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Ballarat’s bush champions Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Proudly brought to you by the Victoria Naturally Alliance and the Ballarat Environment Network


Contents Foreword ..

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Time is running out for our wildlife.............................................................................. 4-5 BEN – following a proud tradition ................................................................................ 6-7 SWIFFT action to save our growlers ............................................................................. 8-9 Leigh catchment – all hands on deck ...................................................................... 10-11 Matt Pywell, home with the natives ........................................................................ 12-13 Tackling climate change is a BREAZE ....................................................................... 14-15 Yarrowee – the little river that could ....................................................................... 16-17 The battle to save Sparrow Ground ......................................................................... 18-19 Taking a whole of farm approach .............................................................................20-21 St Francis proves nature can be nifty.......................................................................22-23

Acknowledgements This book was written and designed by John Sampson on behalf of the Victoria Naturally Alliance and the Ballarat Environment Network, 2008. We’d like to thank Allan Crompton and Alison Hetherington for their help during the editing process, Tony Wilson for permission to use his beautiful bird images on page 11 (you can see Tony’s photos at http://tannin.net.au), the Art Gallery of Ballarat as well as the city’s Gold Museum. We’d also like to recognise the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority as a key funding partner in many of the projects mentioned in this book. The CCMA was also a major

sponsor of the 2008 Ballarat Environment Awards, from which the idea for this publication first arose. Please note, the views expressed in the individual stories in this book do not necessarily reflect those of the Victoria Naturally Alliance or the Ballarat Environment Network. Cover photo: Ray Draper tests for chytrid fungus among the frog population at Lake Esmond in Ballarat. Photo by Michael Williams – www.itsawildlife.com.au. © This publication cannot be reproduced without the consent of either the Victoria Naturally Alliance or the Ballarat Environment Network – 2008. ISBN 978-1-875100-25-5 Printed by PrintTogether: www.printtogether.com.au.

The Victoria Naturally Alliance thanks the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust for its generous support of this project.

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Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment


Foreword Everywhere we are losing species of native plants and animals and the world’s biodiversity is rapidly diminishing. Southwest Victoria is no exception. The predicted increased temperatures with climate change will accelerate the potential for further decline. If we wish to retain what is left of our natural environment it is urgent that we act now. We should all be inspired by the stories about the work Ballarat’s “bush champions” are doing. Those battling to save the growling grass frog, the hundreds of volunteers who have helped revegetate creeks and damaged parkland, are all worthy of our applause and gratitude. The example of how one farm manager has preserved and nurtured the native vegetation on Emly Park

while at the same time enhancing farm profitability is a shining example of how we can have a healthy natural environment and at the same time boost farm productivity. By their example these bush champions, picked after being nominated for this year’s Ballarat Environment Awards, are showing communities in Victoria how we can save our remaining threatened ecosystems and endangered species before it is too late. We should also remember that the eight stories in this book are just a taste of the many hundreds of similar stories happening around Ballarat and throughout the state. I congratulate all involved in this splendid effort. JOHN LANDY, AC, CVO, MBE Former Governor of Victoria

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

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Biodiversity crisis

Time is running out for our wildlife T

HE Victorian tourism campaign depicting the state as a giant jigsaw puzzle offering a “multitude of sensory experiences” could just as easily be used to promote the diversity of our natural environment.

The pieces would include the Grampians, Wilsons Promontory and our spectacular beaches. Other pieces would be made up of mallee desert country, box-ironbark forests, snowcapped alps in winter and the deep, rich, old-growth forests of East Gippsland. Victoria’s marine and coastal environments, internationally known for their species richness, would also be well represented. What such a puzzle would also show is just how many pieces we’ve lost. The grasslands that once stretched from the edges of what is now Melbourne and across much of southwest Victoria to the South Australian border are probably the largest missing piece. Matthew Flinders noted their “economic” potential as far back as 1802, when he described the country surrounding Port Phillip as being “in great measure a grassy country, and capable of supporting much cattle, though better calculated for sheep...” Since then heavy grazing, urban development and intensive agriculture have all taken a toll. Less than one per cent of Victoria’s high quality native grasslands now remain and eight of the 26 mammals that once lived in this region have become extinct. All the indicators show we are the most environmentally stressed state in Australia. In just over 150 years more than half of Victoria has been cleared of native habitat, on private land that figure jumps to over 80 per cent. Three quarters of our waterways are degraded and more than a third of our wetlands have been destroyed. This large-scale clearance has had

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A combina�on of habitat loss, climate change, weeds and feral animals is pushing Victoria’s na�ve animals to the brink of ex�nc�on. Even under the lowest global warming predic�ons, major reduc�ons and losses in species and ecological communi�es are predicted. We need to take urgent ac�on to turn this situa�on around. Go to the Victoria Naturally Alliance website to find out how: www.victorianaturally.org.au. a devastating impact on our wildlife – 44 per cent of our native plants and 30 per cent of our native animals are now either extinct or threatened with extinction.

Climate change Already under pressure from habitat loss, development, weeds and feral animals, our natural environment now faces a new threat – climate change. In the past large shifts in the earth’s climate have often been slow enough for plants and animals to adapt and survive. Individual species and even entire ecosystems would move north or south, uphill or downhill, in their search for more suitable climatic conditions. However, current global warming is happening so fast that many species simply won’t have time to adapt to the changes. Many will also be restricted in their movement by roads, towns and large tracts of farmland, essentially locking them in to climate change jails. What can we do? We know that larger areas of habitat support more species than smaller areas. By replanting native vegetation on private land, along rivers and roadsides, we can reconnect our national parks and bigger bush reserves through a network of large-scale wildlife corridors, creating natural migration routes that native species can follow

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Victoria’s tiny mountain-pygmy possum could become extinct if the world’s temperatures continue to climb. Photo: Glen Johnson/DSE

as they are forced to move under climate change.

Restoring the balance Some of this work is already being done by volunteers working for local community and Landcare groups. This community spirit is exemplified by the work being carried out by the 80 groups operating under the umbrella of the Ballarat Environment Network. From tree planting projects to native seed collection, the building of wildlife corridors to weeding schemes, this work is critical if Victoria is to overturn its biodiversity crisis and prepare the natural environment for the impacts of climate change. However, these groups cannot and should not be expected to carry the burden alone. The State Government must show greater leadership in tackling our biodiversity crisis.

Victoria Naturally Alliance The Victoria Naturally Alliance is a coalition of nine environment groups formed to work with government and the community to help come up with solutions that will reverse the continuing degradation of our natural environment. Led by the Victorian National Parks Association, the alliance is made up


Pushed to the brink of ex�nc�on Victoria is home to an amazing variety of wildlife, landscapes and seascapes. No other area of similar size in Australia supports such natural diversity. But over the past 150 years we have cleared vast amounts of natural habitat, pushing many of our na�ve species to the brink of ex�nc�on. • 30 per cent of Victoria’s na�ve animals are ex�nct or threatened. – Environmental Sustainability Issues Analysis for Victoria, CSIRO

• 44 per cent of our na�ve plants are ex�nct or threatened.

– Environmental Sustainability Issues Analysis for Victoria, CSIRO

The brolga is one of about 1000 plants and animals at risk of extinction in Victoria. Photo: Chris Tzaros

of the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Environment Victoria, Greening Australia (Vic), Trust for Nature, Bush Heritage Australia, the Invasive Species Council and Bird Observation & Conservation Australia.

Government action The State Government has moved to address the serious challenges facing our natural environment by undertaking the Land and Biodiversity at a Time of Climate Change White Paper, set around protecting our catchments, coasts, marine ecosystems and biodiversity. This is a national first and should open discussion for new policies and programs that will help community groups like the Ballarat Environment Network put the many pieces of our fragmented landscape back together. The Victoria Naturally Alliance wants to see a White Paper that sets an agenda not only for the protection and preservation of current bushlands but also for restoration of native vegetation. In its recommendations to the White Paper the alliance has called for: • At least a ten-fold boost in government funding for protecting and restoring wildlife habitat across the state, including on private land.

