After just one year as a Bush Heritage reserve the Charles Darwin Reserve in south-west Western Australia has come a long way. Drought, baking heat, flood and tempest, as well as many notable events involving goats, have kept reserve manager Leigh Whisson and his wife Jackie Courtenay wondering what will happen next.
Wildflowers following fire. Photo Leigh Whisson.
Bush Heritage purchased this 68,600 hectare property on the northern edge of the West Australian wheat belt in January 2003. It protects one of the last large remnants of the ancient woodlands, and heath and wildflower-covered sand plains, in southern Western Australia.
The property is of great conservation significance and international importance, particularly for its vegetation communities and flora. We arrived during one of the worst droughts in 100 years. Fire had burnt large areas of the reserve before Bush Heritage purchased the property, so we were well aware of the significant threat that it posed.
Fire, feral animals (foxes, goats, cats) weeds and rubbish were going to dominate our thinking for much of this first year. The stunning displays of wildflowers and the company of many visitors would be welcome diversions.
Banded plover eggs. Photo Leigh Whisson.
The infrastructure at Charles Darwin Reserve was time-weary and badly neglected. Unlike the house, which volunteer extraordinaire Don Royal and his band of helpers had refurbished before we arrived (Bush Heritage News, Winter 2003), everything else broke down repeatedly, soaking up time and testing our patience.
The natural disasters just added extra colour to our lives. Now, a year later, we hope Monger’s Well windmill has been conquered. The generator, the electrics and the plumbing will be next. A new solar power system, new wiring and septic tank (that is lower than the toilet) are planned.
We have dried everything out after the flood which broke the drought, replaced the pergola ripped off by a mini tornado and patched the holes that it punched in the roof on its way past.
Many goats have been removed from the reserve. Photo Jiri and Marie Lochman / Lochman Transparencies.
Since December 2003 nearly 200 goats have been taken off the reserve. We could tell many goat stories with a similar theme – of escape through rotting fences, reherding of runaways, dust, 40 degrees plus, and sweaty, cursing reserve staff.
Improved fencing, as well as catching pens and herding races with higher fences, will gradually change the flavour of the tales.
Conservation and Land Management scientists have recently conducted a fox-baiting trial to test different bait attractants. Their tally from eleven nights’ work was 58 foxes. A three-monthly, broad-scale baiting program will commence in May 2004.
Weeds have been mapped, mostly by volunteer Annette Stewart with help from Don and Betty Woods. Annette found the weeds restricted to disturbed areas (except at two sites) and less than 1% of the reserve affected.