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From Cambridge to Paradise

Most places I have visited during my Churchill Fellowship have been amazing and inspiring, but one has really challenged me…

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Slimbridge the Eden of ‘modern conservation’?

Slimbridge Wetlands Centre proudly wears the moniker “birthplace of modern conservation” – so it is like the Eden of bringing back Eden.  I can hear all the cynical conservationists saying “yeah, according to who”…

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Heligan’s Rescued Gardens

What to call a place that uniquely honours gardeners that lost their lives in World War One?

Sometimes leadership refers to committees for answers, and sometimes there is no choice, with heritage and government departments providing no options. Occasionally however, land tenure, ownership, bureaucracy and process can be separated from the creative influencers that drive inspirational projects, resulting in an enticing name  being found – encouraging visitors, viewers, actors, and restorationists alike…

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The Garden of Eden luring Millions of Humans

Today’s Garden of Eden resides in Cornwall…

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London Eels Holiday in Bahamas

[hold your horses, the London Eels are not a football team]

Spain and The Med don’t cut it for the endangered European Eel.  Instead of settling for Ibiza to explore courtship and mating, this amazing eel hitch hikes on the intercontinental oceanic currents and, soon after turning 20, scoots over to the Bahamas to lay eggs.

After eggs hatch, larvae then float back to Europe and become Glass Eels before entering the freshwater system to become prey of herons, other fish and humans.  Those that don’t become lunch for something else, grow to 1 m long before the itch for the Bahama-Summer becomes both too much and energetically feasible.

So when a friend in Canberra said their niece worked for the prestigious Zoological Society of London and might be able to hook me up with some genuine London Eel action, of course I said “yes please”. Trading Big Ben for Eric the Eel  was an easy choice. The Society coordinates a city-wide citizen scientist program to monitor the ‘Elvers’ (young eels), the little ones returned from their Bahamas birthing.

…[pause]…to get to the River Loddon survey site, we battled typical London traffic…

During the traverse to River Loddon from the zoo I learnt that the Thames River water quality is actually improving, it is home to a hundred+ species of fish, and seals and otters that chase them! Apparently people even swim in the Thames. It turns out the brown sedimentation is here to stay due to the estuarine nature of the system, but industrial and domestic pollutants continue to decline, improving suitability for a variety of species.

During the trip I also came to appreciate the variety and depth of conservation projects that Zoological Society of London is  delivering around the world – it turns out the London Zoo is more than a Zoo! Profits from Zoo entrance fees, and uniquely priced cafe food and merchandise have to be reinvested into the Zoo itself or the local and international conservation projects.

Our River Loddon  survey sample was moderately successful, we picked up four elvers for processing, these gals and guys were 70-90 cm long and, remember, born in the Bahamas last year!

It was great to see these critters making it this far up the Loddon without falling foul of the Herons either side of the bridge.

Fingers-crossed these guys can make it to maturity and then trek-on back to the Bahamas to the pass their genes on. Maybe some of the smarter eels might find a closer breeding site in the meantime?

This study tour is sponsored by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust

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“Churchill offloads Aussie Swans”

At least that is how the headline would be written today.

At the London Wetland Centre, there is an Aussie themed garden that hosts Black Swans which are the progeny of those gifted to Winston Churchill by the West Australian Government.  The story goes that the swans harassed Churchill so much in his backyard, that he sought help from Sir Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), to have some of them re-homed. Of course when you google the official record, Sir Peter wrote to the Prime Minister requesting loan of the said swans, so proper…

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Outer-London for Open Space

So arriving in London in *hot* weather was a bit alarming, everyone was complaining about the heat. Our only challenge was that we packed for the stereotypical English weather and not the outlier…

In big cities open spaces for the community are premium property. With everyone stacked-up on each other in apartments and terraced houses, the slightest sunshine brings everyone into the parks for their dose of open space and fresh air.

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Worn Landscapes with Evergreen Lessons

I have often reflected that the European landscape has such a long history of being used primarily for agriculture, and that that must have meant that today’s custodians with their ever-growing appreciation for lost biodiversity, might treat every remaining biodiversity and landscape asset as being worth a lot more than we do in Australia (where we still have much to lose – despite the worst extinction rate for our unique mammals ON THIS PLANET).

