Spanning over 58,000 hectares in western NSW, Mallee Cliffs National Park protects regionally significant examples of vegetation communities which were formerly abundant in the region, from Spinifex covered sand dunes to old-growth Mallee woodlands. The park provides key habitat for several iconic threatened species, and will soon be home to a groundbreaking mammal reintroduction program.
Mallee Cliffs National Park is managed under a historic partnership between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and AWC. The agreement provides an exciting new model for collaboration between the public and private (non-profit) sector. As part of the NSW Government’s Saving Our Species program, a feature of the partnership will be the establishment of a large 9,500 ha feral predator-free fenced area within the national park, and the reintroduction of ten regionally extinct mammal species.
Mallee Cliffs National Park is located about 30 km from Mildura, in the south-west of NSW. Established as a National Park in 1977, Mallee Cliffs covers 57,969 hectares of open grassy plains, spinifex covered dunes, Belah woodlands and old-growth Mallee. These habitats protect a diverse range of threatened and declining species, giving the park significant conservation value.
The park is located in a semi-arid zone where the annual rainfall is highly variable, and the summers are extremely hot, with a maximum recorded temperature of 50.7°C. There are no permanent streams or natural water bodies within the national park.
Mallee Cliffs protects two primary vegetation communities typical of the region, Mallee woodlands and Belah-Rosewood woodland. The dominant Mallee species are Yorrell, White Mallee and Red Mallee, and some of the woodland is characterised by a spinifex understorey. Small areas of the park have been impacted by historic grazing practices during the parks’ previous life as a pastoral property. The park last experienced major wildfires in 1975 and 1977 and since then, there have been no fires aside from some minor prescribed burns. Many vegetation communities within the park are now sufficiently mature to provide important habitat for a range of threatened species.
The array of different habitats at Mallee Cliffs support a diverse range of species, and are an important stronghold for many that are threatened or declining. The park is a hotspot for birdwatching, where you can spot threatened birds such as Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and the Hooded Robin, and hear the songs of the Gilbert’s Whistler and Varied Sittella through the Mallee. Mallee Cliffs also contains important habitat for the endangered Malleefowl.
Despite having lost almost all its small and medium sized mammals, primarily as a result of predation by feral cats and foxes and extensive land-clearing in the region, Mallee Cliffs retains regionally significant populations of Southern Ningaui and the Western Pygmy Possum. AWC plans to reintroduce at least ten species of threatened mammals to a large feral predator-free fenced area in the park.
The land management strategy being implemented at Mallee Cliffs involves management of fire regimes that will restore and maintain key habitats, weed control, and landscape-scale removal of feral animals.
The focus of the program however is the construction of a feral-proof fence. Predators like feral cats and foxes will be removed from inside, creating a 9,500 hectare predator-free area. This will enable the reintroduction of 10 regionally-extinct species to the park, including; Western Quoll, Red-tailed Phascogale, Numbat, Western Barred Bandicoot, Greater Bilby, Burrowing Bettong, Brush-tailed Bettong, Greater Stick-nest Rat and Mitchell’s Hopping-mouse. Most of these species have not been found in NSW national parks for over a century. Their reintroduction will help to restore a number of important ecological processes, such as dispersing seeds and spores, and helping retain nutrients and water in the soil. The fence will be constructed, feral-free, and ready for the first reintroductions by the end of 2019.
AWC field ecologists will measure the ecological health of Mallee Cliffs over time, as we do with all our sanctuaries. This will inform our land management strategies, and indicate the success of the reintroduction program. In particular, we will be measuring:
Since European settlement, the impact of feral predators, habitat loss and feral herbivores on the mammal fauna of the Murray Darling basin has been significant. In western NSW, almost half of all mammal species (excluding bats) have disappeared. Because of the ongoing predation threat of foxes and cats, fenced areas are currently the best option for preventing further extinctions. Although they are not a long-term solution, they can significantly increase the populations of endangered species, and have been hugely successful at AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in western NSW.