News from the Field

South Australian Government grant boosts conservation efforts at Kangaroo Island

23 Apr. 2024
Brad Leue/AWC

The Western River Refuge on Kangaroo Island has received a substantial boost in its conservation endeavours with a generous grant of $55,352 over two years from the South Australian Government’s Native Vegetation Heritage Agreement Grants.

The funding will help secure the integrity of the refuge’s predator-proof fence, control problem weeds and improve the condition of remnant native vegetation boosting the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) mission to safeguard the unique biodiversity of Western Kangaroo Island.

An aerial view of the Western River Refuge on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Established following destructive bushfires in 2020, the project includes a 369-hectare fenced feral predator-free safe haven which protects a suite of endemic and endangered wildlife. Brad Leue/AWC
An aerial view of the Western River Refuge on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Established following destructive bushfires in 2020, the project includes a 369-hectare fenced feral predator-free safe haven which protects a suite of endemic and endangered wildlife.

Western Kangaroo Island, recognized as a major biodiversity hotspot in South Australia, faced severe ecological challenges following the devastating 2019/2020 Kangaroo Island Complex Bushfire. The wildfire decimated nearly half of the island’s vegetation and jeopardised the survival of endangered species, including the Kangaroo Island Dunnart. In response to this crisis, AWC joined forces with local landholders, the Doube family, and the Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife conservation program to establish the Western River Refuge.

Spanning 595 hectares, the refuge encompasses both ex-plantation areas and native vegetation with approx. 187 hectares under Heritage Agreement,  369 hectares enclosed by a meticulously designed predator-proof fence. The fence, constructed in 2021, plays a pivotal role in protecting wildlife from feral threats, including cats and pigs, which pose significant dangers to the island’s flora and fauna.

One of the primary goals of the grant is to maintain the integrity of the fence, crucial for excluding feral predators and omnivores. Erosion, caused by rainwater runoff alongside the fence, has created a threat to the fence’s stability. To address this, proposed activities include earthworks and drainage to divert water from around the base of the fence, fortifying the foundations and securing the fence in weakened areas. This action will allow the ongoing effective restoration and protection of Kangaroo Island’s endemic and threatened flora and fauna.

“The fence represents not only an immediate collaborative response following mass habitat destruction but also an ongoing long-term commitment. Bushfire recovery and threatened species conservation is not a quick fix, but a long-term project,” explains Fauna Ecologist Pat Hodgens.

“At the time the construction of the predator-free fence was integral to the survival of key small mammal species after the fires. The site was one of the only locations where we had found a surviving population of Kangaroo Island Dunnart, and they, like many of the other species on the island, were under immediate threat from feral cats which were moving across the landscape throughout the fire scar – decimating numbers of animals in pockets of unburnt vegetation. With feral cats being an issue on the island, the safe haven is fundamental to the survival of some of these species.”

An endemic Kangaroo Island Dunnart. The Western River Refuge protects one of the surviving populations of the dunnart after extensive wildfires in late 2019 and early 2020 burnt 95 per cent of their habitat. Brad Leue/AWC
An endemic Kangaroo Island Dunnart. The Western River Refuge protects one of the surviving populations of the dunnart after extensive wildfires in late 2019 and early 2020 burnt 95 per cent of their habitat.

Additionally, the grant will facilitate targeted weed management both within the refuge and a 100-meter buffer zone surrounding it. By strategically monitoring and manually removing non-endemic plantation species and environmental weeds, AWC aims to protect established native vegetation and restore flora biodiversity within the refuge.

The grant-supported efforts also focus on controlling the spread of Phytophthora cinnamomi, a plant pathogen that severely threatens susceptible plant species found within fenced areas. Biological hazard management activities are proposed to contain this threat and further contribute to restoring and protecting the refuge’s flora species, some of which are endemic only to Kangaroo Island.

The Western River Refuge Sanctuary Manager, Jason Laverty, stands among removed invasive bluegum weed. Luke Frost/AWC
The Western River Refuge Sanctuary Manager, Jason Laverty, stands among removed invasive bluegum weed.

Lastly, the grant enables the implementation of a comprehensive monitoring program for native flora within the fenced area. Data collected by botanist service Aenigma Natives in 2022 will be updated in 2026, providing valuable insights to determine the impact of the threat and formulate effective management strategies.

The South Australian Government’s grant is a testament to the collaborative efforts dedicated to preserving the ecological richness of the Western River Refuge. Through strategic initiatives and community support, the AWC is well-positioned to fulfil its mission of restoring, protecting, and celebrating the biodiversity of Kangaroo Island.

Find out more about AWC’s role at Western River Refuge in our Wildlife Matters webinar with Fauna Ecologist Pat Hodgens.

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