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Arabana Rangers and Friends of Mound Springs work together for Springs Conservation

The Arabana team replacing bollards at the carpark at Freeling Springs

The Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS) group has enjoyed a good working relationship with the Arabana people over many years. Examples of cooperative programs have been the spring burning trials conducted on Finniss Springs in 2016 and the fencing of Levi Springs in 2019.

This relationship has received a major boost through the establishment of the Arabana Ranger Programme in 2019 with funding through the Australian Government. This program has provided for the employment of a team of (currently) five under the leadership of Head Ranger Micheal (Mick) Stuart. At this stage the program is funded to 30 June 2021. The team has a relatively broad brief to help care for natural resources in Arabana country and the conservation and management of mound springs is an important objective.

In January 2020, FOMS representatives met with the Arabana Ranger team at Port Augusta to discuss areas of common interest and scope for joint programs aimed at improved conservation and management of mound springs.

Following that meeting, plans were developed for a joint field program in 2020. This program was interrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with FOMS volunteers unable to travel to the region until late May. In the meantime, the Arabana Ranger team was able to work in the region, and undertook fence maintenance work and vegetation monitoring at several springs fenced by the State Environment agency in the 1980s, as well as Levi Springs.

With some easing of COVID-19 restrictions towards the end of May, FOMS volunteers were able to join with the Arabana Rangers in further field work and a revised fieldwork program was developed. FOMS volunteers and the Arabana Rangers joined forces in two field trips during 2020.

The first trip took place from 31 May to 6 June. FOMS volunteers Bruce Gotch, Colin Harris, Bernice Cohen and Simon Lewis joined with the Arabana team in inspections of Bopeechee and Beatrice Springs on Finniss Springs (see separate item in this newsletter) and in maintenance of the walking trails at Strangways Springs and Freeling Springs / Peake Overland Telegraph site. While at the Peake Overland Telegraph site, the Arabana Rangers installed five recycled plastic bollards at the carpark to replace deteriorating timber bollards.

The second joint springs visit occurred in late August. The group inspected several springs and artesian bores on Finniss Springs – Bopeechee and Beatrice Springs, the now extinct Venable Spring and Charles Angas, Cooryabbie and Venable bores. The group also visited Gosse and McLachlan Springs, on the Stuart Creek pastoral lease, where feral horses have had severe impact in recent months. More information on these matters is included elsewhere in this newsletter.

These field inspections provided an excellent opportunity for the Arabana Ranger team and FOMS volunteers to work together to assist the conservation of mound springs and to develop a rapport that will provide a sound basis for ongoing cooperative activities. The Arabana Ranger team is making a very significant contribution in the conservation and management of mound springs and FOMS welcomes the opportunity to be associated with the program.

Job done. L to R: Bruce Gotch, Dylan Stuart, Indianah Butler, Mick Stuart, Aamish Warren, Braden Allen and Bernice Cohen

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.

Arabana Ranger Program initiated by Federal Government

Attendees at the Port Augusta meeting. Rear (L to R): Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch (both FOMS), Cherie Gerlach, Sarah Stevens (SA Arid Lands NRM Board staff), Travis Gotch, Tony Magor (both National Parks & Widlife, DEW), Arabana Ranger Marshall Stuart, Arabana Head Ranger Micheal Stuart, Simon Lewis (FOMS), Arabana Ranger Garth Dodd, Paul Tanner. Seated at front: Arabana Rangers Braden Allen and Aamish Warren.

Some good news – an Arabana Ranger Program has been initiated through funding support from the Federal Government. Five Arabana Rangers have been appointed, including Head Arabana Ranger Micheal Stuart – son of Uncle Dean (see above article). General support and coordination is provided through Conservation Management Director Alistair Dermer, who is based interstate. The Ranger group is operating out of Port Augusta and, at this stage, has funding to June 30, 2021.

The Arabana Ranger team and FOMS personnel have wasted no time in becoming acquainted, with a joint meeting held at Port Augusta on 22 January 2020 – FOMS representatives being Colin Harris, Bruce Gotch and Simon Lewis. Also attending were Tony Magor, National Parks and Wildlife Manager, Flinders and Outback, and Travis Gotch, newly appointed District Ranger, Outback. Arid Lands NRM Board staff Sarah Stevens and Cherie Gerlach also joined the group for a short time.

The meeting highlighted that the Arabana Ranger Program and FOMS have a number of objectives in common. Micheal Stuart noted that priority areas for the Program are protecting and monitoring country, building and maintaining relationships and getting Arabana people on to country. FOMS representatives noted that FOMS has a particular interest in maintaining protective fencing around a number of important mound springs on pastoral lease land – seven fenced by the state Environment agency in the 1980s and Levi Springs, fenced by FOMS volunteers in 2019. Vegetation monitoring is also a priority at these springs.

