Members of the FOMS Executive have been meeting regularly with the water resource personnel of the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board and with Sam Stuart, Head Ranger with the Arabana Ranger team. Senior Water Resource Officer with the Board, Aaron Smith, has recently advised that the Board has secured substantial funding through the Commonwealth’s Lake Eyre Basin Program for conservation works within the SA portion of the Basin. The Board intends to allocate $140,000 of this to mound springs conservation.
This is a major opportunity to protect priority springs or groups of springs in Far North SA, the majority of which are on pastoral leasehold land and are subject to impacts from cattle and other introduced animals such as horses and donkeys. In early October, FOMS representatives met with Arid Lands Board personnel and Arabana Head Ranger Sam Stuart to discuss priorities and logistics for a protection program.
At this stage the intention is to implement protection works during 2023. It seems most likely that this will mainlyinvolve fencing of priority springs to exclude cattle and / or other introduced animals. A critical aspect of this will be collaboration with pastoral lessees and some discussions are already under way in relation to protection of Reedy Springs and possibly Public House Springs on Murnpeowie Station. Fencing of springs on Finniss Springs – managed by the Arabana – is also under discussion.
FOMS will continue to be involved in this important planning and consultation phase.
Over the years, most of FOMS’ focus has been on mound springs in the vicinity of Lake Eyre, areas over which the Arabana community has Native Title. However, there are highly important springs out to the north-east towards Lake Callabonna and, in 2020 and 2021, FOMS visited a number of springs in this area. Of particular interest are Reedy Springs, Public House Springs and Petermorra Springs on Murnpeowie Station – an area where the Dieri community has Native Title.
In September 2022, a meeting of the Dieri community was held at Marree – coordinated by Stephen Kenny from the legal firm Camatta Lempens Pty Ltd. FOMS representatives Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch and Simon Lewis attended with Colin giving a presentation to the group on behalf of FOMS. Representatives of BHP also attended so this was a good opportunity to establish liaison with the Dieri and to build on previous communication with BHP personnel.
At the meeting the Dieri made it clear that they are keen to see better protection for mound springs on their Native Title area so FOMS will be looking to build on this initial contact to develop collaborative programs with the Dieri, relevant pastoral lessees and others.
The main Friends of Mound Springs field trip took place in the week 14th to 20th June 2022. FOMS participants were Rick Moore, Heatheranne & Pete Bullen, Bernice Cohen, Bruce & Sherrie Gotch, Bren Lay, Hadyn Hanna, John Tagell, John Brimacombe, Erik & Stefan Dahl, Garry & Michelle Trethewey, Craig and Helen Whisson and Simon Lewis. FOMS President Colin Harris was a late withdrawal due to a Covid close-contact situation. It was good to welcome Heatheranne and Pete Bullen, John Brimacombe, Erik and Stefan Dahl and Garry and Michelle Trethewey on their inaugural FOMS outings.
The FOMS contingent was accompanied on most of the trip by Sam Stuart and Keegan Solomon of the Arabana Ranger team.
Participants convened at Roxby Downs, then drove to Arid Recovery, the 123 square kilometre conservation reserve on the Borefield Road approximately 20km north of Olympic Dam. The Chief Executive of Arid Recovery, Katherine Tuft, welcomed the group and led a walk out to the viewing platform as sunset approached. This was followed by an evening meal provided by the Arid Recovery team and then a walk, with one of the two walk groups fortunate to spot some bilbies. The group camped overnight at Arid Recovery.
On the following day, the group headed up the Borefield Road and Oodnadatta Track to William Creek and then on to Levi Springs, where FOMS volunteers fenced 12 springs in 2019. Overnight camp was at Levi Creek, near the fenced springs. Some of the group spent the next morning at Levi Springs to check the fence and carry out any necessary repairs and repeat vegetation monitoring established at the time of the 2019 fencing.
A second group left Levi Springs to check springs on the Peake which were fenced by the State Environment agency in the 1980s (Outside, Twelve Mile and the Fountain). These springs were in good condition with Phragmites still the dominant vegetation in the spring vents and tails. The boundary fencing required some attention, as could be expected with fencing in these conditions after 35 years or so. This group also looked at the Vaughan Spring, an unfenced bulrush (Typha) spring showing significant cattle impacts.
Both groups then travelled to the Peake Overland Telegraph site / Freeling Springs. The whole group spent the next day at this site. Two bollards were installed at the carpark to complete the protective work here. New brochures were installed and vegetation trimming was undertaken around the carpark area. Two groups carried out maintenance work on the Mine Walk and the Creek Walk. The Mine Walk maintenance crew also did some additional work on the two mine shafts, where erosion has created hazardous gaps around the protective fencing. Those working on the Creek Walk established a short side-track through the creek-line vegetation to guide those walking out to the cemetery.
