Projects & Activities

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Horses Complicate Burning Trials

Trial burn, Bopeechee Spring, May 2016

In our last newsletter we reported on a burning trial conducted on three springs on the Finniss Springs property, Bopeechee, Beatrice and a spring described as HBO 004, in May 2016. This trial was undertaken as part of DEWNR’s Desert Jewels project as an initial effort to assess the potential ongoing role of fire in the management of reeds, particularly Phragmites, in mound springs. Prolific growth of Phragmites has occurred at many springs that have been protected from cattle grazing to the apparent detriment of other wetland species. DEWNR and FOMS have been considering options for the active management of this prolific reed growth, with fire and periodic grazing (see also the Billa Kalina article) being two options for consideration.

In July 2016 a FOMS group visited Finniss Springs and noted quite strong regrowth of Phragmites just 7 or 8 weeks after the trial burn. At the time, FOMS carried out some vegetation monitoring, measuring density and height of regrowth.

However, in June 2017 a further FOMS inspection showed that the regrowth of Phragmites is being severely grazed by horses. The photos included here of Spring HBO 004 illustrate the situation. This has significantly complicated the monitoring program. While the horses remain in the area we are not simply monitoring the response of Phragmites to a trial burn but monitoring a combination of regrowth from fire and grazing impacts. Some discussion will be needed about the value of continuing the current vegetation monitoring or the need to adopt a different approach.

Same spring in June 2017. Phragmites now gone from spring vent as a result of grazing by horses
Spring HBO004 in June 2016, about 7 weeks after trial burn. Significant regrowth of Phragmites
Burning Trial Site

Action being taken to address Cattle Grazing in Wabma Kadarbu

Spring at Wabma KadarbuWabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park is best known for Blanche Cup and the Bubbler, the two mound springs with easy visitor access, parking facilities, interpretive information and boardwalks. However, tucked away to the south and north of these springs is an extensive array of springs not readily accessible to the public. In the south of the park are Horse Springs and Buttercup Spring and FOMS inspected these springs during the June 2017 introductory trip described elsewhere in this newsletter.

During this inspection, FOMS members were concerned to note cattle actively grazing on Buttercup Spring. Likewise, at Horse Springs there has been substantial and recent cattle damage (see photo). It is clear that cattle have intruded into the Park from the adjoining Stuart Creek pastoral lease FOMS members noted similar damage during a visit in August 2016.

FOMS has reported the situation to DEWNR and the Department has advised that action is under way to repair boundary fencing in collaboration with the Stuart Creek managers

FOMS Repairs Walking Trails at the Peake

At work on the Creek Walk

FOMS members will recall that FOMS established two walking trails at the Peake Overland Telegraph site in 2011 – the Creek Walk and the Copper Top Smelter and Mine Walk. Observations in August 2016 showed that both trails – particularly the Creek Walk – had been significantly eroded by the heavy rains of that year and needed repairs.

In August 2017 a FOMS group travelled to the Peake to do the necessary repair work. The group comprised Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch, Stafford Dow, Bernice Cohen, Brian Donaghy, Bren and Elizabeth (Bis) Lay, Sony Manning and Simon Lewis.

The group had a full day at the Peake Overland Telegraph site on 9th August 2017, focussing on repair of the two walking trails. Some work was also undertaken to prune back vegetation on the track up to the ruins and other vegetation growing over signage.

The Creek Walk required substantial work, including repair of water erosion damage, re-routing of sections as a result of shifting spring tails, and installation of two additional marker posts to improve the definition of the trail. Work on the Walk was completed by lunch-time, after which more minor repairs were effected on the Copper Top Smelter and Mine Walk.

During this trip the group also visited Elizabeth Springs in the Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park. It has been suggested previously that FOMS could consider working with DEWNR in establishing a walking trail at Elizabeth Springs but the inspection showed that, for several reasons, a walking trail would not be particularly feasible.

A further highlight of the August 2017 trip was an inspection of the old lime kilns near the Peake Overland Telegraph site.

