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Australasian Plant Conservation

A shorter version of this article was published in Australasian Plant Conservation 14(2), September - November 2005

ANPC rehabilitation workshops in regional NSW - 2005

We're now drawing breath after completing a series of workshops focusing on ecological rehabilitation of disturbed native vegetation, held in regional centres of inland NSW.

The first in the series was on montane restoration, held at various locations in alpine areas of the ACT and southern NSW on 28-30 April 2004. Three more workshops were held during 2005, in Armidale (19-20 July), Wagga Wagga (14-15 September) and Dubbo (25-26 October).

A core group of presenters contributed to the full workshop series, explaining and demonstrating fundamental principles underlying ecological restoration. Other topics included: planning a rehabilitation project, ecological stability and degradation thresholds of plant communities, the role of soil-symbionts, rapid assessment of soil health, genetic research relevant to the perennial provenance debate, roadside vegetation management, review of remnant fencing projects, monitoring, evaluation and adaptive management.

Preliminary sessions provided updates on reforms and changes to native vegetation and threatened species legislation, and the local Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) gave overviews of their goals for native vegetation and current implementation activities.

Presenters from the workshop regions and beyond added a diversity of experience and covered a range of issues. Presenters included staff from government agencies, local Councils, environmental consultants, Landcare groups and industry. The participants also came from such groups, as well as other interested land-managers and individuals. 

Learning from experience

Some case studies drew on projects re-visited after 40 years, such as some alpine restoration work undertaken during the early 1960s, when 'ecology' was a brave new word. Lessons learnt from these and later experiences have improved current rehabilitation practice, and shown the necessity of an ecologically sound approach from the earliest planning stages. Local case studies demonstrated hardships, successes, the need for persistence and our dependence on the dedication of volunteers.

Pines to bush

The workshop structure included an afternoon activity, with the participants working in groups, applying ecological principles to plan the conversion of a harvested pine plantation back to a functioning native vegetation community. As this had been a real project, the participants benefited by hearing what had REALLY been done and what had been learnt subsequently.

Field visits

Field visits to local sites added depth to the workshop and gave opportunities for exchanging ideas and experiences, raising and discussing issues, quizzing specialists, seeing techniques demonstrated, debating initial approaches and ongoing management, testing assessment techniques and networking, networking, networking.

One of the highlights was David Tongway's demonstration of his Landscape Function Analysis technique, designed to readily assess soil health. Amy Jansen guided participants through a rapid assessment technique of riparian condition on the Murrumbidgee River at Wagga Wagga while other vegetation assessment methods were trialled in the Sanctuary at Western Plains Zoo. The local Council showed the group the successes (and failures) about 12 years after direct-seeding a road realignment out of Armidale. Active management of protected native vegetation was discussed at visits to a private property near Armidale and local reserves at all locations.

Going grassy!

The ANPC made its first foray into teaching grass identification techniques, with a one-day course following the Dubbo rehabilitation workshop. The Ibis Room at Western Plains Zoo was filled with 48 eager participants. After introductory sessions on grass morphology and terminology and the use of keys, the participants broke into eight groups, working with  tutors and using stereo microscopes, laptops loaded with the CD-ROM AusGrass, published keys (particularly Grasses of NSW and Flora of Australia vol 4), hand-lenses and dissecting needles. Swathes of grasses filled the room and their floral parts were examined minutely to reveal their taxonomic secrets.

The groups also looked at grasses growing around the zoo, to learn what to look for when identifying them in the wild. Towards the end of the day, one eager group re-visited this field examination work, returning hot and tired, but still enthusiastic.

We were lucky to have one of the two authors of AusGrass, Donovan Sharp, journey all the way from the Queensland Herbarium to lend his expertise to those unfamiliar with this interestingly intuitive identification method. All the 'grassy gurus' provided invaluable guidance and teaching, and had no chance to sit back and relax, as did presenters at the rehabilitation workshops!

