Bush Family Reserve: Management challenges
State: VIC | Hectares: 225 | IUCN Category: IV | Partners: Trust for Nature, Meerlieu Reserves Committee of Management
When Trust for Nature bought 255 hectares of rare grassy woodland in Victoria's East Gippsland region, with help from the Australian Government and RE Ross Trust, they knew the job of protecting its delicate balance of life was only just beginning.
Exploring grassy woodland on the Bush Family Reserve.
Courtesy: Trust for Nature.
The Bush Family Reserve stretches west of Bairnsdale in the South East Coastal Plain bioregion. It meanders through stands of forest red gums and on to a wetland protecting the endangered dwarf kerrawang, a small creeper that looks like a strawberry plant.
With only 10 per cent of the Gippsland Plain still covered by native vegetation, the reserve's Gippsland grassy woodland makes it an important addition to the National Reserve System. It supports a wide range of native birds and animals, including the wedge-tailed eagle and the threatened Latham's snipe, which migrates from Japan in the winter.
Robyn Edwards is Trust for Nature's Regional Manager for East Gippsland, and has been a strong champion for the property from the start. She says the conservation value of the former sheep and cattle farm is huge, but it presents some real management challenges.
"In the past the land was worked pretty hard," Robyn says. "In the early stages of settlement the woodland was burnt every year to encourage green pick for stock, causing a dense layer of bracken and burgen to regenerate, which choked out the native grasses.
"Many important shrubs were grazed down and burning had stunted their regrowth. Stock grazing ceased when we took over ownership but wallabies and kangaroos were stopping the shrubs from recovering."
Robyn says when Trust for Nature bought the Bush Family Reserve in 1999, they knew developing a solid and usable management plan was the key to success.
"We had to spend some time getting our management ideas right at the start, feeding in all the available research and talking to the local farmers and landholders who know the history of the area well," Robyn says.
"Some really good suggestions came out of this process, like fencing off small areas called exclusion plots, which prevent wallabies from eating down new vegetation. The plots let us trial different revegetation techniques like the use of fire, direct seeding and hand planting, which has worked really well for us.
"We had to make sure that the plan was really practical too - we set out clear actions for restoring the property that worked within our small budget, like the use of black wattles as a successional crop to manage the growth of bracken."
Every time the Australian Government helps to add a property to the National Reserve System it supports the landowner to develop a thorough plan of management. The planning process varies from property to property but is designed to take into account the needs of neighbouring landowners and recreational users.
When they took over the Bush Family Reserve, Trust for Nature set up an enthusiastic management committee to provide hands-on assistance and local knowledge, including local landholders and people from Greening Australia. The committee now works with three other National Reserve System properties in the area so management of the whole landscape is better coordinated, forming the basis of the Gippsland Plains Conservation Management Network.
"We've been managing the reserve for eight years now and we're seeing some fantastic results," Robyn says. "The exclusion plots have really taken off and we've seen a big rise in populations of orchids, wildflowers and native grasses.
"We're getting some great feedback from local farmers. One in particular told us the land is better managed now than before we bought it, so they're really happy with what we're doing."