Summer is coming: get informed!

Canada? Greece? Canary Islands? Hawaii? Recent and current fires in the northern hemisphere are a sign of the times, and not a very encouraging one…

And we’ve been advised to expect a warm dry summer…We’re not trying to fear monger, or anything, but we thought the map below of Sicily in the last week of July might be of interest.

This is not a fantasy, it’s a fire map of Sicily, July 27: it’s as well to be informed about fire behaviour and risks.(Map from France 2 Television)

So you may be interested in the Bushfire Resilience Inc’s series of webinars on fire safety, which has just started:

‘Dry conditions will increase fire risks next summer, especially grass fires.
Watch the webinars with family and friends and discuss the information and
your plans…Learn how grass fires and bushfires behave and what your
family can do to reduce your risks Viewers can ask questions before or during the webinar, and when you register we’ll also send you a link to videos.’

You can find the full program here, including how to register.

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Presentation – Spiders: Learning to love them

Newstead Landcare is excited to invite you to a special presentation all about spiders! Our guest speaker is Lynne Kelly – researcher, educator, Castlemaine local, and author of ‘Spiders: Learning to love them’. 

Anyone who has been lucky enough to talk spiders with Lynne will know her passion for sharing their secret lives and personalities. Lynne’s presentation will include the story of her journey from arachnophobia to obsession, while introducing us to these extraordinary creatures.

Lynne has authored 19 books, and in the 2022 Australia Day Honours she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for “significant achievement in science education through writing and research”. Her book, ‘Spiders: Learning to love them’ was judged the “Best book in the category of Natural History” in the 2009 Whitley Awards and awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. You can read more about the book online here:

Please join us at 7:30pm on Tuesday 15 August 2023 at the Newstead Community Centre (9 Lyons St, Newstead VIC). All are welcome, gold coin donations appreciated.

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Know your orchids

This new orchid brochure contains 48 of the most common orchids found in the Bendigo Region, but most are also found in Castlemaine and surrounds.

Included are flowering times and spots to find them. There are notes on orchid conservation.

Photos are by Pam Sheean, Joy Clusker and Rod Orr. The brochure is published by the Bendigo Native Plant Group and the Australian Plants Society has provided funding. Available at Stonemans Bookroom, Castlemaine Visitors Information Centre and ASQ Castlemaine.

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The up side of cold weather

OK, it’s cold. And a bit damp. On the other hand, any negative thoughts about this should be softened by the horrific reports we’re getting about heat waves in the northern hemisphere…

Kalimna Park, July 19: the fungus might be an Inocybe species? The red stalks belong to the moss Polytrichum juniperinum–Juniper moss.

And the good side is that mosses are abundant…and beautiful, if you’re prepared to get down and have a look. It seems the fungi season is on the wane, but there’s still a bit about. Time to get out and have a crawl?

Kalimna north end, July 19: the moss is one of our most attractive: Dawsonia longiseta.

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Promises, promises

‘The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action wants your feedback on the draft of Victoria’s Bushfire Management Strategy, which will set the vision for bushfire management in Victoria for the next 10 years.’

You can find the strategy here.

And you can make a submission here.

The strategy comes in three parts: people safety, conservation, and Aboriginal management.

There’s plenty of reasonable stuff in this document. Nothing wrong with this aim, for example:

‘To achieve genuine ecosystem resilience and positive nature conservation outcomes, the sector will integrate this improved understanding into decision making. This includes identifying and protecting environmental values and assets during on-ground operations and implementing on[1]ground programs to manage increased threats to environmental values (such as weeds and pests) resulting from the applied fire regime.’

The problem with the document might be that there are too many future tense sentences in it. ‘The sector will improve its knowledge of fire regimes…’ ‘The sector will continue to monitor…’ ‘The sector will ensure the scale of each target is appropriate…’ ‘The sector will support…adaptive management…’ ‘The sector… will…continue to improve…will optimise…will ensure…’ And so on.

