By Simon Starr, Echuca District Conservation Officer and our representative on the Plains-wanderer Vic Ops Group
On 25th July I attended the Plains-wanderer Victorian Operations Group meeting in Bendigo.
This has been an annual meeting, but may be half-yearly from now as there is a lot going on in the world of Plains-wanderer conservation.
Here is a very brief dot-point summary:
• Autumn 2017 monitoring across northern Victoria has resulted in fewer birds overall than the same time last year, but percentage of fully adult birds was higher. So basically numbers still very low (5 adult, 7 immature) on the Patho Plains, with most on private land and none at all in TTNP on the old Davies property.
• Ben Hodgens of Parks Victoria gave a summary of his grassland monitoring during the year and how the season panned out. It was acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, grazing was introduced too late and that the biomass went through the roof in a relatively short period during spring, which was not ideal.
• A summary of budgets and funding was given by DELWP and Parks Vic staff. There is more money in the coffers this year for Plains Wanderers, over $300,000 just through the government. Priorities included review of the operation plan, weed removal, fencing to soil type, biomass management, plus a program of song-monitoring using sound recorders to cover more country surveying more efficiently.
• Trust For Nature still very active in this space.
• Northern Plains landholders were present and a document was tabled detailing their thoughts and experiences of grazing native grasslands. It appears that considerably more weight is starting to be given to landholders’ experience of the area.
• The captive breeding program has six birds at Taronga Zoo, with one bird successfully raised. New facilities are going online in Dubbo, and Werribee this year; some more birds are to be taken from the wild, probably later this year or early next. There are ambitious targets for a captive breeding program. Raised birds are to be released into “vacant” but suitable territories.
• Two PhD students talked on their projects which include using satellite imagery to identify grassland quality, how grassland management influences PW diet, et cetera.
In response to a question from Keith Stockwell. re fire v. grazing as a management tool, Simon writes:
My understanding from the meeting was that the use of fire by Parks Victoria as a management tool has not been completely written off, but any future use would be limited and in conjunction with detailed monitoring of the effects. I think that fire may be a useful tool in certain situations. Grassland studies suggest that over time grasslands may stabilise with more perennials and less “boom and bust” annual plants. However, the implementation plans that were put in place (previously) were a disaster. When exotic grasses proliferate, as they are currently, the dried grass litter lying on the ground creates a situation that encourages more exotic grasses to the detriment of natives. It’s a self-perpetuating situation. Overall, I think things are heading in the right direction but I am still concerned that a more-conservative grazing regime compared to what usually occurs on private land will mean denser grasslands on average. In the landholders’ document of ideas and experiences, one comment rang true to me. It is much easier to get back to an ideal grassland structure from a paddock that has been overgrazed, than it is from a paddock that has been under-grazed.
• The Plains-wanderer Vic Ops group comprises ecologists, some grassland landholders, DELP representative/s (including Jenny Spence), a BirdLife representative (Simon Starr) and others. Werribee, Monarto and Western Plains zoos are taking part in a Plains-wanderer captive-breeding program and hope to release raised birds onto suitable grassland habitat. The Victorian government recently awarded Parks Victoria and groups associated with Victoria’s native grasslands hundreds of thousands of dollars to help save the critically endangered Plains-wanderer. Parks is to use some of the money to employ a grassland officer. In addition, the Australian Government has awarded $22,000 to the Friends of the Terrick Terrick National Park Incorporated.
Parks Victoria earlier granted some money to the Friends Group for work on Fabians Paddock, a paddock on which Plains wanderers have sometimes been observed and which is regarded by some ecologists as “a jewel in the crown”. Plains wanderer and some other grassland species do not like a thick biomass – hence the use of ecological grazing. Ed.