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In the field

Published 22 Mar 2019 

The recent opening of the Michael Tichbon Field Station heralds a new era for Bush Heritage’s conservation work in the species-rich Fitz-Stirling region of the south-west.

For more than a decade, Bush Heritage ecologist Angela Sanders had two choices after a long day of monitoring work in the Fitz-Stirling region of south-west Western Australia. She could either cosy up with the mozzies in a tent or old caravan, or drive 1.5 hours home to Albany.

“When we just had a couple of days' work to do, it really wasn't worth putting a tent up for one night, so we used to do a lot of day trips. But then three hours of the day was spent traveling and you got less done,” she says.

The Michael Tichbon Field Station on Red Moort Reserve, WA. Photo by Lee Griffith.But Bush Heritage’s newly-opened Michael Tichbon Field Station is transforming the way Angela and other Bush Heritage ecologists, researchers, volunteers and partners work by enabling them to stay out in the field longer.

“Now, we can really get some serious work done, and we've already been able to attract a lot of volunteers,” says Angela. In December 2018, Bush Heritage opened the Michael Tichbon Field Station on Red Moort Reserve, 130 kilometres by road north-east of Albany.

Named after one of its key benefactors, the field station is located at the heart of 10,000 hectares that Bush Heritage owns or manages between the Fitzgerald River and Stirling Range national parks.

A Honey Possums have returned to restored areas. Photo William Marwick.The field station includes seven individual bedrooms and a four-bed dormitory, a kitchen, hot showers, a workroom with internet, a meeting space and plans for a wet lab. Solar panels and batteries, composting toilets, and a rainwater collection and reticulation system make the station entirely self-sufficient.

Most importantly, the purpose-built research hub heralds a new era for conservation and community engagement in this biodiverse and fragmented region.

“This south-west corner of Australia is a global biodiversity hotspot, which makes it  important not just for Australia but for the world,” says Simon Smale, Bush Heritage’s Healthy Landscape Manager for the area.

“It's astonishingly diverse, which is a consequence of it being such an ancient part of the Earth’s surface. There's been no glaciation, no major volcanic activity, no earthquakes that have turned this landscape upside down, so evolution's just been ticking over uninterrupted for millions of years,” he says. “But it's under threat now, and humans have made a bit of a mess of it in our haste to develop farming and other enterprises here.”

Bush Heritage’s vision is to reconnect this highly fragmented area, and Angela’s monitoring work is already highlighting the success of our progress to date. In 2018, her surveys picked up Malleefowl, Pygmy Possums, Honey Possums, Black-gloved Wallabies and many different bird species in the restored areas.

Surveys have found Pygmy Possums in restored areas. Photo William Marwick.Thanks to the field station, Bush Heritage can now build on the success of this restoration work, supporting new endeavours such as an integrated feral predator control project, and attracting new collaborators and partners. Simon says the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife has already booked the station for its annual workshop on threatened invertebrates and several PhD students from the University of WA’s Albany campus have approached him about using the station for thesis work.

“The station is a tangible marker of our long-term commitment to this landscape and community. We’ve effectively been absentee landowners until now, but the field station affords us a much stronger presence,” he says.

“We're also really keen now to start looking at our next reserve acquisition and getting on with the large- scale ecological restoration work that's at the heart of what we're doing here.”

Bush Heritage gratefully acknowledges financial contributions from Michael Tichbon, Lotterywest, Middlesex Conservation Farming Club Inc. and Bush Heritage donors toward the construction of the Michael Tichbon Field Station. The 1042-hectare Red Moort Reserve, on which the field station is built, was purchased in 2014 with support from Beth, Phill and Rosalie Schultz.

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