New MAS grant for holiday program

We are very proud to announce that we have successfully gained funding through the Mount Alexander Shire 2014/15 Strengthening Our Community Grant to run a school holiday program in June 2015.

The FOBIF School Holiday Program for Winter 2015 is aimed at primary school age kids and shall be made up of three events of up to three hour duration in and around Castlemaine Botanical Gardens.

Expert presenters will educate children and their families with a live animal display, book reading and craft with the Castlemaine Library and an investigation of local mosses with a walk and talk around the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens.

This program joins four FOBIF bush walks through the year aimed at young children and youth and ensures that there are opportunities for families to become involved with FOBIF from April through to July.

Please feel free to circulate walks dates and promotional information for the School Holiday Program when it becomes available through your networks so as to support young people finding out about and learning how to protect our beautiful local bush. A summary listing of 2015 walks is now on this site.


Cassia Read with young people on this year’s Kalimna walk.


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Remember this: here’s what they promised

At the time of writing, it looks as if the ALP will form the next Victorian State Government. The Labor Party’s land management policy, like the enviro policies of all the parties, was pretty muted. It can be found in the last pages of the party’s 88 page platform. Below are a few sections which may be of interest in the next few years:

‘Fuel Reduction
‘Labor is aware of the need to undertake fire mitigation measures such as fuel reduction burning to reduce the risk of fires and to protect lives, property and the environment.

‘Labor will:

‘• Develop and implement fire management plans appropriate to the ecosystem being burnt, enhance regeneration and are based on current scientific research into biodiversity and sustainability requirements of indigenous flora and fauna [FOBIF comment: this sentence doesn’t hang together, but if it means anything, it means the five per cent target must go]

‘• Implement fire management practices based on mosaic burns principles, which allow for biodiversity preservation and ensure that managed burns replicate, as closely as possible, natural burns.

‘National Parks
‘Labor is committed to the creation and protection of a world-class system of National and marine parks for all Victorians to enjoy and will invest in these parks. Labor recognises that National and marine parks provide economic benefits for regional communities and are vital to the ecosystem, providing biodiversity, ecosystem services and recreational opportunities.

‘Labor will:

‘• Review the National Parks Act to ensure its primary focus on the conservation and protection of the national parks network including:

‘• Ban cattle grazing in the Alpine and Red Gum National Park

‘• Develop a strategic plan for the future of parks and reserves system to provide a blueprint for management of parks and reserves

‘• Review the status of Victorian State Parks to ascertain their suitability for inclusion as a National Park

‘• Exclude inappropriate commercial activities or inappropriate tourist developments and prevent any development inside National Parks that could compromise the integrity of the park

‘• Ensure separation of the roles of overseer of the Department and of management of parks and involve indigenous people in the management of National Parks

‘• Build a stronger park management agency and ensure direct reporting to the Minister for Environment. Ensure a specialist focus on environmental management of conservation areas and rare and endangered wildlife

‘• Investigate developing new National Parks to protect Victoria’s threatened species, unique vegetation including unique grasslands

‘• Labor will investigate the establishment of new National Parks and reserves in current productive forests where there is agreement between key stakeholders

‘Labor recognises that protecting the environment would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of local community groups across
Victoria. Labor understands that community participation through Landcare is crucial to achieving sustainable resource management in communities
across Victoria.

‘Labor will:

‘• Strengthen and support Landcare and community conservation networks to ensure knowledge and information exchange occurs between Landcare groups

‘• Increase support for facilitators and improve management arrangements for Landcare groups

‘• Work with local Councils and landowners to better manage weeds and pests on public and private land.’

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Pre election scoreboard update

Environment Victoria has finalised its online election scoreboard and promise watch info. There aren’t too many surprises in it, but there’s a fair bit of useful details to help electors assess the policies of the major parties. It can be found here.

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Hawkeye program wraps up

The Hawkeye fire research program, established as a response to recommendation 57 of the Bushfires Royal Commission, has now come to an end. It will now ‘transition’ into research programs run by DEPI. It’s not exactly clear what this transition means, in terms of research budgets or the continuing involvement of researchers; in the meantime, the program has established some solid foundations which could prove extremely useful to future research.

