Carnarvon Station Reserve three years on

Saturday 20 March, 2004

Bush Heritage Carnarvon Station Reserve Manager Mick Blackman and Conservation Programs Manager Stuart Cowell reflect on the past three years’ work at Carnarvon.

Controlled burn around the house complex. Photo Stuart Cowell.

Controlled burn around the house complex. Photo Stuart Cowell.

Bush Heritage has owned Carnarvon Station for nearly three years. The property’s diverse and threatened habitats, the native grasslands, vine thickets, brigalow and yellow jacket woodlands, and its rocky escarpments and stunning angophora and sheoak forests, made it a fine prize and one that Bush Heritage was thrilled to get.

The importance of protecting this 58 000-ha property was, and remains, graphically illustrated by any survey of the surrounding districts, which are cleared and degraded.

Carnarvon has seen a dramatic change in management style in the past three years and, like a chameleon, is changing its colours and patterns in response to its changing environment.

The changes can be seen, not only in a landscape that is coming to life, but also in the repair of buildings, roads, fences and water points, and in the level of activity and enthusiasm of its managers, volunteers and staff.

Grassland denuded by grazing. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.

Grassland denuded by grazing. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.

Once-dusty paddocks have burst forth as hypnotic seas of golden bluegrass, now outstanding examples of this nationally threatened ecosystem. These grasslands are inviting back the smaller marsupials and other ground-dwelling animals that have been absent for many years.

Five of the artesian springs, once mired and ‘abandoned’ after the wallowing of wild pigs, are recovering their beauty and usefulness as protective fences keep out feral animals. The native animals can still get in to drink at the now sparkling water (thanks to a little ingenuity from the volunteers).

Other less obvious changes attest to the countless hours of hard work, generosity, and pride of our workers. Tons of rubbish has gone. The bores and pumps now fire up first time. Bore water flows when needed for fire control and fills the recently repaired troughs in the three trapping yards.

These yards, now operational again, catch rogue cattle that break in for the abundant grass.

Mick Blackman connects the water tank. Photo Clare Blackman.

Controlled burn around the house complex. Photo Stuart Cowell.

The 440 km of vehicle tracks, fence lines and firebreaks are regularly maintained; water flows clear (and with satisfying reliability) to the house complex through 15km of recently laid polypipe.

We've doubled the water-storage capacity and installed grey-water recycling to reduce our water use. The ‘barracks’ have been moved to a better location and hooked up to the power supply, and now provide a clean and inviting accommodation complex for the growing number of volunteers.

Our volunteers work with proper safety equipment, training and support. These changes have made the property work far more efficiently and allowed us get on with the job of nature conservation.

Ongoing conservation work

Fire work is seasonal. Controlled burns have been set to protect the house complex and patch burn around fire-sensitive communities like vine scrubs. Different burning techniques and burn intervals are being trialled to achieve the desired conservation results.

Three wild fires on the property have kept us busy, as have others off the reserve that sent us to the assistance of our neighbours. The big fire last year, alight for over a month, burnt in patches over a total area of about 20 000 ha but without major ecological damage. In fact it was beneficial in revitalising habitat.

Mick Blackman at a controlled burn. Photo Stuart Cowell.

Mick Blackman at a controlled burn. Photo Stuart Cowell.

The weeds, buffel and Johnson grass, mimosa bush, Mexican poppy and fierce thorn apple have been dug or sprayed, and eradication will continue while any remain.

Two ‘wash-down’ facilities now reduce the risk of seeds being dispersed from vehicles coming on to the reserve.

The six pig traps are doing their work. Hundreds of pigs have been caught. We're awaiting the results of gut analysis on 83 specimens (one of them a 92-kg boar) to examine their diet. One of the most spectacular catches has been a 5.2-kg cat.

Twelve kilometres of fencing has been strengthened to help deter the wild horses, and new, smarter strategies for controlling feral animals are being devised.

Volunteers arrive in growing numbers, working long hours often in persistent heat or cold to help care for the reserve. Collectively, they put in thousands of hours on plant and animal surveys, building fences, repairing and painting the buildings, maintaining vehicles and weeding. (It has almost become a rite of passage for Carnarvon Station Reserve volunteers to be involved in weed control.)

They will continue to work on excluding feral animals from many of the remaining springs. Since the camping area opened in late 2002 twelve groups of campers, as well as many other visitors, have marvelled at the spectacular scenery and watched the daily activities of the wildlife at Carnarvon.

They've been guided by new signs, maps and an information booklet.

Wallaroo. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.

Wallaroo. Photo Wayne Lawler / EcoPix.

Monitoring progress

Photo reference points, which have been established at key sites around the reserve, show us whether our management strategies are working. Regular plant and animal surveys also help us to understand how our actions are affecting the wildlife.

Our management planning is flexible and allows us to change our strategies in response to the feedback we get from the reserve. The future for Carnarvon is bright. Planning, innovation and teamwork will see many more positive changes for conservation of the threatened ecosystems and wildlife.

We've now passed the stage of ‘quick fixes’ and have moved on to plan and implement longer-term projects that will bring results within decades rather than years. Conservation management of land is forever, and with your help we will keep learning and working, knowing that the splendour of Carnarvon will now be there for all time.

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