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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Marg Friedel
Back In March, Marg gave a talk to the Alice Springs Field Naturalists Club, which she called “Where did they come from and how did they get here? Examining the evidence for some familiar weeds of arid central Australia”. As part of her rummaging in the records of Australia’s Virtual Herbarium (AVH), and lots of follow-up reading and discussion, she found evidence for camel harness being the source of a surprising number of invasive plant species.
Not so surprising was the evidence for Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), which was first recorded in AVH south of Wyndham in 1897, near the Ord River. Camels were in use, supplying the goldfields at Hall’s Creek, and the cameleers commonly rested at waterholes and creeks. From the 1880s, camels were sourced from India to modern Afghanistan and were brought into Western Australia via Fremantle predominantly, as well as Geraldton, Port Hedland and Albany. They serviced the pastoral industry and mines both inland and along the WA coast. Joe Moore, storekeeper at Port Headland, persuaded school children to collect the seeds from buffel grass growing around the town from about 1910, and distributed it to stations in the district.
Buffel grass also came with camels via Port Augusta from the 1860s, and camel trains and Ghan towns were a feature of much of inland South Australia, Northern Territory and New South Wales, as well as WA. The first herbarium record for NT is Woodforde Well in 1931, but we know from Walter Smith that cameleers were deliberately spreading buffel grass well before that.
Fountain Grass (Cenchrus setaceus) first appears in AVH in 1903 at Eurelia, near Orroroo, South Australia. Cloncurry Buffel (Cenchrus pennisetiformis), supposedly introduced by General Birdwood after WWI, appears in 1915 in the Geraldton-Greenough area. Birdwood Grass (Cenchrus setigera), appears at Roebourne in 1932, in keeping with its introduction by General Birdwood. Hence it’s likely that three of the Cenchrus species, including buffel grass, came with camels initially, and that subsequently there were deliberate introductions.
Rosy Dock (Acetosa vesicaria) was first collected by naturalist Richard Helms in Perth in 1892, after he left the Lindsay expedition in the Murchison district. Rosy dock is native to north Africa, southwestern Asia and the Indian sub-continent, so it’s a likely accidental inclusion in camel harness arriving in Fremantle.
Kapok Bush (Aerva javanica) was found in 1937 on the de Grey River and Roy Hill Station in 1938, according to AVH. The Ord River Regeneration Project was undertaken from the 1960s, using seed sourced from existing populations on Anna Plains station in the Pilbara and Fitzroy Crossing in the West Kimberley. These populations were understood at the time to have come from camel harness, and kapok bush was known to be used historically by Arabian people for cushion and saddle padding.
Perhaps more surprisingly Rubber Bush (Calotropis procera) is likely to have arrived with the camels that serviced the railhead at Mungana, in Queensland, for the nearby copper mines. A railway operated from Mareeba to Mungana from about 1900, and Mungana was the focus for camel teams for about six years. Rubber bush was first reported in AVH in 1935 at Mungana.
And of course the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was distributed by cameleers, all up giving us quite a substantial list of species likely to have arrived with cameleers and their camels.
Marg would like to hear from anyone with any additional information – whether in support or counter to her story.
~ Marg Friedel
For those that attended the Biodiversity Matters: Buffel Busters Tour of Alice Springs, you may be familiar with the booklet that we have been developing—A Selection of Grasses from Central Australia (yet to be formally titled). The information used was sourced from an excellent online resource called AusGrass2, in combination with 30 grass samples collected from Land for Wildlife member properties.
We have been able to seek permission from the Queensland Herbarium, who now manages the site, to use the information to develop a regional grass guide for central Australia. This will help our members to identify the invasive grasses and distinguish them from the local native grasses, as well as learn about the diversity of grasses in central Australia.
