Latest News

Stay up to date with all the latest news on Nature Foundation's programs, projects and activities!

State of the Environment Report - Alex Nankivell's update

On 19 July 2022, Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment and Water, released the State of the Environment 2021 report. The Minister acknowledged the need for increased environmental funding, committed to protecting 30 per cent of land and sea, and recognised the critical role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and local communities must play in curbing the tide of our environmental decline.

Overall, the health of Australia’s environment has been assessed as poor and deteriorating due to increasing pressures from climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction.

The key findings were:

  • An 8% increase in species listed as threatened since 2016.

  • Threatening processes combine to create cumulative impacts on our environment and species.

  • Invasive species continue to significantly impact the environment, economy and human health, costing the country billions of dollars.

  • There has been an inability to effectively manage the pressures that result in species extinctions and deteriorating ecosystem conditions. This is expected to continue if more is not done.

At the press conference, the Minister also confirmed the government’s commitment to protecting 30 per cent of Australia’s land and 30 per cent of Australia’s sea by 2030 (30 x 30). This is a welcome shift in federal government policy and comes ahead of the final Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting (COP 15) in December 22 to be held in Montreal.

Nature Foundation, through its conservation and reserve management programs, has been assiduously working away at increasing the area that we manage for conservation outcomes (added 20,736 hectares to our portfolio in the last 3 years), restoring ecosystem health at its reserves and conducting targeted threatened species management projects on a growing list of species including Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby, Plains Mouse, Short-tailed Grasswren, Thick-billed Grasswren, Regent Parrots and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos.

The timing of this announcement aligns well with the refocusing of the Nature Foundation’s conservation efforts and strategic objective to continue the protection of high-value habitats.

We look forward to future announcements the federal government might make in the biodiversity conservation space.  

Conservation Conversations - watch the recording

On Monday, Chair of the Board Jan Ferguson OAM, newly appointed CEO Alex Nankivell and Deputy CEO Mark Ashley gave a comprehensive update on Nature Foundation's work over the last few months. This included how 10 years of managing Hiltaba and Witchelina Nature Reserves for conservation is paying off, updates on carbon projects on our properties and elsewhere and our dream to increase the amount of land we manage for conservation.

The evening was topped off by Dr Isabelle Onley, a Grand Start Grant recipient, filling us in on her fascinating PhD on Greater Stick-nest Rats. 

If you missed the webinar, or want to watch it again, you can watch the recording.

Photo: Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby with pouch young. Image credit: Maria Reed

Message from the Chair

I am writing to inform you of an important update regarding recruiting the new Chief Executive of the Nature Foundation. The Board approved the advertising of the position through Hender Consulting, ensuring we reached a broad and highly qualified field of potential candidates.

The Board were very clear that they wanted someone who could take the Foundation forward, is passionate about conservation, competent ecologically and who could build collaborative commercial, nature conservation and nature science relationships with existing or potential partners.  Also of importance was the need to attract someone who could support the Board to meet its governance accountabilities, provide services to members and generate income that would provide financial security and stability to the Foundation in the long term.

The selection panel and I shortlisted candidates independently from a competitive field to interview.  The process was comprehensive and unbiased, with all candidates performing well and to a high standard.

On Monday night, the Board met and unanimously supported the recommendation of the selection panel to appoint Alex Nankivell to fill the vacant position of Chief Executive of Nature Foundation.

Many would know that Alex is the longest-serving staff member of the organisation and has contributed significantly to the current success of our organisation. Alex has the vision to position the Nature Foundation as a leader in the Nature Positive Future.

Underpinned by
  • Targeted acquisition of land or partnerships that increase land being managed for biodiversity.
  • Significant partnerships developed with Traditional Owners.
  • Reintroductions of fauna or flora to our reserves.
  • A provider of Nature-based Solutions through best practice land management, science, and monitoring.
  • A knowledge leader in the field of conservation and biodiversity management.
I hope you will join me in wishing Alex all the best as he steers Nature Foundation to refocus our conservation efforts, ensuring we continue to be an inspirational, financially secure organisation that achieves operational excellence.

Jan Ferguson OAM
Chair
Pretty Point Campground now even better!

A team of eleven spent a week in June upgrading the popular Pretty Point Campground at Hiltaba Nature Reserve. Gawler Ranges National Park Rangers: Lindsay Brown, Sarah and Don and Nature Foundation volunteers: John Ovenden, Coral Johnson, Ian Pope, Chris and Maria Reed and generous sponsors: Greg Limbert, Sonya Coleman and Alison Hastings, put in long days completing the planned upgrade.

Over seven days the energetic team created a new entry and exit loop, delineated sixteen campsites, revegetated eroded bare patches by scarifying and seeding the area, planted 40 trees, resited fire rings, installed new signage and more than 300 recycled wooden fence post bollards and realigned the entry to the Betty and Bob Lewis Walking Trail!

A big thank you goes out to Greg and Sonya for donating the use of their bobcat for over twenty hours of digging post holes and finishing off the ground surface, and for a truckload of cement mix. Also to Ranger in Charge Lindsay Brown for supplying over thirty trees and native seeds of local provenance, plus securing a grant to lease a tractor with a scarifier to rip the revegetation areas. And of course to the Nature Foundation volunteers too!
                                             
Fineys Contracting from Wudinna also graded the road into Pretty Point and the loop road through the campground as well as creating the much needed water run offs.

We're also grateful to the Gawler Ranges National Park staff for planning the upgrade and collecting the seed prior to the event.

Come and check out the upgraded campground! Book now online!
Rare bird spotted during Witchelina bird survey

Birds SA concluded their autumn bird survey for Witchelina Nature Reserve this week, with some more interesting observations. 

The landscape remains wet from the six significant rain events since November 2021 and there are large numbers of some species, like Zebra Finches, that respond quickly to the flush of growth and the plentiful feed available. Orange and Crimson Chats, Budgerigars, Wedge-bills and Fairy-wrens, amongst many other species, can be frequently seen, while there are many raptors taking advantage of the available food. However the most noteworthy record this week was of one of South Australia’s rarest birds, the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface. This small bird, generally considered to be SA’s only endemic species, occurs sparsely across remote areas of northern SA and is rarely seen. 

