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Grassland Restoration in Victoria, Australia: A field trip report from Bethanie Walder

Monday, January 23, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Bethanie Walder
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A much belated thank you to Lilian Pearce and her colleagues for organizing a fabulous grassland restoration field day while I was visiting Melbourne, Australia after the SER-Australasia conference in November 2016. Our adventures included visits to 3 different sites on the Victorian Volcanic Plain, including a mob of kangaroos just to remind me that we were in Oz.

The highlights and lessons were many, but here’s a brief summary:

  • The Victorian Volcanic Plain is home to rare and disappearing native grasslands threatened by a history of grazing and now also by development, but there’s a dedicated crew of people working to protect existing fragments and restore/reconnect degraded grasslands as well.
  • Producing native seed is one thing, selling it is another. Chris Findlay at Flora Victoria toured us around their seed production site. It soon became clear that Chris and his team are ahead of their time and waiting for state and local governments and industry to catch up on using native seed in restoration, transportation and other applications. In the meantime, it turns out that native grasses work better for certain grazing purposes and are more drought tolerant, so he’s found a small market and is helping reincorporate these grasses into the landscape anyway.
  • Restored grasslands are stunningly beautiful (but beware of allergies in springtime). We visited a gorgeous 15-hectare grassland restoration project between a highway and a state park. The site is a first step, with plans to expand and restore an additional 30 hectares close by (almost adjacent). It is one of the biggest grassland restoration sites in the region and they’ve used a variety of interesting techniques to promote the recovery of native grasses and herb species and to remove invasives. The site was gorgeous, my sneezing was a bit over the top. (Mind you, this has nothing to do with the fact that it was native grass, it’s just that I have recently become allergic to flowering grass and I still haven’t gotten used to it/learned to prepare accordingly.)
  • It’s worth it to restore small patches, even in residential neighborhoods. We finished our trip in a small restored grassland at the edge of a residential neighborhood, with new housing under construction almost adjacent to the site. A golf course in between, however, provides a nice buffer and helps protect vulnerable grassland vertebrates (such as the striped legless lizard (Delma impar) that live on the site. Having the site in the midst of a neighborhood may not achieve large-scale restoration objectives, but it has provided good opportunities to engage the local community in weed pulls and other activities connected to local ecological and cultural history. Community engagement is critical if we want to expand investment in and support for ecological restoration. This site, located in a neighborhood, has provided opportunities to inform people about the importance of protecting and restoring native grasslands.
  • Too often restoration happens only because the right combination of people are in the right place at the right time. Though that’s great when it happens, it’s neither predictable, replicable, nor sustainable. For example, several of the projects we visited were succeeding because of the dedication and persistence of specific people, not because of regulations, standards, or social norms. Few people in the local communities seem to know about or care about native grassland protection or restoration. It will take a lot to build both public support and political will to mainstream grassland restoration. Without such mainstreaming, it will be hard to maintain and develop the businesses that can support such efforts (like native seed production businesses). It was a reminder of how fragile the field of restoration can be when so much work remains entirely voluntary or otherwise dependent on circumstance. This creates a great opportunity for local or regional political engagement to address these challenges.
Chris and Simon in front of harvester collecting native seeds.
 

Chris at his native seed production facility.
 

Simon Heyes, Chris Findlay, Ben Zeeman and Lilian Pearce in small restored grassland in residential neighborhood.
 

 

Thanks again to Lilian Pearce for organizing the entire field trip, and to Ben Zeeman, Simon Heyes, Zoe Thomson, Chris Findlay, Kate Hill and Kim Cornford for your time and enthusiasm in the field and every day!


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