Off lead dogs for the Castlemaine Bot Gardens?

Mount Alexander Shire is currently investigating the possibility of setting up an ‘off lead dog park’ at the north end of the Botanical Gardens, abutting Froome’s Road, and west of Barkers Creek. The idea of an off lead park in Castlemaine has quite a long history, and details of council deliberations can be found on the Council’s website, here, here and here.

In the Castlemaine gardens, west of Barkers Creek: some concerns need to be allayed about the current proposal.

In the Castlemaine gardens, west of Barkers Creek: some concerns need to be allayed about the current proposal.

The area would be provided with ‘a fully fenced perimeter, animal drinking water, selfclosing gates, shade, seating, rubbish bins and waste bag dispensers’. FOBIF believes that an off lead park is a good and common sense idea, but the location of the current proposal right next to the ‘bush’ section of the gardens gives cause for concern. Although the area is to be fenced, we’re worried that dogs might be able to get into the bush section, home to colonies of the Eltham Copper Butterfly. Perhaps more seriously, the area in question is known to have infestations of needle grass weeds, which could be spread on dog fur. Serious weed removal should obviously precede implementation of the park plan.

The proposal is well advanced, but is subject to various planning requirements. We’ll report on it in future posts.

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2016 FOBIF walks start soon

This year’s FOBIF walks’ program has been finalised and can be viewed here. The first walk  (20 March) will be a combined FOBIF/Connecting Country event. The focus will be on birds and three experts will lead several short walks on Andrew Skeoch and Sarah Koschak’s property near Newstead. The meeting spot is still Continuing Education in Templeton Street (9.30am). However if you would like to meet in Newstead instead, ring Bronwyn Silver 5475 1089 or Tanya Loos 5472 1594 for details about an alternative meeting spot. More information on the walk can be found here.

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A dump here, a dump there, but rainfall is well down

A summer storm caused flash flooding in parts of Castlemaine on Thursday, putting the railway station underpass under water, and creating a brief swamp on the Western Oval, but, like its predecessors, leaving plenty of areas dry.

Muckleford Creek at the Pyrenees Highway last Thursday. The creek was off its peak when Alex Wiggenraad took this photo. Parts of the shire got a heavy dump, others barely a drop: but the overall figures for the last 12 months [and the last 16 years] are dismal.

Muckleford Creek briefly risen from the dead at the Pyrenees Highway last Thursday. The creek was off its peak when Alex Schipperen took this photo [the dark line on the pylons shows the high water mark]. Parts of the shire got a heavy dump, others barely a drop: but the overall figures for the last 12 months [and the last 16 years] are dismal.

Figures for 2015, in the mean time, are pretty dismal: 386 mls at the Castlemaine Prison station, against a long term average of about 600 mls. And we’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, ‘for most of Victoria, rainfall during 2015 was below to very much below average. The Statewide average rainfall was 505.2 mm, 23% below the long-

...and the next day...

…and the next day…

term annual mean of 660.2 mm’. The good news is that the 2015 El Nino may have passed its peak–but the problem isn’t just of one or two years. As the map below shows, we’re in serious rainfall deficit over the last 16 years.

20160108.16year.drought (1)

 

The rainfall shortage, combined with rising temperatures,  has implications for land managers, of course: the challenge to enable bushland to cope with changed conditions involves ‘ramping up many traditional conservation efforts, such as eradicating pest threats, stopping habitat clearing, and the protecting of reserves’, according to the Vicnature Report released today.  The sensible measures in this report do, however, assume a properly resourced land management agency, among other things.

 

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Here’s a reason to celebrate

There seems to be some kind of controversy bubbling about the Australian flag and Australia day in Castlemaine. FOBIF doesn’t get involved with debates of this kind, but we’re always looking for an excuse to celebrate, anyway.

And if we need to commemorate events which took place in 1788, how about this: in that year the Eucalyptus genus was first named for science, and the first description of a Eucalypt species published.

Messmates on Mount Alexander: it's a tree which can vary in size from a small mallee to a forest giant, depending on conditions.

