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“Scotia wildlife sanctuary ... a vitally important project for Australia and for the planet.”
- Sir David Attenborough
Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most important nature reserves in the Murray-Darling basin.
Located on the NSW-SA border, around 150 kilometres south of Broken Hill, Scotia is dominated by majestic old-growth mallee woodlands and stunning red sand dunes. Together with adjacent reserves in NSW and SA, it helps protect one of the largest areas of intact mallee woodland in Australia.
In addition to the reintroduced mammals, Scotia protects a diversity of threatened and declining animals including Southern Ningaui, Malleefowl and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo.
Since European settlement, the wildlife of the Murray-Darling region has been devastated by feral predators, habitat loss and the impact of feral herbivores. In Western NSW, almost half of all mammal species (excluding bats) have disappeared. Most National Parks in the region are, in effect, marsupial ghost towns: they lost the majority of their small-medium sized mammal species almost a century ago.
Scotia represents a beacon of hope within the region. Partly because it was the last property taken up for pastoralism in NSW (and so has a very short history of grazing), its habitats are in good condition and support a stunning diversity of wildlife.
More importantly, AWC has established at Scotia the largest fox and cat-free area on mainland Australia. Within this 8,000 hectare “mainland island”, AWC has re-established wild, self-sustaining populations of 5 nationally threatened mammals:
For these animals, Scotia represents a vital project helping to safeguard them from extinction.
Scotia also protects a population of mainland Mala (Rufous Hare-wallaby), a species that is listed as extinct in the wild on mainland Australia.
Outside of this 8,000 hectare feral-free area, AWC’s program of landscape-scale feral animal control and fire management across 64,000 hectares protects a wealth of other inland biodiversity including:
AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure in a robust scientific manner the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries. At Scotia, we undertake more than 7,000 live trap nights each year – plus over 50 vegetation surveys, over 2,000 transects and at least 400 camera trap nights annually - to measure a suite of ecological health indicators including:
The Brush-tailed Bettong (Woylie) is a critically endangered small marsupial distantly related to kangaroos and wallabies. In the last 15 years, the total Australian population has declined catastrophically by more than 90% from over 200,000 to around 10,000. However, in Scotia’s 4,000 hectare feral-free area known as “Stage 2”, the Brush-tailed Bettong population has increased to more than 400 animals from an original release of 57 animals sourced from Karakamia in 2008.
The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby was presumed extinct in the 1930s until it was rediscovered in Queensland in 1973. In the last 10 years, the population in Queensland has declined from around 800 to less than 300 animals. However, at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary, the population of wild Bridled Nailtail Wallabies has dramatically increased from 40 animals in 2004 to over 2,500 animals now. Thus, AWC protects more than 80% of the remaining population of the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby at Scotia.
A feature of AWC’s land management at Scotia has been the establishment of the largest fox and cat-free area on mainland Australia. This has enabled the successful return to far western NSW of several endangered mammal species –such as the Bilby and the Numbat – which have been extinct in NSW for more than a century.
Outside of this 8,000 hectare feral-free area, AWC implements a landscape-scale feral animal control program combined with active fire management and weed control. In addition, a dedicated scientific research facility (the Bettongia Field Station) supports a range of biodiversity research projects.
Scotia Sanctuary is situated in the far south western corner of New South Wales, approximately 150 km south of Broken Hill and adjacent to the South Australian border. The sanctuary is 65,000 ha in size, and is located within the Murray Mallee subregion of the Murray Darling Depression Bioregion.
There are two dominant landforms at Scotia. The first consists of parallel sand dunes with narrow sandy swales and small to large open calcareous swales. The dunes travel in an east-west direction, are up to 10 m in height and up to 1,200 m apart. Individual dunes may extend for 6 km. The dunes, which are almost wholly stabilised, are composed of red earthy sands and sandy solonised brown soils overlying sandy clays.
The other dominant landform type is flat extensive plains of calcareous loamy sands overlying light clay sub-soil. They consist of loam or sandy loam solonised brown soils often with limestone nodules at the surface.
Surface flow of water is limited due to the sandy nature of the soils, and no watercourses are evident on Scotia. However, moisture accumulates in the swales and open flats where the soil texture is heavier.
Scotia occurs on the boundary of the arid and semi-arid climatic zones, with an average annual rainfall of 250 mm. The region experiences hot summers (December to March) with mean daily maximum temperatures of over 30°C and a maximum recorded temperature of 47.8ºC. In contrast, winters are cold and frosts are common.
Scotia is comprised of two former pastoral properties, Ennisvale and Tarrara stations. These leases were two of the last areas in NSW opened up to pastoral activity. Pastoral activity commenced in the 1920’s and ceased in the mid-1990s when the property was purchased by Earth Sanctuaries Limited. AWC acquired Scotia in 2002.
Scotia’s vegetation is dominated by four communities: two Eucalyptus mallee communities (one with a spinifex understorey, the other with an understorey comprising a variety of shrubs); Casuarina (belah) woodlands; and mixed shrubland. A number of other vegetation communities occur as small patches including an endangered acacia community and a community associated with Scotia’s salt lakes.
Community distribution is largely determined by the influence of minor changes in topography and associated soil type on soil water relations. Eucalyptus shrublands are confined to sandy soils on the dunes and sandy swales, while Casuarina woodlands are found in the swales and calcareous plains of loamy solonised brown soils.
The Land Management team at Scotia is led by Josh McAllister, while the science team is led by Dr David Roshier.
In addition to permanent land management and science staff, there are a number of students, interns and long-term volunteers based at Scotia who assist in delivering the science and land management program at Scotia and elsewhere in AWC’s south-east region.