Putting the jigsaw puzzle back together

Wednesday 20 June, 2007

Can you imagine Australia as a giant jigsaw puzzle made up of millions of pieces? Two hundred years ago, if you'd been looking down at the puzzle from above, the picture would have been quite spectacular.

Map of Gondwana Link properties.Map of Gondwana Link properties.

You'd have seen majestic forests fringing the edges with green and great rivers spilling into the sea. In the far north, deeply etched escarpments would have plunged down into vast woodlands and wetlands teeming with life.

Across the red centre you'd have seen rolling sand dunes laced with the tracks of myriad small, busy animals, and arid shrublands and rocky plains carved by ancient rivers. Golden grasslands and woodlands brimming with wildlife would have spanned the eastern side of the continent from north to south.

Over the past 200 years we've effectively been taking the pieces out of this great landscape puzzle. Habitats have disappeared piece by piece and with them the animals and plants they supported. Wetlands have vanished as they've been drained, and rivers have been choked by dams and excessive water extraction.

Brown treecreeper. Photo Graeme Chapman.Brown treecreeper. Photo Graeme Chapman.

Now 70% of the pieces of this magnificent jigsaw are either missing or damaged. In the worst affected regions, just a scattering of small isolated pieces remain. A look at the map of the Gondwana Link region illustrates the point graphically. Putting key pieces back into this jigsaw is now a priority if we're to avert the massive extinction of species that's predicted to occur as the effects of climate change intensify.

It's been estimated that the effect on a habitat of every one-degree rise in temperature caused by global warming will be equivalent to its having moved 100 kilometres north. With less rainfall and more frequent and intense fires predicted for much of the south of the continent, and an increased risk of intense cyclones and extreme rainfall over the north, animals and plants will be forced to move to find new habitats and the food and shelter that they need.

Yellow daisies at Chereninup Creek Reserve, WA. Photo Barbara Madden.Yellow daisies at Chereninup Creek Reserve, WA. Photo Barbara Madden.

Many animals, trapped in habitat ‘islands’ surrounded by seas of cleared land, will have nowhere to go. Both regional and national extinction rates are set to soar.

Rebuilding the connections between these islands of habitat is probably the most important action we can take, and ensuring that these habitat pathways extend through different altitudes and across latitudes is vital.

Beyond the Boundaries

The Bush Heritage Beyond the Boundaries program is working on many fronts to do just that. This is a program of partnerships and of building up and working on regional conservation strategies with other groups, agencies and individuals to achieve what none of us could alone.

Threatened Corackerup moort Eucalyptus vesiculosa at Monjebup Reserve, WA. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.JIRI LOCHMAN/LOCHMAN TRANSPARENCIESThreatened Corackerup moort Eucalyptus vesiculosa at Monjebup Reserve, WA. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.

The Australian Government’s very successful National Reserve System Programme will probably play a part by assisting with the acquisition of key properties, as it has with the recent purchase of Scottsdale
Reserve south of Canberra. The acquistion of Scottsdale Reserve is the start of another major landscape restoration program, Kosciuszko to Coast.

This will become a partnership of massive proportions as we work with hundreds of individual land-owners and local and regional authorities to reconnect habitats from the Australian Alps to the east coast, a distance of over 100 kilometres.

Gondwana Link in Western Australia is the most advanced of the Beyond the Boundaries programs. Several of the property acquisitions here have also received support from the Australian Government’s National Reserve System Programme. Our key partners are Greening Australia (WA), The Wilderness Society, The Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Fitzgerald River National Park and the Fitzgerald Biosphere Group.

Progress is steady and we're already seeing real benefits for many species.

New reserve in Western Australia

Native hibiscus Alyogyne huegelii at Chereninup Creek Reserve, WA. Photo Barbara Madden.Native hibiscus Alyogyne huegelii at Chereninup Creek Reserve, WA. Photo Barbara Madden.

The most recent piece to go back into the Gondwana Link part of our puzzle is Peniup Creek Reserve. Bush Heritage supporters who responded so generously to the Thomas Challenge (Bush Heritage News, Autumn 2007) have made a major contribution to the protection of this vital property. It's been purchased jointly with Greening Australia (WA).

Peniup Creek Reserve covers 2409 hectares and protects the largest area of intact bushland (890 hectares) that remains at the eastern end of the Stirling Range to Fitzgerald River section of Gondwana Link. It now safeguards intact woodland, mallee-heath and stream-side vegetation and a section of Peniup Creek that's in excellent condition.

This new reserve establishes a direct connection with Peniup Nature Reserve. Significantly, at least five key species or communities targeted for special attention in the Gondwana Link Functional Landscape Plan occur here. These include yate and mallet/moort woodlands, Tammar and black-gloved wallabies, creeks and freshwater systems.

Map of Nardoo Hills Reserves.Map of Nardoo Hills Reserves.

The threatened red-tailed phascogale has been recorded in the past and probably hangs on in the she-oak thickets. There's also habitat suitable for 18 threatened species, including the elusive dibbler.

Much of the recently cleared land is regenerating naturally. The extent of the area needing active replanting is currently being assessed. Once restored, this new bushland will strengthen and expand the developing habitat corridor.

New reserve in Victoria

While projects such as Gondwana Link and Kosciuszko to Coast make headlines and generate national interest, other Bush Heritage projects quietly continue to reinstate other pieces in our jigsaw. In the past few weeks, another piece, the third, has been added in the Nardoo Hills in Victoria.

Our thanks to the R E Ross Trust and Bush Heritage supporters who've funded the acquisition of this strategically placed 216 hectare property. It connects the southern end of the current Bush Heritage Nardoo
Hills reserves to the otherwise isolated Woosang block of the Wychitella Nature Conservation Reserve.

Scottsdale Reserve, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle restored. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.Scottsdale Reserve, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle restored. Photo Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.

With this latest purchase, the chain of linked reserves now extends for more than eight kilometres along the Nardoo Hills.

The gently undulating and dissected hills of the new block add significantly to the area of mallee and endangered plains grassy woodland that's protected. The healthy woodlands and box–ironbark forests contain numerous old hollowbearing trees, essential nesting and resting sites for many native animals and birds.

The threatened hooded robin, diamond firetail, brown treecreeper, black-chinned honeyeater and tree goanna have already been recorded. In this region Bush Heritage is working closely with the local Wedderburn Conservation Management Network. It provides strong community-based support for conservation initiatives in the area.

Throughout Australia, Bush Heritage is teaming up with conservation and research organisations, government agencies, Indigenous groups, regional authorities and individuals to meet the challenges that our native plants and animals will face as a result of global warming.

Working principally in our five anchor regions, we're helping to put the pieces back into the fragmented jigsaw that is Australia, and to restore pathways of native habitats for animals and plants to move through as they need to. Our progress is steady but the task is immense. The support provided by people such as you is critical to what we can achieve.

Scottsdale Reserve was purchased with support from The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, private donors honouring the lives of Dr Peter Barrer and Helen Rickards, and the Australian Government’s National Reserve System Programme.

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