The Richard Underwood Nature Refuge is a critical site for the conservation of the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, one of Australia’s rarest mammals. The refuge protects 130 hectares of remnant eucalypt woodland in southern Queensland near the town of St George.
The Nature Refuge
Richard Underwood Nature Refuge is a 130-hectare conservation area on Yarran Downs Station in southern Queensland, on Mandandanji Country. It was gazetted in 2008 after an extensive search for suitable wombat habitat, and AWC took on the lease in October 2023 through an agreement with the Queensland Department of Environment and Science and landowners Ed and Gabrielle Underwood. Deep, red, sandy soil adjacent to the Balonne River supports tall open woodlands and grasslands. Eucalypts including silver-leaved ironbark and poplar box are interspersed with stands of white cypress pine and belah. Diverse grasses make up the ground layer vegetation, including mulga mitchell grass and feathertop wiregrass. The refuge is entirely surrounded by a fence which excludes feral predators.
The Richard Underwood Nature Refuge is one of only two sites with a population of the critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat. Translocations of Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats into the refuge started in 2009, and there are now around 15 individuals in the population. The refuge is also home to a diversity of other wildlife, including at least 15 other species of native mammals, 12 species of amphibians, 31 species of reptiles, and at least 83 species of birds.
In August 2023, AWC and the Wombat Foundation carried out research using ground-penetrating radar to map the wombat burrow systems. AWC is using information from this research at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge to scope other sites where additional wombat populations could be established. AWC ecologists have also assisted with trapping wombats and collecting hair samples as part of a regular population census.
Predation by wild dogs is a significant threat to Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats, but this is mitigated by the feral predator exclusion fence surrounding the refuge. The low numbers of Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats puts them at risk of losing genetic diversity over time. Buffel grass, an introduced pasture species, is widespread at Richard Underwood Nature Refuge. It fuels more intense wildfires which can damage habitat, but the wombats have also made it part of their diet.