A reader already sceptical about the ‘sector’s’ monitoring and adaptive management record will not be impressed by the promise that things will ‘continue to improve.’ Promises like this have been made for years, and it’s hard to be impressed by the results.

Let’s recall the Auditor General’s 2021 report:

‘DELWP advised us that it cannot guarantee the protection of all threatened species given:

  • current funding levels
  • scientific constraints around how species respond to threats and actions to control these in the wild, particularly in a time of climate change
  • the long-term lag effects on Victoria’s biodiversity of over 200 years of colonisation.’

Lack of funding, lack of knowledge…Conservationists have been banging on about these things for years.

Still, if you have the time, it might be worth having a go. We recommend you ask, what is there in the strategy to guarantee that the funding levels identified by the Auditor General as inadequate will be brought up to scratch?

The consultation closes on August 20

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The short walk: a gentle stroll down Whisky Gully

A large group came to Mount Alexander last Sunday. The walk began at Dog Rocks then travelled south along Whisky Gully on the eastern side of the mount. On reaching the Leanganook Picnic Area the group headed north along the Goldfields Track to Dog Rocks. The winter sunshine was perfect for meandering along the gully. Fungi expert Joy Clusker provided expert help with identification backed up by Liz Martin who navigated the route. Unfortunately we had missed the best fungi months in May and June but there were still plenty around as well as abundant moss displays. Liz Martin sent us the following photos. 

Walks leader, Joy Clusker, taking a closeup.

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The long walk: creek valleys, ‘category 1 climbs’

A hardy group of five set out in brilliant frosty weather yesterday for FOBIF’s June long walk. Walk conditions were perfect, as was the length of the walk, estimated as between 12 and 24 kilometres. We suspect the second estimate was a little subjective.

Middleton Creek, July 16: check last week’s post to see how the water levels have dropped..but the creek is still running strongly.

The walk covered the wonderfully various country at the south end of the Diggings Park: substantial moss covered rock walls, wide green valleys, rocky ascents, unusually impressive giant eucalypts. The south point was the strongly running Middleton Creek. Fungi were in abundance, and the recent wet weather had given the bush a particularly lush appearance.

Our thanks  to Jeremy Holland for as usual providing an intriguing route through little known corners.

Next month’s walk is in the wildflower hotspot of the Maldon Historic Reserve. Check the website for details.

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A downbeat note: the destruction goes on

A downbeat note for FOBIF’s walkers along Wewak track yesterday was the sight of yet more evidence of timber theft along this track.

Wewak Track, July 16: FOBIF has regularly reported destruction of this kind along the track.

Wewak track seems to be a favourite spot for timber thieves, and their efforts are threatening to strip this picturesque track of its better trees. Parks Victoria seems to be powerless to stop the destruction. Thieves operate comfortably, sure in the belief that the last person they can expect to see in this bush is a ranger: readers of this site will be familiar with our observations on the under resourcing of our parks.

We’ve been assured by Parks in the past that the problem is being tackled at the distribution end. The method doesn’t seem to be working: and of course things are not helped by the explosion in the cost of home heating….

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Fobif walks this Sunday (July 16)

This Sunday (July 16) there will be a long and a short walk. The short walk will be led by Joy Clusker and will have a fungi focus. Meet as usual at the Community Centre in Templeton Street at 9.30 am. You can also meet the group at the Dog Rocks parking area at 9.45 am. See the walks page for more details.

The long walk will be led by Jeremy Holland. He has written the following update.

The route for this walk was checked a week ago and again last Sunday (9th).

Due to the wet conditions the section involving two crossings of Middleton Creek has been deleted (see photo below taken at proposed crossing point) and replaced with something safer.

The distance remains at 15 km which at 3km/hr should take 5 hours plus 1 hr for breaks over varied but interesting terrain with about 40%.being off-track. There is also one reasonably steep climb.

It is probably worth noting that similar to last year this is twice the distance of a normal fobif walk. Therefore be prepared for a solid but hopefully enjoyable day out.