This week the team (Andrew Black, Philippa Horton, Marg Evans, Peter Christie and rotational managers Phil Cole and Jenny Hiscock) found this bird at two locations (one sighting of two birds, one of two). This is an exciting record with only two other observations on the Reserve in recent years, one by Rotational Manager Greg Bannon and one by Port Augusta birder Bernie Hasse and others, and none during the regular surveys since 2014. The Painted Finches (only recorded once before on Witchelina) observed by the survey team a few weeks ago were not seen again. The next bird survey is scheduled for October.

Photo of Chestnut-breasted Whiteface courtesy Jenny Hiscock
Planting Days at Tiliqua and Watchalunga!

We have two planting days coming up - one at Tiliqua Nature Reserve (10 km north-east of Burra) on Thursday 23 June and one at Watchalunga Nature Reserve (Winery Rd, Finniss) on Sunday 31 July. 

Morning tea and lunch provided on both days. 

Please see our Event page for all details including how to register. 



 
Latest Nature Matters!

Welcome to the second edition of Nature Matters for 2022 – we hope you enjoy reading it! 
 
In this edition we continue our Vital Work Appeal. Our target is $100,000 and the end of financial year is the perfect time to donate and reduce tax at the same time! You can help stop and reverse nature loss in South Australia by making a donation to the Vital Work Appeal today.

Together we can achieve the conservation outcomes our natural environment depends on! 
 
Read Nature Matters here.
 
📷 Hiltaba Nature Reserve vista by Chris Warrior
Bucketing down at Witchelina!

A recent image from Witchelina Nature Reserve following heavy rainfall. Our Rotational Managers reported that the rain gauge went from 9 mil to 25 mil in 1.5 hours – that’s what you call bucketing down!

Our end of financial year Vital Work Appeal will raise funds to make the most of the resulting boom in our own backyard.

📸 Photo courtesy Fred and Petra van der Heiden, Rotational Managers
Flocks of Regent Parrots at Murbpook!

Our fabulous volunteer Coral Johnston was very excited to record flocks of Regent Parrots (Polytelis anthopeplus) at Murbpook Nature Reserve last week, counting at least 26! Image courtesy of Coral.

We have recorded a group of three Regent Parrots several times over the last year, and most recently in April, but never this many so it's great news!

The Regent Parrot feeds in Mallee and breeds in the hollows of River Red Gums along the River Murray in South Australia between Swan Reach and Renmark. It is also found in other parts of the south-west corner of the Murray Darling Basin and is listed as vulnerable both in South Australia and nationally. 
Painted Finches spotted at Witchelina!

This week a team conducted the 6-monthly bird survey at Witchelina Nature Reserve.  Given the significant rainfall both on Witchelina and across the north we thought we might find some interesting birds and this proved correct!  
 
On Termination Dam we found 30 or so Painted Finches Emblema pictum – a bird common in the north of Australia and occasionally seen further south, including the Flinders Ranges, but not previously recorded on Witchelina.  It may be these birds have been pushed south following significant breeding further north after the summer rains.  
 
This was a very exciting find for the survey team (Philippa Horton, Marg Evans, Jennifer Hiscock, Peter Christy and Rotational Manager Phil Cole), and for Nature Foundation.  In total nearly 90 bird species were recorded during the survey on the property; many more than for previous surveys conducted during drier times. Photo courtesy of Phil Cole.
Congratulations to Nature Foundation Grand Start Grant recipient Isabelle Onley

Isabelle has recently published her PhD research on the vulnerable Greater stick-nest rat (Leporillus conditor). Her original project was titled ‘Conservation genomics and adaptation of translocated Greater Stick Nest Rats under climate change’.

This great article in The Conversation explores how the female greater stick-nest rat rules the roost!

You can read more about Isabelle’s research published in scientific journals via the links below:
https://www.mdpi.com/2075-1729/11/7/653
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/aec.13100

Find out more about how Nature Foundation supports student research.
Our Mike Bull Award for Early Career Nature Scientists is currently open for applications!

Photo of Isabelle Onley installing HOBO loggers inside stick-nest rat nests at Arid Recovery courtesy Georgie Neave
 
Ramco Bird Walk

Please join us at Ramco Lagoon, near Waikerie (a 2-hour drive from Adelaide) for a guided walk to survey our local birds.

Thursday 19 May 2022 at 10 am

The walk is suitable for beginner bird watchers and anyone interested in our local wetlands.

Free event, register at https://ramco_bird_walk.eventbrite.com.au

For further info please email [email protected]
 
CEO Hugo Hopton retires

The CEO Hugo Hopton has retired effective 22 April 2022 after over six years service with Nature Foundation.

Throughout his career Hugo has worked with communities and industries in land conservation, primary production, native vegetation management and water management and built relationships with Nature Foundation’s multiple stakeholders.

Just a few highlights of Hugo’s time at Nature Foundation include hosting ALCA’s national Private Land Conservation conference in 2019 and shepherding the Revitalising Private Conservation in South Australia program for existing and prospective Heritage Agreement Owners. Hugo is known to be a passionate advocate for nature on behalf of the environmental sector.

On behalf of everyone at Nature Foundation and our members, supporters, partners and sponsors, we wish Hugo well in retirement
Taking thermal imagery to new heights!

We were delighted to host Ross McEwan (CEO) and Joe Paparella (Regional Customer Executive SA/NT) from NAB at Prospect and Para Woodlands Nature Reserve to discuss how we are achieving the best biodiversity outcomes on our nature reserves.  An NAB Foundation grant will help fund a remotely piloted aircraft fixed with thermal cameras to detect native and pest animals at Witchelina and Hiltaba Nature Reserves. View the video about this project here. 

This will be the first time Nature Foundation has been able to conduct surveys at this scale, covering an area larger than Kangaroo Island. Aerial surveys will be a huge help in validating our on-ground management strategies – this highly specialised technology provides the precision and accuracy to increase our knowledge and understanding of the distribution of animals.  We are devising a comprehensive monitoring program that will enable us to manage both native and pest animals in a much more coordinated way.

Recovery for northern wetland at Murbpook

It was a momentous day last week when Nature Foundation was able to start the recovery phase for the northern wetland at its Murbpook Nature Reserve on Ngaiawang country.

