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.

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.

National Tree Day Festivities

By Candice Appleby

To celebrate National Tree Day on Sunday 30th July, the Land for Wildlife team hosted an official launch of the new online interactive Central Australia Register of Significant Trees map. Thanks to the support from Territory Natural Resource Management, Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and Low Ecological Services P/L.

The NT Register of Significant Trees online register was launched on National Tree Day at Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

 

It was a lovely mild winter’s afternoon at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens on Sunday the 30th July. The birds were singing, the breeze was softly blowing and all the trees were celebrating happily as it was their day – National Tree Day.

Land for Wildlife was pleased to call this the setting of the official launch of Central Australia’s Register of Significant Trees interactive online map. There was a great turn out on the day with around 30 people attending. Over a cuppa and slice of delightful cake (baked by Caragh Heenan, our ever so talented Land for Wildlife coordinator), attendees had the chance to learn a little more about the history of the register and the recent work that has brought it to its new digital platform. Some great discussions took place around how the register should be presented to the public regarding retaining historical listings if the trees may be no longer present, and what actions we as a community can take to advocate for tree protection in and around the Alice Springs municipality. The latter seemed to be a major concern to those attending, with many developments proposed in the local area and Alice Springs currently having no tree protection by-laws in place.

Fiona Walsh also presented an update from the ‘Strategies to reduce loss of our Red River Gum Habitat’ meeting that took place at Olive Pink Botanic Gardens in late July. Offering some suggestions and insight as to how the community can get behind preventing habitat loss in the Todd River caused by wildfires through management and wildfire response. Thank you Fiona for your contribution!

The launch also served as an opportunity to announce an open expression of interest to members of the public to join the NT Significant Trees Committee. This committee will be responsible for attending triannual meetings to discuss significant tree matters and to conduct final assessments of new listing nominations. If you think you would like to join the NT Significant Trees Committee send an email through to lfw@lowecol.com.au and let us know!!

It was a great afternoon tea and a nice way to spend National Tree Day. Land for Wildlife would like to thank Territory Natural Resource Management for supporting this event through the National Landcare Program with a small community grant. TNRM made it possible for LFW to host the event as well as design and print a new NT Significant Trees brochure to be available at upcoming community events and downloadable from the Land for wildlife website.

We would also like to thank Olive Pink Botanic Gardens for providing the wonderful venue for the day, and the on-going support from Low Ecological Services P/L.

Head to the project page at the Land for Wildlife website to read more about the register, see a list of the trees on the central Australian register, download PDF fact sheets about the trees and even take a ‘virtual’ tour of the register via an interactive Google Map.

~ Candice Appleby

Cat Owners Feline Fine About Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs Results

As the Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs project starts to wrap up, we have been engaging with domestic cat owners that took part in the project regarding the monitoring results. We conducted a workshop this month on the findings from the cat monitoring, which will be officially released in a report next month. The owners had positive feedback from the monitoring and were genuinely interested about the results from the GPS-tracking, video surveillance and scat analysis.

The video surveillance is the first item on the agenda for the public and has been released on our YouTube channel. Head there to see all Land for Wildlife videos or go and watch the videos as a playlist.

Stay posted for the official release of the monitoring results – coming soon!

Domestic cat owners receive their results from the monitoring and awareness program (Image C. Appleby).

 

Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness Wrapping Up

 The Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness in Alice Springs program is wrapping up for another round and the cats are exhausted from all their hard work recording where they go and what they see. The tracker data has been through the wringer! Maps have been produced showing where the cats go and what their hotspots are. We will be running the timing of movements and distances through the calculator to get some statistics prepared. The final step in the process will be to collate the information and present this to the cat owners so they can see the results.

An additional monitoring round will take place in Tennant Creek in a couple of weeks if all goes to plan, with the intention of broadening the range of our community engagement. Several Tennant Creek residents with pet cats have offered to take part in the monitoring, with their data sneaking into the mix in the final couple of weeks of the funding round.