• A plan to reconnect isolated

conservation reserves by creating largescale networks of wildlife corridors. • An increase in marine protected areas in Victoria to meet the international target of 20-30 per cent of each habitat by 2012. • A strategy to prevent introductions of new invasive species. • A halt to the clearing, logging and degradation of native vegetation to reduce carbon emissions. • A conservation approach based on protecting and restoring ecological processes, such as environmental water flows, that underpin a healthy natural environment. The Land and Biodiversity at a Time of Climate Change White Paper is a once in a generation chance to turn around Victoria’s biodiversity crisis. The State Government must grasp the opportunity to address this crisis by supporting councils, catchment management authorities, land owners and community groups as they protect and restore Victoria’s unique and irreplaceable natural environment.

• Weeds are probably the biggest single

cause of habitat loss and land degrada�on in Victoria. The impact of feral animals is also wreaking havoc on our biodiversity. – Nature Conserva�on Review Victoria 2001, Victorian Na�onal Parks Associa�on

• More than a third of the 90

Australian animal species so far iden�fied as at risk from climate change are found in Victoria and are on the state’s threatened species list. – Climate Ac�on Network Australia, www.cana.net.au/bush/aus_animals.htm

A land in need of repair

• Figures show that Victoria’s natural

environment is more damaged than that of any other state in the country. – Na�onal Land and Water Resources Audit, 2002

• 35 per cent of destroyed.

our wetlands have been

– The Health of Our Catchments: A Victorian Report Card, 2002, Victorian Catchment Management Council

• 75 per cent of degraded.

Victoria’s waterways are

– The Health of Our Catchments: A Victorian Report Card, 2002, Victorian Catchment Management Council

How to get involved To find out more about the alliance and how you can get involved go to www.victorianaturally.org.au.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

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Ballarat Environment Network

BEN – following a proud tradition I

N many ways the Ballarat Environment Network (BEN) is following a tradition that started 118 years ago with the city’s first tree planting day at Victoria Park. “The community might have been planting exotic trees way back then but it was still a very strong recognition of the damage the gold rush had inflicted on the natural environment,” says BEN’s executive officer, Hedley Thomson. One of the first moves to get the network off the ground was a gathering called the “green presidents” meeting, which included representatives from the local Bird Observers club, Landcare and local community groups. “Quite a few of the people involved really took umbrage at that reference to green,” says Hedley. “They didn’t want to be seen as ‘green activists’. “We wanted it to be a positive group that took action and moved forward. That’s the Ballarat way. People get involved. They don’t just bitch and whinge, they get on with the job.” And what a job they’d set themselves, cleaning up a natural environment torn apart by more than 140 years of intensive gold mining and land clearing. “The waterways were completely devastated by mining,” says Hedley. “All the stuff you didn’t need, the sediment, the wash material, all went straight back into the waterways. The photographs of the time show environmental carnage – piles of rubble, pit heads, slop everywhere, guys puddling in mud – it’s just appalling.”

A history of neglect Ballarat’s landscape alters dramatically depending on which side of the Yarrowee River you’re standing on. The eastern side is typified by messmate stringybark, manna gum forests and woodland. The understorey is made up of native grasses and grasstrees. To the west of the Yarrowee lies

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BEN executive officer Hedley Thomson down on the Yarrowee River in Ballarat.

270 kilometres of the Victorian Volcanic Plain, which before European settlement was home to much of the state’s grassland species. “That area copped a real hiding when it was cleared for agriculture,” says Hedley. “The 1850 to 1880 gold rush brought with it a huge influx of people, expansion of the railway and road networks, and a greater demand for food. “Basically the grasslands disappeared. Less than one per cent remains.”

Biodiversity reserves Despite operating in such a damaged landscape, BEN has been responsible for some remarkable achievements over its 16 years, including creating a network of more than 50 biodiversity reserves. All parcels of crown land, the reserves were originally created to serve human needs and range from disused racecourses to water supply reservoirs, former police paddocks and even old nightsoil depots. As human populations have moved away the reserves have been allowed to return to their natural state, and are now managed for their biodiversity values.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Ranging in size from just half a hectare up to 400 hectares the reserves protect a range of threatened ecosystems, including examples of Victoria’s critically endangered native grasslands. One of the driving forces behind the reserves is Tim D’Ombrain. A tireless worker with an unstoppable enthusiasm for nature conservation, Tim helps maintain the reserves through his role as co-ordinator of the BEN Biodiversity Services project. “I found it impossible to sit back and watch some of the most interesting remnant patches of native bush further degrade through a lack of management and generally, a lack of weed control,” says Tim. “Fortunately, the BEN committee shared the vision and the push began to create a network of biodiversity reserves, form a biodiversity crew, employ a ranger and demonstrate how these wonderful areas could be managed. “The Department of Sustainability and Environment had the faith that we could achieve the aim and 52 parcels of crown land are now biodiversity reserves under BEN management.”


Ballarat from the Black Hill, 1868, A.C. Cooke.

Collection: Art Gallery of Ballarat

”We wanted it to be a positive group that took action and moved forward. That’s the Ballarat way. People get involved. They don’t just bitch and whinge, they get on with the job.” – Hedley Thomson Tim says a large part of the vision has been to help the broader community see these areas through different eyes. “Once you get involved you can’t help but be fascinated by the distribution of plants in the region and the diverse habitats they provide,” he says. “The more you see, the greater your understanding, fascination and appreciation. Secondly, you become acutely aware of the parlous state of much of these remnants. “These grasslands, grassy woodlands, streamsides, wetlands and open forests have a natural beauty that needs to be promoted so that more people can understand and enjoy them.”

Emerging threats

Although recognising the tremendous effort that has gone in to restoring Ballarat’s waterways, grasslands and forests, Hedley fears many of these gains are being undermined by new and emerging threats. “There has been a real turnaround in community attitude to Ballarat’s natural environment,” he says. “But there’s also been a lot of behavioural changes that have gone the other way. “There’s been a considerable increase

in the intensive use of agricultural land, including raised-bed cropping and intensive animal agriculture.” He also believes new technology is making it easier to farm previously untouched areas of remaining bushland. “Wetlands in the area continue to be drained to make way for development and rock crushing is turning important areas of remnant native vegetation into farmland,” he says. These new threats have stirred people into action, including a number of groups associated with BEN. “Some of the groups get really despondent when they see all this land clearing going on,” he says. “But others are getting more active and are opposing these developments. “There was a new residential development approved recently at the top of the Yarrowee River catchment that was opposed by both the Ballarat Field Naturalists and Bird Observers clubs. “It’s unusual for some of these groups to take this sort of action. They usually say that’s not the way we function, we’re just amateur experts who don’t get involved in the politics of issues, but now they’re getting quite active about having their say, which is really important.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Grasstree in the Brisbane Ranges.

Photo: Judy Locke

Custodians of biodiversity The Ballarat Environment Network represents nearly 80 groups and organisa�ons working on conserva�on issues in southwest Victoria. Affec�onately known as BEN, the network’s membership is as varied as the landscape it operates in and includes schools, bushwalking clubs, Landcare groups, universi�es, field naturalist clubs, wildlife shelters, friends of groups, councils, water authori�es and conserva�on groups. Its sphere of influence ranges from Daylesford in the north, east to Bacchus Marsh, south to Colac, and west to Ararat. BEN’s catchphrase, “custodians of biodiversity”, reflects the network’s core work, and in recent years the group has focused much of its a�en�on on biodiversity management, with a strong emphasis on community educa�on.

How to get involved New volunteers are always welcome at BEN. Ac�vi�es range from learning how to grow na�ve plants to helping protect and restore the habitat of threatened species. To find out how you can become involved, telephone BEN on 0438 660 501 or email hedley.thomson@bigpond.com. For more informa�on go to: www.ben.org.au. 7


B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

SWIFFT action to save our growlers N

OTHING could have prepared Ray Draper for the sudden drop in growling grass frog numbers he witnessed in the late 1980s. “Frog numbers crashed in the three years between 1989 and 1992,” he says. “That doesn’t happen unless something pretty dramatic is going on.” At the time Ray was already worried about dwindling numbers of “growlers”, as he likes to call one of Australia’s largest native frog species. “Ordinary farmers were saying they hadn’t heard them for years and so that’s when I decided to set up the Growling Grass Frog Project,” he says. The plan was to take growlers out of the wild and breed them in captivity. The captive-bred frogs were then to be used to restock areas that had seen numbers plummet. But Ray’s plans came to a halt in 1992 with the discovery that a deadly fungus responsible for frog extinctions around the world may have reached growling grass frog populations in Victoria.

