The photograph of the south Majura paddock taken in spring 2007 shows a purple sea of Paterson’s Curse. Three years and many volunteer hours later the paddock has changed significantly – solid proof that volunteers can make a remarkable and hopefully a lasting difference. A horse holding paddock further north is covered by a menace of curse along with mustards, thistles and horehound. According to TAMS ”Paterson’s Curse is closely managed in horse holding paddocks and high conservation areas located within Canberra Nature Parks …” (Horse owners on alert for purple pest, Canberra Times, 8 November 2010). I really wonder what “closely managed” means. The Paterson’s Curse was certainly not en-closed and it was up to volunteers to pull and bag the weed that jumped the fence and invaded reserve land which abuts the paddock on three sides.
In the FoMM 2006 report I wrote about the difficulty “to convince people to give their time for weeding and other conservation activities when at the same time the government culls ranger positions, abolishes weed control, and – most disturbingly – conducts activities that result in weed invasion and degradation of nature reserves”. I referred to grading work in the Majura pine plantation that resulted in the growth of a vast amount of thistles. The thistle seeds blanketed adjacent reserve including a former sheep camp that was hand weeded by volunteers and I predicted a thistle problem for years to come. Now this year is it. The thickets of thistle are overwhelming particularly along the Mount Majura summit trail. We managed to control them at our sheep camp project site and there was a heroic effort of a lonely volunteer to remove and bag thistles along the summit trail. This spring we saw heavy infestations of Cape Weed along trails and water bars and on the slashed areas of the lower slopes. The perpetuation of weeds in Canberra Nature Park, made worse by certain management work and practices, is a constant source of frustration. Volunteers cannot match the lack of resources that are required to follow up weed-inducing work or unsound management practice such as importing weeds with fodder or machinery. There are three main factors that promote weed spread: dry conditions, grazing pressure and management practice. The first one we cannot change.
On a positive note: it is pleasing to see a change in the way ACTEW operates in the nature reserve such as adopting the cut-&-daub method to control trees growing under transmission lines. Current work to rationalize access to ACTEW infrastructure will pay off as there will be no need in future to traverse reserve land with heavy machinery and trucks. The most important change however is the great improvement of communication between all parties involved. ParkCare can be congratulated for instigating this very positive change.
Our government funded project “Explaining Change in the Mount Majura Nature Reserve” is now one year old. It is presented on our website at https://majura.org/explaining-change/. The aim of the project is to provide the public with an insight into the factors that determine the ground-layer degradation of the grassy woodland that we observed in the past decade. The question we ask is whether grazing or climate has the bigger impact on the ground-layer. We fenced two plots to exclude kangaroos respectively kangaroos and rabbits. We recorded the change inside the plots and on a nearby control site using repeated photography from fixed photo-points. We observed that the system responded almost immediately to the exclusion of grazing: the closely grazed “marsupial lawn” developed into a healthy stand of native perennial grasses.
Following the over-average rain in spring 2010, both, the grazed and the fenced plots responded with an abundant growth of herbaceous plants. A close inspection however reveals a significant difference: the green in the grazed area is made up mainly by stems of introduced annual and perennial forbs (Flatweed, Proliferous Pink, Ripwort Plantain) whereas the fenced sites are dominated by native perennial grasses. We have used the step-point monitoring method to quantitatively assess the species abundance and will present the results on our website.
We introduced the “Explaining Change” project on a number of occasions for instance at our World Environment Day event in June 2010 and at the National Landcare Council tour in August 2010. It was also filmed for the ABC documentation on kangaroos which was shot in Canberra this year. The project is located adjacent to a high pedestrian traffic area and visitors of the nature park frequently inform themselves at the interpretative display in front of the fenced plots.
From December 2009 to February 2010 jointly with volunteers of the Mount Ainslie Weeders, the Watson Woodland Working Group and of the wider public we mapped rabbit warrens in the Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie nature reserves. This was the second time we assisted Parks and Conservation with a rabbit control program. Volunteers spent 745 hours on mapping, and over 260 hours on training with GPS, processing the data and project coordination.
Compared to the initial program we surveyed a much larger area, 1053.5 hectares (400 in 2008/09), including the steep parts of the mountains which were not mapped in 2008/09. We recorded 1105 rabbit warrens and burrows (668 in 2008/09) scattered throughout the reserves. To our disappointment the funds for on-ground control were reduced by half compared to the initial program and we are concerned that reduced funding failed to match the work done by volunteers.
