COVID 19: FOBIF walks cancelled

With great regret we have suspended the 2020 FOBIF Walks Program due to the COVID-19 health crisis and the current regulations and restrictions.  The April geology tour is therefore cancelled, and subsequent walks are also called off. When the program resumes we’ll post details on this site.

The April FOBIF committee meeting will not take place and future meetings will be managed by electronic link-up.

Please continue to follow our web page as it’s a great way to keep in touch; and we hope that you all enjoy our wonderful bush over the coming months.

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Photographers of the Goldfields show closes early

Due to the Coronavirus the Photographers of the Goldfields 2020 exhibition at the Newstead Arts Hub show will not be open for the final weekend in March.

People wishing to pick up purchases can do so at the Arts Hub on Sunday March 29 from 1-4 pm. Or if you prefer, you can contact the photographer to make alternative arrangements: Bronwyn Silver 044 875 1111, Patrick Kavanagh 043 766 3345, Frances Cincotta 049 110 8756, Geoff Park 041 813 8632 and Janet Barker 043 900 3469. 

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First walk for 2020

In perfect weather last Sunday a medium sized group started out at Mike Reeves’ property southwest of Elphinstone and completed a 6 km circuit through local bush. Much of the walk was on kangaroo tracks. Highlights were seeing many wattles including Spreading Wattle in flower and large swathes of Hill Flat-pea (formerly named Handsome Flat-pea Platylobium formosum). Frances Cincotta helped with plant identification and Mike shared the produce of his plum and pear trees as well as opening his house to walkers for lunch. Thanks Mike for leading this first walk for the year for FOBIF.

Next month we will have car excursion around Mount Franklin and the Guildford Plateau led by geologist. Clive Willman. See walks page for more detail.

Photos below are by Joy Cluster (first 5), Jane Mitchell (next 2) and Bronwyn Silver

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Show continues

The Photographers of the Goldfields exhibition at the Newstead Arts Hub is continuing for the next two weekends, finishing on Sunday March 29. Opening hours are 10 am to 4 pm. (Arts Open 2020 and the Newstead Open Studios finished on March 15.) Enquiries Bronwyn Silver 04487511.

One of Frances Cincotta’s stunning photos in the Hub show. Clematis microphylla – SMALL-LEAF CLEMATIS in seed, Mt Tarrengower 17 Dec 2016

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Weeds: have your say

The Tarrengower Cactus Control group has created a very short online survey to try to gauge how other community members and groups within the Mount Alexander Shire feel about noxious weed management within our Shire.

Are you concerned about the spread of noxious weeds in our local natural environment?

Do you think enough weed management is carried out by our local Shire?

Would you like our Shire to treat our natural environment with a greater priority?

Would you like to make a comment about local weed control?

You can find the survey here.

There are 10 simple questions and it should take only 5 minutes to complete.

The group will collate the answers at the end of May 2020. If there’s a general dissatisfaction with the work done by our Shire, then they’ll try to coordinate some action to persuade the Council to increase its priority of our natural environment in forthcoming budgets.

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It’s open and clear

As the picture shows, the Kalimna Park loop track has a shiny new sign at the entry, making it much easier to find the start of the walk on the Tourist road. The metal box at its side contains copies of the new full colour walk brochure produced by the Friends of Kalimna Park, and launched last year.


Perhaps it’s a pity that DELWP has obscured half the sign with a notice about its upcoming fuel reduction burn, but the message is clear enough anyway.

The walk takes the visitor through a variety of vegetation zones, and the informative notes greatly enhance the experience. It won’t come fully  into its own till the wildflower season starts in a month or two, but even in autumn sparseness it’s worth a look…especially before that reduction burn takes place.

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Kalimna: What you don’t know can hurt you

FOBIF has lent its name to the letter below, urging DELWP to take account of recent research on the Eltham Copper butterfly when it conducts its fuel reduction operation in Kalimna Park this autumn.

This operation is a test case for the often contradictory pressures on DELWP:

–It is obliged to take measures to ensure human safety in fire conditions

–it is obliged to protect the health of our soils and our water catchments, and the biodiverse plant and animal communities that are part of that health.