A deadly cargo More than 20 years later we now know that the growling grass frog, a nationally-listed threatened species, is just one of nearly 50 Australian frog species infected by chytrid fungus, a highly virulent disease that has the potential to wipe out a quarter of the world’s frog species. It has already been blamed for the loss of 70 frog species in Central and South America, and could well be behind the extinction of up to eight frog species in Australia. Scientists believe the fungus was first spread around the world in the 1930s through the use of the African clawed frog in pregnancy tests. Urine samples from pregnant women were injected into the African frogs and if a woman was pregnant her urine would cause the frog’s ovaries to start

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“Ordinary farmers were saying they hadn’t heard them for years and so that’s when I decided to set up the Growling Grass Frog Project.” – Ray Draper

Cherie Draper puts down frog tiles.

producing eggs. The pregnancy test proved popular and the African clawed frog was shipped around the world. What nobody realised at the time was that the frog was also a host for chytrid fungus. At some point the fungus, which grows in a frog’s skin, has made its way into wild frog populations in Australia. “Frogs breathe through their skin,” says Ray. “So if they pick up the fungus they basically mummify and die.”

Sounding the alarm bells Since putting his captive-breeding project on hold Ray has concentrated on creating a map that will show chytrid fungus infections among growling grass frogs and other frog species in southwest Victoria. Research has already shown that the fungus is inhibited by saline conditions and so Ray’s map will also help determine whether or not such conditions can help limit the spread of the disease. “What I’m trying to do is find out in the field what level of salinity is killing off the fungus and where the frog populations are,” says Ray.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Once finished the map will be used to manage the disease and hopefully help scientists find a cure. Ray’s three most important tools in carrying out his work are medical swabs, an army of volunteers, and slabs of wood called frog tiles, which are lodged in dams, wetlands and waterways to attract frogs. When frogs are found under the tiles they are swabbed and the sample is sent to James Cook University in Queensland where it is tested for the presence of chytrid fungus.

SWIFFT action The task of mapping a region as big as southwest Victoria would have been much more daunting if it wasn’t for the help of the South West Integrated Flora and Fauna Team (SWIFFT). SWIFFT is an information exchange network that brings together people working to protect threatened species in southwest Victoria including Geelong, Portland, Ballarat and Horsham. This collaborative approach includes the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, Landcare groups, Trust for Nature, the Threatened Species Network, catchment management authorities and the Ballarat Environment Network, among others. Through SWIFFT Ray has been able to tap into an army of volunteers who have helped him place 2000 frog tiles across the region. “On my own I couldn’t possibly have harnessed so much energy in


Growling grass frog.

Photo: Michael Williams

Growlers in decline

Ray and Cherie Draper start one-year-old Maia’s environmental education early with an outing to Ballarat’s Lake Esmond. Photo: Michael Williams

such a short period of time,” he says. “Without their help what we’ve achieved in two years would have taken ten.” SWIFFT has also created a unique relationship between Ray’s project and work being carried out to map populations of another nationally-listed threatened species, the striped legless lizard. The deal is simple. When Ray goes out looking for growlers he also checks for striped legless lizards, sending the information back to the Department of Sustainability and Environment. People looking for the lizards swab any frogs they come across, sending the swabs back to Ray so that he can check for chytrid fungus. The network has also helped warn Waterwatch and other communitybased volunteer groups working in our waterways to be wary of spreading the fungus. “Before a frog dies spores are ejected from the body and into the water,” says Ray. “Some of these spores could get caught up in duck feathers and transported, people walking and driving through wetland areas could also become carriers of the fungus.”

He says anyone working in areas that could be contaminated by chytrid fungus should use footbaths to help stop any further spread of the disease.

Greater investment needed Ray despairs at the lack of investment going in to combating the spread of chytrid fungus. He is also very concerned by how little we still know about the disease. “We know the fungus has been in the wild for at least 20 years but still don’t really understand why in such a short space of time there was such a heavy decline in growler numbers,” he says. “They live to about 18 and have 3000 froglets a year. They are a highly mobile species and can easily move from one wetland to another. There needs to be an answer to why they just dropped off the scale the way they did. “Every time we answer a question we get ten more questions. We need people and funding to answer those questions.” Note: The Chytrid Fungus Mapping Project would not have been possible without funding from the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and support from Trust for Nature.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Growling grass frogs were common across much of southeast Australia and Tasmania as recently as the early 1980s, but since then numbers have plummeted. They are no longer found in the ACT and are listed as threatened in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Suffering from habitat loss, preda�on by introduced fish as well as livestock overgrazing around the edges of wetlands, growler numbers have also been hit hard by the frog killing disease chytrid fungus.

Help stop the spread of chytrid fungus • Do not remove frogs or tadpoles from a water body. • Avoid touching frogs. • Chytrid fungus spores are waterborne and so care should be taken not to transport the spores on wet or muddy footwear whenever you are near wetlands, dams or other bodies of water. • Never move frogs from one area to another. • Help educate others about the disease.

How to get involved You can help by joining the Chytrid Fungus Mapping Project to survey growler popula�ons for fungus infec�ons. Contact Ray Draper by email at raydraper2004@gmail.com. 9


B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

Leigh catchment – all hands on deck I

F you live in the Leigh catchment area and want to plant native trees on your property you will inevitably end up speaking with Andrea Mason or at least one of “the two Jennys” – Jenny Ryle or Jenny Sedgwick. Operating out of a tiny brick cottage in Buninyong the three women run the Leigh Catchment Group, which draws together the collective forces of nine Landcare groups working in the region. The group’s chief task is to work with local landholders to improve farm production while ensuring positive environmental outcomes for the area. Jenny Sedgwick says her first contact with people invariably comes from a request for trees that can be used to create a bit of shelter on a property. “Shelter is probably the number one driver, especially where you have subdivisions,” she says. Once out on the property, it doesn’t take Jenny long to warm to her subject, pointing out that by planting a range of native plants the owners can encourage a variety of bird species to their property. Pretty soon, she says, they are hooked, planting wildlife corridors and making sure new shelterbelts contain a mix of native tree species. One of the group’s most powerful learning tools has been the production of two colour brochures, providing much-needed information about the native plants and animals of the region. “These brochures have been really good at getting people to take a look at what’s in their own back yard,” says Jenny. “Knowing which native plants and animals can be found on their patch of land gives people a real connection to their bit of bush. It helps them make connections with the natural environment around them.

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Andrea Mason, Jenny Sedgwick and Jenny Ryle run the Leigh Catchment Group from Buninyong.

“They might start by noticing the blue wrens, and then they see some little brown birds and they want to find out what they are. Others might notice a yellow flower and discover it’s a goodenia, and pretty soon they’re managing their land in an entirely different way.” The Indigenous Plants of Southern Ballarat brochure sets out the benefits of planting local native species, including creating the types of food and shelter that will attract local wildlife. Although not big enough to cover the more than 1000 native plants found in the area, it provides a good guide to some of the more common species. The second brochure, Indigenous Wildlife of Southern Ballarat, offers a glimpse of the 398 native animals found in the region, including the growling grass frog, a nationally-listed threatened species, the eastern spinebill and southern boobook owl. Demand for the brochures has outstripped supply. Impressed with the quality of the brochures, one local landholder paid for an extra 600 copies of each one to be distributed to the pupils at Buninyong Primary School.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

A decade of success To celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2008 the Leigh Catchment Group published a series of Landcare stories describing the many successes it has been involved in over the years. From “hands on” environmental education carried out at Scotsburn Primary School to plans to increase koala habitat on Mount Buninyong, the projects speak volumes about the impact the group has had on the area.

Wilderness to walking track The Wilderness to Walking Track project, initiated in 1997, is one of the eight Landcare stories. The task was to transform the eroded river bank at the Garibaldi Bridge Reserve on the Buninyong-Mt Mercer Road into an area that could be enjoyed by both local residents and visitors to the region. The original topsoil had long ago been buried under piles of erosive sands washed down during Ballarat’s gold rush days and the area had been taken over by weeds. The challenge quickly attracted widespread community interest and included wildlife surveys and walks to


Superb fairy wren, sacred kingfisher, red-browed finch and a spotted pardalotte.