This particular wetland has not been full for five years. Gum trees around the wetland are badly stressed, and much of the vegetation you would typically see at a healthy wetland is missing. By filling the wetland with Commonwealth environmental water we expect to trigger some positive changes for the wetland and improve habitat for threatened species like the Regent Parrot and Southern Bell Frog.

There to help out and witness the start of the recovery phase were two representatives from the First Peoples of the River Murray Mallee Native Title Claimant Group 2 – Jenny Grace-Giles and Steve Clarke, along with Nature Foundation’s Natalie Stalenberg and Lucy Clive. Find out more about Murbpook
Nature Matters first edition for 2022!

We are delighted to present the first Nature Matters newsletter for the year and hope you enjoy reading it! In this edition we are launching our Vital Work Appeal.

You can help stop and reverse nature loss in South Australia by making a donation to the Vital Work Appeal today. Every donation will help protect more landscapes, stop species loss and mitigate the effects of climate change. Together we can achieve the conservation outcomes our natural environment depends on.  Thank you so much for all of your support.
 
Brock's research at Hiltaba

You may have read about Brock Hedges, Nature Foundation’s 2019 Roy and Marjory Edwards Scholarship recipient and University of Adelaide PhD candidate in Nature Matters Issue 3, 2021.

His research on the rock holes has been ongoing at Hiltaba over the last three years. Due to damage to some of his equipment deployed in 2021, he had to dash to Hiltaba in January.

Find out what he got up to and see some lovely images of Hiltaba and its fauna on his blog.
Join us for Friday Night Frogs at the beautiful Loxton Waterfront.

Learn about our local frogs and the FrogSpotter app at this fun sunset talk.

Using the FrogSpotter app is an easy and fun way to contribute to research on how our local frogs are doing - and you will be emailed the results of what you find.

The FrogSpotter app can be downloaded from the FrogWatch SA website (android) or the app store (apple). By taking recordings once a month (on the third weekend) we can get some regular, really useful data.
 
Book here: https://loxton_frogs.eventbrite.com.au
 
Witchelina Nature Reserve carbon project

Liam Crook our Nature Solutions Program Coordinator recently supported GreenCollar's assessment of Witchelina Nature Reserve as a potential Human Induced Regeneration carbon project, which increases carbon sequestration by adjusting land management practices.

So far, the assessment has included vegetation measurements at over 60 survey points, capturing the remarkable diversity of vegetation and soil types across Witchelina’s 1 million acres.

It was a fantastic time to visit Witchelina after all the recent rain!
Congratulations to the Kids on Country team

Congratulations to Katie Perry and Warren Milera on their wonderful presentation to the Australian Land Conservation Alliance's (ALCA) PLC22 conference on Nature Foundation's Kids on Country program, and how they are building community engagement and resilience in young Aboriginal people! Attendees were also treated to Warren's performance of a song he shares with participants at the end of Kids on Country camps.

He said that Traditional Owners view Kids on Country as a major step towards building success for young Aboriginal people and that it provides grounding in caring for country.

Find out more about this life-changing program.
Fantastic presentation on Revitalising Private Conservation in South Australia

Another fantastic presentation at the Australian Land Conservation Alliance's (ALCA) PLC22 conference by Claire Fuller on Revitalising Private Conservation in South Australia. The program has been expanding the number, extent and quality of protected areas of native vegetation on private land in South Australia over the past 15 months.

Claire shared statistics demonstrating the tremendous impact of the program and recent case studies including reducing feral pig impacts on Kangaroo Island!

Find out more about this great program
New online booking system for Witchelina and Hiltaba

Have you seen our new online booking system for visiting Witchelina and Hiltaba Nature Reserves?

You can now view the different types of accommodation, find out if your preferred dates are available and book nature drives online!

Simply visit this page and click on Visit Hiltaba or Visit Witchelina


📷 Hiltaba Nature Reserve; Bill Doyle
South Australians for Climate Action

Nature Foundation is proud to stand with many other businesses, institutions and community organisations to seek a commitment from all political parties and candidates at the 2022 state election to implement powerful policies that protect our community, economy and environment from climate change impacts.

South Australia has a track record of bipartisan leadership on climate and energy policy, and we are well-placed to both improve our climate future and build the new economy powered by clean energy. We have a lot to gain by responding positively and forcefully to the changing climate. Now is the time to innovate for climate resilience and carbon-neutrality, to adapt our energy, transport, industry and agriculture to net zero emissions, and to reap the benefits in export and growth opportunities. Our goal must be the rapid achievement of 100% green energy, climate smart agriculture and biodiversity protection. Read the full statement here. 
PLC2022 to be held online 8 to 10 March, register now!
 
In light of the continued uncertainty related to COVID-19, the ALCA Board has decided to shift PLC2022 to being a virtual event held on the scheduled dates of 8 to 10 March, which will also make this national event accessible to more people.

The ALCA team is in the process of ensuring the program is accessible and allows maximum engagement between the delegates and speakers. The full program will be delivered, ensuring diverse opportunities for learning, sharing and networking. 
 
It is so important that we stop to recognise and celebrate the quality and impact of private land conservation, so that we are collectively reinvigorated in our pursuit of even better outcomes for Australia’s unique biodiversity!  View Virtual PLC2022 Program 

Photo: Mark Brettschneider, Biodiversity Officer for Gayini Nimmie-Caira
 
Witchelina Washout!

Wonderful to see the effects of so much rain at Witchelina Nature Reserve.

This drone image by Graeme Tonkin shows what 145.2 mm total for the week beginning 17 January looks like on the ground!

📷 Graeme Tonkin



 
Raptor Appeal update

Thank you so much to everyone who supported our Raptor Appeal to help solve the mysteries of the majestic Wedge-tailed Eagles at Witchelina Nature Reserve.

We are aiming to carefully capture at least 12 adult Wedge-tailed eagles to fit them with a GPS collar* with a three-year lifespan that will provide a crucial amount of data. This methodology has been tested not only around the world but also here in Australia and our raptor experts Ian Falkenberg and Nick Mooney are experienced in this.

