Edgbaston & the Red-finned Blue-eye

about  Edgbaston Reserve  
on 14 Apr 2015 

Renee Rossini from the University of Queensland recently blogged about Edgbaston’s uniqueness and demonstrated her passion and commitment to completing her PhD on the tiny snails that live there and nowhere else. She described Edgbaston as ‘the jewel in the crown’ of Bush Heritage's Queensland estate. I’ve been welded to the place since shortly after Bush Heritage acquired it and my only disagreement would be the scope of Renee’s assessment: forget Queensland, from an ecological point of view the springs at Edgbaston are probably the most important piece of real estate in the entire country.

Working on Red-finned Blue-eye at Edgbaston is challenging. It’s always been two steps forward and one step back back. When I did the first rotenone trials (to remove gambusia, an invasive pest species) and moved the first groups of red-finned blue-eye, we were all hoping for silver bullets, but the natural world doesn’t work like that. In the intervening years there have been successes and failures, but I’m proud to say that – overall – things are far better for the species now than they were in late 2008. Because the stakes are so high – the possible extinction of another Australian vertebrate - it’s definitely been the most important project I’ve ever worked on.

The most recent technique I’ve been developing at Edgbaston is barrier fencing. The goal is pretty simple – we need to be able to reduce the chances of gambusia re-colonising red-finned blue-eye springs when local flooding occurs. The solution – so far – has been to dig a 150mm deep trench all the way around a spring, then bang in hardwood posts, then attach porous silt fence (similar to the green stuff you see road crews using on the side of highways), then fill the trench in and keep an eye on it.

Silt fencing has a few advantages. It’s comparatively inexpensive, is easy to install, and once broken or degraded it’s straightforward to repair. Also, the local wildlife – especially kangaroos – can hop over it and still water at the springs. The big disadvantage is that it breaks down fairly quickly in the intense Edgbaston environment: every silt fence needs to be replaced every two years.

The newest silt fence, which has been constructed with the financial support of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, has been erected at the site of the Edgbaston house bore rather than at a spring. The idea in this instance is to try to create ‘new’ habitat at Edgbaston. If it’s successful, the house bore pool could maintain thousands of red-finned blue-eye in an area that gambusia shouldn’t be able to reach.

Hopefully. Admittedly there are a few ‘ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ along the way – but then again it’s always two steps forward and one back.

Edgbaston is enigmatic and odd. It’s frequently hot and uncomfortable. But it’s probably one of the most important projects Bush Heritage is doing. So Renee’s spot-on - it really is the jewel in the crown.     

Bush Heritage would like to thank the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund for its generous support of our work with the red-finned blue-eye. To read more about this project and other great species conservation efforts around the world, visit MBZSCF’s website.

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