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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 16(2), September - November 2007

President’s Report: Community action for plant conservation

Judy West
Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, CSIRO Plant Industry

The ANPC continues to link on-ground plant conservationists with scientific outcomes of recent research through workshops and training courses. The Coordinator, Sally Stephens, is finalising arrangements for a course to be held in the ACT on November 22 and 23. The focus of this course is identification of plants of grassy ecosystems, with both theoretical and practical field activities covering techniques used for identification, spot characters to recognise families and genera, and awareness of resources available. Participants should improve their skills in identifying plants of these endangered ecosystems as well as being better equipped to recognise species indicating conservation value of the site.

The ANPC has secured Envirofund support to run workshops in the Western Australian wheatbelt in March 2008. Two workshops covering rehabilitation and management of disturbed native plant communities will be run in the Wheatbelt Woodlands of the Avon Region and the Northern Agricultural Region.

The ANPC’s 7th National Conference is fast approaching. Our Declining Flora – Tackling the Threats is the topic of our next conference which should provide opportunity for all those with an interest in threatening processes in plant conservation to present their work, discuss particular topics, interact with others addressing similar issues, and to generally share experiences and information. The conference will be held 21 – 24 April 2008 at Mulgoa in New South Wales (near Penrith, west of Sydney). Please register your interest in attending as soon as possible – see http://www.anpc.asn.au/conferences.html

Many threatening processes affecting plant conservation are addressed through volunteer and community groups in Australia and worldwide. The articles included in this issue of Australasian Plant Conservation under the theme of ‘Community Action for Plant Conservation’ provide some excellent examples of the impact local communities can bring to bear on threats to the integrity of species, ecosystems and landscapes. Community Action programs provide a major boost for plant conservation, not only helping to protect threatened plant species but also raising awareness of the importance of plants and the threats they face.

Many Australians volunteer for community conservation projects in urban, regional and remote Australia, most having an interest in the environment and enthusiasm for conservation. Surveys indicate that volunteers generally wish to give back to their community and to feel they are shaping the future direction of their environment. There are various approaches to the involvement of members of the local community and in the type of plant conservation activities, the most common being weed control, tree planting, and management, rehabilitation and monitoring of native vegetation patches as well as erosion control.

A critical ingredient of successful community projects is collaboration. Since our land is managed by different authorities and is ‘controlled’ by different jurisdictions it is important for local action groups to work cooperatively with other relevant interest groups. From the Braidwood district of southern New South Wales, Rebecca Hall and Rebecca Bradley provide here an example of long-term environmental benefits achieved through collaborative efforts of inspired, dedicated, local land-holders and the relevant Catchment Management Authority. Achieving significant revegetation in harsh environments such as the Braidwood granite hilltops requires persistence and determination and for collective targets to be recognised. Rae Talbot illustrates the opportunities such collaborations can provide through involving refugee families in the Yarriambiack Vegetation Enhancement Project in Victoria’s Wimmera district. In addition to vegetation outcomes the project has provided considerable assistance to farmers and land-holders, and, through different nationalities working side by side, much enhanced cultural exchange.

In an article on volunteer involvement in weeding programs Ian Hutton demonstrates a novel combination of activities operating on Lord Howe Island. Mobilising the energy of a small population resident on the island to manage and care for their unique ecosystems is assisted through the Friends of Lord Howe Island. Another strategy involves participants from mainland Australia taking part in ecotours, a proportion of the time providing volunteer labour for dealing with weeds. The success of the program and increasing level of knowledge has enabled the teams to tackle weeds on an island-wide scale. Contributing to the success and providing momentum for this well established weed control program are the differing levels of expertise of the various volunteers working cooperatively.

The focus of some community projects brings increased knowledge to local managers with exchange of information and the opportunity to trial different techniques. Protection of swamp communities in the Blue Mountains has entailed trialling a range of innovative techniques to stabilise gully erosion and control water movement, an approach Anne Carey describes as soft engineering works. The information gained through monitoring and opportunities to systematically record observations are well illustrated by Hazel Rath and Clive Hurlstone describing revegetation of the Boboyan Pine Plantation in the ACT. This is a long running large-scale community-driven regeneration program successful through collaborative efforts with the ACT Government and members of the NGO, the National Parks Association of the ACT Inc.

Volunteers across the country are involved in a wide range of activities relating to threatened flora and particularly to individual threatened species in their region. They can be involved in surveying and monitoring plants in threatened populations, or in weed eradication, but also in recording observations on flowering and fruiting phenology, seed germination, pollination and general ecological features of the species, including response to fire or other disturbance factors. Extremely valuable datasets have been developed in this way. The profile of Tasmania’s threatened plants has recently increased with the formation of the Wildcare Threatened Plant Action Group (TPAG). Catriona Scott indicates that TPAG was formed to encourage and facilitate state-wide community involvement in threatened flora protection and recovery. In this way the jurisdictional authority is able to leverage greater resources and contributions which are essential if we are to address the threats impacting on Australia’s threatened flora. The Victorian government has also benefited from significant contributions of the Castlemaine Field Naturalist’s Club undertaking surveys of more than 150 cemeteries across central Victoria. Ern Perkins, Lesley Perkins and Deanna Marshall describe the information recorded, including species present, together with their cover/abundance, and general landuse data. This enhanced information enables the state agency to make better informed conservation decisions and to categorise the cemeteries according to their ability to act as refuges for threatened species and sources for genetic material.

Increased knowledge of local assets is the approach taken by the Wongan Ballidu Bushcare group in W.A. to raise the profile of threatened plants in the district. Involving the local school as well as the state conservation agency and local enthusiasm improves the general level of information and specifically of some Declared Rare Flora. Sonya Thomas’ description of observed population changes due to drought conditions emphasises the importance of local communities monitoring developmental change. Deanna Marshall explains the role an enthusiastic conservationist and the local primary school played in improving our understanding of germination of a threatened flax-lily in Victoria. A high proportion of Australia’s orchids have restricted distributions and many are recognised as rare or threatened under state or commonwealth legislation. The decline in quality of orchid habitats and loss of species and populations inspired the Victorian branch of the Australasian Native Orchid Society to take action. Andrew Dilley puts forward some orchid case studies involving survey and monitoring, active management practices, translocation experiments and establishment of ex situ populations.

Community projects can play a considerable role in raising awareness of local natural assets to landholders and others in the region. Sally Mathews and Justin Couper write of the habitat recovery project related to the recently discovered threatened species Moonee Quassia in northern NSW. An environmental project of this proportion demonstrates the benefits of cooperative efforts from community based organisations, land holders and NGOs working with the directions and guidelines of a threatened species recovery plan.

The increased scientific knowledge gained by the community volunteers from involvement in projects like the Moonee Quassia emphasises the importance of basing plant conservation activities on sound scientific principles. Kerry Thompson of the Shoalhaven Volunteer Community Nursery relates the experience of a community group turning a vision into a practising nursery, established to assist in the conservation of natural areas of the Shoalhaven region in south-eastern NSW. Plants are propagated for local use and the community is building up a compendium of knowledge on propagation techniques to pass on to others.