A consortium of partners and landowners enhancing a critical wildlife corridor

David Rush, Partnership Facilitator, Great Eastern Ranges: Illawarra to Shoalhaven

In 2012, the Illawarra Shoalhaven GER Regional Partnership identified several priority focus corridors where environmental need and social/community capacity overlap.

One of the corridors, on the Illawarra Escarpment east of Robertson, received a NSW Environmental Trust grant in 2016. Called Thickening the Thin Green Line of the Illawarra Escarpment (or Thin Green Line for short), the project has also attracted funding from the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia.Recently, a rare Long-nosed Potoroo was captured in a motion camera, indicating the importance of the Thin Green Line project and private landholder involvement in reducing feral animals and enhancing corridors for wildlife in this unique part of south-east NSW.

Pinch Point

Studies on the Illawarra Escarpment, Coastal Plains and Plateau areas have identified a rich and diverse mix of native animals including 40 animal species listed as threatened, with some species that are only found along the Escarpment. The rainforests and moist eucalypt forests of the escarpment are recognised high quality habitat for the Sooty Owl, Stuttering Frog, Australian Brush-turkey, Logrunner, Grey-headed Flying Fox, Spotted-tailed Quoll, Long-nosed Potoroo and Highland’s Forest Skink, to name just a few.

Some of the forest of the Illawarra Escarpment and plateau areas are generally well represented in a number of formal conservation areas that provide significant refuge for native plants and animals. However, there exists significant gaps between the conservation areas and the habitat that supports this rich biodiversity, which is at its thinnest point in terms of connectivity between Sydney and the Victorian border. Without connected corridors and effective pest species control, many of the rare and threatened species will become increasingly isolated and their populations and genetic diversity will also decline.

A Partnership Approach

Increasing habitat connectivity and reducing feral animal impacts is therefore a vital part of the strategy to ‘thicken’ this thin green line, particularly in the face of climate change. The project is part of the NSW Environmental Trust Bush Connect program which will run from 2016-2026 (the first six years are funded). It involves a consortium of community, government and organisational partners including lead partner, the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA), Wingecarribee Council, South East Local Land Services (SELLS), University of Wollongong, Illawarra Aboriginal Land Council, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and land holders.

The Thin Green Line project engages land holders through workshops, training opportunities and funding assistance for stock fencing materials, tree planting and weed control. Another important component of the project is land holder education about the existence and impacts of foxes and feral cats on native animals.

WPSA a New Partner

In early 2017, the Thin Green Line project attracted the attention of a new partner, the Australian Wildlife Preservation Society. The Society’s board of directors approved additional funding of $5,000 to purchase fox and feral cat traps and deliver workshops between June and September this year. Thirty two land holders attended the workshops which were delivered jointly by SELLS (the vertebrate pest animal component) and the NPA (the motion cameras component).

We were delighted when one of the motion cameras captured a Long-nosed Potoroo on a property north-east of Robertson. Foxes were also captured in the majority of cameras and this has led to a more intensive engagement of land holders in feral animal control in this area.

Many of these landholders will take up the use of traps because, for a variety of reasons, not all of them are able to use baits for fox or rabbit control. However, the traps will be a good option for them and they will join other land holders who have also attended training workshops east of the Robertson area in recent years. The fox control effort will be truly landscape scale with the involvement of the SELLS Feral Fighters program and the OEH Quallidor project which is another partnership with landholders operating within, and extending for a 1km buffer around, Budderoo NP and Barren Grounds NR this spring.

Consistent Message

When considering what the project success would look like, we would see a trend of fewer feral animals across the Thin Green Line landscape with a corresponding increase in threatened species population numbers and distribution. But it is difficult to monitor threatened species because there are so few of them. One way to measure success is to monitor more common ground-dwelling native species including Bush Rats, Brown Antechinus, Long-nosed Bandicoots and some of the arboreal mammals such as Sugar Gliders and Ring-tailed Possums, and researchers from the University of Wollongong are involved in this. Land holder records of the number of feral animals controlled is another way to measure success. While this can be done with baiting programs; trapping and shooting records tend to be more accurate.

Given the range of different partners involved in the project, it is important that project messages are promoted and delivered in a consistent way. To this end, people are reminded that feral animal control is every land holders’ responsibility. There has never been a better time to get involved in pest animal management and land holders are asked to choose their preferred method of feral animal control. Whatever the methods used, the important thing is to be involved, and to continue to be involved seasonally for a number of years, in a coordinated effort with others in the same landscape at the same time. This will provide the best results.

Get Involved

Target areas for the project are Mount Murray, Macquarie Pass, Tongarra, Robertson, St Anthonys, Bells Hill, Knapsack Hill, Pheasant Ground, Knights Hill, Jamberoo Mountain and Upper Kangaroo River Valley areas. Land holders that would like to get involved or who would like further information are encouraged to contact project officer, David Rush on 0418 977 402 or davidr@npansw.org.au. To attend a pest animal control training course, contact Charles Signorelli on 0418 241 251 or email: charles.signorelli@lls.nsw.gov.au.

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