Domestic Cat Monitoring and Awareness: Possum’s roaming zone is far-reaching

As a little taster of the data to come, this is the measured home-range of Possum, a young Tabby that spends a significant amount of time outside. Possum spends much of its time outside near the house (red hotspot) but the tracking data shows that Possum also spends a good proportion of his time near the main road, roaming in the riverbed and also in nearby bushland (90% of GPS fixes are within the green shaded zone). Not only does Possum roam on the large property, but he also visits neighbouring properties. Possum’s video surveillance and tracking data will be presented to his owner in the coming weeks as the project is wrapped up for another year.

Interested in having your cat tracked but you haven’t taken part in the monitoring yet? Land for Wildlife will look at continuing the monitoring process for members of the Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife programs to engage with cat owners about responsible management of their free-roaming felines.

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

Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour Video

Land for Wildlife assisted Arid Lands Environment Centre to run a Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour on the 18th of February 2017. You can read more about the event at our Blog:

Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs

Land for Wildlife were there to assist the Land for Wildlife properties to showcase the natural values of their properties, identifying plants for those on tour and we had a camera to capture the day. It was quite a windy day, according to the camera, so we have learnt that a microphone is sometimes a necessary tool (we must never stop learning!). Apologies for the windy moments towards the start, but it’s worth persisting. I’ve included some subtitles in places to help you out. It includes some presentations by the Buffel Busters on the day, photographs of the event and some of the wildlife spotted at the Buffel-free sites.

You can view the video below, and share it through the link: https://youtu.be/xzyi6D1OZFE

Still want to learn more about Buffel Grass? Head to our Resources web page for links to a range of handy fact sheets.

Thanks to the supporters: Arid Lands Environment Centre, Territory Natural Resource Management, Desert Knowledge Australia, Alice Springs Landcare Inc and Olive Pink Botanic Garden. Thanks to everyone that came along to the event and especially to all of the Buffel Busters that shared their experience, knowledge and wisdom (Peter Latz, Bruce Simmons, Debbie Page, Jude Prichard from Alice Springs Landcare Inc, and Doug McDougall from Olive Pink Botanic Garden).

Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs

Land for Wildlife kicked off last weekend with its first collaborative workshop for 2017 – a Buffel Busters inspiration tour of Alice Springs. Arid Lands Environment Centre hosted the event as part of their Biodiversity Matters initiative, with Land for Wildlife supporting the tour to a range of Land for Wildlife properties and other local landcare properties. This was supported by Territory Natural Resource Management, Desert Knowledge Australia, Olive Pink Botanic Garden and Alice Springs Landcare Inc. The workshop was attended by 25 keen Buffel Busters, seeking inspiration for the removal of the pesky introduced Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris). The drive gave the workshop participants several chances to compare Buffel-laden versus buffel-free sites, including identification of some of the native grasses, forbs and shrubs that can germinate in the absence of Buffel.

Buffel Busters getting inspired on the Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour

The first stop on the tour was made to the property of local botanist and grass expert, Peter Latz. Peter has spent many years on his eight hectare plot, removing Buffel Grass, Couch (Cynodon dactylon) and invasive Lovegrasses (two of the Eragrostis sp.). Peter, along with several neighbours, has removed Buffel from adjacent drainage lines, which he says is one of the main incoming sources of seed to his property. Buffel Grass has resulted in several large fires incinerating some of the old Ironwood (Acacia estrophiolata) trees, one of the main problems with this introduced grass, according to ‘Latzi’. The effort to remove Buffel Grass, which has been a ten-year task, has resulted in greater plant and animal diversity on his block.

Peter Latz (AKA Latzi) explains how he took on Buffel Grass head first.

The removal of Buffel has been accomplished by spraying large patches, chipping out smaller pockets with a hoe or mattock. He suggests that you should never spray Buffel once the seeds have fallen, as they are tough enough that they become resistant to herbicides. The Buffel should be sprayed twice and then removed by mechanical means (hoe or mattock). Peter states that they key to effective Buffel removal is to be present during the active growing season (following heavy rains), so that the plants and seed heads can be removed before they are released from the plant.

Peter argues that while Buffel Grass is invasive and responsible for promoting more intense fires, it isn’t as bad as some of the other grasses that are taking hold in the area, such as Couch and African/Stinking Lovegrass. Buffel Grass may be helping to keep some of the other invasive weeds at bay. Buffel makes good mulch and growing plants stabilise the soil in areas of erosion concern, however the seeds must be removed to prevent the spread of the grass. Buffel grass also acts as a nutrient recycler, putting carbon back into the soil, and increasing soil fertility for when the natives regenerate. However this isn’t long-term and so nutrition declines over time in grass-dominated ecosystems, requiring phosphate to strike a balance (or the growth of legumes).