How many came?

An unexpected 105 people attended the Armidale workshop, coming from as far afield as Queensland, Walgett and the Blue Mountains. These numbers exceeded our experience in running workshops in regional centres; the Namoi Catchment Management Authority partly contributed by viewing this as an important training opportunity for staff.

At Wagga Wagga we had 40 attendees, with one coming from Adelaide; others came from Victoria, Hillston, Sydney and the central coast. Despite a last-minute announcement of a clash with a related workshop on exactly the same days, 49 attended the Dubbo rehabilitation workshop and 48 came to the grass identification course (28 of whom were at the preceding rehabilitation workshop).

Accreditation

Since late 2004, the ANPC has been able to offer accreditation contributing towards Conservation and Land Management Training Package diplomas and certificates. Our workshops are considered to provide knowledge underpinning a range of units in this package. Some participants also seek accreditation to build evidence to gain 'recognition of prior learning'. Of the total of 214 participants at the 2005 workshops, 89 sought accreditation (= 41.6%).

Evaluation

The evaluation forms have still to be fully analysed, but the responses were overwhelmingly positive, with consistently high scores on the evaluation sheet questions. Feedback since, both direct and indirect, has been enthusiastic. One participant, quite unsolicited, announced 'this is the best workshop I've ever attended!' One grass participant was glad to find that 'learning can still be fun'. Constructive comments were also provided to assist with future workshop planning. Of course, it's impossible to fit everyone's wish list of topics into a two-day workshop.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the core presenters for the rehabilitation workshops: Roger Good, Andy Spate, Stuart Johnston, David Tongway, and to the guest presenters: Wendy Hawes, Andrew Steed, John Nagle, Paul Hutchings, Tim Watts, Chris Nadolny, Ian Oliver, Ruth Tremont, Rob Kooyman, Peter Thrall (Armidale); Julie Hoare, Keith McDougall, Mike Dunn, Emmo Willinck, Paul Scannell, Linda Broadhurst, Ian Lunt (Wagga Wagga); Sarah Munro, Brendon Neilly, Jen Shearing, Peter Sullivan, Donna Johnston, Anne Kerle, Cathy Waters, David Bagnall and David Goldney (Dubbo).

Thanks also to those (not already mentioned) who assisted with field sites for the rehabilitation workshops: John Lewis, Richard Morsely, Mike O'Keefe, Rob Johnson (Armidale); David Read, Jim Rees, Pat Murray, Owen Whitaker, Amy Jansen, Janet Wild, Erwin Budde (Wagga Wagga), Lynton Auld, Tim Sinnott (Dubbo).

Many thanks to the tutors ('grassy gurus') for their extremely valuable guidance in the grass identification techniques course at Western Plains Zoo (Dubbo): Anthony Whalen, Donovan Sharp, Isobel Crawford, Geoff Robertson, Miranda Kerr, Tim Sinnott, Anthony O'Halloran. 

Enormous thanks also to our workshop volunteers who were on the spot for any number of requests: Ian Simpson, Kate Boyd (Armidale); Lynne McMahon, Ross Smithard (Wagga Wagga); and Sue Buik and Kerry Palmer (Dubbo). Jan Hastings and Richard Bomford gave sterling service at the ANPC office in Canberra.

Many others helped in numerous ways, in providing the support of their agency, organisation or Council, advice, staff assistance and contributing to the development of the program content and structure.

Equipment and resources essential for the grass identification course were lent by the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, the Australian National University, the University of Canberra and the Warrumbungles Environment Education Centre, as well as individual tutors. The course would not have happened without their generosity.

Without you all, these workshops would not occur! If I have omitted anyone, humble apologies; your contribution is nonetheless highly valued.

Thanks are also due to the NSW Environmental Trust, whose generous support ensured the delivery of these workshops to regional areas of NSW. Our goal is to now take them to areas not yet visited!

Sally Stephens
ANPC Project Manager

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