Messmates on Mount Alexander: it’s a tree which can vary in size from a small mallee to a forest giant, depending on conditions. Australians are a pretty variable lot.

Seeds of an unknown species had been collected from Bruny Island in Tasmania on Cook’s 1777 expedition, and taken to England. It took until 1786 for them to be got out and studied, by an amateur French botanist, Charles Louis L’Heritier de Brutelle, who invented the name, Eucalyptus, and called the tree in question, Eucalyptus obliqua—now commonly known as Messmate. The publication in which this was revealed to the world for the first time: Hortus Anglicus, publication date, Paris 1788.

Unfortunately, it seems that scholars have found that the book didn’t actually appear till 1789—but we don’t care. Isn’t it good Aussie practice to accept that near enough is good enough? And if you want to celebrate something Australian, surely  it’s hard to get anything more Australian than a Eucalypt?

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How do they do it? [3]: Out of a pile of rocks…

Goldfields landscapes are dotted with mullock heaps: and one of the curiosities of these heaps of apparently useless rock is that they often feature quite healthy trees. How can these trees get a foothold in material you definitely wouldn’t be spreading around your garden?

Eucalyptus nortonii [L]and Eucalyptus melliodora [R] on a mullock heap at Spring Gully: vegetation can colonise surprisingly unpromising locations, and mullock heaps are among the more surprising.

Eucalyptus nortonii [L]and Eucalyptus melliodora [R] on a mullock heap at Spring Gully: vegetation can colonise surprisingly unpromising locations, and mullock heaps are among the more surprising.

We put this question to Castlemaine geologist Julian Hollis, and he suggested that one answer might be that pyrites in the heaps decay to a soluble material called melanterite, an iron sulphate which is sometimes used as a fertilizer: so, contrary to what we might think, there are plant nutrients in these rock heaps. Julian was open minded about what other explanations there might be, however. Suggestions welcome.

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Parks Vic 1: budget cuts and staff decline

Attentive readers will have noticed the brief kerfuffle in January on the release of the Parks Victoria 2014-5 Annual Report. You can read the report here.

Interest has centred around the fact that Government funding to PV had been slashed by 37% in the time of the Coalition State Government. This statistic should come as no surprise to anyone following the fortunes of Parks and DELWP over the years. The relevant table can be found on page 25 of the report. It shows that Government funding in 2011 was $110 million, in 2012 it went to $122 million, then dropped steeply, to $76 million by 2015.

The result, of course, is that PV is less able to do what it’s supposed to do, in the way of basic land management, weed and feral animal control, research, education and other programs.

In the December issue of Parkwatch, Robert Bender calculates that  staff numbers at Parks Victoria have decreased by 6-7% per year since 2011. Making a crude but useful calculation, he finds that in 2011 each Parks employee was responsible for looking after 3700 hectares of land; by 2015 it was 4540 hectares. The obvious increase in workload inevitably means that, no matter how dedicated a given ranger [or support person] might be, the task of doing the job properly is becoming impossible. It’s not surprising that there are press reports talk of increasing  pressure, stress and demoralisation in PV.

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Parks Vic 2: ‘God’s in His heaven and all’s well’

Not that you’d know about pressure and stress by reading the Parks Victoria Report. As is the nature of these documents, it’s nicely illustrated, and full of good news. It might be unfair to call the general tone gaga, but not very unfair. Here’s the introduction, by Chairman of Parks Victoria Board, Andrew Fairley:

PV Annual Report: 'our throat has been cut, and we're feeling just fine.'

PV Annual Report: ‘our throat has been cut, and we’re feeling just fine.’

‘At Parks Victoria, we believe the future is one of excellence, so we have changed how we operated during 2014–15 to significantly improve the way we deliver our services. … The deployment of a new operating model and a new structure in our regions, complemented by realignment across our Corporate Services divisions, has brought considerable transformation to our business…The Parks Victoria Board is extremely excited by these changes…’ Page 8

Get it? What it means  is, ‘Government funding dropped from $96 million to $76 million last year, and we’re doing great!’

