White cypress pine seed cone. Seed is often a limiting factor to the natural recovery of sandhills. Photo: Annabel Lugsdin (Hay Landcare)
In the Western Riverina of New South Wales, we have been working with partners and local farmers to restore an impressive 3,000 hectares of endangered Sandhill Pine Woodland in under 18 months.
Once described by early explorers as dense forests too thick to travel through on horseback, less than 25-60% of the original sandhill woodland now exists, with large proportions in poor condition and under threat from clearing, grazing, soil erosion and weed invasion.
To help the woodland recover, we are working with partner organisations to restore habitat, engage local landholders and raise awareness.
Seedlings emerge through the soil crust following August rain. Photo: Graham Fifield (Greening Australia)
Initial funding from the NSW Environmental Trust enabled the establishment of a ‘sandhills working group’, a collection of not-for-profit, government, irrigator and community groups whose combined expertise played a core role in getting the project off the ground. This was complemented with investment from the Riverina Local Land Services for engagement of landholders in fencing and revegetation work.
This early work has since been dramatically scaled up with funding from the Australian Government’s 20 Million Trees Programme facilitating a partnership with NSW National Parks & Wildlife Services which has seen almost 2,700 hectares of sandhill woodland restored in Yanga and Oolambeyan National Parks in the past year.
Through direct seeding and hand planting, a diverse mix of wattles, hop bush, emu bush and white cypress have been put into the ground over the past 18 months. The landscapes low rainfall and high summer temperatures have required an innovative and strategic approach to on-ground work.
Senior Project Manager, Stephen Bruce, says one of the first challenges for the project was to overcome the critical shortage of native seed.
“With little or no seed available on site, there is no other option than to reintroduce endemic species and rebuild seed stocks from scratch.”
Always on the lookout, here is one of many emu nests found while direct seeding at Yanga NP (Photo: Graham Fifield, Greening Australia)
Restoration of the endangered woodland will support a diverse array of native plants and animals, including the wedge-tailed eagles which will in turn help to keep rabbit populations in check. To ensure the long-term success of our efforts, field days are being run to raise awareness of the value of sandhills woodland amongst the community and to discuss the techniques and machinery which can be used to manage them sustainably into the future.
“Old age, storm damage and a total elimination of young palatable trees and shrubs due to grazing by domestic livestock, rabbits and goats, combined with soil erosion and exotic annual weed invasion, has all led to a loss of biodiversity and a decline in the natural character of the landscape of the western Riverina. A collaborative effort, such as what we have in place now, and renewed interest from farmers provides optimism for the future of these sandhills”, Stephen said.
With this year’s seeding completed by the end of July and good rainfall in August and October, we are confident of a very positive result.
Endless paddocks. Careful cultivation creates a perfect seed bed for native trees and shrubs. (Photo: Graham Fifield, Greening Australia)
Thank you to our partners at Coleambally Irrigation Co-operative, Murrumbidgee Irrigation, NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Australian Network for Plant Conservation, Murrumbidgee Landcare, Hay Landcare, Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.