Falling for the Fitz-Stirling

Saturday 21 December, 2013
Field of Kunzia flowers Kunzea in flower. Photo: Simon Smale


As a major partner in the Gondwana Link project, which aims to restore and reconnect landscape in south-west Western Australia, Bush Heritage is strengthening its conservation efforts by joining forces with like-minded neighbours.

Botanist Libby Sandiford and Ecologist Angela Sanders enjoy a sunny day in the field walking beside a creek on Yarraweewah Falls. Botanist Libby Sandiford and Ecologist Angela Sanders enjoy a sunny day in the field. Photo: Simon Smale

It's a long way from the craggy, towering volcanic peaks of Queensland's Glass House Mountains to the sandplains and rocky outcrops of the Fitz-Stirling region of south‑west Western Australia.

But for former custard apple farmers, Bill and Jane Thompson, the move made perfect sense. After their Queensland farm was compulsorily acquired for railway infrastructure, the couple who are keen amateur botanists and regular visitors to south-west Western Australia, decided that the Fitz-Stirling region was where they wanted to re-settle.

The Thompsons had been astounded by the region's biodiversity and deeply impressed by the sheer ambition of the Gondwana Link project. "We wanted to use our remaining 10 or 15 years of energy to do something to help the environment," says Jane. "We admired the ambitious vision of Gondwana, and the positive, passionate folk that we met, helped to clarify what we wanted next from our lives."

Lichen encrusted rocks among heath vegetationLichen encrusted rocks. Photo: Simon Smale

New neighbours

After seeking guidance from Gondwana Link the couple bought Yarraweyah Falls, a botanically-rich 1,500 hectare property. With Bush Heritage's Monjebup Reserve adjoining to the south, and linking through to Bush Heritage's Monjebup North Reserve, the three properties combined form a U-shaped area of 3,000 hectares of continuous native habitat.

The Thompson's purchase is extremely significant because it complements and extends Bush Heritage's own substantial contribution to the Gondwana Link restoration project in this area.

Since buying Yarraweyah Falls in 2012, the Thompsons have restored 100 hectares of cleared land, which started with hand‑collecting the seeds of more than 200 local native plant species based on advice from Bush Heritage.

Banksia cirsiodesLike something from the age of dinosaurs, a field of Banksia cirsioides spills down a slope over a hard clay pan. Photo: Simon Smale

"Having Bill and Jane as our neighbours - and the partnership that we're building - is just so important from a landscape management perspective," says Simon Smale, Bush Heritage's Gondwana Link Landscape Manager.

"In this region, even small remnants of bush - as little as hundreds or even tens of hectares - can contain extraordinary biodiversity. The 730 hectares of native bush on Bill and Jane's property is a continuum of the landscape on our Monjebup Reserve. So being able to manage and protect it as one is just incredibly significant."

Hidden secrets in a rugged landscape

In September, Bush Heritage led the first-ever botanical survey on a remote section of the Thompson's property where the boundary between Yarraweyah Falls and Monjebup Reserve merges.

Eucalyptus arborella growing atop a windswept mesaEucalyptus arborella growing atop a windswept mesa. Photo: Simon Smale

With no vehicle access whatsoever, this is an extremely rugged landscape, characterised by granite outcrops, creek-dissected valleys and shallow soils.

Joining the survey team was consultant botanist, Libby Sandiford, who has been described as a "walking encyclopaedia of plants". Libby chose survey areas where she believed they had the best chance of finding a wide range of plants including threatened species, species at the edge of their known range or even completely new species.

Over 400 samples were collected, including those of several unknown species, much to the delight of Bill and Jane. The fact that they were unrecognisable to expert Libby is a good indicator that they are either new species to science or certainly very unusual.

Flower cloaked hillside Flower cloaked hillside. Photo: Simon Smale

Bird notes were also collected each day. Amongst the 60 sightings of different species were the western whipbird and vulnerable malleefowl.

The full survey report will be finalised around year-end and we look forward to sharing the most exciting findings with you.

"It's really quite amazing what Bill and Jane's arrival and our partnership with them has done," says Simon Smale. "Every time we go out there now with visitors we always drop in on them for a cup of tea. They have become like a new hub of the Fitz-Stirling."

In this region, even small remnants of bush - as little as hundreds or even tens of hectares - can contain extraordinary biodiversity.

Simon Smale, Gondwana Link Landscape Manager

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