It had been 16 years since our last visit to Chereninup Creek Reserve, for a National Tree Day planting in July 2003. That cold and blustery day was the start of Bush Heritage’s revegetation program in the mega-diverse region between the Stirling Range and Fitzgerald River National Parks in southern WA.
In 2003 when we scanned the large cleared paddock we were working in, it was difficult for us to imagine the future landscape everyone was striving for.
Not long after that visit we moved from WA, but in October 2019 were fortunate to be back in the Fitz-Stirlings providing volunteer support on a vegetation monitoring survey on nearby Monjebup North Reserve.
The work involved about a dozen transects, each consisting of a 50-metre tape strung between pairs of steel droppers. Our task was to record and hopefully identify every plant that crossed the tape, their positions along the tape, their heights, any recruitment under the plants, as well as the soil condition and organic matter coverage along the transect line.
The monitoring locations had been established in previous years, and two steel droppers (the A- and B-pegs as they are known) were in place at each location for future re-surveys.
The first challenge was finding the B-pegs. We had a list of GPS coordinates for the A-pegs, but we had no information about the whereabouts of the B-pegs, except that they were exactly 50 metres from the A-pegs. That wouldn't have been a problem if the reserve was in the same condition as that paddock on Chereninup Creek Reserve back in 2003, but in dense revegetation, 50 metres may as well have been 50 kilometres!
We generally located the A-pegs from their coordinates in under a minute, whereas the B-pegs could take up to an hour to locate. We all had a lot of fun with the competitive detective work and were tempted to spread the fun to future survey groups by not recording the B-peg GPS coordinates when we found them (but we thought better of it).
We were pleased that the vegetation we recorded had grown considerably since the previous survey, and that the mortality rate was low. Plant identification was a challenge. In particular, the large number of Acacia species made for long nights in the on-site herbarium. Luckily a visiting local ecologist was able to identify several mystery specimens with just a glance, after we'd pondered over them for ages!
We were lucky to see a few of the iconic and locally endemic Red Moort eucalypts in flower during our survey work. We also spotted a bird’s nest on top of a dense Hakea shrub. What a place to build a nest!
We stayed at the newly constructed Michael Tichbon Field Station at nearby Red Moort Reserve, with a panoramic view over the Monjebup Creek valley, a well-equipped library, meeting room and herbarium, as well as excellent cooking and sleeping facilities. It's the perfect base for staff, volunteers and contractors working at all the nearby Fitz-Stirling reserves.
The creek valley was great to visit in the early mornings – a variety of plants in flower, bird song and tranquil reflections.
On completion of the five-day survey, we were thrilled to have the chance to revisit nearby Chereninup Creek Reserve, where we volunteered on that day in 2003. The farm paddock has been transformed into dense vegetation of diverse trees and shrubs, so different that we couldn't find exactly where we'd done the planting.
It was a great moment to reflect on Bush Heritage’s positive impact, and how little things can make a difference. We wonder how Chereninup Creek Reserve will look in another 16 years.