A Critically Endangered Grassland Oasis

This is a guest article by Louise Nicholas.

In 2016 I had the pleasure of getting to know a little grassland on the edge of Caroline Springs called Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve (SSR). As part of my studies (Diploma of Conservation and Land Management), I had to choose a natural area to conduct a full site assessment, create a monitoring program and write a restoration project plan. Sitting precariously on the edge of rapidly creeping urban sprawl and soon to be engulfed by a sea of housing, Clarke Road SSR is a haven for native flora and fauna and I quickly fell in love.

Many weekends were spent discovering the variety of native grass species, doing bird surveys, and stumbling over rocks to mark GPS points for the grandiose ideas I would map out in my restoration project plan. Now that I’ve finished my Diploma, it seems a shame for all that information to sit in a file on my computer. I feel like Clarke Road SSR needs some TLC, so I’ll start by describing its features and history in order to share the goodies that I found.  

Kangaroo Grass at Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve, Caroline Springs. Image: Louise Nicholas

Kangaroo Grass at Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve, Caroline Springs. Image: Louise Nicholas

In the future, by the powers vested in me (as Secretary of the Friends of Kororoit Creek, ha ha!) I hope to encourage local residents to get involved in a revegetation project with funding to be sourced from Melbourne Water’s community grant program. In the meantime, Parks Victoria undertake ongoing weed control throughout the grassland. In addition, we continue to work together on a monitoring program to trial the effectiveness of an organic, plant-derived herbicide on Serrated Tussock.

But for now, here is an introduction to a grassland that I’ve developed quite a soft spot for.

Clarke Road Stream Side Reserve is a six-hectare, triangular area of remnant native grassland in Caroline Springs, bound by housing development and agricultural properties. It is managed by Parks Victoria; however, Melbourne Water are responsible for the bed and banks of Kororoit Creek, which runs through the middle of the reserve. Upstream from Clarke Road SSR, the creek currently flows through agricultural areas, although most of this will be turned into housing in the coming years.

The Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC) for the majority of this reserve is “132 Plains Grassland”, recognised as Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plains, which is listed as a critically endangered ecological community under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. The grassland area has a variety of native grasses including Wallaby Grass, Kangaroo Grass, Speargrass and Silky Blue Grass. Other species include Pink Bindweed, Nodding Saltbush and Bluebells.

Wallaby Grass dominates the grassland. Image: Louise Nicholas

Wallaby Grass dominates the grassland. Image: Louise Nicholas

A striking rocky escarpment, roughly four metres high, connects the grassland to the creek area and basalt rocks are dotted along the creek banks. Common Reeds line the creek and the area boasts a number of remnant River Red Gums. Towards the top of the rocky escarpment there are some large, remnant Black Wattle, Sweet Bursaria and Tree Violet.

Kororoit Creek provides habitat for a variety of birds, amphibians, fish and invertebrates. It is also an important source of food and water for many species of fauna including Eastern Grey Kangaroos and Swamp Wallabies. Considering the size and isolation of this reserve, a wide range of birds were observed, including:

  • Red-rumped Parrot
  • Flame Robin
  • Brown Falcon
  • Southern Boobook
  • White-faced Heron
  • Little Pied Cormorant
  • White-plumed Honeyeater
  • New Holland Honeyeater
  • Superb Fairy-wren

The main threat to the biodiversity of the reserve is pest plants. There are five Weeds of National Significance on the reserve: Serrated Tussock, Chilean Needle Grass, Gorse, Prickly Pear and African Boxthorn. Declared noxious weeds include Artichoke Thistle, Fennel, Sweet Briar and Spiny Rush. Dumped garden waste is also introducing new weeds to the grassland such as Kikuyu Grass and Couch Grass.

The rocky escarpment is crowned with old Black Wattles and Sweet Bursaria - a magnet for honeyeaters. Image: Louise Nicholas

The rocky escarpment is crowned with old Black Wattles and Sweet Bursaria - a magnet for honeyeaters. Image: Louise Nicholas

The remnant River Red Gums attract parrots and birds of prey, and bees have taken up residence in the stump of a dead tree. Every tree is used to its full capacity here! Image: Louise Nicholas

The remnant River Red Gums attract parrots and birds of prey, and bees have taken up residence in the stump of a dead tree. Every tree is used to its full capacity here! Image: Louise Nicholas

Residents and visitors may not be aware of the Indigenous cultural heritage and European history present in the reserve. Prior to European settlement, this area would have been used by the people of the Kulin Nation as an important source of food and water due to the creek and the high biodiversity of flora that thrived in the grassland. Evidence of early European settlement exists in the form of a dry stone wall along part of a boundary of Clarke Road SSR, and it is protected by a Melton City Council Planning Clause 52.37. Having an understanding of how this reserve was used in the past can help the community appreciate the value of the small area that remains today.

In addition, residents and visitors may also be unaware that this reserve is dominated by remnant native grassland which is classified as critically endangered under the EPBC Act. Similar grassland reserves, such as Evans Street Grassland in Sunbury, have used grassland flora and fauna species as a feature when designing interpretive signage. If funds were available in future, a similar approach could help to raise awareness of the special plants and animals in the reserve, and give residents a sense of pride for this rare natural feature in their suburb.

A dry stone wall is protected by a local council planning clause. Image: Louise Nicholas

A dry stone wall is protected by a local council planning clause. Image: Louise Nicholas

Clarke Road SSR showcases the surprisingly high level of biodiversity of flora and fauna that can still remain in small pockets amongst suburban sprawl. However, as urban development expands in the coming years, the threats and pressures surrounding this isolated grassland will increase. Fostering community engagement and encouraging a sense of pride and ownership for this special area will play a key role in raising the profile, public awareness, and protection of Clarke Road SSR.

By protecting the biodiversity of this critically endangered ecological community and encouraging active and ongoing community engagement with the reserve, Clarke Road SSR has the capacity to survive, and possibly even thrive, amongst future urban growth.


Louise Nicholas is a writer and blogger at Outside Four Walls, where this post was originally published. It is re-published here with permission.


Banner image courtesy of Louise Nicholas.