General News

Major Funding Boost for Mound Springs Conservation

Section of Reedy Springs, Murnpeowie Station

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.

Initiation of communication between FOMS and Dieri Aboriginal community

Public House Springs: important springs in Dieri country
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.

FOMS visits Francis Swamp

Google Earth image showing Francis Swamp with areas inspected by FOMS marked in red

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.)

Extract from 1:250000 map-sheet showing location of Francis Swamp about 20km west of the Oodnadatta Track and Strangways Springs

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.

Leonard Spring at the northern end of Francis Swamp
Another northern spring showing significant cattle impacts

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.

engthy tail associated with Typha (bulrush) spring
One of a large number of small springs with cutting grass,
Gahnia trifida
Example of typical landscape associated with Francis Swamp: large expanses of saline flats
Larger Phragmites spring at the southern end of Francis Swamp, heavily impacted by cattle

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.

Small spring in drainage line in southern area, further into the spring group and largely free of cattle impacts

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.

Further Reading

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.

The recovery of vegetation at Levi Springs following fencing of the area by FOMS volunteers in 2019

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.

Spring at Levi, showing severe cattle impacts prior to fencing (left, 2019) and rapid recovery of vegetation (right, 2022)
Coolabah spring at Levi, at time of fencing (left) and in June 2022 (right)

FOMS Collaboration with Arabana Rangers Program continues

The bench installation team. Front (L to R): Bernice Cohen, Liz Sindely, Sherrie Gotch, Anne Williams. Rear: Ross Smith, Alan Williams, Sam Stuart, Keegan Solomon, Bruce Gotch. Beresford Hill is on the LH horizon
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.

Newly installed seat at Strangways
New bollards installed by the Arabana Rangers and FOMS at the Peake Overland Telegraph carpark
Arabana Rangers Keegan Solomon and Sam Stuart working on the Levi Springs fence
Coolabah spring at Levi Springs at time of fencing, July 2019
Coolabah spring, June 2021, showing extensive regrowth of sedges

FOMS Newsletter #23, September 2020

This newsletter edition features:

  • Arabana Rangers and Friends of Mound Springs work together for Springs Conservation
  • Levi Springs recover following fencing
  • FOMS visits Lake Frome Supergroup Springs
  • Endangered Plant Translocation provides Food for Thought
  • Horses causing problems at Lake Eyre Springs
  • Update on Burning Trials at Bopeechee and Beatrice Springs
  • Bore Wetlands Pose Dilemma
  • Decision needed regarding Tarlton Springs Fencing

FOMS visits Lake Frome Supergroup Springs

Image of area visited (from Keppel et al., 2016). Mulligan Springs are on the western shore of Lake Callabonna, while Public House Springs are within the Petermorra group. (The FOMS group did not visit the springs within Lake Callabonna or the Lake Blanche Springs.)

The Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) group has a long-standing interest in the springs occurring north-east of Lyndhurst on the Moolawatana and Murnpeowie pastoral leases. These springs are described as being within the Lake Frome spring supergroup. (There are thirteen supergroups described across the Great Artesian Basin, with three of those in South Australia: Lake Frome, Lake Eyre and Dalhousie.) FOMS’ interest centres on the occurrence of significant vegetation, such as the endangered salt pipewort Eriocaulon carsonii, and the recent scientific studies that have shown that many of the springs are associated with aquifers other than the Great Artesian Basin (GAB). Historically, the springs have been described simply as GAB springs. However, recent hydrochemical studies (Keppel et al., 2016) have shown that, while Twelve Springs are apparently sourced entirely from the GAB, the other springs (Mulligan, Petermorra, Public House and Reedy) are sourced from a mixture of GAB waters and other aquifers. Four other aquifers – in addition to the GAB – are described for the area occupied by the springs.

Fairly typical landscape, the dry bed of Lake Callabonna in the background

After consulting the lessees of Moolawatana and Murnpeowie, FOMS conducted its first visit to these springs from 28 July to 3 August 2020. Planning for the trip was also assisted greatly through advice from Darren Niejalke, FOMS member and experienced springs researcher who had previously undertaken surveys of these springs. Participants on this trip were: Colin Harris, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Bren and Bis Lay, Brian Donaghy and Iris Iwanicki, Duncan and Caryl Ross-Watt, Bernice Cohen, Rick Moore, Stafford Dow, Chris Wenham and Simon Lewis. Duncan and Caryl made the long journey from Brisbane to be with the group.

Participants made their way by various routes to convene at Balcanoona – headquarters for the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park – for the first night. Some bedded down in the Shearers’ Quarters while others camped nearby.