Sweet Bursaria, Kalimna Park: the plant is crucial to the survival of the Eltham Copper Butterfly. The letter proposes exclusion zones to protect known colonies of the creature.

In  the past, managers have focused on the first of these: their expertise has been strongly in the area of fire behaviour, not the ecological effect of fire.

In the not so recent past the second objective has been treated with a mixture of helplessness, resignation and contempt. Fire managers have been known to freely confess ignorance of ecology, and sometimes have exhibited what we think of as the ‘tough guy’ approach to nature: ‘she’ll come back, no worries.’ A classic example was the brazen indifference of the notorious Tarilta burn of 2012, no better than an exercise in ecological vandalism.

Managers are increasingly acknowledging that ideally, reduction exercises should be conducted with a detailed knowledge of the area in question, its ecology and fire history. The nub of the matter is in the word ‘ideally’. Managers often plead lack of resources when urged to take a very detailed look at the areas they have marked off for their operations. As a particular case, the Kalimna burn was planned in the knowledge that the endangered butterfly was there, but without any detailed idea of where it was concentrated, or, for that matter, what effect fire and smoke might have on the creature. This letter urges them to take note, and act accordingly [the exclusion areas recommended here are shown in the next post] :

Proposed Planned Burn at Kalimna Park 2020

The proposed fuel reduction burn footprint at Kalimna Park was put into place by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) at a time when no comprehensive surveys for adult Eltham Copper Butterfly (ECB) had ever been undertaken.  During the 2019-20 summer season, local ecologists and community volunteers conducted a detailed assessment of ECB habitat and adult butterflies across the entire Park. Now that this dataset has filled in a significant knowledge gap regarding the distribution of the ECB and its habitat, it is clear the proposed fuel reduction burn footprint will have severe impacts on the ECB unless amended.

Following an analysis of the 2019-20 survey results, we consider it essential that several exclusion zones are created within the current proposed burn footprint to prevent potentially severe impacts to the Eltham Copper Butterfly. It is not acceptable that any exclusion zones be created with mineral earth breaks – alternative measures such as brush-cutting vegetation to ground level would have to be adopted.

We propose four exclusion zones, each which are marked on the attached map. The four areas are described below.

  1. North of Hunter Street. This ridgeline supports one of the largest sub-populations of ECB known in Castlemaine. Notably, there are no stringybarks along this ridgeline so it presents significantly lower fuel risk. Frequent fuel modification could be carried out along the 30m buffer from the houses to the west without compromising the ECB population.
  1. North-western section of proposed burn footprint. This area supports over 3.5 hectares of high-quality ECB habitat (moderate to high Bursaria cover), more than all of the remaining ECB habitat around the Eltham-Greensborough populations combined. ECB have been recorded within the footprint area and just outside to the north-west. 
  1. Hilltop west of Kalimna Park Tourist Road. A sub-population of ECB occurs on this hilltop. The site supports low fuel levels and is close to Kalimna Park Tourist Road, so exclusion would not be difficult to achieve with sufficient effort. 
  1. Far eastern section of southern burn footprint. Several ECB have been recorded in this area and considering it is on the very edge of the burn footprint, exclusion would not be difficult to achieve with sufficient effort. 

We would like to request a meeting to discuss these options, ideally also including a site assessment to inspect each of the four proposed exclusion zones.

Concerned Ecologists, Naturalists and Residents of the Box Ironbark

Friends of Kalimna Park

Friends of the Box Ironbark Forests

Here’s a link to the map referred to in the above letter. The proposed exclusion zones are bordered in white, and numbered 1 to 4:
ECB Habitat and Adult Surveys_Kalimna Park_2019 2020_A2P_2 March 2020-1-Copy

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Fire and the box ironbark: here’s some other stuff we should know

While we’re on the subject of fire in Box Ironbark systems, it might be worth while recalling important research conducted by scientists at the Arthur Rylah Institute in 2007, and published as Ecological burning in Box Ironbark Forests.  Thirteen years is a long time in a warming and drying climate, but we believe that the document still repays reading, and would recommend it especially to fire managers.

