Through the past three years we've had well-known and highly-respected South Coast botanist Libby Sandiford running a rolling vegetation survey across some of our Fitz-Stirling reserves. The information Libby has collated has surprised even us.
We knew what we're protecting and managing here is pretty special, but we didn't know quite how special.
The three areas Libby has surveyed so far – the Monjebup (including Monjebup North) Reserve, southern sections of our partners' (Bill and Jane Thompson) adjoining Yarraweyah Falls property and Red Moort Reserve – lie across just 13km of country between their furthest extremities, and together total just over 3,000 hectares in area - less in terms of remnant bushland.
Despite their proximity, the three areas are quite different landscapes. Monjebup/Yarraweyah is significant for the extent of granite occurring across it, Red Moort is notable for its extensive almost pure stands of the local endemic Eucalyptus vesiculosa, after which we've now named this latest property addition to the Gondwana Link portfolio, and Monjebup North is the home of spongolite mallee.
('Spongolite' is a very light, porous sedimentary rock composed of fossilised sponges and uplifted from an ancient sea floor. 'Mallee' is the generic term for the group of eucalypts that grow with multiple stems from underground lignotubers that resprout readily after fire).
With vast experience of the natural landscapes of our part of the world, Libby has remarkable skill in recognising patterns in vegetation associations, and relating those to the underlying landscape. But such is the extraordinary diversity and fine scale of our landscapes that even Libby struggles at times.
On occasions when Angela Sanders or I have joined her on her surveys, she's been heard more than once on entering yet another completely different landscape to exclaim, "What's going on here?!"
As she says, after walking through some of these vegetation systems your head begins to spin. "It's a bit like walking through a dotted perspective picture and difficult to focus," she has said. So her ordering of complex information to generate the vegetation maps of the reserves, like the one for Red Moort shown here, is a small miracle.
Beyond the broad vegetation patterns, there's high conservation significance in lots of the detail too. The Monjebup/Yarraweyah landscape contains the largest known population of the threatened Gastrolobium humile. (Gastrolobium is the genus collectively known in SW Australia as 'poison', containing natural 1080 poison to which most of the native fauna of the region is immune).
Monjebup North likewise turns out to support the largest known population of the Priority 1 species Kunzea newbeyi.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is the sheer number of species recorded. Just under 330,000 hectares in area, the Fitzgerald River National Park that forms the eastern anchor to the Fitz-Stirling region in which we work, is an internationally recognised Biosphere Reserve, primarily on account of the diversity of the more than 1800 species of flora recorded there.
At latest count, Libby's species list for just 3,000 hectares of Bush Heritage reserves is 47% of that number – in less than 1% of the area!
Libby sums it up this way: For 'just a bit of bush' I find these properties quite amazing. I don't think Bush Heritage quite realised what they were acquiring when they purchased these properties, but I think they have hit the jackpot!