Enriching grasslands after fire

Phil Palmer
Published 14 Jul 2020 
about  Scottsdale Reserve  

Phil Palmer hard at work in the grasslands of Scottsdale.<br/> Phil Palmer hard at work in the grasslands of Scottsdale.
Volunteers hand weeding in the grasslands.<br/> Volunteers hand weeding in the grasslands.
Supplementary planting.<br/> Supplementary planting.
Supplementary planting.<br/> Supplementary planting.
Sowing grasslands in Autumn 2020.<br/> Sowing grasslands in Autumn 2020.
Catherine Ross measures progress.<br/> Catherine Ross measures progress.

In February this year about 73% (1006ha) of Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve, on Ngunnawal country in New South Wales, burnt in the Clear Range bushfire.

Around 84% of Scottsdale's native grasslands were affected and more than 50% of the reserve's woodlands burnt at such a high intensity that the native seed bank has been destroyed.

For this reason, Scottsdale’s Grassland Seed Production Sites (fenced half hectare plots developed to enrich the diversity of the reserve’s grassland flora) are more important now than ever before. We've posted on the blog previously about sowing seeds in the grasslands.

The team at Scottsdale have worked tirelessly through late summer and autumn collecting native grassland seeds to facilitate restoration efforts.

In addition to the harvest of the natural grasslands, seed harvested from the Grassland Seed Production sites will be used to restore those areas where the fire intensity destroyed the native seed bank.

“It is so important that we do everything we can in the year following the fire. There's so much bare ground and ash beds ripe for the taking," said Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer. 

"It's our challenge to make sure the native grassland species recolonise as much of the burnt ground as possible before the weeds take hold.”

“My job has been to coordinate the harvest and storage of the native grassland seeds. We've focused on the pioneer species such as Redgrass (Bothriochloa macra) and New Holland Daisy (Vittadinia muelleri) to quickly establish a native cover.”

“Despite the drought and a real lack of seed in the landscape, late summer rains promoted an unseasonably late seeding event that we were able to take full advantage of,” explained Scottsdale Field Officer Kim Jarvis.

Bush Heritage’s ecologist for south east NSW Brett Howland added: “Unless we intervene by putting native seed back into the landscape, the burnt areas will just be recolonised by exotic plants which have limited habitat value for fauna and form monocultures which suppress native plant diversity”

The Grassland Seed Production Sites funded by a Restoration and Rehabilitation grant from the NSW Environmental Trust have struggled with the low rainfall but staff and volunteers alike have rallied to the challenge of ensuring they're in the best possible condition to maximise their potential to produce a bumper crop in 2020.

This includes endless days of hand weeding, chipping and spot spraying exotic plants and repairing the  exclusion fences that were damaged in the fires.

“We limit the use of herbicides at these sites so the weed management is back-breaking work, particularly in the rocky sections” said Bush Heritage volunteer Peter Sainsbury

The Grassland Seed Production Sites take a lot of work to prepare and maintain in the first few years but once established the reward of a pure, diverse and healthy mix of grassland species is well worth the effort. 

This Project has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.

Volunteers hand weeding in the grasslands.<br/> Volunteers hand weeding in the grasslands.
Supplementary planting.<br/> Supplementary planting.
Supplementary planting.<br/> Supplementary planting.
Sowing grasslands in Autumn 2020.<br/> Sowing grasslands in Autumn 2020.
Catherine Ross measures progress.<br/> Catherine Ross measures progress.