Photos: Tony Wilson

“Knowing which native plants and animals can be found on their patch of land gives people a real connection to their bit of bush.” – Jenny Sedgwick encourage people to explore the area. The results have been impressive. The banks of the Yarrowee River have been stabilised for 200 metres and more than a kilometre of woody weeds has been replaced with local native vegetation. The removal of 700 metres of willow trees from the river’s banks and the cultivation of 11,000 new plants has also helped transform the area.

Remnants and rivers Many of the Leigh Catchment Group’s projects involve working closely with the farming community. Over the past ten years the group has been helping the Cameron family protect rare and important native plant communities on the family’s large farming property Camberley, near the upper Leigh River. The property is managed by brothers Peter and Andy and includes 12 kilometres of steep river frontage as well as significant patches of native grassland, grassy woodland and heath woodland. The property’s remnant woodlands have been fenced off, as have the river frontages, and a new grazing regime has led to the revival of native species. Excluding stock from the escarpment has helped bring serrated tussock under control, while the increased grass cover has reduced erosion in the steep gullies. The work has also paid off for the local wildlife, with large numbers of birds re-appearing on the property.

Ongoing challenges The Leigh Catchment Group has plenty of ground to cover. Its nine Landcare groups are responsible for 1800 square kilometres of rural and urban bushland, including the Yarrowee and Leigh river

catchments. The landscape includes undulating valleys to river flats, steep escarpments, rocky gorges, basalt plains and floodplains. The Leigh River, with its intact streamside vegetation, is an important wildlife corridor, and abuts significant native grasslands on private land and roadsides. While Jenny Sedgwick and her team are proud of the Leigh Catchment Group’s achievements in rehabilitating local bushland and creating wildlife corridors, new threats are emerging. “There are places where you can see there has been a positive difference made,” says Jenny. “But we’re losing around the urban fringes through the loss of native vegetation where subdivisions are going in.” She is also worried about how little we know about the impacts of climate change on the local bush. Which local species will do well under changing climatic conditions, which ones will suffer? “Should we be looking at planting the drier end of indigenous vegetation rather than the broad spectrum we have been using in the past?” she asks. “Because we don’t know enough about the changes we can’t really plan for the future. We need help in planning for these changes.” Despite these new challenges the passion that has made Landcare one of the most recognised brands in the country quickly bubbles to the surface. “Most people get involved because they want to make a difference,” says Jenny.

How to get involved Go to http://corangamite.landcarevic. net.au/leigh-catchment/ to find out more about the Leigh Catchment Group.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Indigenous plants of southern Ballarat Plan�ng indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses helps create habitat for local wildlife including lizards, birds and frogs. The Leigh Catchment Group’s field guide, Indigenous Plants of Southern Ballarat, is a good source of informa�on about local na�ve plants and the key role they play in crea�ng and maintaining a healthy natural environment.

Four reasons to plant na�ves • Na�ve plants create food and shelter for local wildlife. • They regenerate naturally, saving �me and money. • Indigenous plants have adapted to local condi�ons and so have a higher survival rate than exo�c plants. • The birds, bats and sugar gliders a�racted to your garden will provide natural pest control.

Find out more To order a copy of Indigenous Plants of Southern Ballarat contact the Leigh Catchment Group on 03 5341 2364 or email leighcg@ncable.net.au

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B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

Matt Pywell, home with the natives M

ATT Pywell attributes his connection with the natural environment partly to passion, partly to instinct. Since moving to Ballarat from the Latrobe Valley, Matt has established a niche market with his business Ballarat Wild Plants, which he started in 2002 to supply his burgeoning environmental contracting business. “At the time you could get your hands on a lot of the common gums and wattles, and a few of the other local species, but there were also a lot of non-local species being sold,” he says. Since then, the nursery has blossomed. It stocks more than 150 native varieties, with all but a few grown from specimens collected within 50 kilometres of Ballarat. Matt has also had a major influence on the use of indigenous plants by clients that include local councils, schools, business and government agencies. “I could have grown the business quicker if I hadn’t been as concerned about how local our stock needs to be,” says Matt. “But I honestly believe the local species do better here, and there’s no risk of them becoming weeds.”

Getting to know the locals Although he grew up in the Latrobe Valley and has fond memories of family trips to the Baw Baw Ranges, it is the bush around Ballarat that Matt knows best. First moving to the region in the ’90s to study environmental management he spent a lot of time driving around the area, collecting samples of local native plants and familiarising himself with his new landscape. “Instead of reading novels I read reference books. I’d take plant samples home and spend my evenings working out what they were,” he says. “It still happens to an extent with the nursery. We’re always trying to find new

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Matt Pywell at home in his bush nursery Ballarat Wild Plants.

species to add to our catalogue. We try them here and see how they respond to cultivation.” Matt picked up many of the skills he uses today by working with the Pomonal Wildflower Nursery’s Jane and Phil Williams, who had been contracted by Stawell Gold Mines to re-establish native vegetation in disturbed areas. Jane taught him how to collect native

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

seeds, propagate them and then use the plants to improve land degraded by mining. Now one of Matt’s biggest clients is Ballarat Goldfields, which has engaged him to revegetate areas disturbed through the company’s activities and to enhance the quality of the pockets of remnant bush managed by the mine. Matt says he is regularly surprised by


“Because so much of our area has been degraded through mining and clearing we don’t really know which species were most common 150 years ago, or what the area was like before European settlement.” – Matt Pywell

what he uncovers on these jobs and by the ability of the local bush to bounce back after years of degradation. “Last year we had to remove pine seedlings that had been planted following a previous rotation,” he says. “While removing the young pines we compiled a page-long list of native species found within a 20 metre strip of land that had been suffocating under pine trees for the previous 20 to 30 years.” Although passionate about putting the landscape back the way nature intended Matt admits it’s a bit of a guessing game. “Because so much of our area has been degraded through mining and clearing we don’t really know which species were most common 150 years ago, or what the area was like before European settlement. “In many ways we’re making educated guesses, trying to make judgements about restoring landscapes based on soil type, topography and by assessing nearby remnants.”

Exotic invaders Despite greater awareness in the community about the damage caused to the landscape by exotic plants Matt still worries about some of the species being sold in nurseries. “There are still nurseries selling plants that are not that far removed from some of the worst of our woody weeds,” he says. “It wouldn’t take much for some of these plants to become an ecological disaster.”

“The bluebell creeper (Sollya heterophylla), for instance, is still very popular but is starting to become a weed around Ballarat.” He says the Western Australian plant, a twining species that can smother local plants, is starting to invade healthy forests in the region. “If it’s not local and you see it naturalising itself in the area it’s an immediate concern.”

Sowing seeds of hope Matt still enjoys visiting one of his first and biggest landscape restoration projects, a planting along Creswick Creek where he was engaged by the local Landcare group and catchment management authority to put in about 40,000 plants as part of revegetation works along the waterway. “We’ve got photos of bare ground with a few tree guards poking up,” he says. “But if you go back now the canopy is reaching out over the creek, the aquatic plants are recolonising and animal life is returning.” He also loves assisting in many of the local school projects by helping students develop a better understanding of the natural environment. “My own kids haven’t had the chance to spend as much time in the bush as I did when growing up, but even in our little backyard there are always skinks to chase and butterflies to catch and identify. “It’s nice to think that I’ve been able to pass on some of my knowledge and that it has sparked an interest in the next generation.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Green thumbs Tim Bell and Lloyd Stanway are part of the team at Ballarat Wild Plants.

What to plant Ballarat Wild Plants is always looking for local na�ve plants that will work best in Ballarat gardens. “I’d recommend flax lilies (Dianella species), they’re tough, have great architectural foliage and have a�rac�ve blue star flowers,” says Ma� Pywell. “The common everlas�ng daisy (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) is one that flowers for months. “We also recommend a lot of the s�cky hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) for hedging or screen plants. It’s drought tolerant, fast growing and its shiny dark green foliage gives it a lush look even when other things are looking stressed.” Ma� also keeps an eye on which insects are a�racted to different plants. “If vanilla lilies and dianellas, for example, a�ract na�ve blue-banded bees, it demonstrates that there is some benefit in plan�ng local species in our gardens. It shows that if people plant these species they’re providing habitat and food for local wildlife.”

Find out more Ballarat Wild Plants is located at 433 Joseph Street, Ballarat and is open to the public by appointment only. To organise a visit, contact Ma� Pywell on 0409 388 014 or email wildplants@ncable.net.au.

