reserve

Guerrilla Restoration

This is a guest post by Jordan Crook.

Along the railway lines in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the remnants of the bushland that once stood there still grow amongst the weeds and rapidly expanding suburbia. These living museums of the local flora are very special places in our urbanised environment but lie neglected, forgotten and unknown to many people who walk past them every day.

For the past few years, a small group of community members has been weeding and managing a patch of remnant valley heathy woodland: a rare type of native bushland along the Belgrave railway line, almost in the centre of the township of Ferntree Gully.

Just some of the beautiful floral species to be found in the restored reserve.  Image: Robert Pergl

Just some of the beautiful floral species to be found in the restored reserve. Image: Robert Pergl

The patch of bushland was rediscovered by Robert Pergl, who was riding his bike past the site every couple of days when heading to school at Swinburne University’s Wantirna Campus. He studied the trees and understory of local indigenous plants and observed the ever-creeping threat of weed invasion and inappropriate mowing. Based on his studies, he concluded that the site was worth looking after due to the many rare and threatened plant species found here.

After gathering a group of mates to help out, a guerrilla friends group arose to care for this piece of bush. Guided by the practices of the Bradley sisters, the grandparents of modern bushland management practices and methods, the area was now feeling the love.

A section of the reserve prior to wood weed removal.  Image: Robert Pergl

A section of the reserve prior to wood weed removal. Image: Robert Pergl

The same section of the reserve following wood weed removal.  Image: Robert Pergl

The same section of the reserve following wood weed removal. Image: Robert Pergl

Over the past three to four years, guerrilla bushland workers have brought the reserve back to life, reducing the threat from grass weeds by hand-weeding and excluding mowing from sensitive parts of the area. The worst weed is quaking grass (Briza maxima), but with “Briza Blitz” themed working bees, the impact of this species has been significantly reduced.

Through monitoring and surveying of the site, we have found over 50 indigenous plant species present, with more returning following continuing weeding works. Among these species are wildflowers, native orchid species, sundews (Drosera sp.) and the critically endangered matted bush pea (Pultenea pudunculata).

Watching the area come back to life with the dedicated work of volunteers has been amazing. What began as a small group of friends managing the area as guerrilla bushland workers has resulted in the obtaining of a lease over the site through the help of the Knox Environment Society after many years of lobbying.

An exquisite chocolate lily ( Arthropodium strictum ).  Image: Robert Pergl

An exquisite chocolate lily (Arthropodium strictum). Image: Robert Pergl

Margaret Mead, the academic and activist, said‘ ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.’ And that’s true. We took it upon ourselves to bring this area back to life and reverse the global trend of declining biodiversity. It may only be a small patch, but if we all take on responsibility in our backyards and local areas, we can slow and reverse the tide of extinction affecting the plants and animals that we're lucky enough to share this beautiful country with.

As the restoration of this location has always been about community involvement, we would like to open the opportunity up to the community to help name the site!  We would like it to be a wildflower reserve named after a significant local conservationist, plant, or animal. So put on your thinking caps and email your ideas to jcrooka@gmail.com with the subject “FTG Bushland Name”. We will announce the name on August 4th 2017.


Jordan Crook has a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management from Swinburne University. He is currently completing a Diploma of Arboriculture at Melbourne Polytechnic and can be found on Twitter at @JCrooka.


Banner image courtesy of Robert Pergl.

Suburban wilderness: the Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve

Heading south out of Melbourne, the search for wild spaces is quicker and easier than you might think. Two turns off the Peninsula Link freeway (built to help shuttle increasing numbers of residents and visitors to Mornington or Rosebud) and the suburban sprawl breaks on the edge of a unique remnant of natural bushland.

The Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve is 214 hectares of dappled stringybark woodland, flower-spotted heaths, and wetlands that reappear every spring, announced by calling frogs. From the long central break, paths curve and twist among soft hills and sand dunes left behind by the changing levels of ancient seas. At the peak of the greatest dune, surrounded by squat Epacris and heath wattle, the view stretches clear to the Dandenong Ranges in one direction and Arthur’s Seat in the other. Descending through the taller stands of Eucalyptus and Banksia interrupts a dizzying whirl of wrens, thrushes and cuckoos. Patient strolling is rewarded by the sight of shuffling echidnas, while the bounding black wallabies make an unusual hazard for bike riders.

Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve. Image: Parks Victoria

Langwarrin Flora & Fauna Reserve. Image: Parks Victoria

The quality and variety of wildlife in this small space is staggering. At least 50 orchid species have been found within the reserve, including some rare and threatened examples like the purple diuris. The critically endangered New Holland mouse, and the southern emu-wren have both been spotted. The southern brown bandicoot has habitat here that is repeated almost nowhere else.

These assemblages would be wonderful enough on their own, but take on a particular significance in this location. The Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve was only made a protected space in 1985; from almost 100 years earlier, the land had been in military hands, belonging to the Victorian Government in the late 19th Century and the Commonwealth following Federation. During this tenure, land was cleared for parade grounds and encampments, for training, and for the grazing of local livestock. In one tense period during World War I, German prisoners of war were interned on the site. A little later, as blithely related by a sign near the reserve’s carpark, a hospital was constructed to treat returning soldiers suffering venereal disease.

Prior to the establishment of the military reserve, it is likely that the area was cleared for agriculture along with the majority of the Mornington Peninsula. Pasture and cropland were crucial in the expansion of Melbourne, both for trade export and to support the booming population that arrived with the gold rush. However, poor soils and inconvenient landscapes meant that some of the bushland was left uncleared – in the Langwarrin district this left behind reservoirs of seed and habitat that have been lost elsewhere, along with evidence of the First Australian Boonerwrung people’s cyclic passage as they tracked seasonal food sources. Nowadays, the reserve is used by residents for exercise, recreation, horse riding, and nature study.

Langwarrin Flora and Fauna reserve houses a diverse range of fauna. Image: Parks Victoria. 

Langwarrin Flora and Fauna reserve houses a diverse range of fauna. Image: Parks Victoria. 

It is a rarity to find a space like the reserve, as well as its larger neighbour the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve, in an area that has consistently seen a dramatically increasing residential community. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, the outer suburbs of Melbourne have experienced some of the fastest population growth in Australia. New housing estates and the rezoning of agricultural land saw building booms in the Frankston area of up to 30% expansion between 2001 and 2011. There is a more complete development of land, an increase in population density, and pressure on roads and other infrastructure.

It is to be expected that all this impacts negatively on those remaining islands of native bushland. Management plans for the reserves of the area are constantly looking to the dangers of feral animals, of foxes and rabbits, and of the occasional presence of free-roaming housepets. There is also a cost that comes with allowing human access to each space, with risks such as erosion exacerbated by cyclists and horse-riders to the point of path closures during wet weather. A further danger is the spreading of invasive plants from nearby gardens: Pittosporum undulatum has a well-deserved reputation for choking out woodland understories, while coastal tea-trees alter fire regimes in uncertain ways. Pathogens like the cinnamon fungus, Phytophthora cinnamomi, are spread on the soles of walkers’ shoes and cause indiscriminate damage to vegetation.

Image: Parks Victoria

Image: Parks Victoria

Inevitably, though, people will keep coming into these spaces – and they have a right to. Using green spaces for walking, relaxing, or exercising has been shown to improve mental health and a sense of connection with the landscape. The reality is that without that tangible value, it is difficult to explain the necessity of preserving these beautiful, complex and fragile ecosystems.

While of course no one likes to brag, it is mentioned quite often that Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city. The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked our city first among 140 locations each year since 2011, and other polls put us in similarly high positions. Our parks and gardens do a lot to contribute to our own mental wellbeing, and shape our lifestyles for the better. These islands of natural bushland are equally beneficial, with the added bonus of keeping Australia’s native plants and animals on the ground and in our perception.