Colin Harris and Bernice Cohen at Elizabeth Springs
The FOMS group at the old lime kilns on the Peake

Trial Spring Burns conducted on Finniss Springs

Over the past three years the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), in collaboration with FOMS and others, has been conducting the Desert Jewels project aimed at improved management of mound springs to achieve conservation objectives. A primary area of interest has been the management of reeds (Phragmites), which have tended to proliferate in springs fenced to exclude stock. While Phragmites is a natural component in the landscape in mound spring country, it is thought that many decades of cattle intrusion into the mound springs has elevated nutrient levels and, when stock are excluded from the springs, the elevated nutrients have favoured prolific regrowth of Phragmites at the expense of other vegetation. It has been postulated that burning of the Phragmites, possibly in line with traditional Aboriginal burning practices, might be a useful management tool to help restore a more diverse vegetation cover at these springs. The burning process may help to hasten a decline in nutrient levels in these springs.

Phragmites burning strongly at Bopeechee Spring. To provide some scale, Dean Stuart can just be discerned on the right-hand side (photo: Bruce Gotch)
Phragmites burning strongly at Bopeechee Spring. To provide some scale, Dean Stuart can just be discerned on the right-hand side (photo: Bruce Gotch)

With this in mind, DEWNR collaborated with the local Arabana people and with FOMS personnel in June 2016 to burn two Phragmites springs on Finniss Springs (Bopeechee Spring and a spring described as HBO004). A trial burn was also conducted at nearby Beatrice spring – a spring with bulrush (Typha) cover rather than Phragmites. Also participating was Dr Jasmin Packer, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide. Dr Packer is working on a project on Phragmites management at a national and international scale and is keen to integrate the information from the mound spring burning trials into her own project.

Despite the regular and sometimes heavy rainfall in the Far North during 2016, the burning of Phragmites at Bopeechee and HBO004 springs was very successful burning virtually all above-ground or above-water vegetation and leaving a thick mat of ash.

The burning of the Typha spring (Beatrice) was less successful. The Typha was quite green and only a partial burn was possible. In the last week of July 2016 FOMS members Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch, Claire Bockner and Simon Lewis, along with Arabana elder Dean Stuart, paid another visit to Beatrice, Bopeechee and HBO004 springs. The group was interested to note quite prolific regrowth of Phragmites at Bopeechee and HBO004 just six weeks after the burns – with up to 70 Phragmites stems per square metre up to 0.65m high. The group repeated a number of one metre square quadrats at these springs to measure the extent of regrowth.

It is intended that monitoring will continue at these springs for several years to assess the longer term response of the reeds and of other vegetation associated with the springs. This will link in with monitoring at other springs – such as Outside and the Fountain, on the Peake – where the Phragmites appears to be in a state of natural decline. Another aspect to be considered is whether repeated burning at a particular spring – rather than a single one-off burn – should be trialled as a management option.

FOMS Fixes Faulty Fencing

In the early 1980s, the State Environment agency commissioned studies to document the features and importance of mound springs in South Australia. Eleven springs were identified as being of particular significance and were fenced by the Department in the period 1984 to 1988. These springs were Blanche Cup, the Bubbler, Coward Spring (all now within Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park), Strangways Spring (on Anna Creek), Tarlton, Outside, Twelve Mile, Fountain and Big Perry springs (all on the Peake Pastoral Lease), Nilpinna Spring on Nilpinna Pastoral Lease and Big Cadna-Owie Spring on Allandale Pastoral Lease. The Department monitored the condition of these fenced springs from 1984 to 2005. With the exception of occasional fence repairs by Peake station personnel at Twelve Mile and some work to strengthen weak points and install bayonet gates in the early 1990s, the fencing has not been actively maintained.  It has lasted well, but is now at a stage where attention is needed.

Maintenance and repair work on the fencing around those springs outside of Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park was one of the main tasks for FOMS volunteers in their trip to the springs in late July 2016. The fenced spring at Strangways did not require attention as this is within the much larger area at Strangways fenced by S Kidman and Co in the mid-1990s. The fencing group in the July 2016 trip comprised Brenton Arnold and Brendan Lay, with support from Bruce Gotch, Bernice Cohen, Colin Harris, Simon Lewis, Elizabeth Lay, Claire Bockner and Arabana elder Dean Stuart. Brenton, still in recovery from a bout of the ‘flu, brought with him a trailer load of fencing materials from Port Augusta.