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B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

Tackling climate change is a BREAZE F

OR a young organisation Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions has a very big voice when it comes to tackling climate change. Since its inception at Ballarat’s Walk Against Warming in November 2006, when 40 locals signed up to help raise awareness about the global warming crisis, the community-led organisation known as BREAZE has gone from strength to strength. It has sponsored successful climate change forums, runs an extensive climate change website, and has partnered with the University of Ballarat and the local daily newspaper, The Courier, to write a weekly column called Earth Matters, which examines climate change and sustainability issues.

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Refugees from Melbourne

Graeme and Avigale on their 80 acre bushblock at Yendon, 10km from Ballarat.

Graeme Drysdale has been part of BREAZE since its beginning in 2006. Calling himself a “refugee from Melbourne” he says he was driven out of the capital city nearly 10 years ago by pollution. “My eldest son was a pupil at Glen Iris Primary School at the time, which is on a hill overlooking Melbourne, and one day I looked out and couldn’t see the city through this haze of smog,” he says. “I’d seen it before but that’s when the penny dropped. I thought, I’m living so close to the city I must be breathing this stuff in.” Although Graeme and his partner Avigale looked at properties as far afield as Warragul and Bendigo, they eventually settled on a beautiful bluestone house on a bush block in Mt Helen, about 10 kilometres south of Ballarat. “When we moved in we were virtually surrounded by bush, which was really important to us,” says Graeme. But it didn’t take long for the development that had pushed Graeme and his family out of Melbourne

to catch up with them in Mt Helen. Six months after moving into their new country home developers moved in next door, “moonscaping” about 10 acres of native bush surrounding their property. Apart from the noise and intrusion what upset Graeme and Avigale most was the lack of concern for the area’s koala population. “Mt Buninyong is a major breeding area for them, and this area in Mt Helen was their second preferred site,” he says. The loss of the nearby bush to a housing development left a deep impression on Graeme and Avigale and they joined a group of like-minded locals worried the same sort of destruction could happen elsewhere in the region. When a planning application was made to build another 120 houses on nearby bush they were ready, and had the support of the Ballarat Environment Network, the South Ballarat Urban Landcare Group and the Buninyong Ward Residents’ Association.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

“I was doing radio interviews, writing articles for The Courier, and we were lobbying the councillors,” says Graeme. “We even had the then State Opposition spokesperson for the environment come up to see what was happening. “We got 1300 signatures on a petition, not a bad number for a small area like this.” Council rejected the housing application but the decision was later overturned by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which ordered the developers comply with a number of regulations, including erecting “koala-friendly fences”, retaining some remnant native bush on every block, and banning cats and dogs from the housing estate. It was the first time Graeme had gone in to bat for the environment on a local issue and it paved the way for his role with BREAZE as an advocate for action on climate change to protect biodiversity. “Reports were already coming out showing huge percentages of the


Land and biodiversity at a time of climate change BREAZE says the greatest threat to biodiversity is the use of nonrenewable natural resources. In its submission to the State Government’s 2008 Land and Biodiversity at a Time of Climate Change Green Paper BREAZE warned that without a shift in behaviour, the biosphere and biodiversity will suffer further degradations and species extinctions. BREAZE also pointed out that: • Less than five per cent of indigenous wildlife habitat remains in the Ballarat region. What’s left is isolated and fragmented. • There have been unnecessary losses in flora and fauna species, a loss of habitat connectivity, and a loss of habitat to the extent that the continuance of some ecosystems has been jeopardised and some ecosystems lost. • There needs to be an immediate halt to all landclearing across the entire state, not just large-scale clearing but also the incremental removal of native vegetation. • Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 90 per cent of the 1990 level before 2050 to reduce the impacts of climate change and preserve as many ecosystems as possible. The sooner this is achieved the better it will be for humanity and biodiversity. Learn more at www.dse.vic.gov.au/landwhitepaper. planet’s flora and fauna will disappear due to global warming,” says Graeme. “But I don’t think the general public make the connection yet between species loss and climate change. Most people live in the cities and so don’t come into contact with the natural environment that much. We’ve almost forgotten that we evolved from what we see out the window.” Although he recognises the important role forests play in storing greenhouse gases Graeme fears too many people believe we can simply plant our way out of climate change. To get his point across he likes to quote the Cambridge University botanist Oliver Rackman, who has said that for its practical effect on climate change, telling people to plant trees is like “telling them to drink more water to keep down rising sea levels”. “That’s why we’re saying we’re compensating the environment for the

damage we’ve done, the loss of habitat,” says Graeme, talking about the the community tree planting days BREAZE gets involved in. “We’re not doing this because we’re going to achieve carbon neutrality. “We’re also expecting massive species movements under climate change. But in Victoria, where so much of our bush is broken up by heavily cleared farmland, many of our native plants and animals will find it difficult if not impossible to move through the landscape. “So replanting is starting to put connectivity back into the system. It’s making the system more robust. “A lot of the people in BREAZE are involved in biodiversity in some way, either professionally or as volunteers. “So we’re also supporting those who support us and realising the connectivity between the environment and climate change even gets down to a local level.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Local solut ions to climate change Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions (BREAZE) is a locally formed group of energe�c, forward thinking people who believe there are more sustainable ways of living. If you are concerned about climate change and want to ac�vely reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Ballarat, become a member by visi�ng www.breaze.org.au.

How to get involved • Sign up for a BREAZE special offer such as their deals on a solar hot water service or photovoltaic panels. • Join a BREAZE ac�on group and get involved with local food produc�on or help educate poli�cians and the community about climate change issues. • Join the Australian Conserva�on Founda�on’s internet campaign Who On Earth Cares. The campaign brings together Australians from all walks of life who are concerned about climate change and want to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas pollu�on. Learn more: www.whoonearthcares.com.

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B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

Yarrowee – the little river that could S

ITTING on the banks of the Yarrowee River it is hard to imagine the scene that confronted Brian Simpson and his friend Michael Adams when they first decided to clean up the waterway more than 30 years ago. Ballarat’s gold rush had left the Yarrowee’s banks severely degraded and infested with weeds. The river itself had been used over time as an open sewer, rubbish dump and primitive industrial waste outlet. “I was living in Mount Pleasant at the time and you could barely access the river,” says Brian. “The water quality was pretty awful. You’d get a lot of blue dyes and rubbish coming down. Shopping trolleys, plastic bags, it was a real nightmare.” The river has a long history of neglect. In his book Lucky City, Professor Weston Bate describes the 1883 closure of the “infamous drain” that ran from Ballarat’s hospital down the city’s main street and into the Yarrowee, often carrying infected sewage, as “a minor reduction in the pollution of that once beautiful stream”. “A soapworks and a fellmongery (dealer in skins and hides) upstream, the woollen mill downstream, the Chinese village, the gaol, the gasworks and dozens of factories gave it their effluent,” he wrote. In a more recent story in the The Courier newspaper older residents of Ballarat recalled pollution in the Yarrowee as late as the 1930s. “Blood from the meatworks in Skipton Street flowed under the street and then entered the water as an open drain and mixed with the blue-coloured run-off from the woollen mill, the two pollutants merging and turning the Yarrowee’s water purple,” the newspaper reported. But despite the Yarrowee’s sorry

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The Band of Hope and Albion Mine once operated on the banks of the Yarrowee River. This picture was taken in the late 1800s. Photo courtesy of the Ballarat Historical Society Collection at the Gold Museum

history, Brian Simpson, who has notched up more than 30 years experience working for the Department of Sustainability and Environment, could see potential in the little river. “It was a wasteland infested with weeds like gorse, blackberry, hemlock and fennel. At one stage we did a count and there were about 130 weed species just along the river,” he says. “So a friend and I decided to do something about it. The idea was to come down on weekends, relax, light a fire, have a barbecue and start cutting out all the weeds.”

