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Swags, snails & sunrises for the iROOS

Published 12 May 2016 by John McLaughlin (student)

Queensland student, John McLaughlin, shares some of the highlights of a recent iROOS trip to Edgbaston Reserve and explains why it's so important to leave the lecture theatre behind for a while and head bush to experience "real life" conservation work.

The autumn of 2016 saw a dozen young conservationists renounce their Brisbane comfort for a taste of the outback. Prominent for its global diversity and exceptional ecosystems, Edgbaston Reserve is located no less than 1,000km away from the University of Queensland. The group who ventured onto the reserve, represent a contingent of environmental students, sharing a love for not only nature, but for the active protection and preservation of areas such as Edgbaston.

It was a similar passion and mindset towards conservation that sparked the founding of iROOS in 2007 by a handful of undergraduates at the University of Queensland.

The iROOS is a student-driven volunteer group made up of environmental science undergrads, working in close accordance with UQ staff and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services (QPWS).

Whilst initially focusing on conservation projects in Idalia National Park in Western Queensland, the group is now involved in several management projects throughout the state, with an ever growing student base to fulfil their aims. Over the past nine years, the iROOS have seen more than 200 members source funding from small, student-run fundraising initiatives, sponsorship from the School of Biological Sciences at UQ, and further support from the QPWS.

The chance for the iROOS to work with Bush Heritage Australia was particularly exciting. We revelled in the prospect of leaving the lecture theatre and getting our hands dirty in the unique artesian springs of the Edgbaston Reserve. In a field where students are constantly addressing negative instances with regard to global biodiversity, witnessing successful cases of conservation management practices, policies and organisation is at times far more valuable than anything that can be learnt in a lecture hall.

With that in mind, 12 iROOS piled out of a university mini bus, which had been their home for 17 hours of travel. For many of them it was their first time in the Australian ‘outback’, while for others a welcome return to a region that grows on you with each visit.

From the Mitchell grass plains, to the dessert uplands and the aquatic haven of the natural springs, Edgbaston Reserve offers regional ecosystem diversity which is rarely seen elsewhere.

As dawn took hold, swags began to rustle as everyone woke to begin what would become the standard morning procedure over the coming days. A quick meal of muesli or beans and a cuppa heated over the last of the coals from the night before. Then we were off.

Renee Rossini, a PhD student from the University of Queensland, has been studying the endangered and endemic invertebrates inhabiting the artesian spring communities of Edgbaston since 2013. Her understanding of what may seem to passers-by simple water holes was imperative to our appreciation of the importance of this reserve.

We began to recognise the significance of springs both biologically and culturally, and how they fit into the complex structure of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). The fact that no less than 15 species found on Edgbaston Reserve are found nowhere else in the world, and that this can be said for many GAB fed springs, highlights the need for the protection of endemism in these locations.

Over the coming days, iROOS members gained awareness and understanding of research practices and how these projects translate into specific management strategies and scientific understanding.

Individuals were given the chance to learn a number of different roles: species identification, GPS positioning, mapping techniques, and sampling methods to name just a few. Each task presented new difficulties and challenged each individual to put their scientific mind into gear, while repeatedly being educated and encouraged by the post-graduate students present.

Whilst some students strode around the small yet biologically rich artesian springs of the reserve, others spent time lapping up the knowledge and experience of the reserves caretaker. David, or Cugo as he would quickly become known to the iROOS, was a treasure trove of information concerning the entire semi-arid region of Central Queensland, and his dedication toward the conservation of the reserve was touching.

In particular, students actively took part in reducing the presence of a particularly expansive invasive plant species, the Prickly Acacia.

This exercise was eye opening in that it gave students a chance to see the extent of damage poor practices can have on native communities, but also showed how good management can impact the Prickly Acacia presence.

The benefits of staying at the site of the study were quickly noted, as students minds became engulfed with all things scientific, and conversations rarely strayed from topics of conservation, artesian springs and the fauna and flora from the day gone by.

Dinner conversations were suddenly taken up by questions regarding management practices of invasive species, or arguments over grazing sustainability in semi-arid environments; whist free time was spent dissecting each page of ‘Birds of Australia’ or peppering Renee and Professor Gimme Walter with questions ranging anywhere from endangered species conservation projects, to the broader involvement of Bush Heritage Australia throughout the country.

To understand what the trip meant to the iROOS one would only have had to be present on that last morning. Cries of ‘one more day’ and ‘leave me here please’ rang through the group, with each student having fallen well and truly in love with this sanctuary for endangered natives and species biodiversity.

Experiences like this do something particularly exceptional – inspiring young students from not only Australia, but abroad, to dedicate their careers and their lives to a cause much greater than their own. Working side by side with ecologists and reserve managers has a profound effect on young students who can see firsthand the influence that Bush Heritage Australia has on preserving national biodiversity in a time when global urgency in the matter is critical if we are to develop the next generation of conservationists.

For more photos of the iROOS trip to Edgbaston see PhD student Renee Rossini’s blog

Some of the iROOS reflected briefly on their time at Edgbaston Reserve…

Amanda Maier:
Going to Edgbaston was a fantastic experience. Not only did I get to meet some great, like-minded friends and unplug for a week in a beautiful location but I got to experience conservation work in action with Renee and Bush Heritage. Edgbaston contains species found nowhere else and to be involved in this volunteer work (mapping springs, snail collecting and weed management) was very rewarding.  

Gaia Marini:
Going to Edgbaston was a great opportunity to see how astonishingly beautiful and rich Australia can be, even in the most remote and arid areas. A strong reminder of why it's so important that for organisations like Bush Heritage exist and are supported: such a beauty must be protected.

James Hardcastle:
This trip provided me with a great first impression of field ecology as well as an opportunity to get to know other people from the environmental and biological science degree programs at UQ. Seeing the landscapes of Central Queensland was an experience in itself and given the opportunity I would go on this trip again in a heartbeat. All this wouldn't have been possible without the hard work of Bush Heritage Australia and the Idalia Recovery Organisation of Students who I hope will continue to offer opportunities like this trip for students well into the future.

Dawn at Edgbaston. Dawn at Edgbaston.
UQ students learning the ropes. UQ students learning the ropes.
iROOS field trip to Edgbaston Reserve April 2016. iROOS field trip to Edgbaston Reserve April 2016.
David Coulton and some of the iROOS team. David Coulton and some of the iROOS team.
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