When I visited Europe for the first time on a break from my PhD in the early 2000’s, I was struck by a particular feature of the agricultural landscape in France. There is not a spare square metre. Every metre is used for production…

So I am channeling Seinfeld now – “I can’t spare a square”…

Continue reading “Worn Landscapes with Evergreen Lessons”

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One Grateful Churchill Fellow

Great to be able to share some exciting news – I have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the UK and explore the ins-and-outs of some of the most amazing conservation and community engagement projects in the world.

In later years of Winston Churchill’s life he was engaged significantly with the natural landscape, especially through his painted artworks.

I am most grateful and very excited to be able to experience first-hand some internationally renowned conservation initiatives.

My sense is that there is ALWAYS more to learn: I am particularly looking forward to meeting like-minded people and exploring sites, programs and facilities that can help shape the future of our equally exciting projects in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia.

While Europe has a longer history of environmental degradation than Australia, it also has a longer history of successful conservation programs and organisations.

In July-August next year (2017) I hope to visit organisations and sites as diverse as the Eden Project (their photos above), the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (including London and Slimbridge Wetlands Centres), Trees for Life, the Canal and River Trust, and the Borders Forest Trust.  I have begun the process of reaching out to these and some other amazing organizations to seek an invitation… fingers crossed.

Be stoked to see one of these....
Be stoked to see one of these….

These and other Trusts in the United Kingdom can provide insights into the right mixes of legislative, policy, business operations, partnership, land tenure, science and community support arrangements that enable the establishment of long-term and secure funding arrangements for biodiversity conservation in Australia.  This project will help better-inform the Australian conservation community about more efficient models that can add-value to existing government- and community-lead public good programs.

Thanks to the Churchill Trust for the opportunity, and to the referees who supported my application – Tony Peacock, Alison Russell-French, Peter Davey and [then Environment…] Minister Greg Hunt.

Of course I look forward to sharing my experience and insights gained for the betterment of biodiversity conservation in Australia…

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A ‘Boy’s Own’ Hawaiian Eco-adventure

“In a nutshell the army has to adhere to the Endangered Species Act… nothing can go extinct on their their watch.”

This guest-post from my mate Graham Fifield (of Flick and Fly Journal) undertaking an internship in Hawaii, gives Australia great insights into how much communities will invest in saving species when they are [nearly] all gone…

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Lyrebirds – light on colour, heavy on soul

Minnamurra Falls must be the spiritual home of the Lyrebird (at least an adopted one anyway). Nestled in a sandstone ampitheatre, rainforest gullies provide a sheltered haven for these charismatic birds.

Foxes are known to take juvenile Lyrebirds (Ref 1), and there is also evidence that fox control enables populations to rebound (Ref 2). Gratefully, there is a high priority placed on fox control in the National Park by the Plan of Management (Ref 3), and this geographic harbour with a good control program would make a strong-hold. The sheer sandstone cliffs surrounding the gully make a natural barrier to fox incursion from over-the-top, meaning fox control in this locality is easier than more open sites [i.e. those open to reinvasion from all sides].

Seeing Lyrebirds foraging so easily, with their entourage of Yellow Robins and Scrub Wrens picking up the crumbs, inspired me to scrounge around for further info on this amazing creature. So here are some curios I uncovered scratching the surface of the literature litter…

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Western Rim Wanderings

Fitzroy Falls is really a showcase of waterfalls – from above, from on top, from the side and from afar. In fact it’s every way of experiencing waterfalls while staying dry. A great Winter waterfall way.

The Western Rim Walk is like a virtual tour guide of spectacular views and different perspectives of the waterfalls.  Fitzroy Falls, Twin Falls and the Grotto –  each tip from sheer sandstone edges forming the Yarrunga Creek, and ultimately flowing to the Kangeroo River. Metre-for-metre its got to be one of the best waterfall walks around…

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Searching for Glenn the Glow Worm

Glow Worms are like Fireflys that failed to launch. I’m sure there is a more apt technical description like ‘Glow Worms are the larvae of fungus gnats’.

In local colonies they present an astronomical Milky Way-like phenomenon in the right setting (like at Newnes). So it was we were searching for that starlight on the ceiling experience at the ‘Glow Worm Glen’ at Bundanoon in Morton National Park.

Whilst the parking and access arranged by the Council were not particularly welcoming, the interpretive signage from NPWS was right on one count…

It nearly takes longer to find a park than to get to Glenn’s home…

The experts recommended searching for Glenn over the Summer months – but we had an hour to kill and the need to burn energy in Ms 4 & 6.  While the sign said two hours return – we were “nah, that’s always overestimated”.