The most arduous fencing work was at Twelve Mile Spring, where there have been problems in the past with cattle breaching a weak section of fence and gaining access to the springs. There, a section of fence needed to be realigned to avoid the vulnerable section.

Significant fence work was also needed at the Fountain. Here the spring tail passes through the fence and the fence has become weakened as a result of cattle pugging and eroding the wetland area just outside the fence. Brenton and Bren reinforced this section with star-droppers and additional wiring. At nearby Outside Spring one section of fence needed re-straining.

After completing the fencing work on the Peake, the group moved on to Nilpinna Spring, on Nilpinna Station. It was expected that significant repair work might be needed here as the spring area had been burnt three to four years ago – in an attempt to control bamboo growing at the spring – and this burn had damaged part of the fence. However, the singed fence-posts were in reasonable condition, so the task was not quite as great as anticipated. Vegetation was cleared away from the damaged section, the fence was re-strained and a number of spacers replaced.

Dean Stuart and Bruce Gotch check the bayonet gate at Twelve Mile Spring

Bayonet gates at each of the above springs were also serviced, with Bruce Gotch taking charge of this work. The bayonet gates were installed in the early 1990s after a particular problem with cattle gaining access through the fence to the Fountain. The design of the bayonet gates is such that cattle cannot get through them from outside but can get through them from inside the fenced area: thus if cattle do gain access through the fence in some way, they do have an opportunity to exit the fenced area via the bayonet gate.

While the above work may secure the fenced springs for the next few years, FOMS is concerned that ongoing reliance on volunteers to maintain the fencing is not necessarily the best option. FOMS will be promoting discussions aimed at looking at other partnership approaches that may provide better security for these areas into the longer term.

Protective Fencing organised for Levi Springs

One of the springs at Levi to be protected in the proposed enclosure

As part of DEWNR’s Desert Jewels project, it is proposed that a number of springs at Levi Springs, on Peake Pastoral Lease, be fenced to provide protection from stock. In August 2015, a combined group from FOMS and DEWNR inspected Levi Springs and plotted a proposed fence alignment that would include all of the springs at Levi and most of the associated rock formations. In early 2016, DEWNR’s Sam Gitahi, then Project Officer for the Desert Jewels Project, re-visited Levi with representatives of the Arabana people to check the acceptability of the proposed fence alignment to the Arabana community.

Subsequently, the proposal was considered by the Directors’ Group of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation, which decided not to support the proposed alignment. The Directors’ Group indicated that a modified fencing alignment, taking in the springs but not the main associated rock formations, might be acceptable.

Accordingly, in the July 2016 trip FOMS volunteers returned to Levi Springs to review the situation.  Arabana elder Dean Stuart accompanied the group. Along with Dean the FOMS group comprised Colin Harris, Elizabeth Lay, Bernice Cohen, Claire Bockner and Simon Lewis.

These ruins of a shepherd’s hut will also be included in the fenced area

An agreed alignment was readily identified, taking in several springs on the northern side of the main rock formations, as well as the ruins of the former shepherd’s hut nearby. Peake manager Jim Wheeler met the group at Levi Springs and foreshadowed no particular concerns from the Kidman perspective in relation to the fencing. Following the field inspection of July 2016, the Directors of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation met in Marree on 20 August and endorsed the revised fence alignment. Pastoral lessees S. Kidman and Co have also given the go-ahead.

Materials for the originally proposed fence alignment have already been purchased by DEWNR and this Department and FOMS are now in discussion about arrangements for erection of the fence. This work will provide protection for an important area of springs and, as such, will be a significant milestone for the Desert Jewels project.

Grazing Trial to be conducted at Billa Kalina

As can be seen from the photo, the spring has a fairly uniform coverage of low sedges, in this case the bore-drain sedge Cyperus laevigatus. There are currently no reeds, Phragmites, at the site.

The Desert Jewels project conducted by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) covers many aspects of mound springs management, some of which are described in other items in this newsletter. One particular area of interest is the effect of controlled or pulse grazing on mound springs. Following consultation between DEWNR and FOMS personnel and Colin Greenfield at Billa Kalina Station, a spring is to be fenced on Billa Kalina in a configuration that will allow controlled grazing in part of the fenced area and complete exclusion of stock in another section. Another part of the spring wetland will be permanently open to grazing so, in effect, there will be three management regimes to monitor at the spring.