We observed that large piles of woody debris provide rabbits with shelter and a place to dig burrows. Therefore we rethink our method to control large woody weeds. Our preferred method would be to move the cut material off site. We used this method with ADFA cadets at a working bee to control Cootamundra wattles that formed thick stands in grassy woodland. We used the cut-&-daub method, dragged the trees out from the woodland, and lined them up along a road. We arranged with the city rangers to shredder the wattles and used the wood chips to mulch the seedlings planted at the old Ainslie tip on National Tree Day 2008. This was most likely a one-off opportunity considering Government resources and access issues. Another, second best option is to kill a standing tree by wounding the bark and injecting herbicide (frilling method). We successfully trialled this method with Cootamundra wattles. The summary and the results of the trial can be viewed at http://vk1od.net/owenduffy/FOMM/cwsi/index.htm. We suggested to Parks and Conservation to consider running training workshops for volunteers to adopt the frilling method.
Our focus over the past year was work to restore the grassy woodland of the Majura paddock adjacent to the Hackett reservoir. This area with its mature hollow-bearing trees, fallen logs and a drainage line running through the southern part of the paddock has a great potential for diverse habitat and wildlife. We frequently observe lizards, particularly Bearded Dragons and Shinglebacks, Gang-gang cockatoos and other hollow breeding birds. Bats and Tawny Frogmouth hunt there at night. We completed the hand-weeding of about one hectare dense horehound growth under the trees and we now notice a range of native forb species appearing there. We controlled Paterson’s Curse that covered the open tree-cleared area. In this open area we see practically no native forb, most likely because sometime in the past the area has been sprayed with a broadleaf herbicide.
We significantly extended our plantings at various project sites. We planted mainly shrubs and ground-cover in clumps and corridors, under the mature trees and amongst the established tree seedlings planted in previous years. The planting of shrubs is part of the staged revegetation process to replace the woody weeds that we removed in the past years. Our main planting event on National Tree Day took place in pouring rain and it was surprising to see more than 40 enthusiastic participants including family parties withstanding the adverse conditions. On National Tree School Day the students of the Hackett Blue Gum School, along with their parents and teachers added about 100 shrubs to a project which they had started in 2009. Much of our time is devoted to care of the seedlings by reducing weed competition around the seedlings, securing the plastic tree guards and replacing them with heavy wire mesh guards to prevent grazing damage.
Our guided walks to discover and observe the fascinating range of Mount Majura’s wildlife are as popular as ever. The topics of the walks were wildflowers, trees, birds, nocturnal residents, and ants; the latter attracted more than 200 registrations following articles in the Canberra Times and in the Chronicle.
In October 2009 an upgrade of a badly eroded part of Casuarina Walking Trail was officially opened by Chief Minister Jon Stanhope. Works commenced in April 2009 following a meeting of the FoMM coordinator with the Chief Minister to secure funds for the repair of a badly eroded west slope section of the track. FoMM members worked with staff of Parks, Conservation and Lands on the design of the track under the main headings safety, minimizing the environmental impact of construction, future maintenance work and keeping the bush character of the track. Upgrades have involved the construction of a number of rock steps along with water diversion bars to direct water off the track, preventing erosion.
With our fellow ParkCare groups, the Mount Ainslie Weeders and the Watson Woodland Working Group, we celebrated World Environment Day 2010 with a walk, talk and tea event that featured volunteer work and projects in the three reserves. Together we wrote a submission to the investigation of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment into Canberra Nature Park. Jointly with the Watson Woodlanders we held a successful bush clean-up at the north-west slope of Mount Majura on Clean-up Australia Day 2010. We continue working with the Mount Ainslie Weeders to restore the old Ainslie tip. ADFA cadets gave a helping hand placing mulch around the seedlings planted there on National Tree Day 2008 and we held a number of working bees with students of the Hackett Blue Gum School, the Majura Primary School in Watson and the Marist College. Students were involved in planting, watering, mulching, controlling woody weeds and surveying rabbit warrens.
FoMM played an important role negotiating an agreement with the Village Building Company to ameliorate the impact of a planned residential development at the northwest corner of Mount Majura on the conservation values of the reserve.
Nature’s Floriade is glorious this year and provided a great opportunity to update our plant species list. Our most recent discovery is an uncommon, beautiful and interesting orchid, the Hooked Rustyhood, which is featured on our website.
In the financial year 2009/2010, Friends of Mt Majura volunteered over 5000 hours caring for Mount Majura’s natural assets. The contribution of many clearly made a difference and first of all I’d like to thank all our volunteers for giving their time. We gratefully appreciate support from the North Canberra Community Council, the Molonglo Catchment Group, the Hackett Community Association and the Hackett Neighbourhood Watch and we thank them for their ongoing interest. Greening Australia continues to be an invaluable resource for us and what we have achieved was only possible by working together with a committed team of rangers and Sally McIntosh – A big Thank You to all of you.