On the farm: Improving farm dams in the Northern Grampians
Northern Grampians Landcare has recently begun a process of identifying opportunities to improve farm dam and associated wetland management in a portion of the Northern Grampians Landcare Area between Mount William Creek and the Wimmera River (near Dadswell Bridge and Glenorchy).
The local environment:
This area boasts diverse landscapes, including gently undulating dunes, swales, and sand plains in the eastern region, and flat higher-level floodplains in the west. Historical maps indicate a variety of vegetation types: reed-filled swamps and open gum marshes in the low lying floodplains, drainage channels and swales; box, oak, and gum trees woodlands with grassy understories covering the level plains and rises; open plains dominated by Kangaroo Grass and root plants like Yam Daisy; all in a complex mosaic of heath, forest, woodland, and marsh, influenced by local topography, soil type, and hydrology.
Flood plain woodlands with understory of sedges, rushes and flood tolerant grasses at one of the properties
Despite much tree loss, remnants of River Red Gums, Grey and Yellow Box trees remain, supporting wildlife like Squirrel Gliders and Swift Parrots and various declining woodland birds like Brown Treecreeper, Hooded Robin, and Jacky Winter. Patches of significant remnant grassy woodlands and wetlands support a variety of wildflowers, lilies, orchids, as well as nationally threatened species like Trailing Hop Bush and Spiny Rice-flower. The major watercourses and wetlands in the area provide critical habitats for Platypus, Latham’s Snipe, Three-lined Skink, Burrowing Crayfish, and Bibron’s Toadlet. The intermittent floodways and ephemeral wetlands, often found on private land, still harbor patches of native tussock grasses and offer potential habitat for these species.
Step 1: getting expert advice
Last year the group invited expert ecologist, Dr. Paul Forman, to visit five properties in the Northern Grampians to assess the hydrology and habitat around farm dams. Dr. Forman then developed detailed recommendation lists for each property, to improve the ecological condition of wetlands as well as improving farm hydrology and water quality.
Many recommendations revolved around:
• Improving habitat around permanent dams;
• Expanding the stock proof fencing with off–dam trough watering to strengthen the ecological connectivity between dams;
• Controlling the density of the regrowth with ecological thinning and controlled grazing suppression during the germination/recruitment phase;
• Reintroducing ‘missing’ robust native tussocks such as Common Tussock Grass; and
• Monitoring kangaroo grazing pressure, vegetation structure and targeted wildlife species such as declining woodland birds, amphibians, mammals, reptiles and macroinvertebrates to assess for improvement.
Some of Paul’s recommendations at one of the properties.
Step 2: Making a plan and securing funding
Earlier this month, Dr. Forman came back up for another field day, to discuss his recommendations and help us draft grant proposals to secure funding to get started. We visited four properties and together laid out a plan to get started. Two of the landholders are ready the take the first steps, involving on-the-ground fencing and revegetation works, and we have submitted a Victorian Landcare Grant proposal to get us started.
Dr. Forman and Northern Grampians landcare member, Kevin Jess, discussing proposed new fencing while standing in a “WORD” – a noticeable ring of moisture tolerant species (in this case brownback wallaby grass) which shows DEFINITION
Step 2: getting started with on-the-ground works
We hope to start the first phase of fencing and plantings this summer into the autumn. These projects will serve as test cases to showcase resources and options available for local farm dam improvement to the wider audience. Stay tuned for updates on how our first two properties go!