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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 15(3), December 2006 - February 2007

Wild about Workshops

The last half of 2006 has been very busy with workshops. A few glimpses follow.

Ulladulla, 25-26 October
The rehabilitation and management of disturbed native plant communities

On 25-26 October, a hundred people (including one from Adelaide and two from Victoria) participated in a native vegetation rehabilitation workshop on the NSW south coast. A talk on the ecological principles underlying successful rehabilitation set people thinking, then speakers from diverse backgrounds spoke on planning, vegetation condition assessment, the role of lichen crusts and other soil organisms in vegetation health, provenance of plant material, monitoring and adaptive management, understanding stream geomorphology in foreshore rehabilitation and the importance of supporting volunteers. Case studies included the rehabilitation of a local wetland and an uplifting outline of the extensive Shoalhaven Coastal Restoration project.

Most of the second day was the demonstration and trialling of field techniques. The group was guided through the Milton Ulladulla Landcare Nursery by about 10 nursery volunteers. As well as observing propagation and other techniques, the very new and comprehensive database of Shoalhaven flora was demonstrated by its developers, Mal and Carolyn Whan. At the Narrawallee Bushcare site we broke into four groups and rotated around four activities: soil organisms and soil health, site assessment, weed assessment and management priorities, and monitoring techniques. This site is maintained by the energetic Narrawallee Bushcare Group, who battle with weeds as well as local development pressures.

Considerable excitement was generated by David Eldridge's elegant demonstration of how ants assist water to penetrate soil. Water poured into a metre-high glass cylinder placed over an insignificant depression in the sand (made by funnel ants) gurgled down in seconds. In an adjacent cylinder with no hint of ant activity, the water hardly moved. These tubes were barely half a metre apart - in the second the water puddled reluctantly on the surface, revealing that the sand was hydrophobic (water-repelling).

The final field site was Millard's Creek, a patch of remnant bush in the heart of Ulladulla, lovingly managed by the hard-working but small Millard's Creek Bushcare group. The site demonstrated what can be achieved by a committed group but also demonstrated the challenges they face and the need to attract more volunteers to work in these sites if the benefits are to be maintained.

The attendance of four community volunteers at the workshop was sponsored by the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, while three were funded by the Shoalhaven City Council.

This was the first of two coastal workshops subsidised by the NSW Environmental Trust. The second workshop in this series will be held in Coffs Harbour on 14-15 March 2007.

Canberra, 28-29 November
'From the ground up': a workshop on the conservation and rehabilitation of grassy ecosystems of the ACT and region

This workshop focused on the conservation management and rehabilitation of Natural Temperate Grasslands and Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands, listed as endangered and critically endangered respectively under the EPBC Act.

Including presenters and volunteer helpers, 86 people participated in this workshop, from as far away as Adelaide, Armidale, Lismore and Victoria. Presenters were largely local specialists but Paul Gibson Roy (an ANPC Committee member) came from Melbourne and Peter McGee came from Sydney. Topics covered landuse history and management strategies, rehabilitation planning, rapid soil health assessment (Landscape Function Analysis), soil microbes in grassland rehabilitation, conservation genetics, guidelines for seed collection, manipulating management such as grazing, fire and slashing, monitoring and adaptive management, and the role of volunteers. Case studies were on re-establishing complex grasslands in Victoria by direct seeding and grassland management for endangered fauna protection in Kuma Nature Reserve in the Monaro region of southern NSW.

Field activities focused on trialling components of the Grassy Ecosystems Management Kit produced by local grasslands specialists, most of whom were involved in this workshop. Sarah Sharp, of the ACT Government's Parks, Conservation and Lands group, was a key organiser of the field program, aided by the energetic contribution of the other field leaders.

We visited Little Mulligan's Flat and the Justice Robert Hope Reserve. At each site, the group broke into four smaller groups and rotated around four activities. In addition to the Management Kit activities, David Tongway demonstrated his Landscape Function Analysis technique, a highly effective method of assessing soil health. He also demonstrated a new technique for assessing drainage line erosion risk and status. 

The field day was an increasingly typical Canberra spring day: hot, dry and windy. Fortunately the woodland trees provided enough shade to keep the group happily working through all the activities.

The attendance of three community volunteers at the workshop was sponsored by Natural Temperate Grasslands Recovery Team, while five were funded by Department of Environment and Heritage sponsorship.

This workshop was partly funded by an ACT Environment Grant and Department of Environment and Heritage sponsorship.

Feedback and sponsorship

I learned a lot, confirmed a lot and made some wonderful friends and contacts. The two-way flow of information and experiences can do nothing except help our beautiful environment. (Volunteer Bushcare group coordinator and participant in Ulladulla workshop).

This workshop has been invaluable to me as a landholder and non-scientist. Very good communication of complex ideas. Will help me to understand my property and to work systematically towards a management plan. Thanks. (Private landholder and participant in Canberra Grassy Ecosystems workshop).

Feedback from both these workshops was very positive, though the evaluation forms have yet to be fully analysed. 44.7% of the Ulladulla registrants returned their evaluation forms, while 56.5% of the grasslands registrants returned theirs. The participant quotes above were just some of the enthusiastic responses we received. Some feedback also suggests other ideas and topics, though the two-day format clearly cannot encompass all desires.

Sponsorship to assist the attendance of community volunteers, such as we achieved at both these workshops, will be sought for future ANPC workshops. While our workshops provide a very generous discount for volunteers, students and pensioners, some still cannot afford to attend. This sponsorship was designed to target volunteer workers who would benefit from the workshop, contribute to it and transfer their new skills to others in their rehabilitation project. This sponsorship increases the ANPC's reach, particularly to local landholders.

Without the specialist presenters, who gave their time freely and enthusiastically, there would be no workshop. The same is true of the registrants who bring to the workshop their experience, enthusiasm and willingness to learn and to share. A huge thanks goes to all those who participated in developing these workshops and turning them into reality. 

Sally Stephens
ANPC Project Manager