Saturday 18th saw the group heading south, journeying via William Creek to Strangways Springs. After setting up camp, most of the group carried out maintenance work on the two walking trails at Strangways while Bruce and Sherrie applied some linseed oil to the Bill Giles memorial seat at the Gibber View location. There was also some discussion at the Woolwash site about how to improve the visitor experience at this location. The group then spent the night at the usual camping spot in the Strangways dunes.
With work completed at Strangways, the group continued to Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. There, Rick led most of the party in an inspection of Jersey and Elizabeth Springs. Bruce led a second group to Horse Springs and Buttercup Spring in the southern section of the Park to install two motion-activated cameras.
The work at Wabma Kadarbu completed the allocated tasks for the trip. On the homeward journey, the group stopped briefly at Herrgott Spring near Marree and Rick outlined some suggestions for improving the spring’s environs and using the site as part of a program to improve community awareness about mound springs.
Francis Swamp comprises a large area of mound springs on the Anna Creek pastoral lease, with an estimated 120 springs scattered over an area of around thirty square kilometres. Comprehensive studies of South Australian mound springs during the early 1980s concluded that the Francis Swamp springs rate highly in terms of their cultural and ecological significance. The springs are on Arabana traditional land and have strong associations with Indigenous people (see Further Reading at end of this item).
Access to these springs is difficult – most occur on flat, soft, saline ground that can be a bogging hazard for 4WD vehicles. Partly for that reason, the Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) have had very limited success in surveying Francis Swamp springs in the past. The same situation applied for researchers in the 1980s who conducted some ground-based surveys but supplemented this with access via helicopter.
In August 2022, FOMS dedicated the bulk of a mound springs trip to a more focussed inspection of Francis Swamp springs. A group of six FOMS members (Colin Harris, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Bernice Cohen, Stafford Dow, Simon Lewis) spent two full days at Francis Swamp, accompanied by SA Arid Lands Landscape Board staff Hamish Longbottom and Glenn Del Fierro, with Board Senior Water Resource Officer Aaron Smith also joining the group for one day.
The location of Francis Swamp is shown in the map below. The accompanying Google Earth image shows the springs and also provides a good impression of the highly saline nature of the springs’ environs, with dune systems to the east and west. Access was generally difficult. Inspection of the northern area of springs was largely by off-track access, while the southern springs were reached via an old track from the west that had not been used for many years and was barely distinguishable. (It should be noted that there are no Public Access Routes in this vicinity: the FOMS group visited the area with the permission of the Anna Creek lessees, the Williams Cattle Company.)
The photos below show fairly typical examples of springs in the northern section of Francis Swamp – relatively small springs with sedge vegetation and some open pools. Some of these springs were relatively free of cattle impacts while others – particularly near the eastern edge of the spring group – had more substantial cattle damage. Sedges included Cyperus laevigatus, C. gymnocaulos, Schoenoplectus litoralis and Juncus kraussii. The introduced weeds, Spergularia and Cotula sp, were noted at the more disturbed springs.
Just south of these northern springs is a more diverse range of springs. These include a Typha spring with a lengthy tail that is relatively deep (1- 2 metres) in parts. The main fringing vegetation is samphire. This spring was showing moderate damage from cattle. There are two springs dominated by Phragmites that has hayed off during the colder winter months. A particularly noteworthy feature here and at the other areas inspected is the large number of small springs with cutting grass, Gahnia trifida – known as a disjunct species because it occurs in many mound springs but is separated by hundreds of kilometres from the nearest other populations of the species.
Numerous springs were inspected in the southern portion of Francis Swamp. The largest was a Phragmites spring which, as the photo below illustrates, was severely impacted by cattle. This spring also had the sedges, Cyperus laevigatus and C. gymnocaulos and fringing Acacias and samphire. Smaller springs nearby included another Phragmites spring also impacted by stock, a spring seep in a drainage line fringed by samphire, a number of sedge springs with Schoenoplectus litoralis and Juncus kraussii and several small cutting grass (Gahnia) springs. These are illustrated to the right.
Taking into account the access difficulties at Francis Swamp, the inspections of August 2022 covered a good range of springs, possibly around 20 – 25% of the springs in the group. Several of the springs showed moderate to severe cattle impacts – these springs were generally close to the higher, non-swampy ground to the east. Springs further to the west – thus further into the swampy ground – were less impacted.
As also noted above, the springs are on Arabana land and are of substantial cultural significance to Indigenous people. During the August inspection an extensive knapping (stone-working) site was noted nearby, providing tangible evidence of the importance of the area.
Studies in the 1980s and subsequently concluded that Francis Swamp is of high conservation significance by virtue of its cultural importance, its extensive and concentrated spring grouping and the occurrence of significant species such as Gahnia. However, the spring group remains unprotected and, as noted, is subject to cattle impacts. Exclusion of stock has been considered in the past, most notably in the 1990s when then lessees S Kidman & Co put up a proposal to excise Francis Swamp from grazing if the SA Government was prepared to construct and maintain an appropriate line of fencing.