A more sober version of the same thing is contained in the financial part of the Report , which nevertheless manages to say that PV ‘achieved’ a deficit of $6 million:

‘Parks Victoria achieved a net result from transactions of $6.226 million deficit for the 30 June 2015 financial year. This was in line with expectations and follows a challenging financial period due to a decline in funding for Parks Victoria’s core operations [FOBIF emphasis].Throughout the 2014–15 financial year Parks Victoria continued to drive operational improvements through a restructure of its Regional Services operations. ..’ page 25

It’s pretty clear from this report that budget cuts are only one problem for Parks. Just as important is the corporate speak that dresses up savage budget cuts as ‘improvements’.

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Parks Vic 3: so, what’s really happening in heaven?

In the meantime, what’s happening in the Parks themselves? We do have great parks, but this Report, though it does have some useful info, won’t give you a real idea of the serious challenges the park system faces.

The Report papers over so many cracks that, like any rose tinted view of things, it quickly loses credibility. It blandly suggests on page 18, for example, that the feral horse and deer problems are under control in the Alps: this is a depressing evasion of the real facts. On page 17 we are told that major research projects on biodiversity in Box Ironbark regions have been ‘incorporat[ed] into bushfire planning.’ To say the least, this is premature.

Blackberry and briar rose, Cobblers Gully: the PV Annual Report claims that 40% of Parks' area was 'treated' in one year.

Blackberry and briar rose, Cobblers Gully: the PV Annual Report claims that 40% of Parks’ area was ‘treated’ in one year.

Further, there are claims that are counter intuitive to the reader. On page 48 we read that the ‘Number of hectares treated to minimise the impact of pest plants, pest animals, and overabundant native animals and plants (including meeting ecological fire and watering objectives)’ is 1,683,824. This is over 40% of the land administered by PV–in one year! A lot depends on what you mean by ‘treated’–but would anyone claim that 40% of our parks are significantly weed free? Park Victoria rangers do a valiant job, but it’s hard to imagine they’d claim to be so on top of the weed and pest animal problem.

All the same, if you can skip the corporate speak, and maintain a reasonably sceptical perspective on the claims for a near perfect performance, the Report does give you an idea of the range of Parks Victoria’s activities. It’s a pity such documents veer so wildly towards propaganda that even their legitimate claims look dodgy.

We’ll have a look at a few more aspects of this report in future posts.

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A great local archive

Webmaster of the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club, Chris Timewell, has put the newsletters of the Club from 1976 online. They can be found here.

This archive is a fascinating record of Field Nats observations and reflections on our region over 40 years, and can be dipped into almost at random for interesting insights into the natural scene.

Given that mistletoe is flowering around the region at the moment, here’s an interesting 2003 piece by Ern Perkins, written partly in response to some local calls for the plant to be culled:

Mistletoe at the Rise and Shine reserve: it's beautiful, and research and observation shows that it's not a death sentence for host trees.

Mistletoe at the Rise and Shine reserve: it’s beautiful, and research and observation shows that it’s not a death sentence for host trees.

‘Research in the ACT shows that mistletoe mostly grows on large, mature trees, and that the density of mistletoes…is positively correlated to the height of the host trees…The study also showed that many of the trees with live mistletoes also carried dead mistletoes…This suggests that some trees have mechanisms to control mistletoes…A study in the Yarra Valley Parklands showed that…of 228 trees under stress, only 4 trees had mistletoes. Other studies have shown that trees with mistletoe grow more slowly. Another study in the Melbourne area recorded 15 eucalypts  which were heavily infested with mistletoe. Of the 15, 13 were assessed as being healthy or slightly dying back. Two were dead. Examination of the two dead trees showed substantial earth works nearby…’

 

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Great response to our call for photos

We started off with 17 photos on our new Flickr page, Trees of the Mount Alexander Region, and after our call for photos in December we now have 73. The quality of the photos submitted has been impressive and, as you can see from the composite image below, there has been an amazing range of approaches to the subject of local trees.

There is still time to be part of this FOBIF venture. (If you do send photos though could you make them less than 1mg if possible.) Guidlelines for submission are here.

Click on the composite image below to view the Flickr website.

web photos flickr trees

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