New project to restore the Cumberland Plain’s grassy woodlands

Less than 8 per cent of the Cumberland Plain Woodland remains. But tucked away in a corner of North-West Sydney, a new project that could help reverse centuries of decline is under development.

This critically endangered grassy woodland community used to cover most of the Sydney basin. But two hundred years of agriculture, residential development and infrastructure construction have taken their toll. Like most grassy woodlands in South Eastern Australia, much of the herbaceous understory has been destroyed.

With our partners University of Western Sydney (UWS) and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), and with funding through OEH and The Federal Government, we’re going to be putting back 40 hectares of Cumberland Plain Woodland over the coming years with a focus on ground layer diversity.

Right now we’re developing what is possibly Australia’s largest ground layer native seed production area (SPA). Based in NW Sydney, the seed production area will allow us to intensively grow seed crops, increasing the quantity of seed available to sow diverse mixes back into the landscape.

The site is probably our most complex herb and grass-focussed seed production area yet. This has been developed over two years and there are over 100 species in production, with more production capacity to come. And though it might not be obvious at first glance, it’s entailed a fair amount of technical finessing in its construction – which is already paying off.

We’re pleased with the quantity and quality of seed being produced and this has already been used in direct seeding programs. For most of the species growing in the SPA we’re already producing more seed than would have been collectable in the wild, including from a number of rare species.

So what’s the benefit of investing in something like this Seed Production Area? When it hits peak production in two or three years from now, we will be able to collect seed quickly, efficiently and reliably. With the availability of seed being the major limit to how many species and individuals that can be reintroduced back into the landscape we’ll be in a position to able to make a huge leap in terms of how much of the Cumberland Plain we and others can restore.

The SPA should speed up the process of re-establishing some of the richness and diversity of species that has been missing from many Cumberland Plain Woodland remnants or corridors for decades. Along with our partners we hope it will help to turn this vulnerable Australian landscape back into a place where people, plants and wildlife can thrive.

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