These parks are kept for all of us, not just the conservationists who catalogue their secrets. Make the time. Look around you. Seek out a new wilderness to explore.


PAUL JONES

Paul works in science education and has been a teaching member of Monash University's Department of Biology since 2010. He is interested in community engagement and sustainable urban development

Sex, Genes & SciComm

This article is co-authored by Leonardo Guida & Evatt Chirgwin

Science communication is more than just a buzzword or #scicomm. It’s a paradigm shift. It’s a revolution. Never before has the individual had such power to access and share information so freely. This in itself has somewhat liberated scientific research from the shackles of obscurity and a realm where its language is understood by a select few.

At Wild Melbourne, we’re part of this ‘revolution’ just as much as you are. Being a science communicator seems daunting and challenging; your audience is global after all. So we sat down for a coffee with Professor Rob Brooks from the University of New South Wales, communicator extraordinaire, to chat about his research and the various joys and perils of science communication.

SO WHO IS ROB BROOKS?

Rob has had a brilliantly diverse career as an evolutionary biologist, researching topics from the courtship behavior in crickets to the evolutionary advantages of left-handed cricket players. His research comes back to one theme: sex. Rob really likes to thinks about sex. How sex evolved, the costs of having sex and being sexy, and how natural selection has shaped the natural world.

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Rob is quick to say that he ‘…always had an interest in things evolutionary...’, explaining how his upbringing in South Africa has had a large bearing on him pursuing a career in evolutionary biology. He grew up in a time where there was the excitement of ‘…lots of big fossil finds…’, and the oppression of the apartheid regime where the notion of evolution was seen as ‘…contraband…’  Until he reached university, Rob states that ‘we hadn’t be allowed to learn about evolution in schools – basically the fundamental business of all living organisms – so when I got university it was kind of a rebellious thing.’

His current lab at the University of New South Wales studies evolutionary biology and ecology. One of his greatest curiosities is human sexual selection: ‘…what I have always found coolest about evolution is that it can shape our understanding of who we are… it really helps us understand what it means to be alive.’

However, Rob’s interests extend beyond the research side of science. He is actively involved in science communication across a delightfully diverse range of platforms including stand-up comedy, appearances on TV shows like Catalyst, social media, and of course his brilliant book Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll. He has become renowned for his creative and comical ways of communicating the wonders of science to a broad audience.

Many scientists and enthusiasts are challenged with communicating science in a simple and engaging manner – sometimes the stuff is just too complicated. Rob acknowledges that often science communication requires a hook to attract a broader audience, but at the same time that hook should not supersede ‘…the intrinsic value…’ of the actual research.

You have the knowledge and you have the passion, but where do you start communicating science? It’s quite simple and there’s no need to overthink it: ‘…we do [science] because it is interesting…. find what is interesting to you and work outward from there.’

BEING IN IT TO WIN IT

Social media has revolutionised science. It provides a means by which scientists can express their interests as well as create, develop and extend collaborations and personal networks. Rob himself has ‘…really loved getting into social media these last five years or so…’ and credits it to newly formed collaborations with people ‘…who are some of [his] best friends now…’

Enter the Kardashian Index or K-index. ‘Say what?’ you ask. ‘Kardashians? Science? Oil and water?!’ You’re not alone and your sense of bewilderment is 

well founded. To explain, the K-index is a measure of how many followers on Twitter you have weighed against your citation record (i.e. how many times your work is professionally credited). Although meant as light-hearted fun, some see it as a loss of credibility. Nevertheless, at the end of the day Rob sees it as personal preference. Whether your K-index is high or low isn’t the point, but ‘…if what you want is for people to read and cite your papers, use your citation index. If what you want is for the average person to know about your work, then use Twitter…’

The top 48 twitter science-celebrities defined by the K-index.  Image:   http://news.sciencemag.org/scientific-community/2014/09/top-50-science-stars-twitter

The top 48 twitter science-celebrities defined by the K-index. Image: http://news.sciencemag.org/scientific-community/2014/09/top-50-science-stars-twitter

But being an active researcher and social media magnate takes some serious effort and many scientists feel that this comes at the cost of their own work. There’s actually no need to be able to do it all and Rob is quite right when he says ‘…invest as much time as what works for you...’ because after all there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ‘…people who just don’t do [social media] at all and they just go look, “I just don’t have time for that”...’

