2017 Wetland Plant Identification Course

Registrations are now open for the Wetland Plant Identification Course run by Damien Cook and Elaine Bayes. The course starts on 18 October 2017 and runs for 3 days. Participants can elect to do 1, 2 or all 3 days.

Each day will focus on a different wetland habitat and be timed so as to follow the wetting and drying of the stunning Reedy Lagoon at Gunbower Island or nearby wetland.

More information, the 2017 flyer, program and to view feedback from past participants please click hereYou can go straight to the registration page here Previous Wetland articles are here.

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Doug Ralph celebration day

Doug Ralph Celebration Day

Teana Amor has just completed a film, ‘Doug Ralph Celebration Day‘, which is available through YouTube. This is a comprehensive film about the day people came together in the Botanic Gardens on 7 March 2015 to remember Doug who was the founding president of Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests. It includes the many speeches, crowd scenes, photos of Doug and has a great musical accompaniment. 

A 2015 FOBIF post on Doug’s life can be found here

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Geological tour of Castlemaine

Sections of the sandstone wall in Mostyn Street, opposite the Anglican Church

On our second FOBIF walk for the year on Easter Sunday local geologist, Clive Willman, led a group of 16 through Castlemaine streets and up to the Burke and Wills monument. Along the way he discussed the type and source of rocks that were used in historic buildings such as the 1857 Telegraph Station and 1873-4 Post Office in Barker Street, and the 1860s Lock-up in Hargreaves Street. The walk finished with a terrific geological slide show at the Midland Hotel.

Clive brought along an array of photographs and drawings to help explain geological history of the area. 

Clive in front of the anticlinal fold in Lyttleton Street holding an historical photo of the site that shows its unchanged form.

Clive explained that the basalt used for the Post Office steps was easily cut and the slate he is standing on would have come from the Harcourt area.

Walkers enjoying the view just below the Burke and Wills monument.

Thank you Clive for leading this informative and enjoyable geology tour. Our next fobif walk is on 21 May to Mount Alexander.

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Roads aren’t just roads [1]

With apologies, here’s a statement of the obvious: roads aren’t just bare surfaces for carrying vehicles. They’re framed by roadside reserves, which carry some very important vegetation.

Mount Alexander Shire Council is preparing a planning scheme amendment to insert a Vegetation Protection Overlay (VPO) on some roadsides into the planning scheme. FOBIF strongly supports such a project, and has approached council seeking input into the process.

Regeneration of Buloke [Allocasuarina luehmannii] along the Baringhup Carisbrook roadside. Buloke is endangered because of widespread clearing.

This is not the first attempt to look at ways of protecting the values of our roadsides. The last produced the Mount Alexander Roadside Management plan in 2012. It can be found online here.

Before that, a Roadsides Management Strategy was produced in 1998. In some respects this was a model document, because it carried appendices totalling 144 pages of detailed assessments of the ecological values of almost all the rural roads of the shire. This was a massive achievement of painstaking on site study by Castlemaine field naturalists over five years.  Although time has modified the assessments in this study, most of it remains very pertinent to present conditions, and we hope that Council in its present deliberations will check on its assessments. In 2008 the Catchment Management Authority also did a study of our roads. The very informative maps from this study can be found here.  It found that  19% of Mount Alexander Shire’s roadsides had high conservation value, and a further 28% were of medium conservation value: that’s 1090 kilometres of roadsides with interesting stuff worth careful management. Given the shire’s responsibilities in the matters of safety, fire management and weed control, that’s no easy task—which makes the present project all the more important.

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Roads aren’t just roads [2]

The reason we started the last post by stating the obvious is that, maybe, the obvious is not so obvious.

On glancing through 1998 Roadsides Management Strategy we came across this sentence, referring to machinery working on roadsides: ‘Blades on slashers should be set no lower than 100 mm above the ground.’ How obvious is that? Scalping of roadsides is generally frowned upon: an argument we put to DELWP when they scalped the Fryers Ridge road two years ago.  They weren’t impressed.