Thanks to our members and supporters we have raised nearly $30,000, which will enable us to purchase 10 GPS collars! You, or a group of friends can still sponsor a GPS collar and we’ll send an annual update of where the tracked Wedgies have been flying for the life of the collar.

With your support we can continue to manage Witchelina so that it continues to be an important refuge for these majestic raptors. Every donation will help!

*Ornitrack 10 Solar Powered GPS GSM/GPRS 3G Trackers
Note the GPS is not placed around the neck but attached to the back using a specially designed harness.

SA collaboration reviving vital River Murray wetlands

More than 360 hectares of historic wetlands in South Australia's Riverland will open to visitors for the first time this week, as works progress on a major conservation project led by Nature Foundation together with SA Water.

One of eight reserves managed by Nature Foundation, the Murbpook Nature Reserve – which houses the wetlands – is on the western bank of the River Murray between Blanchetown and Morgan and was acquired as part of a vegetation offset requirement for SA Water's zero cost energy future initiative.

The reserve will host a guided bird walk on Friday 26 November between 10am and 3pm, providing keen birdwatchers with the first opportunity to explore.

Nature Foundation Chair Jan Ferguson OAM said the reserve is an important conservation site for 17 threatened fauna species and two rare flora species.

"Recognising the urgent need to help preserve the biodiversity of the wetlands and floodplains of the River Murray, SA Water's investment will allow us to permanently set aside the Murbpook Lagoon property for its primary purpose of growing and enhancing biodiversity conservation," Jan said.

Read the full media release.

Find out more about Murbpook and view our beautiful video on the reserve here. 

 

COVID Double Vaccination Requirements for Nature Foundation
 
With the opening of South Australia’s borders next week and increased likelihood of COVID in our state, Nature Foundation will require all staff, volunteers and visitors to be double vaccinated for COVID as a requirement of entry to our offices, work sites and nature reserves from Tuesday 23 November.
 
Please note that evidence of vaccination will be required prior to entry.
 
Thank you for your understanding and respecting our position on ensuring the wellbeing of our community and personnel.
 
 
KoC gets commendation!

We know that our unique Kids on Country (KoC) program has a huge positive impact on the lives of the young Aboriginal people who participate in it. But it’s exciting for us to hear that the impacts are being noticed further afield.

Recently Nature Foundation received a letter of commendation from Steve, a coach driver who has participated in several KoC camps.

As some of the participating schools are located in Adelaide, and the camps take place at Witchelina and Hiltaba, a driver and coach are engaged for the duration of the camp. The time the driver spends with the group is significant with travel time to the reserves taking at least seven hours.

Steve looks forward to each opportunity to be part of the KoC program and doing his part in being a positive influence on the young attendees.

He’s also learned a few things by attending the camps – he finds the cultural aspects very interesting and believes that they are a very important part of the program.

“I have seen first-hand and repeatedly, the positive effect these camps have had on the kids attending. Often kids have been quiet and reserved to start with and before long they start opening up, making new friends, and come together as a group relaxing and enjoying themselves,” says Steve.
 
It’s no wonder the program builds employability skills for young Aboriginal people by improving wellbeing, teaching life skills, building confidence 'on country' and sparking interest in conservation and land management.
 
The success of these camps in due to the hard work and commitment of Katie Perry, Youth Programs Coordinator, Warren Milera and the rest of the team.

You can help us continue to provide life-changing opportunities for young Aboriginal people by making a donation.
Protecting land and vulnerable species, bit by bit

Nearly four and a half years ago Nature Foundation volunteer Coral Johnston and her siblings became proud owners of a large Riverland bushblock. It was just what she’d been searching for: natural scrub in good condition, surrounded by other good quality bushland and at more than 900 ha, it was larger than any other property she’d seen.

“My motivation to buy it was so that I could go camping there and to be able to conserve something into the future,” said Coral.

The decision to buy was easy when they returned for a second look and discovered a malleefowl mound.

Because the vegetation on the Heritage Agreement property is in such good condition she hasn’t had to do much to maintain it, so she’s spent most of her time monitoring it. She has walked over 80 percent of the property and has discovered several wombat burrows and more malleefowl mounds.

“I do a lot of bird watching. I’ve seen Regent Parrots on a few occasions. I’m also a member of the Australian Plant Society so I identify the plants I find on the block. I’m adding to both the flora and fauna species lists that I was given when we bought the block.

“This spring and summer I want to focus on invertebrates. Invertebrates are harder to identify to species level.  Some you need to catch and look at them under a microscope or dissect them to be able to identify them. I don’t want to kill them so I won’t do that. I’ll just ID them to the best of my ability.”

She uses camera traps to record comings and goings of animals on the property, especially malleefowl. These ground-dwelling birds are the size of a large chicken and are well camouflaged which makes them hard to spot.

She keeps close tabs on a mound she located a couple of years ago.

“It looked really old – when they finish using them, they are open in the middle - a donut shape in the sand. The ring of sand had a crust on it and small herbs growing on it – all signs it hadn’t been used in quite a while.

“Then last year it was used again. The birds scratch mulch from the surrounding area into the middle. The area around looks like it’s been raked clean. Then they wait for rain, scratch it over and cover it with sand.

“When the mulch starts to compost, they dig it out and the female lays an egg in the mound and they cover it over with the mulch again. The composting action does the incubating of the eggs.

“They put a huge amount of effort put into the mound. Usually both birds tend to it every day. They usually turn up at about sunrise. Sometimes they might scratch around the top, or they might dig it right out, poke their beak in to test the temperature and then fill it up again.

“Then they go back again in the evening and do the same thing. The process can take two to three hours each visit.”

Females lay an egg every few days, so they scratch out the mound each time so she can lay the next one, and then it gets covered up again. They lay an average of about 16 eggs in a good season and Coral has recorded at least 12 hatchlings from one mound on her property.

“The adults must know where in the mound the eggs are laid – I imagine them in a circle – and by the time all the space has been filled, the early ones have begun to hatch.

“The babies hatch underground and dig their way out. A baby will pop up, dust itself off, quickly recuperate and then run off, sometimes within seconds of surfacing.”

“I’ve got camera trap images where a chick has hatched while the adults are scratching out the nest – and there is no interaction between them!”

