Turning back time

on 05 Oct 2017 

We're transforming bare paddocks into bush as part of one of Australia’s most ambitious revegetation projects – and the animals are coming back.

Cleared farmland surrounds the southwest corner of Stirling Range National Park, WA, in the Gondwana Link Landscape.
Cleared farmland surrounds the southwest corner of Stirling Range National Park, WA, in the Gondwana Link Landscape.
Photo: Greenskills and AirPix
Cleared for agriculture since the 1950s and 60s, the 70km swathe of land between the Fitzgerald River and Stirling Range national parks in Western Australia is a mosaic of remnant bushland and farmland.

This region is the most fragmented section of Gondwana Link – a project aimed at reconnecting 1,000km of land from Margaret River in the west to the Goldfields in the east. It also sits within one of the world’s 35 global biodiversity hotspots – areas with large numbers of species found nowhere else, and which are heavily threatened.

Simon Smale kneels among revegetation at Monjebup North Reserve.
Simon Smale kneels among revegetation at Monjebup North Reserve.
Photo: Peter Martin

“The highlight for me is going out with our local botanist and realising how diverse the vegetation here is,” says Bush Heritage ecologist Angela Sanders. “Every 50 metres the plant community changes – we have plants here that actually don’t occur in either national park.

“We knew the Fitz-Stirling region was special when we started working here 14 years ago, but we haven’t understood just how bewilderingly diverse it is until now.”

Bush Heritage is working collaboratively with other organisations, neighbours and landholders to reconnect remnant bushland in the Fitz-Stirling region, with increasingly positive results.

Green Army volunteers unload Corackerup Moort (Eucalyptus vesiculosa) seedlings to be planted at Monjebup Reserve.
Green Army volunteers unload Corackerup Moort (Eucalyptus vesiculosa) seedlings to be planted at Monjebup Reserve.
Photo: Simon Smale
A holistic approach

The 2003 purchase of Chereninup Creek reserve, 889 hectares, marked the beginning of our work in the Fitz-Stirling region. We now manage or co-manage about 10,000 hectares of land there.

The scale of this project is what sets it apart. Many ecological processes operate on a large scale, so it's not enough to just manage isolated patches of remnant bushland, says Bush Heritage Healthy Landscape Manager Simon Smale. By filling in critical gaps between those patches, we're forming connected expanses of bushland in which native species can thrive.

Bush Heritage has planted millions of seeds and seedlings since 2003 to create diverse and connected plant communities. Different seed mixes containing about 270 species in total have been carefully designed to match the mosaic of soil types beneath the surface, with the aim of bringing biodiversity back to the region.

Once this broad-scale seeding is complete, the sites are revisited to introduce more targeted species – such as the banksias and hakeas that Carnaby’s Black-cockatoos and other animals rely upon for food.

A Honey Possum feast on a Banksia.
A Honey Possum feast on a Banksia.
Photo: Ross Bray
Rapid results

The hard work is paying off. A huge revegetation effort completed last year has transformed the grassy paddocks on the 450 hectare Monjebup North reserve, reconnecting two extensive patches of bushland.

It hasn’t taken long for the animals to respond, with surveys recording up to 45 bird species coming back to areas that were paddocks just four years ago.

Mammals are also returning to the restored areas. A number of Blackgloved Wallaby sightings, as well as two Honey Possum sightings on Monjebup North and Yarraweyah Falls, a nearby co-managed property, have caused much excitement.

Wattle seeds at Monjebup Reserve.
Wattle seeds at Monjebup Reserve.
Photo: Jessica Wyld Photography
Community involvement

Another major step forward has been the purchase of Red Moort reserve, the largest remaining area of remnant bushland in the Fitz-Stirling that didn’t have formal protection. This 1000 hectare reserve will soon be the site for a highly anticipated field station.

“It’s going to give us what we’ve never had out there – an operational base where volunteers, researchers and workers can stay, and a place where our many visitors can get more information on what we’re doing,” says Simon. Bush Heritage is also working with South Coast NRM’s Cultural Program to provide opportunities for the local Noongar people to engage with the land.

“That’s definitely a priority for us,” says Simon.

While happy with their progress, Simon and Angela say there’s still a long way to go before they can consider their work complete.

“There's a sense of urgency about this work. The effects of land clearing and fragmentation are still unfolding through the landscape,” explains Simon. “But we’re in a good position now to catch some of those processes before they become too advanced.”

Take action

Habitat fragmentation is one ofthe biggest threats to Australia’s native flora and fauna. We're revegetating landscapes across Australia to help reverse those adverse effects.

Can you help us restore the bush? Please donate to support out work