The end of the program was marked by a symposium at the Arthur Rylah Institute last week, in which researchers gave brief accounts of their findings. Here are a few examples:

Hollow bearing tree brought down by management fire, Tarilta 2012: research has confirmed that the more severe the fire, the more such trees collapse.

Hollow bearing tree brought down by management fire, Tarilta 2012: research has confirmed that such trees are 22 times more likely to collapse after management burns.

• The Mallee Hawkeye program found that present fire regimes are incompatible with the survival of some species. Many threatened species require bush unburned for periods of 50 or 100 years. Current targets will mean that within a couple of decades almost all Mallee vegetation will be less than 20 years old. This has the potential to do long term or permanent damage to ecological systems in the Mallee. This research is in line with what many ecologists have been saying for some time.  It directly contradicts the Victorian Government’s claim that you can simultaneously run a ‘risk based’ fire policy and a five percent burning target policy. The two policies are incompatible.

• A Gippsland program found that Hollow bearing trees are 22 times more likely to fall down in fuel reduction zones than they are in unburnt areas. This is the first research done on the problem of collapse of hollow bearing trees, though there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that management burns are unintentionally bringing down ecologically important trees—you can find some of it on this site. Of course, Gippsland forests are very different from ours, but you would think that hollow bearing trees are much scarcer here, because of our particular history of clearing.

• Research into invertebrates shows that three years after a fire, depth of litter on the forest floor in burned areas is similar to what it is in adjacent unburnt areas. This is because of the effect of fire on detritivore invertebrates which break down 30% of litter [the rest decomposes via microbial action]: fire might consume the litter, but it also consumes the creatures which would have reduced the subsequent build up.

We’ll publish more detailed info about Hawkeye research as it becomes available.

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We were wrong!

…And we’re quite relieved that we were.

Our report last week about the burning of boronias in the Fryerstown Block 5 management burn has been corrected by Castlemaine Field Naturalists, who have pointed out that the burned area is a small part of the boronia population in that area, the major part of the plants being in an adjacent valley. Meanwhile Bendigo field naturalists have suggested that this plant may benefit from a mild burn: we’re not sure of this, but we’ll watch for possible regeneration in the burned patch with great interest next Spring.

This is one occasion when we’re happy to get off DEPI’s back [temporarily] about its fire practices…

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‘Where the slime mould creeps’

It sounds like the scenario of a horror movie, but Sarah Lloyd’s, explanation of the world of myxomycetes–Where the slime mould creeps– is anything but. white gum tk 17 11 14 046 (560x800)

Slime moulds produce spores, like fungi, but they also share characteristics with animals: at one stage of their life they are single cell amoebae, and move about to feed. Lloyd’s book is beautifully written and generously illustrated with remarkable photos and diagrams. Although it’s based on her work as a naturalist around her property in Northern Tasmania, it’s definitely of interest generally. ‘Myxomycetes occur in every terrestrial ecosystem investigated so far, as well as in aquatic environments’. 45 species have been found in the Simpson desert.

Although the book is technically scrupulous, it’s not a fierce read. It even contains a cartoon–and, believe it or not, clear directions on how the text might be sung as a round, complete with musical notations!

The book costs $30.oo including postage. Contact <>

Fuligo septica in a Castlemaine garden, February 2012. 'One of the most frequently encountered acellular slime moulds', it rejoices in the common names of 'scrambled eggs', 'dog's vomit',, 'demon's droppings' and 'moon poo.'

Fuligo septica in a Castlemaine garden, February 2012. ‘One of the most frequently encountered acellular slime moulds’, it rejoices in the common names of ‘scrambled eggs’, ‘dog’s vomit’,’demon’s droppings’ and ‘moon poo.’


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Saving the Long Swamp

Long Swamp, 7 November 2010. Photo by Geoff Park.

Long Swamp, 7 November 2010. Photo by Geoff Park.