Over the ensuing four days, the group inspected a range of fascinating springs on the Moolawatana and Murnpeowie pastoral leases. There were many highlights as described below.

Mulligan Springs, 29th & 30th July

Mulligan Springs comprise a group of about thirty active spring vents on the western shores of Lake Callabonna. Nearby is the Lake Callabonna Fossil Reserve, where Diprotodon fossils were found in the late 19th century by the South Australian Museum.

The FOMS group inspected a good range of springs right on the lake shore. These included a cluster of bulrush (Typha) springs with, cumulatively, a reasonable overflow into Lake Callabonna. Not far to the south were particularly interesting mud mounds, a spring formation only recorded at one other location in South Australia (Dalhousie) and with some similarities to mud mounds near Eulo, seen by the FOMS group that travelled to Queensland in 2012. The springs were generally in good condition.

The Mulligan Springs group also includes a number of springs one or two kilometres west of Lake Callabonna, in the vicinity of old yards formerly used for mustering of horses. At least one of these springs is dominated by reeds, Phragmites – in some contrast to the Typha springs occurring closer to the lake.

Terrapinna Springs, 30th July

Terrapinna Springs

Having completed observations at Mulligan Springs, the group camped at Terrapinna Springs. Terrapinna Springs are not considered to be fed by groundwater but by surface water run-off. Associated walking trails, installed by the Walking Trails Support Group, provide spectacular views of the local area.

Twelve Springs 31st July

Utricularia fenshami flower, Twelve Springs

Twelve Springs, also on Moolawatana pastoral lease, have been of longstanding interest to FOMS because of the presence of the endangered plant, salt pipewort, Eriocaulon carsonii, that occurs in an extremely limited range of springs across the Great Artesian Basin. Also at the springs is one of the bladderworts, the recently described Utricularia fenshami, a carnivorous plant that captures small organisms by means of a bladder-like trap.

The main group of springs at Twelve Springs comprises an area of low, interconnected mounds with bore-drain sedge, Cyperus laevigatus as by far the most predominant vegetation. Eriocaulon carsonii was largely restricted to two slightly more elevated mounds where reeds (Phragmites) were growing at the main vent. There, the Eriocaulon formed dense mats in a halo immediately surrounding the Phragmites. The FOMS group also noted other more isolated springs in the immediate vicinity. Twelve Springs is recorded as having 72 spring vents. The springs were showing significant impacts from donkeys.

Following the morning inspection of Twelve Springs, the FOMS group headed north, leaving Moolawatana and entering – via the Dog Fence – Murnpeowie pastoral lease. Here the track definition to springs was a little more problematic but the group eventually located Petermorra Springs and then Public House Springs.

Petermorra Springs 31st July

Some Vegetation Comparisons between the Lake Frome Springs and Lake Eyre Springs

The vegetation of the springs bears a number of resemblances to that of the Lake Eyre springs. Bore-drain sedge, Cyperus laevigatus, is the most common wetland plant at most of the springs. Bulrush (Typha) is present at many springs at Mulligan Springs and a few springs at Reedy Springs. The common reed (Phragmites) – common at Lake Eyre springs – is more restricted: it was noted at one spring at Mulligan Springs and two springs at Twelve Springs.

There are, however, a number of distinctive vegetation features in the Lake Frome springs. As noted above, the salt pipewort, Eriocaulon carsonii, is present at Twelve, Petermorra and Public House Springs – its only other recorded natural occurrence in South Australia being in the Hermit Hill – Finniss Springs group. The occurrence of narrow-leaf wilsonia (Wilsonia backhousei) at Mulligan Springs and the nearby Lake Callabonna Springs is the only record for this species in the Lake Eyre Basin and in arid zone SA. Similarly, the bladder- wort, Utricularia fenshami, has not been recorded at springs other than Twelve Springs and Petermorra Springs.

Reference: Keppel, M, Gotch, T, Inverarity, K, Niejalke, D, & Wohling, D, 2016. A hydrogeological and ecological characterisation of springs near Lake Blanche, Lake Eyre Basin, South Australia. DEWNR Technical report 2016/03. Government of South Australia through the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Adelaide

Petermorra Springs comprise a number of vents in a drainage line. These are described as Erosional Channel Springs, a type of spring formation not found in springs in the Lake Eyre springs supergroup. Erosional Channel Springs occur in drainage lines where overlying sediments and confining layers have been eroded, allowing groundwater (spring) discharge to occur. All had been heavily impacted by cattle. Several carcasses were noted where cattle had become bogged at springs.

The spring vegetation at Petermorra largely comprised bore-drain sedge, Cyperus laevigatus. The endangered salt pipewort, Eriocaulon carsonii, was noted on one low spring mound.