While not intended as a comprehensive bibliography, information on the cultural and ecological features of Francis Swamp can be found in the following:
Hercus, L & Sutton, P 1985. The assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance of mound springs in South Australia. Prepared for SA Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide.
Paterson, AG 2008: The lost legions: culture contact in colonial Australia, Altimira Press, Plymouth UK.
Social and Ecological Assessment 1985. Biological assessment of South Australian mound springs. Prepared for SA Department of Environment and Planning, Adelaide.
Gotch (ed) 2013. Allocating water and maintaining springs in the Great Artesian Basin. Volume V: Groundwater-dependent ecosystems of the western Great Artesian Basin. National Water Commission, Canberra.
As reported in previous newsletters, twelve of the fourteen springs at Levi Springs, on the Peake Pastoral Lease, were fenced by FOMS volunteers in July 2019. About 2.3km of fencing was erected and FOMS has revisited Levi Springs each year since then to ensure the fencing remains in good condition. FOMS also established a series of photopoints to monitor vegetation condition and these have been repeated each year.
FOMS volunteers visited Levi Springs as part of the June 2022 working bee. The fencing remained in good condition and it is worth noting that, in the initial construction of the fence, care was taken to ensure good separation between the fence and the springs.
Experience elsewhere has shown that fencing in the immediate vicinity of springs – such as across spring tails – can lead to significant pressure by cattle upon the fence and occasionally intrusion of cattle through the fence.
As illustrated in the accompanying photographs, spring vegetation has responded strongly following the fencing. Equally noteworthy is the regrowth of associated dryland vegetation – also noticeable in the photos – reflecting both the exclusion of grazing pressure and the good rains in recent times.
The Arabana Ranger Program was initiated in late 2019 with funding through the Australian Government. As noted in our last newsletter of September 2020, FOMS and the Arabana Rangers have developed a very successful and productive working relationship. Despite the restrictions associated with COVID-19, FOMS and the Arabana Rangers collaborated in two field trips in 2020. As described in the following item, this continued with a major joint field trip in June 2021.
There have been some personnel changes with the Ranger team: Head Ranger Micheal Stuart departed in late 2020 and, since then, Micheal’s brother Sam has been the main contact. Sam has recently been appointed Acting Head Ranger.
The Arabana Ranger Program was initially funded to 30 June 2021. However, some very good news was announced as that date approached – the Program has been funded by the Australian Government for a further seven years. This will enable FOMS and the Arabana Rangers to build on the already solid working relationship and to consider a broad range of partnership projects for mound springs conservation.
In early June 2021, FOMS undertook its major working bee for the year in collaboration with the Arabana Ranger team. Sixteen FOMS members participated along with Arabana Rangers Sam Stuart, Liz Sindely and Keegan Solomon. As summarised below, joint activities included works at Strangways Springs, Freeling Springs / Peake Overland Telegraph site and Levi Springs, and fence maintenance and vegetation monitoring at springs fenced by the State Environment agency in the 1980s.
At Strangways Springs and Freeling Springs (the site of the Peake Overland Telegraph (OT) ruins) the Arabana Rangers and FOMS volunteers maintained walking trails established by FOMS in 2011. A bench seat was also installed on one of the walks at Strangways in memory of late FOMS helper Bill Giles and new bollards were installed at the Peake OT carpark to manage vehicle movement.
The protection of priority mound springs from disturbance by stock and feral animals has been an important objective and the most recent success story has been the fencing of Levi Springs, on the Peake pastoral lease, by FOMS in 2019 – in consultation with the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, the Department for Environment and Water, Arid Lands NRM Board and lessees Williams Cattle Company. In the June 2021 working bee, FOMS and the Arabana Rangers applied some finishing touches to the 2.3km of fencing and carried out vegetation monitoring at a number of photo- points established in 2019. The spring vegetation has recovered strongly following stock exclusion.
FOMS and the Arabana Rangers also combined forces to check a number of springs fenced by the State Environment agency in the 1980s on the Peake and Nilpinna pastoral leases. Minor fence maintenance and vegetation monitoring were undertaken. The contrast between protected springs and nearby unprotected spring wetlands is quite marked. The common reed, Phragmites, continues to be dominant in most of the protected springs although there are early signs that this dominance is diminishing after 30 plus years of stock exclusion.
The June 2021 springs working bee is a very good example of a productive collaboration aimed at improved conservation of mound springs – involving a mixture of research, monitoring and on- ground protective works. FOMS has appreciated the ongoing support of the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board and the Department for Environment and Water and it has been a privilege to be closely associated with the Arabana Ranger Program.