To help us along with producing a complete booklet, we are still seeking samples from the following native and exotic species (For the plant experts among you, let us know if you know where to find any of them):
|Grey-beard Grass, Long Grey-beard Grass||Amphipogon caricinus|
|Cane Grass Three-awn, Two-gland Three-awn||Aristida biglandulosa|
|Needle-leaved Three-awn||Aristida capillifolia|
|Bunched Kerosene Grass, Mulga Grass||Aristida contorta|
|Jericho Three-awn||Aristida jerichoensis var. subspinulifera|
|Feathertop Wiregrass||Aristida latifolia|
|Rock Three-awn||Aristida latzii|
|Flat-awned Three-awn||Aristida nitidula|
|Brush Three-awn, Brush Wiregrass||Aristida obscura|
|Weeping Mitchell Grass||Astrebla elymoides|
|Barley Mitchell Grass||Astrebla pectinata|
|Rough Speargrass||Austrostipa scabra subsp. scabra|
|Wild Oat||Avena fatua|
|Desert Bluegrass||Bothriochloa ewartiana|
|Birdwood Grass||Cenchrus setiger|
|Comb Chloris||Chloris pectinata|
|Feathertop Rhodes Grass, Furry Grass, Feather Finger-grass||Chloris virgata|
|Feathertop Rhodes Grass, Furry Grass, Feather Finger-grass||Chloris virgata|
|Golden Beard Grass, Ribbon Grass, Weeping Grass, Spear Grass||Chrysopogon fallax|
|Northern Barley Grass||Critesion murinum subsp. glaucum|
|Silkyheads, Lemon-scented Grass||Cymbopogon obtectus|
|Sheda Grass||Dichanthium annulatum|
|Dwarf Bluegrass||Dichanthium sericeum subsp. humilius|
|Silky Umbrella Grass, Spider Grass||Digitaria ammophila|
|Umbrella Grass, Finger Panic Grass||Digitaria coenicola|
|Comb Finger Grass||Digitaria ctenantha|
|Japanese Millet||Echinochloa esculenta|
|Conetop Nine-awn, Clelands Nine-awn||Enneapogon clelandii|
|Jointed Nine-awn, Limestone Oat-grass, Jointed Bottlewasher||Enneapogon cylindricus|
|Rock Nine-awn||Enneapogon oblongus|
|Curly Windmill Grass, Umbrella Grass, Spider grass||Enteropogon acicularis|
|Eragrostis A51007 Limestone|
|Swamp Canegrass||Eragrostis australasica|
|Neat Lovegrass, Clustered Lovegrass||Eragrostis basedowii|
|Fairy Grass, Cumings Lovegrass||Eragrostis cumingii|
|Mallee Lovegrass||Eragrostis dielsii|
|Clustered Lovegrass, Close-headed Lovegrass||Eragrostis elongata|
|Small-flowered Lovegrass||Eragrostis kennedyae|
|Purple Lovegrass||Eragrostis lacunaria|
|Drooping Lovegrass||Eragrostis leptocarpa|
|Weeping Lovegrass||Eragrostis parviflora|
|Small Lovegrass||Eragrostis pergracilis|
|Neverfail, Narrow-leaf Neverfail||Eragrostis setifolia|
|Knottybutt Neverfail||Eragrostis xerophila|
|Three-awn Wanderrie||Eriachne aristidea|
|Woollybutt Wanderrie||Eriachne helmsii|
|Pretty Wanderrie||Eriachne pulchella subsp. pulchella|
|Eight Day Grass, Common Fringe-rush||Fimbristylis dichotoma|
|Bunch Speargrass, Black Speargrass||Heteropogon contortus|
|Rough-stemmed Flinders Grass||Iseilema dolichotrichum|
|Bull Flinders Grass||Iseilema macratherum|
|Small Flinders Grass||Iseilema membranaceum|
|Red Flinders Grass||Iseilema vaginiflorum|
|Umbrella Canegrass||Leptochloa digitata|
|Small-flowered Beetle Grass||Leptochloa fusca subsp. fusca|
|Brown Beetle Grass||Leptochloa fusca subsp. muelleri|
|Beetle Grass||Leptochloa fusca subsp. uninervia|
|Natal Red Top, Red Natal Grass||Melinis repens|
|Winged Chloris||Oxychloris scariosa|
|Giant Panic||Panicum antidotale|
|Hairy Panic||Panicum effusum|
|Pepper Grass||Panicum laevinode|
|Bristle-brush Grass||Paractaenum refractum|
|Clements Paspalidium||Paspalidium clementii|
|Knottybutt Paspalidium, Slender Panic||Paspalidium constrictum|
|Warrego Summer Grass||Paspalidium jubiflorum|
|Bunch Paspalidium||Paspalidium rarum|
|Pennisetum pedicellatum subsp. unispiculum|
|Comet Grass||Perotis rara|
|Annual Beardgrass||Polypogon monspeliensis|
|Australian Dropseed||Sporobolus australasicus|
|Tall Oat Grass, Oat Kangaroo Grass, Native Oat Grass, Swamp Kangaroo Grass||Themeda avenacea|
|Window Mulga Grass, Mulga Mitchell Grass, Mulga Grass||Thyridolepis mitchelliana|
|Spurred Arrowgrass||Triglochin calcitrapum|
|Hard Spinifex, Lobed Spinifex||Triodia basedowii|
|Hard Spinifex, Lobed Spinifex||Triodia brizoides|
|Buck Spinifex, Bull Spinifex, Giant Grey Spinifex||Triodia longiceps|
|Five-minute Grass, Rye Beetle Grass||Tripogon loliiformis|
|Hairy Armgrass, Hairy Summer Grass, Green Summer Grass||Urochloa piligera|
|Large Armgrass, Large Summer Grass||Urochloa praetervisa|
|Sandhill Canegrass||Zygochloa paradoxa|
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:
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).