Fryers Ranges road after scalping, 2015. Understorey was completely destroyed, to improve sightlines for fire trucks.

The roadsides in question are struggling to revive, though our impression is that the main regeneration is not of the destroyed ground covers, but of eucalypts. Given that the aim of the exercise was [we’re told] to clear sight lines for fire vehicles, replacing low plants with trees on the road edge doesn’t seem like a great idea to us…

The same stretch of road two years later: scalping has favoured regeneration of eucalypts, the very plant likely to obscure sightlines for drivers. Understorey has struggled to return.

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Get onto these

Local cartographer Mal ‘Jase’ Haysom has just released the latest in his series of excellent maps, this one being of the Muckleford Forest.

The map can be found at the website of Cartography Community Services, along with others in the series, which includes Kalimna Park, several maps of Castlemaine Diggings NHP, Campbells Creek walking track, Rise and Shine, Post Office Hill and Mount Alexander.

Muckleford forest: it can be a bit of a maze, but help is at hand in the form of the latest CCM map.

The CCM maps can also be bought at the tourist info centre at the Castlemaine Market building. They’re ridiculously cheap.

You might also want to brood on this quote from Joseph Conrad, which heads CCM’s website: ‘It is safe to say that for the majority of mankind the superiority of geography over geometry lies in the appeal of its figures.  It may be an effect of the incorrigible frivolity inherent in human nature, but most of us will agree that a map is more fascinating to look at than a figure in a treatise on conic sections – at any rate, for the simple minds which are the equipment of the majority of the dwellers on this earth.’

Think about that.

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Thinking past the smoke haze

Extensive media coverage, accompanied by plenty of smoke haze: DELWP’s autumn management burning program is now underway. Although this program is regularly described as an ecological exercise, no one is really under any illusion: it’s an effort to protect communities from bushfire, and ecological considerations are often haphazard afterthoughts.

In this context, it’s worth checking a little item in the latest issue of the always interesting North Central Chat, newsletter of the NC Catchment Management Authority:

‘Northern Bendigo Landcare Group (NBLG) and Huntly Fire Brigade have collaborated on an innovative project, developing a demonstration garden with fire resistant and fire retardant native plants to complement the new Huntly Fire Station. The plants in the demonstration garden are rated as fire resistant or fire retardant by the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).

Blackwood [Acacia melanoxylon] on the Loddon River, Glenluce: Blackwood, along with Black Wattle and Silver Wattle, is recommended as a fire retardant local plant. Cultivation of such plants is one way of connecting to the local environment while keeping an eye on safety.

 ‘The demonstration garden was developed as a community initiative, with Northern Bendigo Landcare Group assisting with the selection of plant species and establishment of the garden.

‘Firefighter Trevor Strauch coordinated the project for the Brigade and said ‘‘all plants in the demonstration garden are indigenous to the Bendigo area, and it provides people with an opportunity to view and compare fire ready plants’’. Fire resistant plants are those that will not burn in the face of continued flame, while fire retardant plants are those that will not burn in the first pass of flame, but which may burn once they dry out. Signs with photos clearly identify the plants, their common and botanical names, their growth habit and growing requirements, and their fire rating. NBLG secretary Nicole Howie said ‘‘we are always trying to think outside the square and generate creative ways to raise awareness of indigenous vegetation and encourage connections between people and their local environment.’

It’s worth emphasising that last aim: to encourage connections between people and their local environment. To  combine that aim with a sensible concern for safety, is definitely a worthwhile exercise.

The APS list of fire retardant and fire resistant plants can be found here.

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Biodiversity [1]: add this one to your collection

Victoria has a new biodiversity plan. Protecting Victoria’s Environment—Biodiversity 2037 was launched last week by the State Government. It can be found here. Readers may remember that FOBIF made a brief submission to the process of developing this paper last year.

