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Dodgey Downs fenceline between paddock and remnant vegetation. By Bee Stephens
Dodgey Downs fenceline between paddock and remnant vegetation. By Bee Stephens

Space to move

Location: Dja Dja Wurrung Country, Victoria & Goreng-Noongar Country, Western Australia
Words by: Eliza Herbert
Published 21 Jun 2024

With every step Alex takes, the plant communities change. The soil type changes. From the mallee spawns a proteaceous-rich plant community of banksias, hakeas and isopogons.

Their thousands of individual flowers spiral upwards and outwards, decorating the landscape with a flurry of pinks, yellows and reds.

Alex Hams is the Healthy Landscape Manager for south-west Western Australia and he is standing on Monjebup Reserve on Goreng-Noongar Boodja (Country), on one of our Fitz-Stirling reserves. This area is one of just two global biodiversity hotspots in Australia, meaning it is biologically rich with thousands of native plants found nowhere else on the globe and increasingly threatened. 

Alex is not alone. Animals move among the flowers.

Honey Possums, known as Noolbenger in Noongar language, suckle at the nectar and pollen, diligent and focused. Ground-dwelling Malleefowl scrape leaf litter into piles to build nests. The “Wy-lah! Wy-lah” of Carnaby’s Cockatoos rings out, signalling their nearby presence. 

This is one of the oldest landscapes on the planet. But the languorous pace at which it has evolved is quickly countered by the abrupt speed at which it has been cleared. Just across the way, the biodiversity drops off where the land is currently being managed for agriculture. 
Our acquisition and management of Dodgey Downs would give Ngoolark (Carnaby’s Cockatoo) a safer and stronger future. Photo Krysta Guille.

“Each year, clearing removes habitat, and leads to the direct loss of millions of native animals and plants across the country,” says Alex. 

“It’s part of why we have the highest rate of mammal extinctions in the world. Animals lose their shelter, they become more exposed to feral predators and are more at risk from the compounding threat of climate change.”

But within this patchwork quilt made up of biodiverse havens and cleared land, solutions abound. One of them is a property called Dodgey Downs, over 760 hectares between Monjebup and Red Moort reserves.

Set to become our next reserve, we are raising funds and rallying support to purchase Dodgey Downs. 

Through the protection and ongoing management of this land, we hope to achieve our shared vision with Traditional Custodians of healing and reconnecting the wider landscape.

“This is a really important part of the world for the Noongar community, and we are privileged to be able to help manage it alongside them. Dodgey Downs would provide another great opportunity for Elders and rangers to be involved in restoring and reconnecting Country,” says Alex.

As the habitat is restored, it will allow native species to increase and diversify their populations, expand their distribution and, by doing so, build their resilience to climate change. 
If we can purchase Dodgey Downs, the paddock on the left will begin to resemble the remnant vegetation on the right. Photo Grassland Films.

This is all part of our 2030 Strategy that prioritises some landscapes as opportunities for ‘reconnection’, where there is potential to link large functioning areas of native habitat through land purchase and restoration. 

The prospect of Dodgey Downs excites Chief Executive Officer Rachel Lowry. “It will allow native species to come in and out, and for floral species to disperse – making the whole ecosystem more resilient. Additionally, when we restore these areas with high integrity, we increase not just the surface level of the bush but its capacity to adapt to extreme conditions such as drought and uncontrolled fires,” she says.

Across the continent in north-west Victoria on Djandak (Dja Dja Wurrung Country), we recently acquired Sanstrom Reserve in another effort to help reconnect fragmented parcels of bush. 

“Driving through feels incredible. There are ironbarks, which are becoming rare in this landscape, and it has a rich, diverse understorey,” says Tegan Hibberson. 

Tegan is the Healthy Landscape Manager for Victoria and she’s describing her first visit to the 159-hectare property, which connects two of our existing reserves to protect a total of 438 hectares and promote connectivity between the nearby Kara Kara National Park and Dalyenong Nature Conservation Reserve. 

Sanstrom is mostly intact, and made up of Box-Ironbark woodlands, Heathy woodlands and Grassy woodlands.

“We found beautiful, huge hollows in the overstorey trees, so we’re hopeful,” says Tegan. “They are a sign that the area has been undisturbed for a long time, allowing trees the chance to mature and suggesting there could be all sorts of hollow-dependent species such as Barking Owls, Brush-tailed Phascogales, and Sugar Gliders.

Our protection and ongoing management of the refugia at Sanstrom will provide vital habitat for native species now, and in the future. This is particularly significant in Victoria, where, since the beginning of colonisation, 83% of woodland ecosystems have been cleared. 

The woodlands at Sanstrom Reserve on Djandak, VIC. Photo Rowan Mott.

In parts of eastern Australia, the loss of native vegetation has not only increased pressure on the survival of native species, but it has altered the climate. It’s estimated that summer surface temperatures have increased by up to 2°C, which has led to decreased rainfall and harsher drought periods.

The protection and management of the reserve also provides more space for us to deepen our right-way partnership with DJAARA (Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Corporation), whom we have been walking with to heal Country for over 14 years. 

“For me, a functioning landscape is an area that is connected both physically, and in purpose, by people who are looking to do what’s right for that land holistically: for the species and the Traditional Custodians,” says Tegan.

“So, the very first step is going to be inviting Djaara (Dja Dja Wurrung people) to Sanstrom to spend time relearning and listening to what Country is telling us.”

The acquisition of Sanstrom Reserve was supported by the Victorian Government through the Nature Fund and an incredibly generous bequest.

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