Every river needs friends It didn’t take long for other locals to notice the two men hacking their way through the weeds and pretty soon there was a groundswell of support. “It was the start in a way of an environmental movement in Ballarat,” says Brian. “People would come down here on weekends and we’d have huge working bees, dragging out truckloads of rubbish. Eventually it became a friends

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

group and was officially launched as the Friends of the Yarrowee River.” Since then nearly 80 community groups, including 30 schools, have helped resuscitate the river. “They wanted to bring their kids down and show them what the environment was like, how bad it was and how it could be improved,” says Brian. The river has never looked back. It now forms the backbone of the Yarrowee River Trail, a 16 kilometre walking track that follows the Yarrowee and its many tributaries. Every day people can be found walking, jogging and cycling their river. They picnic on its banks and even help keep newlyrevegetated areas free of weeds. The upgrading of the river has also enhanced Ballarat’s biodiversity credentials by protecting remnant native vegetation, stabilising the river’s banks against erosion and improving stormwater quality. The introduction of a management plan in 1995 saw the eventual creation of five new parks along


Remnants of our past

Brian Simpson back where it all started at the Yarrowee Creek Flora Reserve.

“Blood from the meatworks in Skipton Street flowed under the street and then entered the water as an open drain and mixed with the blue-coloured run-off from the woollen mill, the two pollutants merging and turning the Yarrowee’s water purple.” – The Courier newspaper the river – Gong Gong Reservoir Park, Nerrina Park and Wetlands, the Yarrowee Flora Reserve, the YarroweeRedan Reserve, and the Yuille Station Park and Wetlands.

People power

Brian has worked in many conservation fields within the Department of Sustainability and Environment, including catchment management, soil conservation, vermin and noxious weeds as well as the management of small pockets of public land. He has also spent a lot of time working with the Ballarat Environment Network and the region’s many community-based conservation groups. “Twenty-four years ago when I first returned to Ballarat the department had a building full of people,” says Brian. “The section I was in was called public land management, and we had plenty of staff sitting around busily writing management plans on how to manage our crown land. “We were the experts – we did the planning and we told the public we knew best.”

Since then Brian has seen a dramatic change in the way Ballarat’s public land is managed, with much of the responsibility handed over to the locals. “That’s meant more community engagement and more community education about Ballarat’s natural environment,” he says. “I can’t be at every piece of crown land every moment of the day, but when we have the community looking after the land they’re there all the time, and that makes a huge difference.”

All the way to the bottom Walking along the banks of the Yarrowee, Brian explains the significance of the river, which has its headwaters in Ballarat, becomes the Leigh River further south, and then runs out to the sea as the Barwon River at Barwon Heads. His face lights up as he recalls a recent trip downriver. “The water quality wasn’t too bad,” he says. “There was a nice clear pool with some little black fish in it, waterbirds and black ducks. And you could see all the way to the bottom.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

To Brian Simpson Ballarat is one big jigsaw puzzle wai�ng to be put back together. “Ballarat is fortunate in that we s�ll have many areas of reserved forest le�,” he says. “But the thing that has always fascinated me is that in between these forests and parks are thousands of smaller bush blocks, remnants of our past.” He reels off a list that includes water and recrea�on reserves, stone reserves, a gravel reserve, school and police paddock reserves. “These remnants of gold and farming se�lements sca�ered throughout the area tell us a li�le bit of our history,” he says. “They are glimpses of what this vegeta�on was like before se�lement clearing. “What I’ve tried to do by working with the Ballarat Environment Network and other community groups is put the jigsaw pieces back by connec�ng these li�le reserves with the larger forest and parks reserves. “It’s important we hang on to these blocks of bush. They are windows into our past, not just from an environmental viewpoint but also our cultural and historical past.”

How to get involved The ongoing restora�on of the Yarrowee River is part of the Linear Network of Communal Spaces (LINCS) community project, a plan to create linked conserva�on reserves along Ballarat’s waterways, disused railways and roadsides. Events include tree plan�ng, Waterwatch, clean up days, walking and cycling tours. To get involved contact the LINCS Program Co-ordinator on (03) 5331 7831, 0438 660 501 or email hedleythomson@ bigpond.com. Managed by BEN, ac�vi�es are funded by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority with the support of the Ballarat City Council. 17


B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

The battle to save Sparrow Ground F

OR Jeff Rootes and his mates the battle for Sparrow Ground, a large block of land in Ballarat East that contains important remnant native bushland, was short and sweet.

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Sparked in the late 1990s by a proposal from Ballarat City Council and the State Government to sell part of the land for development, neighbours responded quickly and decisively. “We agitated, we letterboxed, we all came together and held a protest meeting,” says Jeff, recalling the local community’s response to the plans. It was September 1998 and local government reforms introduced by the Victorian Government had reduced the number of municipalities across Victoria from 210 to 79. Jeff says the changes brought with them a “sell or privatise culture”, and launched the Ballarat City Council on a program to reduce the amount of land it had to manage. But support for keeping Sparrow Ground in public hands had been underestimated. In just three weeks, a group of local residents, who formed the Friends of Sparrow Ground, generated 100 written submissions opposing the sale. “We doorknocked the area to get these individual objections,” says Jeff. “Then 15 of us went to the local council meeting a couple of weeks later and they decided not to go ahead with the sale.” The proposal to sell off a substantial part of Sparrow Ground was dead in the water.

Peter Martin, Jeff Rootes and Glenn Strange relive old memories at Sparrow Ground Bush Reserve.

A troubled past

Extreme makeover

The history of Sparrow Ground is one of abuse and neglect. Taking its name from a sparrow shooting club once housed on the grounds, much of the area’s largest

Since winning the battle to save the reserve from development the Friends of Sparrow Ground have worked hard to bring back the area’s natural ecology. What was once a gorse-infested,

Photo: John Sampson

trees, including messmates, blackwoods and peppermint gums, were removed by timber cutters in the early 1930s. Parts of the reserve had been used as a local tip and many areas were overrun by gorse and pine trees, which were crowding out native shrubs and grasses and stopping them from growing. Despite these obstacles Jeff could see the reserve’s potential. “Part of the ground was used as a local rubbish dump, so it had every exotic plant under the sun,” he says. “But considering what it had been through the remnant vegetation was still in pretty good condition.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

pine-riddled dumping ground is now an open woodland with clearly marked walking tracks surrounded by a diversity of native trees and shrubs. There is also a well-maintained playground and a number of park benches. “Our main motivation for protecting the park was to maintain its biological diversity,” says Jeff. “But we also wanted to work with council to improve the facilities and recognise the reserve’s recreational values.” Jeff estimates the group has removed 600 pine trees and says the other exotic species, including gorse, broom and blackberry, are steadily being taken out. “A lot of the remnants are in really good condition,” he says. “We get lots of wildflowers and the council has done a report on the biodiversity values of the area.” Another key win in the ongoing battle to protect Sparrow Ground has


“Places like Sparrow Ground are the lungs of Ballarat. They’re our green wedges and when they’re gone you can’t get them back.” – Jeff Rootes Friends at work.

been to convince the local council that it does not have to mow the native grasses excessively. “The native grasses are coming back and the edges of the remnants are starting to expand,” says Jeff. “Just by letting the native grasses reseed themselves we are getting kangaroo grass and spear grass back on the block – it’s magic to watch.”

A growing urban environment More than 50 houses have been built on the edge of Sparrow Ground in the past six years, bringing more people to the area and new threats to the reserve. Even now, 10 years after the original battle to save the reserve from development, protection of the land’s intrinsic natural values is an ongoing job. While walking the grounds Jeff is quick to spot vehicle tracks running from the back of one of the new housing developments through the park and on to the main road. The tracks roll over regenerating grasses and shrubs, including spear grasses that have long been denied sunlight by pine trees only recently cut down. “That’s what destroys the remnant native bush in this park,” says Jeff. “People are still putting entry gates on the back of their houses and using the reserve to dump their old concrete mixer or park their car. It’s not on.” Jeff is optimistic about the future despite the damage still being done to the native vegetation. “We realised early on that this area was going to change pretty rapidly. What’s going to happen in the next ten years? All the little gaps of open, private

land will fill in with houses. That’s inevitable,” he says, putting a philosophical spin on the situation. “You can have the housing done to you or you can influence the housing.” The latest development in the area threatened six large, old habitat trees still surviving on the land. “They were large, mature old trees with lots of tree hollows in them,” says Jeff. “I got a road moved to save two of them, which are now on a nature strip and I hope they survive. Another two now form part of a water reserve.” Sadly, the remaining two trees were cut down by new owners moving in to the area. “The knowledge of how valuable this area is will come over time. Part of the spirit of this park is to show that it’s worth looking after and caring for the natural environment, especially when it’s in your back yard.” This year Jeff and his mates Peter Martin, Hedley Thomson and Glenn Strange celebrated the tenth anniversary of the battle to save Sparrow Ground. There were plenty of slaps on the back for these men and the local residents, who still get together every year on Clean Up Australia Day to make sure Sparrow Ground remains free of weeds and litter. “If other things in my life aren’t travelling well I come up here and have a chuckle. The alternative was there could have been houses here,” says Jeff, as he surveys the bushland in front of him. “Places like Sparrow Ground are the lungs of Ballarat. They’re our green wedges and when they’re gone you can’t get them back.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Photo: Leon Costermans