Many early-career researchers find themselves suffering imposter syndrome: a self-diagnosed, chronically debilitating disease fraught with insecurity which Rob describes eloquently as a fear born from the ‘…notion of saying something stupid that then gets repeated around the world…’ Surprisingly, this visceral fear of being wrong strikes not just the early-career scientists but also the seasoned veterans.

Scientists don’t always have it figured out. Research is being continually refined, reviewed and updated. So whether you’re a scientist or an enthusiast, and you’re spruiking what you think is the greatest finding or piece of news (providing you’ve adequately researched it to the best of your ability), fear not! Rob himself claims that he has been wrong more times than he can remember. He puts his resilience down to a quote from Bob McNamara, an influential ecologist circa 1950s and 60s, who said that ‘…there are a lot of things worse than being wrong and one of them is to be trivial…’ That is to say that ‘…you can work on something and do something of very little interest to other people or that’s of only incremental advance, and that’s…its own thing or you can try and do something big and bad and get it completely wrong - that’s probably still better to try and do that.’

I’M EXCITED! BUT HOW & WHERE DO I START?

There’s no right way of communicating as such; it’s a matter of finding your own voice and crafting what you have to say about science in your own way. But, whether you prefer short tweets or love the artistic approach that Instagram provides, you need to be ‘…literate in those platforms… and there are some fundamentals that everybody should learn… Know who your audience is or who you want your audience to be, understand what they do and don’t know [and] talk to them at the right level but don’t talk down to them…’

Rob’s communicating genius and popularity stems from finding his voice in creative writing and giving talks in which he gets to inject his own brand of ‘…sophisticated humour…’ and educate the audience through laughter. If there’s one thing Rob does wish, it’s that there were more ‘…outlets where you could do sort of intellectual stand up. I’ve had a few chances and by far they’re the most fun talks I’ve given…’ Science and stand-up, who would’ve thought…

The number of outlets in which people can communicate science is endless and up to the creativity of the individual. Rob believes, as do we at Wild Melbourne, that ‘…it’s an exciting time to be doing [science communication]… you don’t have to depend on newspaper editors and publishing houses and television companies and all those kind of power structures any more. With the internet, you can create other ways… for people to find their voice….’

Putting Rob’s advice into a nutshell, if you want to be a science communicator, it’s about finding your voice by using your comfort zone to step out of your comfort zone. Sounds a little counter-intuitive, but use what platform you feel is best tailored for you, start small and see where it takes you. There will be people who like what you do and from there, who knows?

‘Just give it a crack!’


Project: Point Leo

Where the Sea meets the Land, and where our Community meets the Natural World...


The Wild Melbourne team are extremely excited to announce a new partnership with Point Leo Foreshore, Park and Reserve. Our team are humbled to be given the opportunity to improve the reserve's capacity to engage with the public regarding its diverse and wonderful natural assets. 

We have been designing a number of displays and interactive features that will assist people of all ages in appreciating the native flora, fauna, habitat, and history of Point Leo. We are working towards a series of outdoor signs and indoor displays in the reserve's brand new office, as well as  a touch table, a marine touch tank and a large public mural. We are also partnering with the incredibly talented, Milly Formby, to produce a beautiful illustration to highlight the beauty of some of the reserve's fauna species. 

We encourage our readers to take the time to plan a day trip, or even a weekend camp down at Point Leo reserve. Don't let the winter weather put you off, it is a truly beautiful piece of Victoria and well worth a visit at any time of the year. 

Our team thank the reserve's committee of management for this fantastic opportunity,  and give a special thanks to park ranger, Tony, for his infectious enthusiasm and support thus far.