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.
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.
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 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 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 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).
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).
By Bruce Simmons
Andy Vinter’s Bush Regeneration Handbook provides terrific practical information for anyone interested in arresting the progress of weeds, and Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) in particular, on their block, streetscape or local feature. So you might go there as a starting point if you are interested in ‘bashing the Buffel’.
My history with weeds goes back to early childhood times helping my father remove couch, three corner jacks and onion weed from our big three quarter acre block in suburban Adelaide. In spite of frequent ouches and an occasional protest, I think the rewarding experience of companionable times and visible wins became an entrenched part of my DNA.
When it comes to gardening and gardens I have never viewed invading weeds as all bad, though I think couch is the real villain in many ways and should be addressed with a big mental alert KEEP OUT sign! But most other weeds, including Buffel Grass, can be recycled as greens for the chooks, valuable compost or mulching materials… some are pretty nutritious for humans too I hear, though I haven’t explored that option seriously as yet.
Skilled weed spotting and assessment is a virtue and potentially a stick for one’s own back. My grandma always used to helpfully remind me “one year’s seeding, seven year’s weeding” and the message reverberates and drives me on in so many ways most days of the year. So I might decide to leave a weed to grow for a while for its potential recycling value but once its seeds start to mature I have an urgent or even an EMERGENCY bell ringing in my head. I’m confident those bells ring for many keen gardeners.
The bullying potential of Buffel Grass is unfortunately extreme. Over time, Buffel Grass muscles everything else out of its way even without the additional support of fire. The good news is that the native vegetation is not obliterated so much as hidden in seed form. With good conditions, and a Buffel-free zone, many interesting natives return in abundance to reward the worker. And from my experience they’ll stay on – so long as the Buffel is kept at bay!
I have always either pulled or mattocked out the Buffel Grass, depending on its size. Sometimes a spade or hoe works well on smaller plants in dry soil. I’ve not adopted poisoning but I know some very keen Buffel Grass bashers who do an effective regular hunt for ferals in their patch with RoundUp spray packs on their backs.
When tackling a new field of established Buffel Grass I have a sturdy old Toyota HJ45 tray top to which I add galvanized iron ‘hungry sides’ so that I can pile, stomp and add more and more Buffel Grass until I have a ‘decent load’ ready for mulching or composting. It takes me in effect a full day of steady labour, generally spread over a few vigorous Buffeling sessions to get a load. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to have my sister Jenny help or I find a fellow traveller who shares some time with me clearing a patch and filling the tray. Hopefully they feel as good as I do about the experience. I’m confident it will stay memorable!
What to do with your Buffel Grass once removed? I have taken a few tons to the Alice Springs Community Garden as a major component of our new plots. Combined with cow manure, watered and covered with a layer of compost it composts down, virtually without any regrowth, while veggies grow above. I have also used it to mulch our fruit trees, piling it up 50 cm or more. Neighbours have simply heaped it up with very little subsequent regrowth. I’m not inclined to simply leave it where it’s been dug up as logically I’d expect a lot more new seedlings from leaving the seed heads on the soil.
To keep Buffel Grass from coming back there’s no alternative to eternal vigilance. I do a monthly feral hunt around our block and along Schaber Road verges where residents and I have cleared all the Buffel Grass. After the recent heavy rains we’ve had a heap of new seedlings come up. But if you can see it as a bit of friendly competition and rewarding exercise then there’s no problem with keeping on the job.
Every year it gets a bit easier, especially if you extend your Buffeling to include a few extra metres beyond your natural boundary. The only question for me then is whether or not to surrender to my keen desire to strike further into enemy country! Giving in and going further is generally met with appreciation from grateful neighbours, some of whom have been encouraged and strengthened to become more passionate Buffel-hounds themselves.
I’d be curious to learn if the new environment attracts more wildlife. Certainly, we have many birds and lizards on our property and a diversity of flora on our verges that we couldn’t have imagined on our arrival to Schaber Road twenty plus years ago.
Many happy outcomes from a rewarding addiction.
~ Bruce Simmons