So it was “off we go kids – lets go find Glenn” – and we streaked down, down, down, the 1 km path to the Glen. A beautiful rapid stroll through urban interface, sclerophyll and into a rainforest gully.

The trail is easy and well-established and the boardwalk at the base is great. Ending in a sandstone room with a bubbling stream – the ideal place to find Glenn, Glenys and Grandaughter Guilfoyle hiding in the cracks.

Alas – the NPWS folks were right the best time to find Glenn is in summer-time.  We were back out in 50 minutes round-trip – meaning we have an hour and ten minutes up our sleeve to do it next time!

A beautiful bubbling rainforest stream awaits – with or without Glenn and Glenys
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Fitzroy Falls – where the Lyrebird calls

On a Winter long weekend hundreds of visitors have their breathe taken away on the cliff-hanging platform at Fitzroy Falls.

But a fraction take the Wildflower Walk.

With its pre-Wattle Winter-promise of not-a-lot I didn’t have high hopes either…

However – a minute off the main boardwalk and a prominent ray-gun call from deep childhood memories piqued the ears. Sure enough there it was again just ahead of us and responding to far-off calls ahead and behind us.

Largely uninterested in our presence we were treated to a blasting male Lyrebird calling and scratching, scratching and calling. A unique and amazing Australian wildlife experience.

As for the wildflower experience – there was enough botanical engagement to ensure a Spring return…

A great botanical tour awaits at Fitzroy Falls on the Wildflower Walk
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Yankee Hat – worth the drive

There are some awesome walks in Australia.  Yankee Hat presents some of the most accessible Aboriginal Rock-Art in the country…

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Amphitheatre of Horrors

“The visceral nature of Ms6’s response was surprising, but on reflection, your first time can be daunting”

It started like many a horror movie, looking for a petrol station in a small country town.  Google Maps told us that Bundanoon had a petrol station, so we stretched out and tried to make it. That feeling in the stomach when you are pushing the petrol light as far as you can ;-<

Now you have been warned that Bundanoon does have a petrol station, it just doesn’t open anymore – one thing that has been seemingly lost on Google…

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Better flower photos for punters

OK – I am not pretending to be a good photographer – my photography friends wouldn’t even bother rolling their eyes. However, last year I picked up a few tips for taking ‘better’ flower shots in my efforts to support Canberra Nature Map. Here are a few iPhone-centric options to help you take better photos (of small flowers that is, or any other small things)…

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Operation Bounceback taking a giant stride forward

For 23 years ‘Operation Bounceback’ has been fighting feral animals in the Flinders Ranges. Imagine seeking an annual budget for the same project 23 times! That takes vision, commitment, determination, quality and the support of about 10 different Ministers.

At the 20 year celebration, it was highlighted ‘SA Government, staff, volunteers, landholders and local communities work together to reverse some of the impacts of the last 150 years’, and by the logos on the report cover, the Australian Government is probably also a partner-organisation.

It is a classic example of a trusted partnership for conservation.

Controlling foxes has been a priority since 1993 and Grasswrens, Pythons and the Yellow-footed Rock-Wallaby are already benefiting.  The current fox-baiting effort covers 5,500 km2.

Twenty years of feral animal control has laid a platform for the reintroduction of long-lost species.  After an amazing Ecological Society of Australia conference I was lucky enough to get up to the Flinders Ranges and briefly check-out the reintroduction projects for the Western Quoll and Brushtail Possum…

Continue reading “Operation Bounceback taking a giant stride forward”

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Keeping the bush in ‘Bush Capital’

Canberra Nature Park puts the bush in ‘Bush Capital’. More than 20,000 Canberra houses are within 250 m of this bushland  matrix, which includes nationally and regionally threatened and, now, previously extinct species.

Formally, the Canberra Nature Park protects 36 discrete nature reserves and covers approximately 6,000 hectares in and around urban Canberra. The close proximity of the Canberra community provides recreational, education and nature-based inspirational opportunities. But all of that comes with costs and impacts, these have been managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service, who recently celebrated 30 years of service to the Australian community.

Importantly, in the national capital, the Canberra Nature Park comes with additional baggage – it has the weighted responsibility of being the ‘front-of-house’ of biodiversity conservation for national policy makers and those that control the weightiest of purse-strings in Australian environmental investment.

Regardless of whether you think it is in as good-a-nick as it could be, I have been thinking lately about what it would be like if it wasn’t proactively managed by the Parks and Conservation Service.

