Land Sector Package

Creating a resilient natural landscape

Biodiversity Fund Case Study

Location: Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia
Funding: $5,206,000 (excluding GST)
Partners: Adelaide University, State Water

A decline in woodland bird species has prompted a large scale revegetation project in a popular region of South Australia, with important gains in understanding restoration options and creating a more resilient landscape.

The Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board manages a temperate area that extends from Adelaide to the surrounding hills region. It provides an important water supply for the city and a significant proportion of South Australia's agricultural production. It is also a popular recreation destination.

This area is a recognised biodiversity hot-spot. The Board had identified a decline in species and ecosystems as a result of clearance and development. "We know there is an issue here, with not enough habitats to support the different species," explains Andrew West, Biodiversity Manager.

The University of Adelaide had carried out research on woodland birds and pollination, and found that with declining bird numbers there was not enough pollination to sustain certain plant species.

"We were working with the South Australian Department of Environment and Conservation to identify areas of active decline and understand what we could do on the ground to address it," says Andrew.

"The local ecosystem is already starting to unravel, with plants dropping out of the system because their pollinator numbers are decreasing. We had already done all the planning work when we were awarded funding through the Biodiversity Fund. Now we have an opportunity to implement our project on a larger scale."

Pre-existing planting area featuring SA Blue Gums River Red Gum, Centenary Hill Western Grey Kangaroos crossing the property with vineyards on the plains in the background
This area is a recognised biodiversity hot-spot.

Revegetation to protect native species

The project can now undertake large scale revegetation and restoration activities in targeted areas. Andrew expects this to stem the decline in species and lead to broader ecological benefits, such as improving water quality and maintaining soil health.

"We're in a good position to hit the ground running now with implementation," says Andrew. Working with David Paton, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide's Faculty of Ecology, Evolution and Landscape Science, the team has already identified five target properties, assessed the current vegetation and negotiated with landholders to set up experimental designs for restoration.

"We're looking at a long term impact, so we need large amounts of land with secure tenure," he explains. "This is fairly new work internationally and certainly for South Australia, so this will be a trial to find the most viable options for achieving our goals. The University team will collect and analyse data to help us refine our approach over time."

Centenary Hill, Barossa Valley Remnant native grasses, Centenary Hill Centenary Hill, Barossa Valley
The project can now undertake large scale revegetation and restoration activities in targeted areas

Improving restoration practice

This focus on creating a useful knowledge base makes the project quite unique. David Paton and his team will identify the key questions and data to be collected, and analyse the results to fill in knowledge gaps.

The project will produce detailed scientific documentation and planning tools for use across the region. Users could type in the physical attributes of an area of land and learn about the most appropriate habitats and restoration options for that land.

"We want to contribute to broader knowledge about similar regions and share the results with others," says Andrew.

Creating natural resources for woodland birds

Andrew expects to involve at least 13 properties and cover up to 3,000 hectares over the six year project term. He says the benefits to landholders will depend on their own interests. "For example, one is looking at an ecotourism venture and wants to restore the natural vegetation to enhance that. Another is focused on water quality and natural resource issues. Some are motivated by the decline in woodland bird species and are willing to retire and restore some or all of their property to address that."

These species include the brown treecreeper, hooded robin, diamond firetail and restless flycatcher, which are declining rapidly in temperate Australia through loss of their grassy woodland habitat.

Andrew says the planning process also revealed threats to birds in close shrub habitats, including the Bassian Thrush and Beautiful Firetail. "Although they're more abundant across the region, their habitats are not providing all the resources they need. So we're doing everything from complete reconstruction of habitats from scratch, to improving areas where there are critical resource needs that aren't being met."

With such a diverse area to cover, the team will need to move quickly to work within the project timeframe, especially given the impact of seasonal climate issues.

Andrew hopes that as a result of this work, more resilient and sustainable ecosystems will be established. "These native plants will become self regenerating and can reseed and replace exotics and pasture species. If a fire goes through the area they will self perpetuate rather than return to degraded paddock area."

Ultimately, with its focus on experimentation and learning, the program will also produce documented knowledge of what works best in different environments and for a wide range of species.