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Restoring habitat for the endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Four years ago we embarked on a project to restore habitat for the impressive but nationally endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, when it was realised that their stringybark habitat was in desperate need of help. This work pioneered important new planting and direct seeding techniques to cope with the difficult access and low fertility, in addition to extremely sandy soils.

Through further funding from the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity Response Planning Programme, we’re working with local partners in both the Drajurk State Forest and the Wimmera. Across the two sites we’ll be working to restore 1,200 hectares of Stringybark habitat over the next three years to increase food supply for the endangered Red-tail.

In the Wimmera we’ll be working on private land that is protected under a Trust for Nature conservation covenant, with 30,000 seedlings planned for the first two years.

Greening Australia project officer Dave Warne said: “This project is not only really challenging and necessary for the long-term survival of the Red-tails, it also provides us with a great opportunity to continue improving large-scale reforestation techniques in partnership with other businesses and the community across the region.”

Male (left) and female (right) South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (photo courtesy Bob McPherson)

Increasing Red-tail food supply

With a total population of no more than 1,400 birds, the endangered South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne) is found only in part of South Australia (between Keith to Lucindale to Mt Gambier), and in south-west Victoria between Portland, Casterton, Toolondo, Natimuk, Dimboola, Nhill, and Kaniva.

Male Red-tails have glossy black plumage with stunning, bright red tail panels, while the females have brown-black plumage but the feathers of their head, neck and parts of their wing are speckled with yellow.

One of the main threats to the survival of Red-tails is the lack of nesting trees (large hollows close to suitable feeding habitat) and inadequate food supply. Red-tails rely totally on the tiny seeds of Brown Stringybark (Eucalyptus baxteri), Desert Stringybark (Eucalyptus arenacea) and, in the northern half of its range, seeds of Buloke (Allocasuarina luehmannii) when they are available in late summer and autumn.

Availability of Stringybark seed has decreased dramatically in recent decades, due mainly to wildfire and invasion by weeds. The lack of a reliable food supply is a major cause of breeding failure; incubating females are forced to leave their nests to forage because their male partners are unable to provide an adequate food supply.

Red-tails feeding on Stringybark seed near Casterton (photo courtesy Geoffrey Dabb)

Planting Approach

Teams of planters work from GPS coordinates to revegetate the degraded Stringybark habitat. Each planter carries a maximum of 160 trees on a harness to plant the trees with planting tubes known as Potti Putkis, walking through the forest at approximately 20 metres apart from each other, with each planter able to cover 600 metres before having to re-fill.

The project team will drop additional seedling trays at pre-arranged drop-off points within the forest to allow the planting team to re-load and continue planting to minimise down time.

A slow release fertiliser tablet is also placed down the planting tube before the seedling is dropped in, so that the fertiliser tablet sits immediately below the root zone of the newly planted seedling to boost growth rates (particularly of roots) before the critical first summer.

Planting team preparing for a run in Drajurk State Forest

Direct Seeding Approach in Drajurk State Forest

250 hectares have been ‘direct seeded’ at the Drajurk State Forest site in this first stage of the project. Direct seeding involves placing the appropriate seed directly into the soil on site, rather than planting a seedling. Direct seeding can be a highly cost-effective way of reforesting large areas, as it avoids the cost of propagating, transporting and planting the seedlings.

In this project, direct seeding teams are working in a similar way to the planting teams, but rather than carrying trays of seedlings, they carry a seeding mixture of Stringybark seed, compost, slow and fast release fertiliser, and a small amount of water crystals.

Using a specially developed hand seeding tool, the design of which has been refined over recent years, the person planting makes a slot in the sandy soil and injects 40 cubic centimetres of seeding mix, containing approximately 0.2 grams of Stringybark seed. This year for the first time, team members also added a slow release fertiliser tablet to the bottom of the seeding tool, ready to boost growth of the newly germinated seeds.

Direct seeding tool

Wimmera Planting site

The site is protected under a Trust for Nature covenant thanks to Pamela Lloyd and David McClaren, demonstrating the strength Greening Australia’s local conservation networks. The pair are based in Melbourne but became involved in conservation in rural Victoria through the Wimmera’s famous Project Hindmarsh planting weekend – an event that creates valuable links between the city and country populations.

The planting weekends inspired them to get more involved by monitoring Malleefowl nests in the Wimmera and in 2012 they jumped at the chance to buy a property adjoining the Nurcoung Flora and Fauna reserve.

This property provides significant habitat for both the Malleefowl and South-eastern Red-tail Black Cockatoo. After purchasing the property, Pamela and David placed the Trust for Nature covenant on the title to protect the land forever.

‘We fell in love with the Wimmera’ said Pamela ‘and its wonderful people at tree-planting weekends in Hindmarsh, going back over two decades now.

When you leave the overpopulated city it really strikes you just how precious and fragile this environment is with its unique animal and plant life. Every time we return to the big skies of Wimmera we love it more.

Our neighbouring farmers are great characters, very friendly and helpful, and we value their work feeding the country. We are also very grateful for the support we receive from Greening Australia, Landcare and Trust for Nature in looking after our special block so that wildlife can survive.’

Both Greening Australia and Trust for Nature have been working closely with these dedicated landholders to improve the habitat quality of their bush block and assist with on-ground works as Pamela and David can’t be at the property on a consistent basis.

This project has been funded by the Victorian Government’s Biodiversity Response Planning program and is helping to ensure that Victoria’s natural environment is healthy, valued and actively cared for.

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