Victorian Environment Friends Network Hundreds of friends groups across Victoria help conserve indigenous flora and fauna, natural areas, reserves and other en��es of historic, scenic and scien�fic interest, o�en in support of Parks Victoria, Trust for Nature and local councils. Their ac�vi�es include surveys, research, seed collec�on, propaga�on, tree planting, publica�ons, li�er control, nature rambles, monitoring, track work, environmental weeding, revegeta�on, educa�on, fundraising, restora�on and guiding. The first friends group was the Friends of Organ Pipes, established in 1972 as a commi�ee of the Victorian Na�onal Parks Associa�on. The associa�on later obtained support from the Na�onal Parks Service to form a number of friends groups for na�onal parks. The concept spread to cover a wide range of reserves. Friends groups vary in size, ac�vi�es and structure but most have their own newsle�er.

What you can do To find out how to get involved with your local friends group or how to start one email friendsvic@hotmail.com.

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B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

Taking a whole of farm approach J

Putting down roots

IM Seager has vivid memories of growing up on his grandfather’s farming property on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. “It was a fantastic wetland and the diversity of bird life was just awesome,” he says. “But from an agricultural point of view clearing it for farming just devastated the area.” Jim’s grandfather, Edward Seager, had been a sergeant in the Australian Army’s Light Horse Brigade during World War I. On his return to Australia, Edward, and thousands of servicemen like him, was rewarded with a plot of native bushland to farm under the country’s soldier settlement scheme. The scheme provided a means of recognising and supporting Australia’s servicemen and an opportunity to open up unfarmed land to agriculture. The concept was underpinned by an economic and political imperative to establish and promote intensive land usage. Jim’s grandfather – charged by the government to clear as much native bush as possible – set to with gusto, little realising he was creating a salinity problem that would force his family off the land 40 years later. “A significant amount of native vegetation was cleared in a very short space of time,” says Jim, now an agricultural consultant in Ballan. “Salt was brought to the surface when the water table rose in the wet years, creating major degradation issues. “The government ended up buying the property back. The farm has since become part of a national park with bird hides and walks on it. “I look back at it through the eyes of an environmental manager and see the direct impact of poor government policy and management.”

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Jim’s daughter Emily measures herself against a local native ‘Yacka’ on Kangaroo Island.

Emly Park Jim has put the lessons of the past to good use by transforming a run-down farm on the East Moorabool River from an ecological and agricultural nightmare into a healthy and successful farm. The 700-hectare Emly Park was plagued with rabbits, salinity problems and weeds when Jim took over as farm manager in 1991. The property had been bought by a Melbourne businessman as a “lifestyle investment”. “He was very enthusiastic about fixing the place up aesthetically and to address some of the farm’s biodiversity issues,” says Jim, who saw the job as an opportunity to show he could improve the productivity of the farm while also increasing its biodiversity values. “I’ve always been interested in pastures and trees, that’s something I’ve always been keen on,” he says. “And I couldn’t see why you couldn’t have a productive farm with good environmental values. “You need shelter for your stock but that shelter also benefits the pasture. It provides shade in summer and shelter in winter, changing the temperature on a property so that the winters aren’t so severe and the summers are not so hot. “That affects the productivity on the farm and lowers the stress levels of livestock. It also creates a better environment for the native birdlife and insects.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Jim used the property’s remaining native grasslands to his advantage after ridding Emly Park of its rabbit problem and reducing the weed infestation. “When I took over the running of Emly Park in 1991 it still had lots of native pasture on it,” he says. These patches of native grass clung to the steeper areas of the farm that had in the past been very difficult to manage. Tests showed the soil to be highly dispersible. “If you started ploughing it up it would just wash down the hill,” says Jim. “These soil types don’t have good chemical bonding in them and so require strong physical bonds to hold them together, and that’s where the native pasture comes into play. “We quickly learned that you could manage these native pastures, allowing them to set seed on their own in the spring, and just manage them as a native pasture. “We were running a super fine wool enterprise at the time and it was fantastic for that. The sheep produced really good quality fine wool, very consistent, from grazing off the native pastures. “The key benefits were to stop soil erosion and maintain a viable pasture requiring very little maintenance. “It didn’t cost the farmer much money and was quite valuable in terms of the pasture it produced. Prior to that, some of those areas had been a real drain on the farm’s resources.”

Changing of the guard Although this “whole of farm” approach is yet to gain general currency among Victoria’s farming community Jim believes it is just a matter of time. “A lot of the farming practices used in the past tend to be more like mining,” says Jim. “They’re taking


Sugar glider.

Photo: Michael Williams

Biodiversity on the farm

Jim Seager believes farming and looking after biodiversity go hand in hand.

Photo: John Sampson

“A lot of the farming practices used in the past tend to be more like mining. They’re taking resources out of the farm and not replacing them. That’s just not sustainable.” – Jim Seager resources out of the farm and not replacing them. That’s just not sustainable.” He believes more sustainable farming will come with a changing of the guard. “Things are changing and have changed a lot in the past 10 years but there is still an old guard left. There are still plenty of landholders around here farming their property like they always did.” Jim also believes that the government is still the right instrument to change farming methods so that they ensure we have a healthy natural environment as well as a healthy agricultural industry. “If you look back far enough governments have had a fairly big influence in helping establish farming in Australia,” he says. “But there are fairly good examples over the years where as a direct result of government policy the land has become degraded,” he says. “So governments do have a responsibility to change the advice they give

farmers and they also need to admit that perhaps they didn’t get it right before.”

Five-star farms

Jim sees the generational change taking place in Victoria’s agricultural sector as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce better environmental management to the state’s farming community. “It’s a bit like what they are doing with houses, bringing in environmental standards where you might get a fivestar rating for meeting certain environmental requirements,” he says. Such a scheme could pressure prospective buyers into addressing on-farm problems such as soil erosion, salinity and biodiversity loss. It could also enforce the fencing off of waterways and the protection of important native bush. “A lot of these things are of huge benefit to the farm. It’s not like asking owners to do work that will have no return. The only place to do this is at the point of sale, and there will be a lot of properties changing hands over the next 20 to 30 years,” he says.

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

A healthy natural environment is cri�cal to our agricultural sector. The large old trees found in paddocks are widely appreciated for their aesthe�c appeal but increasingly they are being recognised for their economic benefits. These include the provision of shelter and shade for livestock, the lower risk of dryland salinity and reduced soil erosion. One group of animals that commonly use paddock trees are insect-ea�ng bats. These �ny mammals can consume up to half their body weight in insects a night. Some species feed extensively on agricultural pests, making them vitally important to maintaining the health of our rural landscape. Sugar gliders, quite common across regional Victoria, also control pests. It has been es�mated that one of these small creatures can eat up to 3.25kg of insects in a year.

What you can do To find out how to improve your farm’s environmental and produc�ve value join your local Landcare group. Visit www.landcareonline.com or get in touch with your local council, which should be able to provide contact informa�on.

21


B a l l a r a t ’s b u s h c h a m p i o n s

St Francis proves nature can be nifty T

O the untrained eye St Francis Xavier Primary School looks like many other primary schools. It has a football ground and jogging track, a sandpit, swings and plenty of areas for its students to play in. But spend a bit of time walking the school grounds with environmental studies teacher, Anna Schlooz, and you quickly gain a different perspective. One of the first spots Anna likes to take visitors is the sand pan, designed and built by students in an effort to record the nightly wanderings of native animals. “By recording the tracks of creatures such as lizards and birds the sand pan becomes a living illustration of what else is walking the school grounds with us,” says Anna. This and other projects were the beginning of an environmental journey that has led to a complete revamp of the school grounds. The football ground has been lined with trees to reduce soil erosion and the jogging track doubles as a “nifty nature walk”, which encircles a paddock that is being turned into a fully-functioning wetland.