Heart-warming stories like these, of private landowners taking a deep interest in the fauna and flora on their properties and doing their utmost to protect and improve them, are taking place all around South Australia. Coral is one of 1600 private conservation and primary producer landholders, who protect diverse landscapes and native plants and animals, exceeding 1.5 million hectares. These properties protect remnant vegetation in perpetuity and often form part of important wildlife corridors, providing an extension to national and conservation parks.

Photo: Malleefowl chick (Coral Johnston)
Rabbits on Witchelina and Hiltaba

With rabbit numbers on the increase on our two largest reserves, Witchelina and Hiltaba, in autumn we commenced a trial biological control with RHDV-K5, a variant of Calicivirus. 

Although rabbit numbers have not recovered to the pre-Calicivirus numbers, they persist in lower densities and impact native vegetation.

We decided to use RHDV-K5 as a serious management strategy, in lieu of the more traditional mechanical ripping of warrens, because of the risk of damaging cultural heritage sites without proper heritage clearances, which is difficult to do over such large areas. Ripping also damages vegetation.

It’s been quite a learning curve for Alex Nankivell, Science and Knowledge Program Manager and John Ovenden, the Rotational Manager overseeing the project on the ground. 

It is not as simple as just releasing the virus: everything has to come together perfectly: no green feed available, flies present to help spread it, trained staff on site for at least 5 days (to carry out the release and 4 days of pre-feeding) and no unweaned kittens present (which develop immunity if their mothers are exposed). The trial at Hiltaba was delayed until early summer because of early rain bringing on green feed and a cold snap making the insects disappear.

Assessing the impact of the trial is ongoing and challenging because it is difficult to know how many rabbits were using each warren before treatment. However, three camera traps located near the treated warrens should provide some information.

The team are putting together internal procedures to assist carrying out the strategy and are developing the Fulcrum app as a tool to make data collection easy for the Rotational Managers via their mobile phones.

Nature Foundation has recently become a corporate member of Rabbit-free Australia, so that we officially become part of the solution to Australia’s rabbit problem, have access to the latest informed commentary about rabbit matters and help fund rabbit-related research and communication programs.

Photo: A shovel-made ‘scrape’ (rabbits are attracted to disturbed soil) sprinkled with ‘pre-feed’ oats (they take a few days to get used to a new food source) near a rabbit warren on Witchelina. (John Ovenden)
Eureka!

Recent Witchelina Nature Reserve visitor, Anne Dawes from nearby Farina Station, was on the hunt for evidence of Chinese market gardens, copper and gold! 

Picturesque Mirra Weir near Bungerider Well was Anne and her friends’ first destination after consulting with Property Manager Chris Reed. Anne had heard stories of Chinese market gardeners setting up in the vicinity and using water from the weir.

“But we could not work out where the vegetables would have been grown though, as the ground appears salty and stony,” said Anne.

One of Nature Foundation’s Rotational Managers, Greg Bannon, provided some insight: “It’s possible that the water quality at Mirra Weir was better when the weir was built because the stonework is very high quality and a lot of physical effort and cost went into building it. It has puzzled me that someone would have gone to that effort to contain water that was not fit for use.”
 
Next, the group headed towards Rischbieth Well where they looked around the old copper mine.

“I found out recently that my great-great grandfather purchased a 32nd share in it back in 1888. This area has been mined quite extensively and the shafts appeared deep!”

Next stop was Rischbieth Well itself.

“There are also stories of vegetables being grown and taken to Callanna where they were sold to people from Marree as well as being taken to the railway and sold along the line,” Anne said.

Another Rotational Manager, Phil Cole, confirmed that there were Chinese gardens in the northern part of South Australia: In the late nineteenth century, Chinese gardeners were active supplying vegetables in Birdsville, Marree, Innamincka as well as Oodnadatta… The usual pattern was for a gardener to establish a patch in the fertile alluvial soil on the river flat beside a reliable waterhole and plant a market crop which could be watered by hand: usually including potatoes, cabbages, watermelons and maize. (DEH publication)

“It’s plausible that the garden at Rischbieth could have supplied Callanna or Marree. Rischbieth Well is the best water in the region,” said Phil.

Greg provided further insight: “The links for these Chinese vegetable gardens, sometimes fairly short-lived, was the railway and water”. 

“The railway tracks were surveyed to include water sources of good enough quality to top up steam train boilers. Vegetables, like steam trains, need reasonable water!

“There were a lot of Chinese labourers and stonemasons employed in track construction.”

The South Australian Register, 24 February 1879 provides some insight to why there was a demand for vegetables: (The Chinese railway workers) spend very little in drink, but on the whole they live in far superior style to the white men… They live to a great extent on rice… and preserved fruits, but their demand for fowls and pork outstrips all the efforts of the farmers to keep them supplied. They purchase their supplies… from the European storekeepers, but there are also some stores which are run by Chinese.

“The gardens moved as the railway lines progressed. Some may have stayed a bit longer after the construction gangs moved on,” said Greg.

Anne had also heard rumours of a lady going off to mine gold near Rischbieth Well.

Although she couldn’t find any on the ground, Phil unearthed a reference in the South Australian Register, 15 November 1888: Gold Discovered Near Hergott*. A telegram has been received by the owners of Mount North-West Station** which states: — Splendid gold is being obtained at Rischbieth Well. About 1 oz to the load in alluvial.

Anne and her party topped off their day of exploration with an enjoyable meal at the Marree Hotel!

If you are interested in visiting some of the sites mentioned in this article, please speak to the Rotational Manager on duty when you arrive at the reserve.
 
*Hergott Springs, approx 25 miles from Rischbieth’s Well
**now part of Witchelina
Thanks to Greg Bannon, Phil Cole and John Mannion for the information contained in this article.

Photo: Group of locals checking out Mirra Weir (Anne Dawes)
Leech removal is not the primary driver of basking behavior in a freshwater turtle

Dr Eric Norberg, the 2020 Mike Bull Award winner in Nature Foundation’s research grants program is one of the authors of this article ‘Leech removal is not the primary driver of basking behavior in a freshwater turtle’. The researchers examined the number of leeches that were removed from Krefft's river turtles (Emydura macquarii krefftii) after experimentally making turtles bask at a range of times of day, durations, and temperatures. They found that leech removal does not appear to be the purpose of the majority of basking events. Read the full article here.

