Over two consecutive weekends in May, a small group of dedicated volunteers planted 30 Birdwing butterfly vines (Pararistolochia praevenosa) to improve habitat for the vulnerable Richmond Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia) on Currumbin Reserve in the spectacular Gold Coast Hinterland.
The Richmond Birdwing Butterfly is one of Australia's largest butterflies with a wingspan of up to 16cm in females and 13cm in males. The vivid, metallic green of the male butterfly's hind wings are an unmistakable highlight in subtropical rainforests where they occur.
Its distribution once extended from Maryborough in southern Queensland to Grafton in New South Wales. Today its range has been retracted to a few main fragments centred around the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and northern New South Wales hinterlands.
Earlier this year we secured a grant to undertake weed control and revegetation to increase available habitat and improve connectivity for the preservation of this stunning species.
Our ecologist, Bek Diete, and Luke Shoo (a rainforest revegetation expert from the University of Queensland) joined forces to devise a planting approach that included an experiment with selective treatment of soil amendments to find the most cost-effective way to establish this plant species in the local area.
Project implementation was left in the capable hands of our Currumbin Reserve volunteer team leader, Michael Uhrig, and old and new members of the local Bush Heritage volunteer community assembled for the planting bees in May.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the second planting team. We were also joined by Dr Ian Gynther – Senior Threatened Species Project Officer with the Department of Environment and Science and representative of the Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network (RBCN). Ian was invited along to talk to the group about the conservation status of the butterfly and share tips, advice and success stories from other RBCN conservation actions in the region. Lucky for us, Ian was quick to grab a crowbar and help us finish off the remaining holes.
Thirty may not sound like many but believe me, when you're digging holes in a rocky, 45-degree slope choked with rainforest tree roots, 30 is a hard-fought battle won!
To our delight, Ian also confirmed that a planting of this size was a significant addition for the species and there's a strong likelihood that butterflies will be using the vines within the next 12 months.
Thanks must go to the Queensland Government’s Nature Refuge Landholder Grant Scheme for supporting the butterfly plantings, to Ian Gynther for his advice and support, Luke Shoo for adding a valuable research component to the project but most of all, to the hard-working volunteers who gave up their Saturday mornings to dig holes on the side of a hill.
Special thanks to Michael who has stepped up as team leader and whose determination, dedication and sense of humour have been the secret to conservation success at Currumbin.
Volunteers Mick, Joanna and others will continue with watering, weed control and monitoring over the coming months and then we look forward to reporting the arrival of mating butterflies next season. Bring on the birdwings!