Welcome to the winter newsletter, whether you are receiving it in the post or by email. Remember that you can also access previous newsletters via our website, together with various photos .
Please remember that it’s time to renew your membership, via the form included.
Also please check if we have your correct email address so we can contact you with late news.
This issue is missing a report from our Ranger in Charge, Dave Roberts, who is just so busy at the moment filling in for Graham Parkes who has not yet been replaced. But we do have a report from our meeting with him in May and will be having a further meeting in July. In the meantime we are not short of interesting articles, both about our own Park and wider issues that affect it.
We have succeeded again in having activities more or less every month, and in working together where possible with other local groups caring for our environment. I get newsletters from Trust for Nature, Project Platypus ( my local Landcare Group) and the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA), and it is good to see how much other groups are doing to preserve biodiversity in our region. Private owners of land can often work quickly and effectively to achieve outcomes that Park managers must envy.
FOGGS are members of the Victorian National Parks Association and as such the committee gets a copy of the quarterly magazine covering the whole state. There are often articles on subjects that have relevance to us here, such as deer, cats, landscape changes. I would strongly recommend that you consider joining the VNPA as individuals, not just for the excellent magazine but also to support our parks. We also receive a quarterly “FriendsNet” which also has so many good articles. I had intended to include a summary of an article from the May issue on animal extinctions but space has run out If you would like to receive it, please let me know.
In addition to our own FOGG activities, Wendy and I are your representatives on the Grampians and Surrounds Round Table and the Grampians National Park Advisory Group and try to report back to you on these deliberations. Fire and Recovery from fire still keep us busy. How best to restore burnt sites such as McKenzie Falls precinct, how to protect the regenerating forest from browsing animals (cherry ballart from deer is a real problem), and what prescribed burning regime will best help protect the Grampians in a drying climate, are among the issues that we are reporting on.
But it is not just group meetings that keeps the committee busy. We also get asked to support or comment on issues on the fringe of our responsibilities and sometimes it is difficult to decide. So for instance we have not contributed to the discussion of the future of the Stawell Gold Mine, but we did send a letter re discussions on future planning decisions concerning Laharum / Wartook valley. We appreciated some of the council’s dilemmas, were appreciative of the strongly stated desire to look after the environment but could see problems if the size of bush blocks was lessened and we wanted stronger action on issues such as cats. If you want to read the full letter please contact me.
We are registering our September activity with Bush Care’s Big Day Out in the hope that we can attract new folk to join us. We have not been good at publicising ourselves, either on new or old media. Any volunteers to take on a publicity role?
Our AGM will be in October and will creep up on us quickly. All office positions will be open for election. In particular, please note that I have now served my two years as president. Some years ago we decided that the maximum term of president should be two years; so it is now someone else’s turn. It is enjoyable and not too onerous. It is also good to have fresh folk on the committee which we have been achieving in the last couple of years. Do let us know if you are interested in any position. You don’t need to live locally as much can be done by email these days.
Outstanding native mammal research in the Grampians wins award
A team of researchers from Deakin University has been recognised on World Environment Day for their outstanding research investigating the effects of fire and climatic changes on native mammals in the Grampians National Park.
The Nancy Millis Science in Parks Award recognises outstanding contributions to fostering excellence in applied science for the benefit of park management.
Parks Victoria Chief Executive, Dr Bill Jackson said: “This long-term research and monitoring project is greatly improving our understanding about how native mammals respond to major climatic changes and fires in the Grampians landscape. The research is directly helping to guide how we manage the park to help protect native mammals in this region.”
The project began in 2008, to investigate how small mammals re-colonised after the bushfires that affected the park in 2006. It then evolved into an ongoing program and each year since, 36 sites throughout the Grampians National Park have been monitored by Deakin University honours students. During this time, nearly 5,500 small mammals have been trapped, recorded and released, giving detailed information about the factors that are important for their survival after periods of flood, drought and fire.
“This has been a remarkable team effort, led by Deakin University’s Associate Professor John White, Dr Raylene Cooke and Dr Dale Nimmo and including work by 13 Honours students over the past seven years. Such long-term scientific monitoring projects are rare but highly valuable for helping us to understand what’s happening in our parks and ecosystems, particularly in a changing climate.
“The data collected has given us important insights into the native mammals’ ‘boom and bust’ cycles that are weather dependant. Detailed maps using satellite images have shown the importance of wet gullies for refuges and maintaining healthy native mammal populations. The research has also shown that the Grampians is a much more ‘rainfall driven’ area than previously thought and rainfall is a key factor for these small mammals’ survival after fire, drought and flood.
“I congratulate the team who have worked closely with Parks Victoria staff locally and are making a real difference to how we manage the park. This includes how and where Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) run planned burn and fire ecology works and pest predator control programs such as fox baiting to best protect the native mammals,” said Dr Jackson.
“Caring for our parks is a complex task that involves many challenges including climate change. We need strong partnerships, innovative solutions and a good scientific understanding of how best to tackle these issues and care for these important natural environments and their inhabitants. Dr Jackson said the project is part of Parks Victoria’s Research Partners Program that fosters collaborative applied research with universities and other research organisations.”