Find out more about research grants.

📷 Dr Eric Nordberg and Kreft's River Turtle; Photo Rishab Pillai
Port Augusta Bird Observers Group at Witchelina


Last month Witchelina Nature Reserve was the destination for the Birds SA affiliated Port Augusta Bird Observers Group, The Babblers, who were keen to get snaps of the elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface recently sighted on the property.

On their first afternoon, the seven birders headed to where the bird had been sighted. Although they spotted Mulga Parrots and White-breasted Woodswallows there was no joy on the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface.

The next day they walked around the homestead and along a dry creek bed, finding a range of birds including Zebra Finches, a Wedge-tailed Eagle, an Elegant Parrot, White-plumed and Singing Honeyeaters, Black-faced Woodswallows, Tree Martins, Striated Pardalote and an Owlet Nightjar.

Although the nearby dam was dry, White-winged Fairy-wrens, Welcome Swallows, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, White-browed Babblers and more were spotted in the surrounding scrub.

Still on the lookout for the Whiteface, the group set off to drive the 117km Dunes – Wildflower Nature Drive which took them through rocky hills, gibber plains, bluebush plains and sand dune country. Along the way they spotted Cinnamon Quail-thrush, Whistling Kites, Rufous Fieldwrens, Chirruping Wedgebills and a Thick-billed Grasswren amongst others. As they drove along the eastern boundary through bluebush plains, some Whiteface were seen and heard but the group were unable to confirm whether they were Chestnut-breasted or not. They had to be satisfied with photographing a flock of Chestnut-crowned Babblers instead.

They next morning they set off along the 90km Bungarider Nature Drive. As they drove along a creek bed near the homestead, they added Purple-backed Fairy-wrens, Mallee Ringneck, Southern Whiteface and Common Bronzewings to the bird list.

Birds were scarce in the dry, bare rocky hills country but as they crossed a bluebush plain, some small birds flew off. After following them on foot they were met with success! They spotted four Chestnut-breasted Whiteface, and to top it off, they also sighted a Thick-billed Grasswren.

“A total of 36 bird species were seen,” said Bernie Haase, trip leader, “but the birds of the trip would have to be the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface and the Thick-billed Grasswrens”.

The elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface is currently listed as Near Threatened in South Australia under SA legislation - National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

Photo: Elusive Chestnut-breasted Whiteface at Witchelina (credit: Richard Croll)

Planting more Emu-wren habitat

Whilst hard at work planting 800 sedges and lignum seedlings, Nature Foundation and Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association (GWLAP) staff were overjoyed to see some Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wrens in vegetation that had been planted a few years ago.

It is living proof that years of growing and planting to increase habitat for the critically endangered species is paying dividends.

This year’s seedlings, grown by Ben Simon, Senior Project Officer, GWLAP, are infill in the revegetation area in this remnant Fleurieu Peninsula swamp, which is listed as a critically endangered ecological community. 

This season GWLAP will plant a further 950 seedlings along the edges of the samphire and rush habitat with species that will benefit the Emu-wrens, infilling gaps between previously planted patches. They will also undertake further weed control.

This planting day was part of a much-valued partnership between GWLAP and Nature Foundation that has been running for the past five years.

Photo: The team were pleased to record Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-wrens in Lignum habitat re-established a few years ago (Leah Hunter, GWLAP)
Exciting Latham’s Snipe news this week!

Colleagues at the Wild Bird Society of Japan made another attempt at tagging Snipe in Hokkaido and three of their birds have made it south, flying non-stop from Hokkaido across the Pacific ocean! Latham’s Snipe travel from Japan to southeastern Australia each year to feed. This is the first time satellite tracks have been recorded for a full northward or southward migration.

Our Water For Nature program site at Milang provides Commonwealth environmental water for Latham's Snipe habitat each year. We partner with Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board to manage the watering, and together with local volunteers survey for Snipe each month while they are visiting.

Read more here. 
Emus and more – on rotation at Hiltaba Nature Reserve

One of the highlights of Rotational managers Greg and Janet’s recent rotation at Hiltaba was coming across a mob of 13 inquisitive teenage emus. The flock slowly approached them as they drove on the Yardea Road. Don’t you like the hairdo on the leader of the pack?

But their rotation wasn’t all bird-watching! They managed to see a lot of flowering mallee and shrubs too. And the Porcupine Grass (Triodia) will look spectacular in the next few weeks as there were plenty of seed heads beginning to grow. 

As always, there was plenty of hard work on their rotation including looking after 14 visitors. Greg spent a lot of time spraying weeds, mowing near the cottages and other handyman jobs. He assisted the neighbouring Lake Everard station managers with a flat trailer tyre – they were taking an ultralight aircraft to Ceduna for a service but didn’t get far. He helped them pump up their tyre and hopefully they got there.

Photo: Head honcho of the emu tribe (Greg Bannon)
Grant makes a big difference

Matt and Kristina delight in seeing the Sacred Kingfisher that is a rare visitor to a dam on their 7 hectare property in Bradbury, a small hamlet in the Adelaide Hills. Grey Fantails are frequent visitors, flitting across the surface. Herons and the Pacific Black duck are regulars too.

“A delightful surprise recently was seeing a Bassian Thrush, and a large family of White-winged Choughs, which we had not seen since 2005,” says Matt. “And at least two species of frogs are present; I often find Ewings tree frogs in watering cans near the lower dam in summer.”

Formerly part of a small dairy farm, one third of the property is remnant vegetation, some of which is in good condition, comprising Stringybark woodland/forest with a mixed understory including Tea tree, Yacca and Lomandra. A flat area next to the remnant vegetation is showing natural regeneration of Stringybarks and Matt and Kristina are protecting it by putting a Heritage Agreement on it so the regeneration can continue.

“Weeds were, are and will be the bane of our lives at Bradbury. The main invaders are Erica, Broom Watsonia and Blackberry, Boneseed, Pittosporum and Pine trees. In the first few years, with the help of an Envirofund Grant we cleared about half the creek line of Blackberry, eliminated most of the Boneseed and planted hundreds of Sheoak, South Australian Blue Gum, Oleara ramulosa and Blackwood. The seedlings are flourishing, and it has been good to see some Tea trees surviving on the banks of the creek.” 