Phase 1 is a Literature Review. The executive summary reads as follows [our emphases]:

1. The review has not been able to shed light on historical aboriginal burning regimes. Some have suggested that seasonal burning was probably undertaken, but little direct evidence exists, and what evidence there is relates to landscape-wide observations that are not site- or vegetation-specific. Fire has probably played a minor part in influencing the vegetation structure and faunal assemblages in Box-Ironbark ecosystems. Management should now be geared towards the needs of the forests as they exist today, not as they existed in some idealised pre-European state.

‘Litter plays an important role in nutrient cycling, and provides important habitat for invertebrates and small vertebrates. Frequent burning…may eventually lead to a depletion of soil nutrients and loss of habitat.’ The problem is that for fire managers litter is fuel: that contradiction can only be resolved by careful and detailed attention to particular sites…and that costs money.

2.The response of the understorey to applied burning will depend heavily on the nature of individual remnants, season, landscape position, soil type, seed bank, disturbance history and susceptibility to edge effects. Some species, particularly leguminous shrubs and short-lived obligate seeders, will be promoted by fire in the short-term. Resprouting species that make up a large proportion of the flora will be little affected unless burning is frequent. Few species rely on fire for germination, and most species that are stimulated by fire will still recruit at a low level in the absence of fire. No species should be lost through burning provided the inter-fire period allows all species to reach reproductive maturity (a minimum of 10-20 years) but absent species are highly unlikely to reappear. Most species will persist even when the interval between fires exceeds 50 years. Further research is required into the germination requirements of Box-Ironbark shrub species, and the effects of applied burning (taking advantage of DSE’s fuel-reduction program). Ecological Burning in Box-Ironbark Forests. Phase 1 – Literature Review Report to North Central CMA 6

3. The response of the canopy will depend on the intensity of the fire. In most instances, fire in small remnants is unlikely to be of sufficient intensity to lead to canopy replacement. In any event, most Box-Ironbark species show continual recruitment in the absence of fire, and thus do not rely on it. In any one patch, the minimum inter-fire period for a fire that kills or severely reduces the overstorey and that allows full recovery of structure is likely to be around 60 years. Further research is required to determine the germination requirements for Ironbark eucalypts.

4. Litter plays an important role in nutrient cycling, and provides important habitat for invertebrates and small vertebrates. Frequent burning (for example, 3-5 year intervals) will disrupt natural processes in the short-term and may eventually lead to a depletion of soil nutrients and loss of habitat.

5. Research into the effects of fire on invertebrates is confounded by high natural variability, and it is often difficult to determine the baseline or climax community. Short-term effects are intimately linked in many cases to burning of the litter layer, and burning at frequencies as high as every three years should be avoided. More research is required into the effects of fire on termites, known to be key drivers of secondary productivity in these forests.

Continue reading

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Indigenous burning: an insight

Here’s something to think about, from Victor Steffensen’s book Fire Country–how Indigenous fire management could help save Australia [Hardie Grant Travel 2020]:

‘When it comes to Aboriginal fire management, the old people didn’t burn every ecosystem. Many people think that Aboriginal people burnt everything and applied fires that scorched large tracts of land. They also think it is like Western hazard reduction, but it is all far from the truth. How could they maintain the diversity of ecosystems and natural resources for thousands of years through the careless application of fire? Aboriginal fire knowledge is based on country that needs fire, and also country that doesn’t need fire. Even country we don’t burn is an important part of fire management knowledge and must be within the expertise of a fire practitioner.’ Page 48

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Water 1: jump in…again

The government is conducting another in its series of Engage Victoria consultations, this one being on the North Central Regional Catchment Strategy 2021-27. Readers may have picked up a touch of cynicism in FOBIF’s approach to these surveys, which we find seriously lacking in attention to detail. In particular, they operate in a kind of vacuum which takes no account of previous work in the area. What, for example, was achieved by the 2013-9 strategy? Or the one before that? Or the numerous other heavy documents on water in the last 20 years? [see our posts here and here]

Reports and strategies keep piling up. What have they achieved?

But hope springs eternal. We suggest you have a go.

The survey can be found here. There will be a regional round table community consultation at Harcourt Leisure Centre hall on Tuesday 17 March from 6.00 to 8,30 pm with a meal available from 5.30 pm. Book here.

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