Peter recommended a book ‘Where Do Camels Belong’ by Dr Ken Thompson, which suggests that invasive species vigour declines after 50 years and becomes part of the landscape. This suggests that Buffel grass populations will eventually diminish in areas of early establishment. However, the native seed bank needs to be replenished in order for the natives to regenerate, and hence Buffel control is still needed in the meantime. This seed stock also provides food for a range of local wildlife, keeping populations of invertebrates, birds and native mice well-fed.

The second site visited was the verge of Schaber Road, where Bruce Simmons has focused his Buffel bashing efforts for many years. Originally, Bruce was concerned about the effects of erosion when removing Buffel but went ahead with some advice from the experts. He convinced his neighbours to get involved, with many others in the street taking part in the Buffel Grass removal quest.

Bruce Simmons explains how his Buffel busting excursions made their way out onto the verge and neighbouring yards.

Bruce helps out at the Alice Springs Community Garden, an Arid Lands Environment Centre initiative and Garden for Wildlife property located in Eastside. The Buffel Grass pulled by Bruce and others is used to create compost for the gardens, but he states that the Buffel can also be placed directly under the base of fruit trees as mulch. He reinstates the suggestion that Buffel Grass removal requires persistence but once the bulk has been removed, maintaining the native verge requires minimal effort.

Buffel Grass seeds wash in from neighbouring areas in the drainage lines and so the recent rains have been a challenge, germinating a host of Buffel seeds along the verge. The native forbs that have returned to the verge, include Variable Daisy (Brachycome ciliaris complex), Woolly Oat Grass (Enneapogon polyphyllus), Erect Kerosene Grass (Aristida holathera) and Golden Everlasting (Xerochrysum bracteatum), among others. These natives provide habitat and foraging space for a range of birds, with birds such as Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) and Sacred Kingfishers (Todiramphus sanctus) calling the street home.

Debbie Page is a keen Buffel  Buster with a Land for Wildlife property in Ross, and this made for an inspiring third stop. Debbie is eager to motivate and inspire land owners to remove Buffel on their own properties. She claims that effective Buffel control is about awareness, which Debbie gained through seeking advice from various contacts around Alice Springs. Debbie’s journey to a Buffel-free property came from three catalysts: Land for Wildlife and the technical support provided by the nature conservation program, Rosalie Breen and her efforts spraying Buffel at OLSH in Alice Springs, and some friends in the area, Carmel and David Leonard (also a Land for Wildlife property in the day). With some inspiration from others and the phrase ‘Dream, Believe, Create, Succeed’, she took up the Buffel removal challenge, though found it daunting at first. Debbie doesn’t attempt to convince her neighbours to remove Buffel, though she confesses that she has been known to jump the fence and spray clumps of Buffel in the early hours of the morning, and she can see that they have become Buffel Busters through watching her actions.

Debbie inspires the keen Buffel Busters about how she removed the invasive grass from her patch through hard work and determination.

Debbie started her Buffel Busting efforts with a small spray pack, Glyphosate 360 and the appropriate safety equipment. Debbie suggested that a small amount of eco-friendly detergent can be placed in the spray pack to act as a surfactant, and Peter Latz added that sulphate ammonia can also be added to increase potency of the mix.

Debbie would find a window of opportunity after rain when the conditions suited spraying and would do an hour or two of spraying in the morning on her two hectare property. She states that the task has taken her four years, but the reward of native birds such as Splendid Fairy-wrens (Malurus splendens) and Quails (Turnix sp.) returning to her block is worth the hard work and she has enjoyed the challenge. Debbie recommends getting in touch with your property and becoming aware of the value that Buffel-removal can provide, as selectively spraying and watching the native understorey returning gives her a sense of accomplishment. Debbie’s property is now home to a huge variety of native grasses, such as Woolly Oat Grass (Enneapogon polyphyllus), Erect Kerosene Grass (Aristida holathera), Wiregrass (Aristida arida), Silky Bluegrass (Dichanthium sericeum subsp. sericeum), Native Millet (Panicum decompositum s.lat.), Silky Browntop (Eulalia aurea), and Curly Wiregrass (Aristida inaequiglumis).

The Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs made its way to Ankerre Ankerre, also known as the Coolabah Swamp, in Eastside. Jude Prichard and Alice Springs Landcare Inc has been working to remove Buffel Grass and other natives from the area for approximately four years, with amazing results. The Coolabah population has slowly started regenerating, with a few seedlings becoming established in recent months. They have managed to establish the native flora in the area, which is contributing to a solid seedbank, which they feel they are custodians of for future generations. Jude confirmed that the maintenance effort required is now minimal, so long as the landcare group can remove the plants before they seed.

Jude Prichard tells the Buffel Busters about how Buffel removal has worked on sacred crown land for the Alice Springs Landcare Inc.

Jude explained how the large trees were protected from fire as the first strategy and once the main areas had been cleared of Buffel, the location site-lines were opened up to change perception of the area from a wasteland to a place of beauty and significance. She suggests setting goals, with small areas dealt with at a time and expanding from there.

The final stop of the tour was to Olive Pink Botanic Garden, where Doug McDougall showed the participants the hard work that the Green Army team (and other volunteers) had been doing to remove Buffel Grass on Nurse’s Hill. The Buffel Busters in the garden use a bio-friendly food dye in the spray pack so that they can clearly see the areas that have been sprayed to prevent waste of chemical. Visitors to the botanic garden are now met with an array of beautiful flowering native plants, as well as birds, Euros (Macropus robustus) and Black-footed Rock Wallabies (Petrogale lateralis).

Doug McDougall showed the group how the Green Army team and other volunteers have removed Buffel Grass from sensitive sites within Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

Many thanks go to the participants for taking part and to the Buffel Busters for opening your homes and gardens to the eagre Busters-to-be – providing so much inspiration. Thanks go to the Arid Lands Environment Centre for hosting the event and all of the supporters for making the event such a success.

A video of the day is in the making and will be released soon, so you can get up to speed with the inspirational words of the Buffel Busters (Stay posted).

Frog Frenzy for World Wetlands Day

Simpsons Gap: These Waterways are home to a range of amphibians, invertebrates and other fauna.

Simpsons Gap: These Waterways are home to a range of amphibians, invertebrates and other fauna.

Land for Wildlife went along to the Territory NRM World Wetlands Day Event on February 1st at Simpsons Gap and were delighted to see all the frogs that have emerged following recent rains. Three species were present at the TNRM hosted event, including the Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni), Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella) and Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri). The Centralian Tree Frog is distinguished by its green colour and white spots on the back, while the Red Tree Frog is much smaller, can be grey to brown in colour and possesses a broad black stripe running down the side of the body. Spencer’s Burrowing Frog has large and irregular splotches of dark brown on a lighter fawn body, and has a somewhat distinctive shield or plate behind the back of the head.

There are two main lineages of frogs in Central Australia, the first two species observed belong to the Family Hylidae (or tree frogs) and the third belongs to the Family Limnodynastidae (the Australian ground frogs). While Spencer’s Burrowing Frog spends most of its life underground to avoid dehydration, and emerges only for short periods after rains, the Centralian Tree Frog and Red Tree Frog are unable to burrow and climb into humid microhabitats such as crevices and tree hollows close to permanent water.

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

 

Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella)

Red Tree Frog (Litoria rubella)

 

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri)

Spencer’s Burrowing Frog (Platyplectrum spenceri)

 

Tadpole

 

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

Centralian Tree Frog (Litoria gilleni)

 

Parks and Wildlife NT are running a host of Frog Nights throughout February – get along to a session to see the diversity of amphibians in our local waterways.

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To learn more about World Wetlands Day (2nd February 2017), head to http://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

Are there frogs in your yard? Want to identify them? Pick up a copy of the Land for Wildlife production ‘Reptiles and Frogs of Alice Springs’ by Nic Gambold and Deborah Metters at any of our upcoming stalls and events. To find out more about this publication head to our Books for Sale webpage.