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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 17(1) June - July 2008, p 32

WA workshops report: 'After the Fence'

Helena Mills
WWF Australia, Northam, WA. Email: hmills@wwf.org.au

The Australian Network for Plant Conservation ran two successful workshops, After the Fence, in the Western Australian Wheatbelt towns of Northam and Moora on 17-18 and 27-28 March, 2008. The workshops were done in partnership with WWF-Australia, the Northern Agricultural Catchments Council, the Avon Catchment Council and the Australian Government Envirofund.

Moora workshop participants at a majestic Salmon Gum woodland site. Photo: Helena Mills/WWF-Australia

Based on the successful format of the ANPC's previous rehabilitation workshops, the March 2008 workshops focused on the management needs of Wheatbelt woodlands after a fence has been erected. Western Australia's Wheatbelt, like many other agricultural landscapes in Australia, has seen significant investment in recent years in fencing native vegetation to exclude grazing by domestic stock. While fencing is the first and most important step in ensuring the long-term future of native vegetation in grazed landscapes, it is frequently the first and last step in native vegetation management in these areas.

The After the Fence workshops attracted 67 participants, presenters and volunteers. All involved found the workshops valuable and interesting. The networking component of the workshops was judged as useful as the content of presentations and field trips.

Workshop participants included farmers, community group members, Natural Resource Management Officers from throughout the Wheatbelt, WWF Project Officers, and staff from the WA Department of Main Roads, the Water Corporation, the Department of Environment and Conservation and CSIRO. The common factor linking all participants and presenters was an interest in the on-ground management of Wheatbelt woodlands.

A new feature of the WA workshops was the inclusion of a group dinner and an after-dinner speaker. At the Northam workshop Patrick Smith from CSIRO spoke to the group about the reality of balancing production and conservation, while at the Moora workshop, Dejan Stojanovic from Birds Australia entertained the group with photos, stories and bird calls in his presentation on using Carnaby's Black Cockatoos as a flagship species for biodiversity conservation in south-west Australia.

A flora identification session on the afternoon of the first day of each workshop was also popular, with participants (and presenters!) learning how to identify local woodland eucalypts and wattles using the latest interactive keys, and the techniques and importance of proper plant collection. Farmers, researchers and community group members worked together to nut out botanical terms and tricky morphologies and had a great time doing it - some refusing to stop until they'd worked their specimens out!

The second day of each workshop was largely taken up by a field trip. Two sites of varying condition and vegetation type were visited on each trip. At each site participants had worksheets to complete on assessing the health of the woodlands they were visiting, deciding upon management actions and developing monitoring plans. Particularly rewarding for the organisers was the answer to the last question on the worksheet, viz. whether the participant's opinion of the health and management of the woodlands changed between their first sight of the remnants and when they had completed the worksheets. Almost all participants found that working systematically through indicators of health and management actions helped them to find conservation value in woodlands they thought were in poor condition, and to realise that woodlands they thought were in great condition could still benefit and improve with management.

All in all, the workshops successfully achieved their aims. The organisers are grateful for the enthusiastic participation of all who attended, particularly the presenters who gave up their time to develop relevant presentations and be involved.