A selection from FOBIF’s library: there are stacks of strategies, but the actions are what count.

The first thing to say about it is that it’s part of a long running, perhaps never ending series of such documents, all adding up to an indictment of governments which seem to go on churning out policies never to be implemented. Remember 2005’s White Paper on biodiversity? Or the 2010 National Biodiversity Strategy? Or the dozen or so other papers by different government agencies? Of course you don’t. The current paper repeats a lot of the ideas of those two, but claims to be more strategic than its predecessors. On first reading, this is not at all clear.

For example, here are three targets:

Protecting Victoria’s environment 2016: ‘ All Victorians connecting with nature [by 2037]’.

National Biodiversity Strategy 2010: ‘Priority for action 1: engaging all Australians.’

Victorian Biodiversity White Paper 2005: ‘Goal: to encourage all Victorians to work together as effective stewards of our land, water and biodiversity.’

Worthwhile objectives, all of them. How successful have the earlier strategies been in achieving them? We don’t find out from this one. It’s pretty clear that you can’t have a healthy environment without people’s support: without that, governments will never have the nerve to act appropriately. This documents admits, remarkably,  that we actually don’t know what people think.   One of its aims is to ‘Undertake research to understand the community’s level of awareness of biodiversity and its relevance to them.’ In other words, we’re starting all over again.

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Biodiversity [2]: guess what the key is?

Having registered this depressing fact, we need to look at the current document, and ask: what does it add up to?

It adds up to money. Here’s a key passage:

‘The degraded health of Victoria’s biodiversity is the result of many individual decisions and actions, or inactions, over two centuries. Under-investment in planning, management, protection, evaluation and reporting for biodiversity and the natural environment has been conspicuous. Even today, decision makers in government, business and land management too often fail to fully consider the impacts of their actions on biodiversity – and are not routinely required to do so.

‘There has been persistent under-investment in programs and measures to address the legacy of biodiversity loss (particularly for terrestrial biodiversity) and to counter-balance the ongoing losses that occur due to decisions and activities today…’

Unfortunately the document doesn’t follow up statements like this by guaranteeing appropriate funding for the environment. Instead, it gestures at new efficiencies, strategic approaches, and ‘Victorian Government-backed funding model that leverages government investment to create more significant investment in biodiversity conservation across Victoria.’ The 64 dollar question is, by whom? This could be a creative approach to engaging private commitment to conservation. It could also be a slide into the kind of sinister proposals we’ve been offered lately which amount to privatising parts of our National Parks [see our Parkwatch post below].

In any case, the success or otherwise of biodiversity conservation won’t depend on brilliant short term ideas. It will hang on the long term proper resourcing of those departments responsible for managing our public land: that’s the real implication of the above passages, and it’s to be hoped the treasurer, Tim Pallas, takes them seriously.

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Biodiversity [3]: here are some challenges

The document is full of praiseworthy but often vague aspirations, but on occasions it does get specific, as in this:

‘Estimate of relative area required to deliver statewide targets [by 2037]:

St John’s Wort infestation on Mount Alexander: successive biodiversity strategies have recommended tackling pest species, but action has been inadequate for lack of resources.

  • 4 million hectares of control of pest herbivores (e.g. deer, rabbits, goats, feral horses) in priority locations.
  • 1.5 million hectares of control of pest predators (e.g. foxes, feral cats) in priority locations.
  • 1.5 million hectares of weed control in priority locations.
  • 200,000 hectares of revegetation in priority areas for connectivity between habitats.
  • 200,000 hectares of new permanently protected areas on private land.’

These figures are a standing indictment of neglect on the part of past governments, and of the failure of past Biodiversity strategies. Feral animals like horses and deer, for example, continue to wreak spectacular havoc in the Alps while governments nervously consider targets over the next 20 years; overstressed land managers confess that feral plants are more or less out of control; and the state is proposing to open logging in our vulnerable western forests. Will this document make a difference? We’ll see.

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