By Dr Eridani Mulder, Senior Wildlife Ecologist, North-east Region
For nearly two years, AWC ecologists and land managers have been working with The Landsmith Collection at Bullo River Station, a 165,000 hectare property in the remote Northern Territory. This innovative partnership is the first of its kind in Australia and proof that conservation and pastoral activities can successfully co-exist. Since AWC started conducting fauna surveys here in November 2018 − the first ever for the property − we have been rewarded with the gradual reveal of a stunning treasure-trove of biodiversity.
AWC’s science program at Bullo River Station comprises both inventory – identifying and mapping the presence of fauna and flora – and ecological health monitoring – developing a long-term monitoring program to measure ecosystem change in response to environmental drivers and conservation management. AWC is also delivering a comprehensive fire, feral animal and weed control program to support conservation and sustainability at Bullo River Station. This program draws on knowledge gained from long-term projects in northern Australia, such as Wongalara and Mornington Wildlife Sanctuaries, properties that AWC has managed for conservation for 13 and 15 years, respectively.
Intensive effort delivers rewards
Over the last year, teams of AWC ecologists have conducted more than 9,000 camera trap nights, 2,000 live trapping nights, over 70 standardised bird surveys and numerous nocturnal and diurnal searches for fauna across Bullo River Station. This intensive effort has resulted in over 1,500 sightings of nearly 80 bird species and brought the number of finches known to occur on the station to an impressive list of 11 species, including the endangered Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae) and threatened Star Finch (Bathilda ruficauda).
A biodiversity bonanza
An extensive camera trap survey of rocky gorges and outcrops during the summer wet season of 2019-2020 revealed multiple sites inhabited by the enigmatic Wyulda (Scaly-tailed Possum, Wyulda squamicaudata), and highlighted the importance of sheltered, wet forest pockets in the gorges. Victoria River Short-eared Rock-wallabies (Petrogale brachyotis victoriae) and Common Rock Rats (Zyzomys argurus) are abundant throughout the ranges and were detected at almost all of the 70 sites. For the first time, Ningbing Pseudantechinus (Pseudantechinus ningbing) – a small carnivorous marsupial and relative of the quolls – were detected at many sites, as well as Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus), White-quilled Rock Pigeons (Petrophassa albipennis), Sandstone Shrike-thrushes (Colluricincla woodwardi) and a suite of reptiles and amphibians, including the Magnificent Tree Frog (Litoria splendida), Kimberley Rock Monitor (Varanus glauerti) and cryptic Chameleon Dragon (Chelosania brunnea).
This work highlights the impressive conservation values of the property, and brings the current wildlife inventory to 28 mammal, 43 reptile, 18 frog and 172 bird species.
Delivering effective conservation land management
AWC’s land management actions at Bullo River Station have two objectives:
This year alone we’ve flown nearly 1,200 kilometres by helicopter to deliver early dry season fire management and tackle 3,000 individual weed plants across many hundreds of hectares. Priority actions now include progressive destocking of feral buffalo and cattle, and continued removal of feral pigs and donkeys. These actions are complemented by riparian and wetland fencing that Bullo River Station staff are undertaking in the cattle production area. Removing feral animals from environmentally sensitive spring and wetland areas will help improve ground cover and water quality, providing small animals with critical cover to hide from feral cats.
CEO of The Landsmith Collection, Chris Furtado said: “While still young, our innovative partnership with AWC is revealing the ecological treasures we always hoped to find at Bullo River Station. We are incredibly proud of our active partnership which demonstrates that collaboration between conservation, commercial pastoral and ecotourism operations can deliver strong, positive outcomes for Australia’s precious biodiversity values.”
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