Conservation Programs Manager Stuart Cowell describes what will soon be a Bush Heritage reserve.
Fields of everlastings. Photo Jiri and Marie Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.
The spring wildflower displays in south-west Western Australia are legendary. The plant diversity is awe-inspiring, even for those of us who have roamed this part of the country for years.
When this floral abundance is seen alongside the vast areas that have been cleared throughout the wheat belt, the properties that retain their ‘original’ landscapes can only be regarded as fabulous, rare treasures.
The South-West Botanical Province, as it's called, is recognised as one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. Tragically, it's also one of earth’s threatened biodiversity hotspots. Land clearing and spreading salinity have devastated much of the region. The areas of native vegetation that remain are now very precious.
FA map showing the site of the proposed new reserve.
Bush Heritage’s next reserve will protect one of Australia’s most extraordinary treasures of biodiversity. The property lies on the northern edge of this botanical province and the sheep–wheat belt. At over 30 000 hectares it will be one of our larger purchases and protect a variety of vegetation associations and hundreds of species of plants.
Incredibly, although only about half the property has been surveyed, we know that there are at least five nationally endangered or vulnerable plants and at least 29 species that are a priority for conservation in the state. The threatened malleefowl is also among them.
The land is part of an ancient landscape in an old continent. Its great geological age is revealed by the absence of relief, its former hills worn down by wind and water over the aeons. It's relatively flat to undulating country, dissected by ephemeral drainage lines and breakaways, with rocky soapstone outcrops and the occasional ‘high dune’ on the sandplains.
Leschenaultia sp. Photo Margaret Quicke.
When you stand on one of these high points, looking north across the large but shallow drainage basin that characterises the property, the ‘micro’ relief starts to emerge and the landscape ceases to be simply ‘flat’.
It's the complexity of these large landscapes at this fine scale that gives rise to their abundant diversity. Red loamy sands and yellow sandplains support the low kwongan heath, sandplain scrubs and york gum.
Shrublands and scrub-heath are the dominant vegetation types. These are very dull names for what are some of the most spectacular and remarkable plant communities in the west.
Twining fringe lily. Photo Jiri and Marie Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.
There's also a mix of Acacia thicket, scattered york gum and red mallee, Casuarina, Banksia ashbyi and other mixed-species thickets. Protecting the property will significantly increase the reserved area of four of these vegetation associations that are important for conservation.
Some recent plant surveys, which were conducted over a total of six days and covered only about a third of the property, recorded over 600 species of plants. Thirty of these were as yet undescribed.
The current owners have photographed over 900 plant species on the property as a whole.
Nationally vulnerable malleefowl. Photo Jiri and Marie Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.
Little is known about the wildlife on the property as no formal surveys have been undertaken. However, we know that the nationally threatened malleefowl is there and species such as the tiny fat-tailed dunnart, spinifex hopping mouse, western grey kangaroo and euro. Other species that we expect to find include the sandy inland mouse, honey possum and a significant number of bat species.
So far there are 97 species of birds on the bird list. Insects are in abundance, which reflects the remarkable diversity of plants.
Threats and management issues
A palette of colour with blue Dampiera and yellow Glischrocaryon. Photo Margaret Quicke.
Most of this region has been cleared for wheat and sheep production. However, by anyone’s definition it's marginal agricultural country. The current owners of the property have cropped only about 10% of the land. Another 20% has been grazed lightly and intermittently over the past 15 years and hasn't been seriously impacted by the grazing pressure.
The current owners have maintained much of the property for its wonderful wildflower show and its rare species. The greatest risk to the property comes now that the owners need to sell. If sold on the open market, new owners are likely to consider goat production as an alternative to wheat and sheep farming. This would be a disaster for the landscape and the plants in particular.
Grazing and soil disturbance by feral goats, inappropriate fire regimes, predation of native animals by foxes and cats, and weed invasion, are the major threats. The threat from feral goats is high; they have seriously degraded other pastoral leases in the region. Effective management of these threats would be a key component of Bush Heritage’s management plan for the reserve.
Thorny devil. Photo Jiri and Marie Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.
With your help Bush Heritage will buy and protect this extraordinary place. Once purchased, this new reserve will add to and link existing conservation areas creating an extensive corridor of protected land. Building up the size, and thus the resilience, of conservation areas is very important if we're to ensure that all their plant and animal species and the integrity of their ecosystems are to be maintained and enhanced for the long term.
Creating this new reserve will be a major step forward in protecting some of the extraordinary diversity in this biodiversity hotspot.
Once the new reserve is established you'll be able to visit and marvel at the extraordinary variety of our plants. How gratifying to know that you have helped to protect this dazzling natural ‘garden’ for the long term.