Public House Springs 31st July

Public House Springs are also described as predominantly Erosional Channel springs and are fed by the GAB and other aquifers. They occur in drainage lines of the Petermorra Creek and can therefore be subject to flooding impacts (Keppel et al., 2016). There is an extensive array of more than two hundred spring vents. Although showing some impacts from cattle, these springs were in significantly better condition than those seen at Petermorra. This could reflect two aspects: the easier access for cattle at Petermorra and the much more extensive array of springs at Public House, meaning less concentrated stock impacts. The predominant spring vegetation was again bore- drain sedge, Cyperus laevigatus but many mounds contained mats of Eriocaulon carsonii. The mound spring bladderwort, Utricularia fenshami has also been recorded. The springs are described as having high floristic diversity but low macroinvertebrate diversity.

The FOMS group’s time at Public House Springs was somewhat limited: all agreed that a more thorough survey would be of much interest.

Reedy Springs 1st August

Trip Participants, L to R: Colin Harris, Duncan Ross-Watt, Caryl Ross-Watt, Bissie Lay, Bren Lay, Bruce Gotch, Sherrie Gotch, Chris Wenham, Brian Donaghy, Iris Iwanicki, Bernice Cohen, Rick Moore, Simon Lewis, Stafford Dow

On Saturday 1st August, the FOMS group drove north to join the Strzelecki Track, then on to Reedy Springs, still on Murnpeowie and just north-west of the ruins at Blanchewater.

Reedy Springs comprise more than three hundred spring vents, consisting of Sand Mounds and Erosional Channel Springs. The springs are thought to be fed by a mixture of GAB water and another aquifer (Cenozoic). A feature at Reedy Springs is an enormous sand mound several hundred metres in diameter. While some upper sections of the mound have dried out, much of it comprises active wetlands with Cyperus laevigatus and a scattering of small open pools. While C. laevigatus is by far the dominant wetland plant species, four bulrush (Typha) vents were also noted. Keppel et al., 2016 note that two relict species – Fimbristylis sieberiana (fringe rush) and Schoenoplectus subulatus (club rush) are also present at Reedy Springs, although in very limited distribution. Faunal diversity (macroinvertebrates) is low. The springs drain into a deeply incised gully which flows some distance to the east.

Reedy Springs also showed severe cattle impacts and several carcasses were noted, particularly in the vicinity of the Typha springs.

Reedy Springs marked the conclusion of spring visits by the FOMS group. This was a particularly interesting trip to some unfamiliar springs and FOMS thanks the pastoral lessees at Moolawatana and Murnpeowie for their cooperation. Special thanks are also due to FOMS member Kaaren Hawkes for her generous contribution towards costs incurred on the trip and Darren Niejalke for his advice and assistance with trip planning.

Update on Burning Trials at Bopeechee and Beatrice Springs

Bopeechee burning trial, 2016

Beatrice and Bopeechee Springs, both on Finniss Springs, were subject to a burning trial in May 2016, a joint exercise involving the Arabana, FOMS and Department for Environment and Water. The primary intention was to assess the effects of fire on the dense reeds (Phragmites) at Bopeechee and bulrushes (Typha) at Beatrice. Both springs were inspected by FOMS volunteers and the Arabana Ranger group in early June and late August 2020.

At Beatrice Spring, burning was only partially effective because of the high moisture content of the vegetation. There is now a healthy stand of Typha at Beatrice but horses have had a severe impact upon the other wetland vegetation. At Bopeechee Spring, the May 2016 burn was very effective in reducing the reeds to water/ ground level. Observations soon after May 2016 showed that the reeds were regrowing quite prolifically but subsequently horses had a severe impact, grazing and pugging the reed regrowth. These impacts have effectively negated the value of the burning trial but regular observations at the springs have continued.

By August 2020 the intensity of horse activity at Bopeechee and Beatrice appeared to have diminished – probably associated with recent rains. It is interesting to note that it is the bore-drain sedge, Cyperus laevigatus, which is now colonising much of the wetland area, with reed (Phragmites) regrowth much reduced. At other springs with Phragmites protected after decades of stock pressure, proliferation of Phragmites has been the main response. While more information is needed, there is a suggestion at Bopeechee that C. laevigatus might have a role as a primary coloniser after stock / horse pressure is reduced.

FOMS and the Arabana Ranger team have discussed management options. An initial suggestion for management of the horse impacts was to install individual fencing around Beatrice Spring and Bopeechee Spring but current thinking favours fencing of a considerably larger area, coupled with measures to exclude horses.