Key findings of the research to date include:
For the first time, the Grampians has been shown to be a rainfall driven ‘boom-bust’ system for native mammals. The research has shown the relative importance of factors such as annual rainfall as a major influence for these species to survive after drought, flood and fire. This is directly helping to guide when and where fire and pest predator management programs are run within the park to help protect the native mammals.
Small mammal refuges have been identified using the monitoring data and long-term satellite imagery. These include wet gullies and areas that maintain moisture even in dry seasons which the research has found are important for maintaining healthy mammal populations in the Grampians.
Evidence from the study indicates that small mammals recolonise from within fire affected areas. It was previously not understood how mammals re-colonise intensely bushfire affected landscapes, and whether this happens from adjoining non-affected sites or whether they survive within the burnt areas. It has been shown that different habitat elements are important for different mammal species to survive post fire, including the presence of rock-outcrops, large trees or small unburnt areas for refuge.
FOGGS are proud that we have been supportive of this important project in several ways. We have financially supported students as they visit the Grampians to conduct the research and we have been inviting them to present their findings to us. Last issue we had reports from two of the researchers and we look forward to hearing from Susannah Hale sometime early next year.
We are very happy that, despite the funding shortfalls, in our Park the commitment to scientific research has remained such a priority. Thanks Mike, Dave, Ryan and Ben.
Quoll recorded on remote camera near Henham track as part of this research (most likely the same one recorded previously).
FOGG members may remember that we have been supporting the work of Dr Noushke Reiter in the conservation of orchid species, including some of our threatened local ones. I asked Noushka to give us an update on the move to Cranbourne Botanic Gardens.
As you are aware the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and the Australian Network for Plant Conservation joined hands to raise funds to fit out an Orchid Conservation Centre at the Botanic Gardens. The response was overwhelming thank you to all who contributed, both individuals and organisations. On Christmas Eve boxes were unpacked and now 6 months later we have a fully functioning laboratory and nursery full of threatened orchids grown from seed with their mycorrhizal fungi being prepared for re-introduction back to their native environment. We have six regular volunteers in the laboratory including Wendy Bedggood who still manages to make it into the lab from Horsham.
Seven species are being supplemented this year back into the Wimmera including three into the Parks and surrounding covenanted private property of the Grampians with partners including landholders, Parks Victoria, community volunteers, Australasian Native Orchid Society, Trust for Nature, WCMA and DELWP.
The Orchid Conservation Centre is currently working with 24 state and federally threatened orchids for re-introduction across Victoria, South Australia and N.S.W and aims to collect a genetically divers representation of seed and mycorrhizal fungi from all Victorian threatened orchids for propagation and re-introduction to reduce the threat of these species becoming extinct in the wild.
As this was a joint event with Laharum Landcare group quite a crowd turned up, which was good. The day originally had been planned to have a presentation and some field walks, however with practically no rain since last year fungi are few and far between in the Northern Grampians bush this year, the walks did not proceed. However Geoff Lay the guest speaker was staying with the Pykes and they went hunting in the morning and managed to find a nice collection to display.
Geoff gave a very good presentation describing the different types of fungi, Saprotrophic (living on dead material), Parasitic (living on organisms) and Symbiotic (where there is an association between the fungi and the living organism which benefits both). He also showed what to look for when trying to identify fungi. Fungi are neither plant nor animal and are in a kingdom of their own. The parts of the organism we see and identify are the fruiting bodies which are produced when sufficient moisture and temperature occur, the mycelium which is the bulk of the organism is in the leaf litter, soil, or a dead or living plant not usually detected by us. At the end of Geoff’s presentation a very tasty lunch was served and then some people stayed on for another question and discussion session with Geoff. We would like to thank Wendy McInnes for her organisation and catering for this activity.
There wasn’t a lot to do! The track is in remarkably good condition, which is heartening. It was a lovely sunny day and very enjoyable to be out in it.
Nine of us cut back overhanging tea tree, and bracken around seats and signs, and raked and cleared some debris, but most of the track was clear, apart from one tree fallen across the track – but Rodney’s chainsaw could not be used as the licence needs to be registered with Parks. Ranger Tammy Schoo came out and filled us in on recent O H &S requirements (lots of paperwork, lucky Wendy was there), so we were very conscious of regulations! Thank you Tammy.
Ryan sent out via Tammy a map of proposed photo-surveillance points for Sallow Wattle infestation, which led to discussion and volunteering; a start to our project of helping to monitor this invasive plant.
At the meeting on 4/5/2015 meeting, Ryan outlined the background for FOGGs volunteering to keep a pictorial record of Sallow Wattle at 20-30 spots in the Park. We would mark each spot with a star picket and it would be a matter of going back to the same spot twice a year and taking a photo at a time that suits the individual volunteer. We have the map with the spots to be monitored and if a few people could volunteer to be responsible for a couple of spots this should spread the load. People could choose close to where they live or a spot they like to visit and Wendy will collate the results. If you would like to be involved, please contact Wendy.