Remember we meet at 9.00am in Templeton Street.

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Kangaroos: a need for clarity, monitoring, and considered views

The state government is running a consultation on its ‘Review of the kangaroo harvesting plan.’ You can participate by going here.

The plan, and the program it describes, is justified by the following:

‘Areas with large kangaroo populations can experience issues such as:

  • traffic accidents
  • damage to pasture, crops, gardens and fences caused by kangaroos
  • negative impact on vulnerable native vegetation or areas undergoing revegetation due to kangaroo grazing
  • competition for grazing with livestock on farming properties
  • kangaroos becoming aggressive towards people, usually when individual animals have regular contact with humans (e.g. become used to being fed by humans).’

According to the consultation documents, aerial surveys show between 2 million and three million kangaroos in the state.

These aerial surveys don’t include numbers for heavily forested areas, for obvious reasons. The numbers, density and abundance [of Eastern Greys] are significantly higher in the Central Region [of which we’re a part] than in other regions.

As witness recent correspondence in our local press, kangaroo shooting is controversial. A very quick look at the dot points above will reveal that a large part of the kangaroo problem relates to human behaviour: traffic accidents could be reduced if people drove more slowly; the practice of feeding kangaroos in the wild is silly, and should be massively discouraged; competition with livestock could be reduced if water points were less available to kangaroos; and better planning of urban expansion would reduce the impact on kangaroo habitat.

In the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens reserve: a clear appreciation of the facts about kangaroo populations is fundamental to any decision about management.

All of the above would require serious adjustments in our culture. And, as we know, our culture is not great at making adjustments to accommodate nature. The very idea of reducing speed limits, for example, sends Vicroads into nervous fits.

But there remains the third dot point: the effect of high kangaroo numbers on other animals.

What is the effect of kangaroo population density on grasslands, and therefore on the other creatures that live in them? Research in the ACT in 2014 argued that ‘There was a strong negative relationship between kangaroo density and grass structure after controlling for tree canopy cover… Changes in grazing intensity (i.e. grass structure) significantly affected reptile abundance, reptile species richness, reptile species diversity, and the occurrence of several ground-dwelling reptiles.’

The 2016 state government discussion paper Protecting Victoria’s Environment—Biodiversity 2036 provocatively claimed thatHigh numbers of kangaroos can exert high grazing pressure on native plants and wildflowers, a bit like rabbits, and can destroy habitat that ground-dwelling native animals may need to survive.’ It also pointed out that kangaroos had increased in numbers owing to ‘the increase in reliable water supplies (e.g. stock watering) and pasture for grazing’. That is, that human activity has altered the environment with the effect of making it capable of carrying larger numbers of kangaroos than would naturally occur. These larger numbers are not confined to agricultural areas, but spread to bushland where their grazing does significant damage to understorey, with consequent effects on biodiversity.

Changes to our culture, or intervention to control numbers—or both? Both present challenges.

For culling, the two obvious problems are rogue shooters, and cruelty.

Though cautiously endorsing kangaroo culling in some instances, the RSPCA has pointed out very serious failings in the current system, and has urged ‘that any measures taken to reduce kangaroo populations should first be proven to be necessary (through a proper consideration of the reasons for control). They must be conducted humanely and be under the direct supervision of the appropriate government authorities (as part of an approved kangaroo management program). Effective monitoring and auditing of such programs is vital to ensure that these conditions are met.’

‘Effective monitoring and auditing’ seems like a good policy at all levels of this debate. The key is in the word ‘effective.’

It’s significant that the reporting of the ACT research project on the Conversation website brought some objections criticising the validity of the research procedures, and therein lies another challenge: getting wide community consensus on what the facts are, based on the best science.

Interestingly, the 2016 Biodiversity paper also referred to increased human population as a problem for the environment, but did not pursue the theme…another contentious question on which considered, clear reflection and maybe some ‘auditing and monitoring’ might be revealing.

But one thing at a time. The consultation is open till July 11. Have a go.

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