Unfortunately, weeds have gained the upper hand again and although Matt and Kristina are able to spend more time weeding these days, the gains have been small. 

“Thus, we were pleased to receive a Revitalising Private Conservation grant from the South Australian Government through Nature Foundation. It has enabled us to employ and benefit from the experience and skills and work of the team from Minimal Disturbance Bushcare," says Matt.

"Removing scattered Erica from the best areas of native vegetation has been a priority while we have plodded on plucking small Broom and Boneseed and ringbarking Acacia longifolia and pine trees. With the help of Minimal Disturbance Bushcare we have made good progress having removed hundreds of Erica. Watsonia is next on our agenda.”

“Help makes a big difference to the progress that we can make so we are grateful to Nature Foundation (Claire), Heritage Agreement Branch (Karina) and Minimal Disturbance Bushcare (Danny and team) for their guidance, advice, and work.”

Photo: Flat area adjacent to the best native vegetation where natural regeneration of Stringybarks is occurring (Matt and Kristina) 
 
Royal Flying Doctor Service visits Hiltaba

It was wonderful to welcome the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Hiltaba Nature Reserve for the first SA rural COVID-19 clinic! The Homestead dining room was transformed into a clinic and the lounge became a ‘waiting’ room. Afternoon tea was also served 🙂

Locals enjoyed visiting Hiltaba, with some neighbours meeting for the first time!

The RFDS COVID clinic went very well and will be returning on Monday 19 July to give second Pfizer injections.
Did you miss our Winter Wonders: Geegeela Nature Reserve webinar?

Find out how wildlife is surveyed at one of Nature Foundation’s reserves in the Limestone Coast of South Australia. Guests from Nature Foundation, Nature Glenelg Trust and Scientific Expedition Group discuss the importance of private land conservation and biodiversity in the Bangham district of SA.

Watch the full recording here!

This project is funded by the Limestone Coast Landscape Board through the Grassroots Grants Program.
Scats and swabs on a magical piece of KI

There’s a large coastal bushland property on Kangaroo Island, a magical place that’s home to Peter and James, a whole lot of bush and all sorts of critters.
 
Tired of seeing the wilderness being whittled away and wanting to play a part in protecting some of it, Peter and James bought their block 11 years ago and placed a Heritage Agreement on 100 acres to protect it forever. Since then, they’ve been regenerating the land and actively involved in citizen science projects.
 
Threatened animals such as the Hooded Plover, Kangaroo Island Echidna, White bellied Sea Eagle, Rosenberg’s Goanna and Beautiful Firetail are a frequent, if not daily sighting for them and in spring, thousands of near threatened Hare Orchid appear along with 11 other orchids.

Peter’s been helping out Dr Peggy Rismiller from University of Adelaide’s Echidna Conservation Science Initiative (EchidnaCSI) project since it commenced in 2017. He’s been submitting photos and locations of echidnas and their scats, to help build our understanding of these unique creatures for their future conservation. In this project, Dr Rismiller has teamed up with University of Adelaide molecular researchers including Prof Frank Grutzner and Dr Tahlia Perry and the community, to spot echidnas and to collect scats for molecular analysis to learn more about their diet and health. 

At the moment, Peggy, who has researched KI echidnas for 35 years, and Mike McKelvey are keen to get tummy and cloaca swabs, particularly repeated swabs of the same animal. Molecular information from these can reveal interesting changes during their breeding cycle or as a result of environmental change like the recent bush fires.

As part of this project, Peter has already located two echidnas on his property and Peggy and Mike have swabbed and weighed them. These swabs are sent to Dr Perry at the University for molecular analysis. Peggy also collects all stages of ticks from echidnas for Dr Stephen Barker, University of Queensland. He is piecing together their life history and updating information for his work “Ticks of Australia”. Curiously, the ticks are echidna-specific and remain as eggs in the soil until an echidna ambles past. 

Join leading researchers in echidna and insect biology to learn all about the secret lives of these remarkable species on Kangaroo Island. Free event on KI, 22 August 2021. 
Echidnas are a protected species and these researchers have ethics and DEW permits to carry out this field work.
Photo: Peter Hastwell

Pygmy bluetongue research

Recently Dr Jess Clayton presented to Nature Foundation supporters on her research monitoring translocation as a conservation tool for the endangered Pygmy Bluetongue.

This short video provides a fascinating update on the research being done at Flinders University - with thanks to Associate Professor Mike Gardner.

Photo courtesy Lucy Clive

 
High-tech backpacks help vulnerable Regent Parrot

Karen Bishop, from Riverland West Landcare and Regent Parrot Recovery Team (SA), recently talked to Nature Foundation staff about the beautiful Regent Parrot (Polytelis anthopeplus).

Unfortunately, this slim green, yellow and red parrot is listed as vulnerable in South Australia and nationally, and in recent years numbers locally have halved.

Although we were at our new nature reserve, Murbpook Lagoon near the River Murray, where there were recent sightings, we were not lucky enough to spot any. However, Karen’s authentic models gave us a good idea of what they look like. It’s not surprising that they’re often mistaken for the more common Yellow Rosella but the Regent’s distinctive flight pattern, like a fighter jet darting through the trees, rather than the rosella’s undulating one, sets it apart.

Work to save them is taking place on several fronts. Nature Foundation, a member of the South Australian Regent Parrot Recovery Team, through its delivery of Commonwealth water for the environment is helping to save important Regent Parrot habitat at its Water For Nature sites. It is understood the parrots use tree hollows in red gums for nesting and the death of hundreds of mature trees over the last few decades from reduced river flows is thought to be contributing to the species’ decline.

Plus, Karen fills us in on an exciting new project that is collecting vital data that may help save this species. In this innovative project, high tech backpacks with satellite trackers have been fitted to some of these birds to record their roosting, feeding, and breeding behaviours and locations!

Designed by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board’s Ecology program and the Regent Parrot Recovery Team, these backpacks fit snugly over the birds’ wings and contain a tracker that transmits the birds’ movements throughout the day. A battery recharged by a solar panel allows the tracker to collect data over long periods of time and collects vital information that may help arrest the decline of this iconic species.
 