During FOMS’ trip to the mound springs in July 2016. Brendan and Elizabeth Lay and Bernice Cohen visited Billa Kalina. They met with Colin Greenfield to discuss arrangements for the fencing, then drove on to the spring to be fenced to check the alignment for the fencing and to collect baseline vegetation data. The data will provide a useful comparison for future measurements when the fencing is in place.

Ongoing consultation with Colin Greenfield will be needed to keep records of grazing patterns around the spring and within the exclosure which will be stocked from time to time.

As can be seen from the photo, the spring has a fairly uniform coverage of low sedges, in this case the bore-drain sedge Cyperus laevigatus. There are currently no reeds, Phragmites, at the site.

Signs replaced at Strangways Springs

Bruce Gotch with a newly installed sign at Strangways

Anyone who has visited the ruins of the former Overland Telegraph Station (and former sheep station buildings) at Strangways Springs will have appreciated the small building identifier signs at each structure. In recent years, the ravages of the climate at Strangways have taken their toll and the identifier signs have deteriorated significantly.

In view of this, FOMS liaised with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and the Department organised the manufacture of replacement signage. As part of the July 2016 FOMS trip, the new building identifiers were installed by Bruce Gotch and Colin Harris.

Rains Affect Walking Trails at the Peake

As many will recall, FOMS volunteers established self-guided walking trails at Strangways Springs and at the Peake Overland Telegraph site in 2011. Descriptive brochures were also prepared by FOMS and stocked at each location. Since 2011, FOMS members have visited Strangways and the Peake on a regular basis to check the walking trails and top up the brochure supply.

During the July 2016 FOMS trip, Colin Harris, Bernice Cohen and Claire Bockner travelled to the Peake while some of the fence maintenance and repair work was being done at other springs on the Peake. They noted quite significant water erosion damage to the walking trails – a reflection of the bumper rainfall year in the Far North of South Australia. Repair works on these trails will be factored into FOMS’ 2017 work program.

FOMS Visits Dalhousie Springs

Dalhousie Trip participants, from left: Colin Harris, Bruce and Sherrie Gotch, Bernice Cohen, Elizabeth and Brendan Lay

2016 has been characterised by very good rains across much of the State. The Far North has been no exception and there has been substantial rainfall in mound spring country. Earlier in the year, wet weather prompted the cancellation of a joint working bee at Dalhousie Springs by FOMS and the Friends of the Simpson Desert Parks (FOS). For the most part, FOS volunteers support DEWNR in management activities at Dalhousie while FOMS volunteers have focussed on mound springs on pastoral country and in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park.

However, in August 2016, a group of FOMS volunteers finally made it to Dalhousie Springs. The group, comprising Elizabeth and Brendan Lay, Sherrie and Bruce Gotch, Bernice Cohen and Colin Harris, aimed to complete the following tasks:

  • Revisiting photopoints and taking water samples from the areas or sites where date palms had been removed at Kingfisher Springs – a component of DEWNR’s Desert Jewels project;
  • Planting coolabah and needle-bush seedlings (grown as tubestock by FOS members) around the campground area;
  • Revisiting the historic exclosure and old photopoints in the Dalhousie and 3 O’clock Creek areas, set up more than 30 years ago before the area was dedicated as a national park.
Main pool, Dalhousie

The work at Kingfisher involved relocating and re-photographing photopoints along the spring tails, finding the centre of the flow at that point, then sampling the water and vegetation there. Prolific growth of Phragmites – which followed the cutting and burning of the date palms – presented major challenges in obtaining some of the samples. Regrowth of young date palms was quite advanced in some areas.

A feature of the trip to and from Dalhousie was the abundance of surface water in waterholes and watercourses. The group returned home by the longer route through Bloods Creek Bore and the old Federal Homestead. The group thought the extra half day travel was well worthwhile as the country was looking splendid after such good autumn and winter rains. Wildflowers such as mulla mullas and Sturt’s desert peas were in abundance and Eringa Waterhole was most impressive with plentiful waterfowl and other bird-life. This bodes well for water dependent wildlife in the region during the next year or more.