And I keep thinking that it would be like the patch of scrub at the end of the road when I was a kid…

Continue reading “Keeping the bush in ‘Bush Capital’”

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Feral Fun in the Cotter

So after spending all week working on biodiversity restoration – what does one do for the Australia Day long weekend? Make a concerted effort to control feral trout in the beautiful rivers of our region of course… Continue reading “Feral Fun in the Cotter”

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Nature Behind the Scenes

“If a tree falls in the woods in 2015 it will probably be recorded, and we have another year of surprises to look forward to…”

The great wildlife camera trap tales of 2014

According to my Twitter profile, I have been on social media since 2010.  It seems to me the camera trap really came of age last year as a tool for publishing ecological interactions instantaneously. Perhaps I followed different people in the year, or a few big labs brought their cameras in for the first time, but there was a plethora of cool stuff captured and shared in Australia in 2014.

I am stoked for the new generation of ecologists with these tools at their disposal, capturing moments of ecological interaction that reams of peer-reviewed publications can’t portray in the same way.  Interactions are the essence of ecology, and a picture tells a thousand words.  Here I compile some of the most engaging photos and users of camera traps in Australia – let me know if I have missed anyone…

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Innovation and the ‘normal no’

there is a need to identify innovative models for ensuring protected area success; in other words, to encourage the wider community to take collective responsibility for protected areas’ (in the pre-eminent “Nature” this week – Watson et al 2014).

Presumably the publication of this article is designed to coincide with the World Parks Congress in Sydney. See the full passage copied in the image on the right.Nature Article Excerpt

This gold-plated publication has reinforced and confirmed my observations of, and concerns regarding, the institutional arrangements responsible for biodiversity conservation over the last 20 years of my professional interest, and longer, for my personal interest (in NSW, QLD and the ACT).

A couple of weeks ago, we published this for the Friends of Grasslands Forum, and presented it at Mulligans Flat during that forum. I seek to highlight the practical challenges facing leaders needing to develop innovative approaches to tired problems…

Innovation and the “normal no”

As the biodiversity crisis fails to abate, it is clear we need to reconsider historic approaches and try new ways of fixing tired problems. We don’t need innovation for the sake of innovation, we need innovation to make gains with dwindling resources. We need to do more, more effectively, with less… Continue reading “Innovation and the ‘normal no’”

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Nature Seemingly Springs Eternal in Alice

“it is lovely when a symbol like that can help connect you to a new place”

OK – I wasn’t prepared. All those maps of Australia show Alice Springs as the dot in the middle. All those maps are two-dimensional. I expected, for some reason, a flat depauperate ‘desert’ landscape. And I am supposed to be a trained ecologist…

Alice Springs - the first impressions are great!
Alice Springs – the first impressions are great!

Flying in I was surprised by the number of trees in this ‘arid’ landscape. Then trekking into town you are confronted with emergent geology which juts out at you in no understated way. So straight-away two myths blown out of the water – it is not flat, and it is not scant of interesting plants…

I start my Alice adventure at the Desert Park – recommended to me by many. It turns out to be a fantastic entrée and a good decision. Luckily its bird week and I bump into some avid twitchers on the way in from the local Birds Australia crew [note-to-editor: update memory banks with new name] – they give me some tips and we realise we will cross paths again later this week… Continue reading “Nature Seemingly Springs Eternal in Alice”

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Don’t miss the other Floriade

“a spectacular native floriade is now showing, behind the curtain of tree and grass cover in the Canberra Nature Park”

I do quite like going to Floriade once each year, and marveling at the abundance and colour of the exotic flowers. You are certain to see an array of mostly-European flowers arranged in different patterns each year.

However, a much more exciting floriade unfolds at the same time, to nature’s choreography.

Continue reading “Don’t miss the other Floriade”

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A Night on the Town at Mulligans Flat

“The explosion of the bettong leaving the bag and bounding back to nature provides a mixture of relief and amazement”

Last night I had the pleasure of being part of the Mulligans Flat – Goorooyarroo Woodlands Experiment; an internationally significant research program seeking to experimentally rebuild an ecosystem, with a focus on reintroducing each of the faunal components of the trophic system (and examining the flow-on, restorative ecosystem engineer affects).