You may remember that last year’s Winter newsletter had a long report on what was planned for this long distance walk and the FOGG response to the draft proposal. (We supported the trail in principle but were strongly against any building of lodges. All of this is still available on our webpage ). Since then work has continued, and funding announced for the complete trail. ($29 million including $19 million from the state and $10 million from the federal government). On 29 May the Premier came to Halls Gap to officially open Stage 1.
Stage One: Halls Gap to Borough Huts (3 days/2 nights)
This is a three day/two night loop walk from Halls Gap to Borough Huts covering a total of 19 kilometres for the return trip. The track leaves Halls Gap on the southern side of Stony Creek, past Venus baths towards Wonderland Carpark, which it bypasses, heads to the Pinnacle, across to Sundial carpark and then to Mt Rosea Carpark. From the carpark a realigned track takes walkers to Mt Rosea and then down to Borough huts. Walkers will return to Halls Gap along the eastern shore of Lake Bellfield on the existing track. The new 24 person capacity hiker campsite at Mount Rosea has been completed and is in use. A temporary group camp is on Stony Creek Road close by while plans are worked out for a new one.
I attended the official opening, and listened to all the worthy speeches. I’ve also visited the new campsite on several occasions and walked the first section. And we are planning a FOGG visit there with Dave Roberts on July 24.
The next stage of the project will be extending the trail 13 km from Borough Huts towards Mount William. (To create the whole trail will require the development of approximately 80km of new trail and the upgrade of 64km of existing trails.) A group of locals including some FOGG members and Advisory Group members is assisting Parks in deciding the best routes for the next sections.
The trail is generating quite a bit of media interest eg A recent Age two page spread (22/6/15) describes it as “A landmark 144-kilometre walking trail – which authorities hope will be a tourism magnet in the same manner as Tasmania’s famed Overland Track … With camp sites every 10-12 kilometres, the trail could take 13 days to walk….. While some will be remote, other camp grounds will be close to accommodation outside the park, meaning that walkers could sleep in a bed overnight in a comfortable venue if they prefer that to a sleeping bag. “
Chris Rose, acting chief executive of Parks Victoria, was quoted as saying the Grampians Peaks Trail would become an ‘‘icon walk’’ for Victoria, alongside the Great South West Walk in the south west and the Wilson’s Promontory circuit track.
‘‘The vision is to have a worldclass long-distance walk from the north of the Grampians to the south, or vice versa. And it’s a trail that can be jumped on or jumped off and tackled in one, two, three or four day sections. And for the very fit you could do the whole thing as one experience,’’ he said.
At this stage there have been no expressions of interest for built accommodation along the trail. We hope that remains the case. And the concerns remain about where the money for the upkeep of the trail will come from, and whether that money will come at the expense of other pressing needs of our Park.
The roundtable meeting held on 23 June was not our usual meeting format but instead a workshop with roundtable members and members of the Grampians Advisory Group. In February the Victorian Government asked the Inspector-General for Emergency Management (IGEM) to conduct a review of performance targets for the future bushfire fuel management program on public land. In conducting the review, IGEM examined a risk-based approach to bushfire fuel management against the existing hectare-based performance target program. The IGEM considered many reports and called for written submissions from individuals and organisations with expertise and knowledge of bushfire fuel management on public land. This report was released in late May and can be viewed at
The report makes recommendations which include a shift away from a hectare-based fuel reduction target. It recommends a move toward a risk-reduction approach where the most at-risk areas are prioritised for fuel reduction. The Government is consulting with stakeholders, including fire management agencies and community groups to ensure local values and knowledge are considered. The Grampians roundtable is one of 6 or 7 such community groups being consulted.
The opinions and thoughts from the workshop will be summarised and will be compiled with summaries from the other meetings and form part of a submission presented to cabinet some time in August. Anyone who would like to see any of the feedback I get can contact me.
Talking of fire – and it’s a topic that will remain “hot” for a long time yet – committee member Rodney Thompson has sent me a link to an article which disputes the research by Bill Gammage in his book “The Greatest Estate on Earth” which was briefly reviewed here in my report on last year’s Biodiversity Seminar in the Spring newsletter.
Rodney writes: The following link, to an article published online provoked a little thought and reflection on my part. This article does have a bit of a bias against the current burn regime, mostly based on the claim that the decisions were made without adequate and accurate scientific information. It raises some great points about the way our impact on native wildlife impacts on forest flammability, and how introduced pasture species also exacerbate problems. It’s interesting to note one of the attempts to solve the flammability problem on roadsides has resulted in the reintroduction of native grasses. The other point I loved was the idea that our landscape doesn’t thrive on fire, but it tolerates it and recovers as best it can and has adapted to this end.
Now, having praised Gammage’s book it is only fair to allow that it has also been criticised. Thank you Rodney for alerting us to this. However I do not want this newsletter to become a debating corner on prescribed burning. Yes it is important but it’s an extremely complex issue, and we don’t have the space or the expertise. But we do hope that research and open- minded debate continue. Ed