ClimateWatch trail encourages citizen science at Haining Farm

On the ClimateWatch trail at Haining Farm. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

A ClimateWatch trail established at Haining Farm, less than a two-hour drive from Melbourne, is giving visitors a chance to contribute nationally significant data on how the changing climate is affecting plants and wildlife.

“The trail is a key part of the vision for Haining Farm as a place where people can connect with and learn about nature,” said Elisa Raulings, Strategy and Impact Manager at Greening Australia in Victoria.

“Following the trail prompts visitors to look closely at their surrounding environment, and gives unique insights into the innovative climate-ready restoration techniques we’ve used to rebuild habitat for the critically endangered lowland Leadbeater’s Possum and Helmeted Honeyeater. Through the trail, visitors can also actively contribute data for restoration.”

A group from the School of Student Leadership’s Don Valley Campus on the trail with Greening Australia. Photo: Annette Ruzicka

The ClimateWatch trail at Haining Farm is one of more than 80 around the country so far, the brainchild of Earthwatch Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology and the University of Melbourne.

“The ClimateWatch trails turn existing walking tracks into citizen science opportunities for people to observe ecologically important plants and animals and contribute data to help our scientists better understand how nature is coping with changes in climate,” said Dr Anna McCallum, ClimateWatch Program Manager at Earthwatch Australia.

“All you need is a smart phone and the app, and you can be collecting data for a nation-wide project recording the impact of climate change on the seasonal life cycle events of our plants and wildlife – such as bird nesting, plant flowering and fruit ripening.”

“The study of these events is called ‘phenology’ – and it is very important to monitor, because changes can impact entire ecological communities, our food sources, and our environment.”

Taking note of seasonal lifecycle events for flora and fauna – such as flowering – can help scientists understand how nature is being affected by the changing climate. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

The Haining Farm ClimateWatch trail was set up by a partnership between Greening Australia, Earthwatch and Parks Victoria, with additional support from John T Reid Charitable Trusts and other donors. Through this partnership, several new species that are important to support the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeater’s Possum have been added and are being monitored through ClimateWatch.

To kick off data collection on the trail, Greening Australia and partners recently ran a series of events with students from the Don Valley campus of the School for Student Leadership, which overlooks Haining Farm.

Students from the School of Student Leadership’s Don Valley Campus helped kick off data collection on the trail. Photo: Annette Ruzicka

Mark Spilsbury, Acting Curriculum Coordinator at the Don Valley campus, said: “We’re so fortunate to be right next door to such an innovative local project, and developing links with organisations like Greening Australia and Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater that can more deeply involve our students with what’s happening at Haining Farm. These real-life experiences of what environmental sustainability and habitat restoration means are so valuable and powerful.”

“The students enjoyed the chance to make a practical difference in a relatively short amount of time, both by getting their hands dirty putting in 700 plants and contributing citizen science data. Taking local action can be a real antidote to the overwhelm we all sometimes feel about the state of nature.”

Many hands make light work. Local students helped plant seedlings and collect data at Haining Farm in events hosted by Greening Australia and Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater Inc. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Greening Australia’s Zoe Birnie, who helped run events with the students, said: “We want people to build a relationship with Haining Farm, to get out there and learn about how nature and climate interact, with the hopes that knowledge translates into people taking action on biodiversity loss and climate change.”

“Really this is all about prompting people to notice and engage with nature. Look closer – is that plant full of seed or flowers? Can you hear frogs or birds calling? It makes a difference to how you interact with the space.”

Greening Australia’s Zoe Birnie (right) chatting plant science and phenology with Mark Spilsbury and students from the School of Student Leadership (Don Valley). Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater Inc. runs a range of citizen science events and education programs, including visits to Haining Farm. Environmental Coordinator Eliza Lamb said, “Data that citizen scientists like the local students contribute via the trail is so valuable, as it combines to build a bigger picture of animal and plant species distribution and informs our conservation efforts.

“We hope Haining Farm will support populations of the critically endangered lowland Leadbeater’s Possum and Helmeted Honeyeater in the future – by recording their observations on the trail, the local community can help us understand how the site is developing over time and what species are present.”

Birnie agreed: “The best thing about it is, visitors to the park aren’t only contributing data to a nationally significant project, but that data also has flow-on effects for planning climate-ready restoration locally and future park management plans. The more data we have, the better we can prepare.”

Eliza Lamb from Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater (L) and Greening Australia’s Zoe Birnie (R) – many organisations have collaborated on Haining Farm’s education and conservation objectives. Photo: Annette Ruzicka.

Haining Farm opened to the public in June 2021, amid COVID-19 lockdowns. A former dairy property, gifted to the people of Victoria for education and conservation purposes by philanthropist Sir John T Reid, the farm has been painstakingly transformed into a public park through a partnership between Greening Australia, Zoos Victoria, Parks Victoria, Country Fire Authority, Melbourne Water, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (now the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action), and the John T Reid Charitable Trusts.

How to get involved:

  • Download the ClimateWatch app, visit one of the many trails around Australia, and get involved in contributing observations to a national dataset that helps shape Australia’s response to climate change.
  • If you’re in Victoria, visit Haining Farm to see some prime examples of climate-ready restoration in action – and add your data points to the collection.

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