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    Seedlings Grow Threatened Grassy Woodlands

    Peppermint 3 320A small team of researchers, land managers and practitioners at the University of New England and Northern Tablelands Local Land Services are embarking on an environmental project to protect and restore two locally endangered woodlands here in the heart of the New England.

    This project is funded by the NSW State Government ‘Saving our Species’ program (SoS), and focuses on two historically widespread woodland plant communities:

    1. Ribbon Gum-Mountain Gum-Snow Gum, and
    2. New England Peppermint.

    Several of the dominant tree species that make up these woodlands are favoured by Koalas as a food source and are critical in supporting a range of other native wildlife in our region. Arboreal mammals such as Sugar Gliders and Possums, small woodland bird species like Treecreepers and Whistlers, tree-hollow dwelling species and of course Echidnas, reptiles and insects that live and forage amongst fallen timber and bark are all dependant on woodlands such as these.Ben Vincent woodland 320

    In addition to supporting tree and animal species, both types of woodlands are home to a rich diversity of mid- and understory plant species, including native shrubs, herbs, grasses, sedges, orchids and many others, which contribute to a colourful display of wildflowers throughout spring and summer.

    Some local examples which are easily accessible to explore include; Snow Gums Bushland Reserve, Imbota Nature Reserve and Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve. There are also some good examples in some Travelling Stock Reserves, and here and there in patches along roadside reserves across the Tablelands. You may be fortunate enough to have a patch of one or both of these woodlands on your property.

    Historic clearing severely reduced the extent of these woodlands. Today, they generally remain as small woodland patches or as isolated paddock trees. In these altered conditions, woodlands are more susceptible to outside pressures and may be more prone to eucalyptus dieback, drought, over-grazing of the understory, weed species invasion, disease and limited natural seedling recruitment and survival. For these reasons, these endangered woodland communities are unlikely to persist into the future without assistance. One way to reverse the decline is to encourage healthy seedlings of these woodland species to grow in our landscape.

    Single paddock tree 320One of the first steps in this project is to visit existing woodland fragments and paddock trees, and survey the number of regenerating seedlings that are occurring naturally. We hope to do this across the Tablelands in as many different situations as possible, e.g. Travelling Stock Reserves, road side reserves and on farmlands. By doing so, we hope to gain a clearer understanding of under what conditions these woodland species are naturally regenerating, and be able to answer questions such as how much grazing pressure and how much weed encroachment, can the seedling trees withstand and still be able to germinate and grow?

    A careful eye for seedlings

    Sadly, our big old paddock and woodland trees will one day die. If there are no younger plants to take their place, then that patch of woodland will eventually disappear. A healthy woodland naturally avoids this fate by supporting many trees of varying sizes and ages. Planting trees on a large scale by hand is one way to address woodland decline, but it can be expensive and time consuming. So how can we encourage and aid existing parent trees to rear their own offspring?

    Severe drought, followed by heavy, soaking rains at the beginning of this year triggered some eucalypts in the region to regenerate, including our focal species. If you have woodland on your property it would be well worth keeping a careful eye out for these naturally regenerating seedlings, which may be no taller than a coffee mug at present, and or as small as the height of a 50 cent piece standing on end. If you are observing seedlings in your woodland it suggests that your woodland is healthy, at least in the short term and that this patch is actively investing in its future.Dalrympleana seedling320

    While it is an exciting time to observe adult trees recruiting their offspring, we shouldn't assume that their seedlings will survive. Given the current status of our two threatened woodland communities and the rarity of seedling recruitment events, we now have an important opportunity to actively protect growing seedlings. This can be done by temporarily destocking areas where seedlings are found, or by placing short-term fences around seedlings until they are well established. The protection of seedlings while they are at their most vulnerable increases their chances of survival and can also be a convenient way to expand the current patch size of your woodland and safeguard its future. It is also a unique opportunity to help nature to do its thing. It’s essentially planting trees for free!

    Do you have these woodlands on your property?

    Findings from this project will be shared with you, the community, so that in time to come we can all improve on the experience and knowledge that we already have in our passionate community and can effectively play a role in restoring these unique woodlands for generations to come.

    In the meantime we are asking interested landholders for your help. If you know you have, or think you might have, Ribbon/Manna Gum, Mountain Gum, Snow Gum or New England Peppermint on your property then you might have one of the two woodland communities that our project hopes to foster. In the short term, we would be interested in talking with you about conducting a survey of seedling recruitment in your paddocks.  

    If you are interested in being a part of this project, or would like to learn more about it, the SoS program, or the two endangered woodland communities, then we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch by contacting Tim Paine or Ben Vincent at the University of New England.

    Images courtesy of Ben Vincent.

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