A new reserve in the Nardoo Hills, Victoria

Tuesday 20 June, 2006

David Baker-Gabb is Reserve Overseer for both the reserves in the Nardoo Hills.

‘Swift parrots!’The cry sent our team of volunteer ‘cactus stabbers’ spilling from the cars, binoculars in hand, to the base of some of Judith Eardley Reserve’s massive grey box trees. We counted at least ten of these nationally endangered migrants from Tasmania as they squabbled and fed in the mass of gum blossom.

View over Nardoo Hills Reserve. Photo James Cowie.View over Nardoo Hills Reserve. Photo James Cowie.

After the first wet spring in a decade, the grey box were flowering profusely throughout northcentral Victoria. There was some debate among us about why these swift parrots were feeding in Bush Heritage’s reserve and not elsewhere.

Our group was on the reserve to continue the control of invasive wheel cactus. We were working not only on Judith Eardley Reserve and on adjacent grazing properties, but also on the new grassy woodland reserve just purchased by Bush Heritage in the Nardoo Hills. The Threatened Species Network has helped support this work as part of the Swift Parrot Habitat Enhancement Project.

Bush Heritage has put down an anchor in this part of north-central Victoria. It contains some of the most threatened vegetation communities in eastern Australia, has great potential for good conservation  outcomes and poses challenges that can be effectively managed.

Another cactus-stabbing team about to embark. Photo Kate Fitzherbert.Another cactus-stabbing team about to embark. Photo Kate Fitzherbert.

The region’s potential for conservation is built around a landscape that still retains more than 30% of its native vegetation in a dozen blocks of public land. Together, these blocks comprise the 7,000 hectare Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve. There is potential for further conservation gains by protecting the substantial blocks of privately owned woodland that link the ‘islands’ of public land.

Some of these links are well managed, others are declining in quality, and all are potentially at risk from a change in ownership. Bush Heritage is helping to protect these key areas of native vegetation. The new 245 hectare Nardoo Hills Reserve has been purchased with support from the R E Ross Trust, the Miller Foundation, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Inc.

Aboriginal scar tree. Photo David Baker-Gabb.Aboriginal scar tree. Photo David Baker-Gabb.

It adjoins the southern boundary of Judith Eardley Reserve and lies along the eastern border of the Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve. It also provides good access to the Bush Heritage reserves and so saves on management costs. This new property has been conservatively managed by the Paterson family for over a century.

Scars on some of the reserve’s numerous ancient trees are evidence of earlier occupation and management by Aboriginal people.

Nardoo Hills Reserve fulfills a valuable role as a buffer for the Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve, and has many exceptional values in its own right. Ancient hollow-bearing trees and fallen logs are generally in short supply on public land, which has often been used for timber or firewood production in the past. Both of these valuable natural resources are plentiful on Bush Heritage’s Nardoo Hills reserves.

The two reserves have four diverse vegetation communities that support at least a dozen species of birds and two species of reptiles that are listed as threatened in Victoria. Diamond firetails, hooded robins and tree goannas are all much more common in the Bush Heritage reserves than in the adjacent nature conservation reserve.

The desiccated remains of wheel cactus ‘stabbed’ by volunteers months earlier. Photo Kate Fitzherbert.The desiccated remains of wheel cactus ‘stabbed’ by volunteers months earlier. Photo Kate Fitzherbert.

Some unwelcome pests such as wheel cactus are also more prolific on private land. The Bush Heritage reserves had a serious infestation of wheel cactus, but after 70 days of volunteer effort there's hardly an adult plant left alive on either property. We'll have seedlings to deal with in the coming years, but the reserves’ most serious weed issue has been brought rapidly under control.

And there's other good news. Like the gums, native grasses seeded prolifically throughout the region last summer. This meant that threatened woodland birds such as the seed-eating diamond firetail bred successfully, especially on Judith Eardley Reserve where there was no competition from grazing sheep. As the summer progressed, the ranks of diamond firetails on the reserve swelled with immigrants, as grass seed dwindled in the surrounding districts as it was grazed by stock.

It is indeed gratifying to know that the reserve is so soon fulfilling its role as a refuge for declining woodland species.

It is good to see the land and its wildlife responding so well after a short period of management by Bush Heritage, and exciting to protect yet another key area of threatened habitat.

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