bell, luminescent scrunchie, sonar or other device to alert wildlife to its presence
  • Provide food ad libitum so that your cat has adequate access to food, to limit its dependence on wildlife as a food source
  • Don’t release unwanted animals into the bush

The full Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness results report can be found on the Land for Wildlife website:  wildlife.lowecol.com.au/about/projects/catmonitoring

This project is supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

The Impact of Wildfire in Central Australia

Fire in the Todd River

Fire has been an integral part of central Australian arid ecosystems for thousands of years. Fire is used by humans as a hunting aid, for signalling presence, for warmth and for cooking. Fire has a positive effect on germination of ephemeral plants, and is also known to be important for germination of many tough-coated seeding plants in central Australia (such as Hakea sp. and Greveilla sp.). As a result, many plant species have evolved to cope with periodic fire disturbance.

However, in central Australia, Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) has changed the way that the land burns and so fuel reduction burning and slashed firebreaks are more important than ever. Buffel Grass grows fast following heavy rains, it generally out-competes native grasses (producing a thick monoculture), and when it burns – it burns hot and fast. Consequently, the presence of Buffel Grass can be problematic for controlling fire.

Lately (or not so lately?), Alice Springs has seen a spurt of fire in the Todd River, which has got many residents concerned about the fragility of the old River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis). The death of River Red Gums in the Todd River is saddening, as it means a loss of habitat for many of the amazing hollow-nesting birds and bats in the region. But there is a sentimental value to the beauty of the trees as well, which many long-term residents are keen to protect. Several of the large trees have cultural value to local Indigenous groups, which also warrants their protection from fire.

Removal of Buffel Grass around large River Red Gums (and other large trees) is one of the main ways that we can protect them. As a result of big summer rains, we have a huge fire risk with thick Buffel Grass growth around town and rural areas and there is a need for fuel reduction through slashing, spraying or prescribed burning.

Slashing is effective at removing Buffel Grass but it can be time-consuming and costly over large areas and is non-discriminatory (slashes the native grasses and herbs as well). It is best-suited to large and flat grassland areas that require quick fuel reduction.

Spraying can be effective at killing Buffel Grass but doesn’t remove the biomass and nor does it remove the fire hazard. Spraying as a technique is only effective when the Buffel Grass has green pick that is then able to absorb chemical for purposes of killing the root system. At this time of year, much of the Buffel Grass is dry and needs to be chipped out with a mattock if working at a small scale. Chemical is expensive and so is the time needed to spray large areas of Buffel Grass. With the loss of funding to programs such as Green Army – where does the funding come from to support such endeavours? In this case, the town largely relies on groups such as Landcare, as well as individual residents to volunteer their time and do the hard yards. Adopt an area or a tree and go from there!

Fuel reduction by prescribed burning an essential component of fire management, and in most cases the aim is to reduce the ground cover by 60 to 80 %. Such prescribed burning can be effective for a year or two in protecting large trees and habitats from large-scale fires, as well as preventing the spread of large fires. Prescribed burning needs permits and trained fire teams to conduct appropriately and becomes tricky within municipal areas – so it isn’t a reliable venture for protecting the large gums in the Todd River.

Want to know how you can help protect the River Red Gums? Read more about the recent suggestions in Fiona Walsh’s article (http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2017/07/30/save-our-trees-reduce-buffel-call-000-collaborate/).

If fire takes hold, what is the consequence for our wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole?

In terms of the soil, there will be an immediate loss of soil organic matter, and nutrients will be mobilised following a fire. These nutrients have the potential to be relocated downslope (hillside fires) or downstream (riverside or river island fires). There is an immediate loss of groundcover (plants) and leaf litter, which in turn can make an area susceptible to erosion, and result in wetter soils (fewer plants to absorb water through the roots).

Many central Australian birds (such as Cockatoos, Nightjars and Owls) rely on large tree hollows for nesting space. Following a fire, general bird abundance in the area will remain stable; however the loss of hollows can result in a long-term reduction in the population of hollow-nesting species. The loss of a small number of trees may not affect the ecosystem balance to a huge degree, while a large loss of trees may be consequential.

Bat population stability following fire depends on the insect population. Invertebrate population is extremely variable in time and space with or without fire. It is driven by environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall and insolation; and therefore the effect of fire is extremely difficult to determine. As a result, the effect of fire on bat populations will depend on a host of environmental factors as well.

Mammals can experience some initial mortality as a direct result of fire, and in the period following fire there can be increased predation due to lack of cover, and emigration from burnt areas. Patch burning can alleviate the risk to mammals to some extent – leaving intact patches of habitat for mammals to retreat to can be effective at protecting mammal populations.

For reptiles, the effect of fire on populations will depend on the amount of leaf litter and hollow logs left intact for shelter and foraging for food. Patch burning can provide useful refuges for skinks, lizards and snakes, and therefore populations can recover quickly after small and patchy fires. If a large tree with hollows does fall, it’s important to remember that while their hollows may no longer be useful as bird nesting sites, if left in place, they will provide useful habitat for many of the native reptiles in time.

So while fire can leave scars on the land and reduce the number of old hollow-bearing trees, in healthy ecosystems fire is important to regeneration of ephemerals and the wildlife can cope readily with small-scale and patchy fires. It’s the large fires that take hold in fuel-rich areas that are a concern, and fire in fragile systems such as rivers can result in a change in nutrient levels and erosion on the banks. The sentimentality of the beautiful old River Red Gums means that fire in Todd is an unwelcome event that we would like to avoid, which means removing Buffel Grass before a fire takes hold.

Want to do your bit? There are several keen Landcare (https://www.alicespringslandcare.com/ ) groups in Alice Springs that are removing weedy species to make way for the native forbs, which is proving successful at preventing the spread of large fires. Join a group near you!