How the west will be won

Thursday 16 June, 2016

Cape Peron. Photo by Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.
Cape Peron. Photo by Jiri Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.
Welcome to Hamelin Station Reserve, nestled in the rangelands of Western Australia, where the stunning beauty of the landscape conceals an urgent need for conservation.

“I know why there’re no stars in the city,” says Bush Heritage’s Greg Suosaari, admiring Hamelin Station Reserve’s spectacular night sky, “it’s because they’re all out here.”

Sitting back after a long day in the Western Australian rangelands, over 700km north of Perth, Greg takes a moment to enjoy the awe-inspiring evening before turning his attention to the work required in the weeks and months ahead.

Minritchie shrub (an acacia) surrounded by soil compacted by sheep and goats. Photo Cineport Media.
Minritchie shrub (an acacia) surrounded by soil compacted by sheep and goats. Photo Cineport Media.
Greg makes his home at Hamelin Station Reserve – one of Bush Heritage’s newest properties. Greg is moved by the landscape he wakes up to every day. But, like his neighbours and fellow landowners in the region, Greg works hard to be there. He has a big job: to oversee the land management and regeneration efforts on this former pastoral station. It’s a place that blends rich Aboriginal and European history with unique biodiversity – in urgent need of protection.

Rigorous scientific research, boundary fencing, pest control and weed management will be needed to understand and protect the 202,000 hectare property, which sits adjacent to the breathtaking Hamelin Pool and the wider Shark Bay World Heritage Area.

Years of sheep grazing have left their mark on Hamelin’s landscape, with reduced native ground cover and compacted soils. Artificial water points across the property have increased the number of feral herbivores that are feeding on the native vegetation, putting the native ecosystems under immense pressure.

“The continual grazing pressure on the property and damage caused by the hard hooves of introduced stock has increased nutrient loads and degraded soil structure, which has led to fewer perennial grasses,” Greg says. “Perennial grasses are essential to retaining soil moisture, so if you lose those then you aren’t retaining the little rain that does fall, which leads to less vegetation growth and the whole thing starts going backwards.”

Mallee and Spinifex. Photo Cineport Media.
Mallee and Spinifex. Photo Cineport Media.
Unsurprisingly, it is our native species that feel the impact of this pressure.

Species under threat

Spinifex woodland, which is important habitat for the nationally vulnerable Hamelin Skink, accounts for more than 11,000 hectares of Hamelin. The Hamelin Skink is unique to Hamelin and just one other neighbouring property. Hamelin is therefore critical to its survival, with 80 per cent of known recorded sightings of the Skink here, even though only around five per cent of Hamelin is suitable habitat.

The Western Grasswren, a species that once occupied a much larger range across southern WA, has persisted in the region. Over half of Hamelin is potentially suitable habitat for these birds, and recent monitoring indicates Hamelin retains a healthy population. With sensitive land management Bush Heritage aims to increase the health of potential Grasswren habitat and increase the Grasswren population.

Hamelin Skink. Photo by Simon Fordham / NaturePix.
Hamelin Skink. Photo by Simon Fordham / NaturePix.
“There were serious alarm bells amongst conservationists about this species and others in the region,” says Bush Heritage Ecologist Dr Vanessa Westcott.

“We are aiming to protect a huge area using best-practice land management techniques. We are also developing a number of collaborative, applied ecological research projects that will enable us to lead the way in conservation in the region.”

Unlocking Hamelin’s ecological secrets will be one of Vanessa’s top priorities. To achieve that she will soon be organising a ‘bioblitz’ – a concerted survey and inventory program carried out by Bush Heritage ecologists, volunteers and experts to bolster our knowledge and ultimately inform management actions to restore and protect native species. The Hamelin bioblitz will target small mammals, reptiles, and birds using a range of survey techniques.

Enhancing World Heritage values

A shrub on the foreshore.
A shrub on the foreshore.
Hamelin Station Reserve sits adjacent to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Covering 2.2 million hectares and including around 1500km of the Western Australian coast, Shark Bay is a meeting point of three climatic zones and two botanical provinces. Alongside its unique marine areas, this World Heritage site features significant land habitats containing at least 820 plant species, and many hundreds of animal species, including 240 bird species and nine reptiles known to be endemic to the area.

Hamelin sits at the southern end of Shark Bay’s Hamelin Pool and borders the eastern boundary of the World Heritage Area. It shares many of the values of the current Shark Bay World Heritage site. Protecting Hamelin means expanding the total area protected and managed for conservation in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area region by a further 10 per cent.

We need your help

Help bring Hamelin back to life

Your generous donation will help Vanessa, Greg and all the Bush Heritage team restore Hamelin’s native plants and animals to their natural glory. Please donate now

The job ahead of the team is a big one, not least because of the property’s size (Hamelin Station is almost as big as the ACT). Resources and equipment will be essential to undertake the work required, and Bush Heritage Executive Manager Luke Bayley knows all too well the important role donors will play in Bush Heritage’s success at Hamelin.

“Without donors we wouldn’t even be thinking about all the possibilities of this property,” he says. “Donors and supporters are essential to the journey as we look to enhance Hamelin’s World Heritage values and restore a landscape that supports some of the region’s most vulnerable species.”

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