Hot rods at Gowar?

FOBIF and several other community organisations will be attending an information meeting on February 5 on a proposal to set up a ‘dynamic vehicle testing facility and events and recreation centre’ at Gowar.

The Castlemaine Hot Rod Centre received $29,000 from the Coalition State Government last year to explore the viability of this project. The Centre has acquired farm land opposite the old Gowar school for the purpose.

Land at Gowar is slated for development as a 'dynamic testing and events facility'.

Land at Gowar is slated for development as a ‘dynamic vehicle testing and events facility’.

The 45 ha block is bounded on the north by the Castlemaine-Maldon Rd and Pullans Road; on the east by Talbot Rd, and on the south and West by the Maldon State Forest. The block is about a kilometre from the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. Bushfire management and Significant Landscape Overlays apply to the whole site.

Back Creek drains across the site on its way to Muckleford Creek.

The project includes:

—a 1.2 km tarmac test track
—parking for 500 vehicles with possibility of expansion
—facilities for movie nights, concerts and outdoor shows
—shower and toilet facilities and powered and unpowered camp sites
—fully equipped function room and catering facility
—display areas for up to 3,000 sites
—capacity for truck shows, rod runs, field days, etc
—‘potential to establish a network of mountain bike tracks combining parts of the site with existing tracks in the adjacent state forest’.

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Happy new year

It’s been a dry 2014—only 473.9 mls of rainfall in Castlemaine, against a long term average of over 560 mls: and the bush is hunkering down for a long dry summer.

There are still flashes of colour around the place, however, making it worth while getting out to take a look around. Wiry mistletoe is flowering on silver wattles along Forest Creek, for example:

Wiry mistletoe [Amyema preissiae] on wattle along Forest Creek, Castlemaine  town, January 2015

Wiry mistletoe [Amyema preissiae] on wattle along Forest Creek, Castlemaine town, January 2015

And there are luxuriant flowerings of Sweet Bursaria in moister locations, together with some more unusual plants for our region: for example, Common Cassinia [C aculeata]:

Common Cassinia, Fryers Forest, January 1 2015

Common Cassinia, Fryers Forest, January 1 2015

Common Cassinia isn’t  as common here as it is elsewhere, if you get the drift–the common Cassinia in the goldfields being Coffee Bush [C. arcuata], but it can still be found in the odd gully.

If your’e looking for motivation to get out and about, check out the spectacular kingfisher photos in Geoff Park’s Natural Newstead website.

And, in the general sparseness,  there are the odd flashes of colour provided by such persistent heroes as Pelargonium rodneyanum, and the odd orchid. Enough, in short, to justify a stroll just about anywhere in the bush.

Trigger plant [Stylidium America], Fryers Forest January 1 2015

Hyacinth orchid ,  Fryers Forest January 1 2015

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Another day on the highway

The photo below is of a red bellied black snake on the Pyrenees highway at Barkers Creek in late December. Efforts to persuade the snake to move off the road in one direction or another proved futile, and the reptile was killed by passing traffic not long after this photo was taken. As we’ve reported in previous posts, reptile deaths on our roads are quite horrific, and in many cases avoidable.

Red bellied black snake at  Barkers Creek. Reptile deaths on our roads are horrific and frequently avoidable.

Red bellied black snake at Barkers Creek. Though venomous, it’s ‘beautiful, and largely inoffensive’.

The red bellied black snake is venomous, but not as aggressive as browns and tigers can be when cornered. As the Australian Museum puts it:

‘This beautiful serpent shares our love of sunshine and water, and is a familiar sight to many outdoor adventurers in eastern Australia. Attitudes towards these largely inoffensive snakes are slowly changing, however they are still often seen as a dangerous menace and unjustly persecuted.’

It’s worth reading the Museum’s highly diverting account of this reptile’s mating rituals. The males engage in spectacular wrestling matches which can resemble mating. In their very useful guide Frogs and reptiles of the Bendigo district, Darren Green and Dale Gibbons relate the story of naturalist David Fleay, who caught and bagged two fighting snakes, ‘whereby they resumed their brawling inside the bag slung over his shoulder!’

The combats are not fatal, however: the loser wanders off to another area, presumably to try his luck elsewhere.

The photo below encapsulates the hard reality of summer, reptiles and roads:

The same snake a short while later.

The same snake a short while later: at least five million reptiles and frogs are killed on our roads each year.

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Launch of Woodland Bird brochure

bird-brochureThe Woodland birds of Central Victoria brochure was recently launched at a late afternoon event in The Hub garden, Castlemaine. The large gathering was addressed by Connecting Country director Chris Timewell, Connecting Country’s Habitat for Bush Birds Project Coordinator Tanya Loos, and Geoff Park of Natural Newstead fame who launched the brochure.

The brochure is organised into three main sections: birds of Intact Habitat, birds of Modified Habitat and birds of Transition Habitat. There are many wonderful bird photos in each of these sections as well as a photo of each landscape. Another panel in the brochure covers the ‘feathered five’ (Diamond Firetail, Brown Treecreeper, Hooded Robin, Painted Button-quail and Jacky Winter).  These five species have been chosen as ambassadors for Connecting Country’s ten-year Woodland Bird Action Plan.

This compact resource will be an invaluable guide to local people who are interested in bird identification.

The brochures are available at the Connecting Country office in The Hub, the Mount Alexander Shire Information Centre and Stoneman’s Bookroom. You could also try the EnviroShop (325 Barker Street, Castlemaine).

Chris Timewell, Tanya Loos and Geoff Park addressing the gathering at the launch. Photos: John Ellis

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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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