Karen with Regent Parrot models (A Clark)
Welcome to the second Nature Matters issue for 2022!

As a supporter of Nature Foundation we know you're passionate about protecting and restoring the natural environment that sustains us all. You can help us contribute to the substantial investment needed in the guardianship of nature – our landscapes, plants and animals, and help to stop further native species loss.

Our conservation work has never been more critical and together we can make a big difference to nature, with much we can achieve in the short-term. There is already a great deal of work being done but there is so much more to do!

At this time every year we launch the one appeal where we can generate untied funds to provide crucial financial support for Nature Foundation’s general operations – the Vital Work Appeal. These untied funds enable our organisation to be flexible and responsive in a rapidly changing environment. Conservation work and property maintenance activities on our precious nature reserves are vital for them to prosper. 

Please consider donating to our Vital Work Appeal today so our work can continue.

Nature needs our help now more than ever.  Thank you in advance for your support!
Behind the scenes at Witchelina Nature Reserve

It’s mid-May and Nature Foundation’s Witchelina Nature Reserve in SA’s north is bustling.

The temperatures are in the pleasant mid 20s all week, it’s calm and quiet with only a trace of rain at the beginning of the week.

Rotational Manager Phil Cole chooses to drive up to Witchelina via Clare and Melrose with three other volunteers – a big mistake he discovers when they find roadworks almost continuous from Clare to Wilmington.

As the rostered Rotational Manager, Phil has a wide range of jobs during his week-long stay, including checking in guests, assisting visitors with bookings and enquiries about Nature Drives, and a variety of conservation and maintenance activities.

There are a number of visitors during the week. One is Jane Rusden, Nature Foundation’s current Artist in Residence. Jane goes out with Phil on a couple of occasions as he goes about his work to get a feel for the place, before heading out to camp on her own for a few days. We look forward to seeing the artwork resulting from her residency at the reserve.

Two light aircraft land, having flown for 7 hours from Queensland. Two other visitors, both of whom manage private conservation properties in Queensland, come across our promotional brochure at Wilpena Pound and make the trip to the reserve. They have an enjoyable stay and comment that the Nature Drive notes we provide are the best they’ve seen.

Another guest from Victoria is booked in for two nights but enjoys it so much he stays for four. He kindly helps Phil out with the never-ending task of spraying weeds. Four retired teachers from Lakes Entrance also visit and camp while an NSW couple stay in the more luxurious Bookkeeper’s cottage for a few days. 

Phil also records rabbit and other feral species numbers, so that we know how many are around and can act to keep the numbers as low as possible to let the native vegetation recover.

Decent rain in March means that a significant weed, buffel grass, has come up again. As well as spending several days spraying herbicide on the outbreaks, Phil takes photos at several photo points to assist with recording and managing the weeds. He appreciates using the new spray plant mounted on one of the reserve’s vehicles, which was purchased through funds raised at last year’s Member Tour to Witchelina. He reports it’s much easier to use than the old version, significantly increasing the area he can cover with less effort. 

Phil also makes some environmental observations: there are low levels of kangaroos – great for the recovering vegetation; and disappointingly few Wedge-tailed eagles. But he did manage to spot a few Echidnas.

Thank you, Phil and all our Rotational Managers who make the operation of Witchelina and Hiltaba Nature Reserves run so smoothly.

Photo: A pair of echidnas at Willawalpa Creek, Witchelina Nature Reserve (Phil Cole)

Message from our CEO

I am most excited to launch Nature Foundation’s new branding, as we simultaneously celebrate our 40th birthday this year! In the past 40 years we have achieved much, matured as an organisation and significantly broadened our reach. Our new branding, which builds on the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby from previous logos, reflects our diverse activities and unique approach. It is a contemporary and fresh look for the future, and we hope it will inspire both existing and new audiences to connect with and conserve the natural habitat of South Australia for future generations.

Integral to the update of our brand and logo is our new and improved website which illustrates the breadth of Nature Foundation’s activities and how we can help you, and how you can help us achieve our vision. The new, easy-to-navigate website provides information about our broad-ranging programs, the places and species we work with and how people and organisations can become involved in our work for nature conservation in South Australia.

Our new website also provides fresh customer service and increased access options including making donations and membership payments online, booking accommodation and activities at Witchelina and Hiltaba Nature Reserves and purchasing some of our beautiful newly-branded merchandise online, 24/7!

All who have been involved in the creation of this new brand can be extremely proud of it and what it represents. Thank you to Black Sheep Advertising who have worked with us to create it and Fran Botha for her beautiful design. A big thank you also goes to Daniel Vallejo at The Factory for his tireless work in creating a new user-friendly website. And of course, a big thank you to the Nature Foundation Board and staff for their significant commitment to realise this amazing new branding and website.

Thank you to our members, supporters and partner organisations for your continued support of Nature Foundation and our vital work conserving, restoring and protecting South Australian landscapes, flora and fauna to ensure their survival and grow their resilience.

Over $12,000 for Glossy Black-cockatoo recovery on Kangaroo Island!

Congratulations and many thanks to the team at St John's Grammar School who organised this fabulous auction of eight large kangaroos and 10 mini kangaroos to raise funds for bushfire recovery. A grand total of $23,500 was raised! These funds have been generously distributed to Nature Foundation’s Glossy Black-cockatoo Recovery Program and Kangala Wildlife Rescue.

Organisers Dawn Clarke and Kate Wright named the project “The tROOper Project” because a collective of kangaroos is sometimes referred to as a Troop and it’s also an Australian colloquialism meaning a person who is reliable and uncomplaining, appropriate for the thousands of volunteers who assist in times of crisis! Thank you to all the organisations and artists who donated their time for this great cause.

The Glossy Black-cockatoo (GBC) Recovery Program is one of Australia’s leading examples of how good governance, strategic planning, community commitment and appropriate resourcing can effectively reverse the decline of a critically endangered species. Now extinct on mainland Australia, the endangered Glossy Black-cockatoo has its last refuge on Kangaroo Island.

Find out more about our Glossy Black-Cockatoo Recovery Program

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