I was merely a scribe in part of an annual monitoring program for the reintroduction of the Eastern Bettong to mainland Australia – but what a fantastic experience…  Continue reading “A Night on the Town at Mulligans Flat”

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Turn a science degree into a license to make a difference

When discussing my career choice recently I was reflecting with friends how a whole generation of young Australians wanted to be marine biologists. I think it had something to do with Alby Mangles, Harry Butler and the Leyland Bros snorkeling together on the Great Barrier Reef, or Totally Wild. I got as far as choosing between terrestrial ecology and marine ecology for my honours thesis, and I chose terrestrial ecology because I liked scuba diving too much to make it my job…[more on that later]

Continue reading “Turn a science degree into a license to make a difference”

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Landscape Repair – Who Should Pay?

“expenditure on programs to restore the landscape shouldn’t be accounted as an ‘expense’, these costs should be capitalised, recognising they are investments in the Australian landscape asset that will harvest returns for generations”

Australia is an ancient continent. After tens-of-thousands of years of indigenous use of the already-old land, we decided to ramp up our impacts…

In pursuit of agricultural development, for the expansion of the national economy, we cleared the land of its native ecosystems and processes and tried to impart a Euro-centric farming system. We used the full suite of policy levers available to effectively clear the land…

  • We used “direct action” – paying people to ring-bark and clear trees.
  • We used “incentives” – by providing landholders tax-deductions for clearing native vegetation (as late as the early 1980’s these were still available).
  • We used “regulatory instruments” – when people took up leases over land they were required to ‘develop’ their blocks (clear more native vegetation).

We did a great job too…

Continue reading “Landscape Repair – Who Should Pay?”

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Species Reintroductions Provide Inspiration

Drawing inspiration from averting an ‘extinction crisis’ in Australia is not easy – especially when the crises never seems averted. New leadership and evolving science are underpinning a wave of optimism spawned from successful species reintroduction programs around the country.

Yes, Australia has had a very poor rate of extinction over the last 200 years, but the current rate, since the 1980’s for example, is not what it once was (e.g. the Australian Government reported three species were declared extinct from 2000-2009). Of course all extinctions are irreprehensible – and proactive investment in, and management of, biodiversity is required to keep the rate down and ideally eliminate the prospect of extinction.

Living with lowered expectations

If you moved to Canberra in the early 1900’s you could expect Bettongs in your backyard. Before broadscale grazing and agricultural development we could pick native Australian daisies instead of European flatweeds and dandelions in regional towns. Bandicoots were once common in Sydney backyards. If you were a kid growing up on the farm in NSW in 1800’s Pygmy Perch probably provided an easy-caught baitfish for bigger native perch! Our baseline of expectation has been reduced by the lower level of quality of landscape that we now broadly experience.

A novel and exciting future…

Continue reading “Species Reintroductions Provide Inspiration”

Beyond Knowing Nature – 5 Pathways to Nature Connection

Finding Nature

Owing to the benefits to both human and nature’s well-being, and wide spread disconnection, a connection with nature is something many people and organisations are keen to increase. So there is a need to know how best to do this. We’ve already developed specific interventions, such as 3 good things in nature, but our wider framework of effective routes to nature connection has just been published in Plos One. I’m excited about this work is it provides guidance for those seeking to re-connect people with nature, indeed it has been central to much of our recent nature connections work, for example, guiding the type of activities promoted as part of The Wildlife Trusts highly successful 30 Days Wild campaign.

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Majura Magic

Mount Majura presents the landscape entrance to the bush capital, framing the transition from the highway-in to Griffin’s Northbourne legacy.  How often have you driven past and not gone in?

The Canberra Times rated the walk up Mt Majura as one of the top 5 ‘uphill’ walks in Canberra. So being here a decade now we figured we should make the effort to find a starting point and give it a crack.

More than a heart-starter, the Mt Majura walk (also part of the Centenary Trail) showcases the bush capital landscape, from far-reaching vistas to a variety of bushland types that together build the fabric of the landscape.

The walk begins in critically endangered Box Gum Grassy Woodlands – of decent condition but absent of much fauna (200 years ago one might have encountered echidnas, bettongs, red-necked wallabies) – and ascends through one of the most significant patches of habitat for Glossy Black Cockatoos in the region.

A corridor of Allocasuarina has been supplemented by recent habitat restoration efforts. Although none of the elusive birds were on show today it must be one of the closest and most accessible places to happen across them.

The crackle of the Cockie’s cones echo their recent presence… channeling Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks – perhaps the bed of half chewed casuarina cones could be called a ‘chewbed‘.

majura images

A walk well-worth repeating in the hope of encountering the elusive Cockatoo.

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