Custodians of the land It is hard to believe these changes started only three years ago after students on the lookout for an outdoor education project came up with the idea of building their own vegetable patch to introduce sustainable gardening practices to the school. The students learnt about compost, organic gardening and the importance of soil health in achieving a thriving garden. The result was a “no dig veggie garden”. Once the vegetable garden was up and running it didn’t take long for the students, Anna and other staff to start expanding their work.

22

“By recording the tracks of creatures such as lizards and birds the sand pan becomes a living illustration of what else is walking the school grounds with us.” – Anna Schlooz

Anna Schlooz on the edge of the sand pan, which allows students to track the type of native species that cross it at night.

“The veggie garden really got the kids thinking about the broader issues that affect both the natural environment and human health,” says Anna. “You could see it on their faces. They realised just how much everything is connected.” Representatives from the local Aboriginal group introduced the students to the concept of land custodianship. They also talked about the use of message sticks, which are used to tell other tribes about the local availability of fresh food, water and game. Soon the project had a life of its own and was given a name – Harmony Dreaming. “Members of the Kirrit Barreet Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre showed the kids how to paint message sticks and Jim Mead from the local Landcare group told them the story of the river, giving them an understanding of biodiversity and how everything is connected,” says Anna. The creation of the message sticks took three days and involved more than 300 students. The sticks now dot the landscape at St Francis Xavier Primary, providing a compass to the many

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

different “learnscapes” the students have developed. These learnscapes include the sand pan, a frog pond, nesting boxes and an indigenous food garden, which incorporates images from Aboriginal mythology such as the circle, representing a gathering of people. “Our ideas tie in to Aboriginal ideas that the Earth doesn’t belong to us but that we belong to the earth,” says Anna. “This belief is also closely linked with the Christian creation story. “Before the project took off, parts of the school garden lacked life,” says Anna. “Spots were just dirt that turned to mud when it rained. Replanting native trees has made us think about how important the soil is and how important it is for us to look after it.”

Waste not want not The development of the message sticks, which are planted on every new project site, also helped the students at St Francis develop a better appreciation of how wasteful society can be. When they began developing ideas for a waste wise program to reduce the amount of rubbish produced by the school one of the first steps the students took was to ask representatives from Kirrit Barreet about the sort of symbols they thought should be painted on message sticks for the new project. “They ended up using symbols for possum skin, a kangaroo tooth and paperbark,” says Anna.


Josh Brien and Luke Matthews spread mulch on their native plant garden.

Turn your school into a wildlife wonderland There are many ways you can a�ract wildlife to your school, including building nest boxes for birds, possums and bats or by plan�ng na�ve flowers as part of a bu�erfly garden. Bailey Harris and Deonnah Wilson hard at work recreating a wetland next to their school.

“In Aboriginal culture nothing is wasted. Possum skin is used for blankets, kangaroo teeth for weapons and bark from trees for shelter and various other purposes. “The point was pretty clear to the kids. You don’t throw anything away, you use it all.”

From frog pond to wetland The opening of the sand pan last year stands out in Anna’s mind as a real coming of age for the Harmony Dreaming project. “Parents crowded around the sand pan as their children led them through an opening ceremony,” she says. “The kids drew markings of a lizard in the sand and intoned ‘lizards walk the earth with us’. They drew the shape of a snake making its way across the sand and said ‘snakes walk the earth with us’. It was very moving.” The idea for putting up nest boxes grew out of a project to list the sorts of native animals students thought would make ideal pets. They determined how big the boxes would need to be and the size of the entry holes for different native animals. “When we started this project all

the kids knew what a kookaburra was but some of the other birds, though plentiful to the area, they couldn’t identify,” says Anna. “Now we all know what a currawong looks like.” Harmony Dreaming’s most audacious project is to turn an adjacent paddock into a wetland. The Corangamite Catchment Management Authority has identified the land as a potential shallow meadow wetland. Students have already planted a mix of native trees and the next step is to build a greenhouse in which to collect and grow seedlings that can be planted in the wetland. Fed by stormwater flowing off school buildings and grounds, the wetland will form a system of ponds and marshy areas planted with native water and streamside plants. The wetland is expected to re-create something of the character of the waterway that once flowed through the school valley. It will also help lure wildlife back to the area and become an important tool for teaching students about the important role water plays in filtering waste products. “The kids are making all sorts of connections,” says Anna. “From a frog pond we’re now building a wetland.”

Stories of everyday people caring for our natural environment

Nest boxes Many na�ve birds and mammals rely on old hollow trees for breeding. The hollows are formed when fungal infec�ons or termites a�ack the centre of the trunk or limbs, causing them to rot. The hollowed out trunks and branches are only found in trees at least 60 years old and are par�cularly hard to find in areas that have been heavily cleared. You can a�ract a range of wildlife to your school and create a vital wildlife habitat by building nest boxes.

Bu�erfly gardens Lure bu�erflies into your school by plan�ng na�ve flowers and shrubs. Adult bu�erflies feed almost exclusively on nectar from flowers. Everlas�ng daisies, sweet bursaria and rice flowers are good na�ve species to plant to a�ract bu�erflies.

Find out more Fact sheets that show you how to a�ract wildlife can be downloaded from Zoos Victoria’s website at www.zoo.org. au/Learning/Resources/Other/ Factsheets/Backyard. 23


Ballarat Environment Network affiliated groups · Ararat Regional Bio-Links Network · Australian Catholic University · Australian Koala Foundation AKF website · Australian Plants Society · Bald Hills-Creswick Landcare Group · Ballarat Aboriginal Cooperative · Ballarat & Clarendon College Geography Department · Ballarat Bushwalking & Outdoor Club · Ballarat Grammar School · Ballarat High School, Geography Department · Ballarat Indigenous Native Plant Nursery · Ballarat Region Seed Bank · Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions (BREAZE) · Ballarat Secondary College · Ballarat Skipton Rail Trail Committee · Ballarat Wild Plants Nursery · Bamganie-Meredith Landcare Group · Beckworth-Bolton Landcare Group · Bendigo & District Environment Council · Bird Observers Club of Ballarat · Break O’ Day and Forest Environment Group · Buninyong Ward Residents’ Association · Burrumbeet Landcare Group · Central Highlands Water

· Central Highlands Environmental Consultancy · Centre for Environmental Management, University of Ballarat · City of Ballarat · Conservation Volunteers Australia · Corangamite Catchment Management Authority · Creswick Field Naturalists Club · Department of Sustainability and Environment · East Moorabool Landcare Group · Enfield Forest Alliance · Field & Game Australia, Ballarat Branch · Field Naturalists Club of Ballarat · Friends of Canadian Forest · Friends of Union Jack Reserve · Friends of Napoleons Bushland · Geelong Environment Council · Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority · Golden Point Environmental Services · Greening Australia Victoria · Grenville Landcare Group · Haddon Landcare Group · Jens-Gaunt Real Estate · Lal Lal Landcare Group · Leigh Catchment Group

· Miners Rest Landcare Group · Misery-Moonlight Landcare Group · Mt Buninyong Advisory Committee · Mt Clear Primary School · Mt Clear Secondary College · Napoleons-Enfield Landcare Group · North Central Catchment Management Authority · People for Pryor Park · Pittong-Hoyles Creek Landcare Group · Rokewood Landcare Group · Ross Creek Landcare Group · Scarsdale-Smythesdale Landcare Group · Sebastopol Wildlife Shelter · South Ballarat Urban Landcare Group · Sovereign Hill/Narmbool · SWIFFT · Ullina Landcare Group · Upper Mt Emu Creek Landcare Network · Upper Williamsons Creek Landcare Group · VicRoads (western region) · Victorian Landcare Centre · Wattle Flat-Pootilla Landcare Group · Cardigan Windermere Landcare Group · Woady Yaloak Catchment Group · Wombat Forest Society

The Victoria Naturally Alliance PANTONE 383 U

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The Victoria Naturally Alliance is a coalition of nine environment groups that want to see concerted action taken to protect the state’s biodiversity from a range of threats including climate change, habitat fragmentation and species extinction. Led by the Victorian National Parks Association, the alliance includes the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria, Greening Australia (Vic), The Wilderness Society, Trust for Nature, Bush Heritage Australia, Invasive Species Council and Bird Observation & Conservation Australia. For more information please visit our website at www.victorianaturally.org.au. l ogo rule s

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