Trust for Nature has launched an appeal to protect the Long Swamp wetland which stretches almost 200 ha on the Moolort Plains, east of Maryborough. As the TFN site points out, it was once the jewel in the crown of the Moolort Plains wetland system, the only Deep Freshwater Marsh in the region.

There is currently a unique opportunity to restore the Long Swamp because two of the other three landowners that own land on which Swamp is located have expressed interest in selling. TFN:

This is exciting news – there is an opportunity to permanently protect more than 90% of the wetland. Funding has been sourced from government and philanthropic sources, with a brand-new major donor contributing a substantial sum Trust for Nature is now an estimated 70% of the way to having the funds to purchase and restore this unique and precious wetland. (TFN)

To find out more about the appeal and how to donate, click here.

More information about the Moolort Plains can be found in Geoff Park’s blog where there are many posts about the birdlife and natural features of these wetlands.

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Promises, realities: an ongoing assessment

Environment Victoria has set up an online assessment system for the three main contenders in the State election. The system, called Promise Watch, can be found here. It offers detailed comment on what the parties have done, and said, about the environment. EV explains the approach as follows:

‘Promise Watch aims to provide factual, spin free, up-to-date information for Victorians about environmental issues and climate change. But it won’t just keep voters informed in the lead-up to the election. By publishing the commitments of the political parties on important issues like coal, renewable energy, sustainable homes and protecting our fragile rivers, we’ll keep doing our job of increasing transparency and holding our elected leaders to account…

‘There are 3 categories:

‘1. Cleaning up our power supply and reducing carbon pollution;
‘2. Making our homes and communities efficient, affordable and sustainable; and
‘3. Protecting and restoring our natural environment.

‘Each week leading up to the election on 29 November, Environment Victoria will update Promise Watch to include any new statements, policies or promises made by the political parties. Because all three major political parties set policy centrally, our Promise Watch focuses on the statements made by key spokespeople, rather than candidates.

‘Before early voting begins on November 17, we’ll release a separate scorecard based on our policy analysis of the commitments each party makes and their track record in the Parliament.’

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Brochure check [2]: Coalition 4, Labor 1, Greens 1, Environment 0

We’ve received three more brochures telling us what’s in store if we make the ‘right’ decision on election day.

The first is another glossy from the Coalition, with lots of promises under five main headlines. Still no mention of the environment though.

The second is a newsletter from Maree Edwards MP, also glossy, outlining nine major Labor commitments. Also, no mention of the environment. [Labor’s platform can be found here. The section on land management is on pages 83-5.]

More surprisingly, a modest leaflet from the Greens promises to stand up for public schools, trains and buses, new jobs–and integrity. But no mention of the environment. A selection of the Greens’ policies on this can be found here and here.

The major parties all have policies on the environment. The message from their brochure war, however, is that it doesn’t feature as a central concern in this election.

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‘What a way to make a living’

The insect pictured below is Harpobittacus australis, a species of scorpion fly. The creature isn’t just having some quiet down time appreciating the beauty of the Yam Daisy. It’s hard at work. The Project Noah website says of it:

Hanging out: Scorpion Fly waits for its next victim, Sugarbag Extension Track, November 2014.

Hanging out: Scorpion Fly waits for its next victim, Sugarbag Extension Track, November 2014.

‘Their method of hunting is impressive. They put their ‘hooks’ onto some grasses or twigs and hang in a vacant space waiting for some arthropod to fly through or land nearby. While still hooked with the front legs they then catch the prey with one of their hind pairs of legs, manipulating it and stabbing it with mouth parts, injecting digestive enzymes.  The prey is rendered motionless within 30 seconds and ends up looking wet. Bittacidae are also known for strange mating rituals. Females choose mates based on the quality of a gift of prey brought by various males.’

Alert for the victim: 'Females choose mates based on the quality of a gift of prey brought by various males.'

Alert for the victim: ‘Females choose mates based on the quality of a gift of prey brought by various males.’

A correspondent to Project Noah on this subject exclaimed, ‘What a way to make a living…’ but it’s not hard to find familiar themes in the above info.

Just to confuse the observer a little, Scorpion Flies aren’t really flies. Oh, and they’re not scorpions, either, obviously.

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