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4 June 2010
A huge outback property more than twice the size of greater Adelaide has become Australia's newest reserve, protecting much needed habitat for species such as the magnificent peregrine falcon and the vulnerable dusky hopping mouse.
On the eve of World Environment Day, Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett launched Witchelina reserve. At more than 4,200 square kilometres, it is the largest property ever purchased for the National Reserve System through Caring for our Country.
The Nature Foundation SA bought the former sheep and cattle station near Leigh Creek with private donations and almost $2 million from the Australian Government.
Minister Garrett said Witchelina and the surrounding region had been hit hard in recent years by drought and feral animals, so the Nature Foundation's rescue mission was a lifeline for native species.
"This is tough country and it's used to weathering extremes, but without help Witchelina's habitat and wildlife would have been in real trouble," Mr Garrett said.
"In this International Year of Biodiversity, Witchelina is a much-needed wildlife refuge in arid Australia, and I applaud the Nature Foundation for rolling up their sleeves to nurture it back to health.
"A decade of drought has tested the resilience of this whole region but recent rains have shown its capacity to bounce back, and the Foundation will carefully manage Witchelina through its recovery.
"Witchelina helps build a wildlife corridor from Lake Torrens to the Northern Territory border, giving native species room to adapt in the face of a changing climate, fire and drought and the world's first transcontinental habitat corridor, from Port Augusta to Arnhem Land, the Trans-Australia Eco-Link."
Witchelina's stony plains shelter the leathery gibber dragon and its red sand dunes are home to huge burrowing frogs. River red gums and acacia scrub provided habitat for rare species such as the nationally vulnerable thick-billed grass wren and the blue winged parrot which visits in winter.
Minister Garrett said looking after vast stretches of habitat such as Witchelina is vital in the fight to protect our biodiversity.
"Like much of the country, South Australia has lost many mammals, birds and plants since European settlement. Looking after struggling habitat is a vital part of halting that decline," Mr Garrett said.
"The new reserve adds an extra 50 per cent to the amount of protected habitat in one of Australia's most under-conserved areas, the Flinders Lofty Block bioregion, so it is important on a national scale.
"I am delighted that today, on the eve of World Environment Day, we can officially declare 4200 square kilometres of country part of our National Reserve System. This is critical to helping deliver on the Government's commitment to expand the size of our protected area by 25 per cent by 2013, with a focus on bioregions currently under-represented - like Witchelina."
Nature Foundation President David Moyle said the Foundation would actively manage Witchelina as part of Australia's National Reserve System.
"As South Australia's major nature conservation charity, our mission is to protect and nurture South Australia's bushland for future generations - so when it comes to Witchelina we're in it for the long haul," Mr Moyle said.
"We want to get the property thriving and keep it that way, and we'll be drawing on local expertise to do it.
"Witchelina will remain an important part of the local community in its new role as a reserve. We'll be working with neighbouring landholders to maintain boundary fencing and establish effective feral animal control and generally to discuss the management strategy for the property.
"We are aware of the significance of Witchelina to the Indigenous community and we will work closely with them in managing the property.
"Our first job is to get an accurate picture of the species at Witchelina so we can target our work to protect them.
"We've had a great offer of help from the Bush Blitz team, who are sending up scientists later this year for the first ever comprehensive survey of Witchelina's rare plants and animals."
Bush Blitz is a $10 million partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton, Earthwatch and the Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network, that sends research teams to document and discover the species in the National Reserve System.