It was agreed that the Arabana Rangers could take on a significant role with this fence maintenance and vegetation monitoring. As a next step, FOMS representatives and the Arabana Rangers will have a joint inspection of these sites – currently scheduled for May 2020.

This is a welcome initiative and FOMS looks forward to linking closely with the Arabana Ranger Program. It is to be hoped that funding for the Program will be extended well beyond June 2021.

FOMS Newsletter #21, November 2019

This newsletter edition features:

  • FOMS Volunteers Fence Levi Springs
  • Report on FOMS Working Bee, May 2019
  • Burn Trial Sites checked on Finniss Springs
  • Walking Trails in good shape at Strangways and the Peake
  • Bollards replaced at Peake Carpark
  • Vegetation monitoring provides a surprise or two
  • GAB Springs Management Planning and Stewardship Initiative
  • Life Membership for FOMS Stalwarts
  • Pastoral Act under the Spotlight
  • Water Allocation Plan under Review
  • GAB Strategic Management Plan nearing completion

FOMS Volunteers Fence Levi Springs

Location of Levi Springs

Regular readers of the FOMS newsletter may recall that the fencing of ten springs at Levi Springs, on the Peake Pastoral Lease, has been under discussion for several years. It is pleasing to report that this fencing has now been completed through the efforts of nine FOMS volunteers, the work being undertaken in July 2019.

Levi Springs comprise an important group of springs adjacent to impressive rock outcrops with petroglyphs. The area to be fenced also includes the remnants of a shepherd’s hut and coolabah yards – rare surviving relics of early pastoral times when sheep were being run on the country.

This project has had a long gestation period. As part of the State Environment Department’s $1 million Desert Jewels project (2013 to 2016), it was proposed that a number of springs at Levi Springs be fenced to provide protection from stock. In August 2015, a combined group from FOMS and the Department inspected Levi Springs and plotted a proposed fence alignment that would include all but one of the springs at Levi and most of the associated stony outcrops. Subsequently, the proposal was considered by the Directors’ Group of the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation and, after considerable deliberation, a more modest fencing alignment, taking in the springs but not the main associated stony outcrops, was given formal endorsement by the Arabana Directors’ Group. The project was also endorsed by the then lessees of the Peake, S Kidman & Co.

However, the Environment Department’s Desert Jewels project concluded without any fencing work at Levi Springs. The Department had purchased some of the fencing materials needed but did not have the resources to undertake the on-ground work. At about that time, S. Kidman & Co sold the Anna Creek and Peake Pastoral Leases to the Williams Cattle Company.

Cattle on one of the springs at Levi, prior to fencing

With the Department’s reduced scope for involvement, it was left to FOMS volunteers to continue efforts to see this fencing project through to fruition. In August 2017, FOMS members met with Tony and Trevor Williams, of the Williams Cattle Company, at Levi Springs and subsequently the Company advised that the fencing could proceed as planned.

The logistics involved in preparing for up to 2.5km of fencing to be erected by volunteers in a remote environment are complex and many months were taken up in finalising the fence design, reviewing equipment requirements, ordering additional materials needed and arranging for transport of materials to Levi Springs. Earlier plans for a timber post, four-barb fence were superseded by an all- steel design, still four-barb, fence that would require far fewer post-holes to be dug. FOMS member Brenton Arnold led the way with this work and FOMS is extremely grateful for his contribution.

By mid-2019, the final arrangements for the fencing settled into place. The fencing team was finalised and dates were set for the work: 16th to 26th July 2019. The team comprised Brenton Arnold, Bruce Gotch, Bren Lay, Chris Wenham, Steve Taylor, Colin Harris and Simon Lewis. Simon Rathbone was a last- minute withdrawal due to illness.

Because of the scale of the project, it was decided early in the planning process that a catering team should be engaged to look after food preparation and general camp maintenance. Experienced tour guide / caterer and fellow FOMS member Rick Moore took on this role, ably assisted by another FOMS member Stafford Dow.

All group members except Brenton travelled to Woomera on Tuesday 16th July, then continued on to Levi Springs on Wednesday 17th, via Billa Kalina and William Creek. The camp for the following eight nights was set up on Levi Creek, a coolabah / red gum creek-line close to Levi Springs. In the meantime, Brenton assisted with the loading of fencing materials at Port Augusta by McArdles Transport before joining the group at Levi.

Early on Thursday 18th, Colin and Simon drove the 35km to the Peake homestead to rendezvous with the McArdles truck and to guide the truck down to Levi Springs. The truck arrived on schedule at the homestead at about 9am and all were very relieved when the truck made it all the way to the springs. With enthusiastic assistance from truck-driver James, unloading was readily completed and the stage was set for ground-work to commence.

The first task was to confirm the fence alignment and some modifications were made to avoid saltier ground, rationalise drainage line crossings and include the coolabah spring near the rock outcrops. Then the physical fencing work commenced and over the next six days the crew slipped into a regime of post-hole digging, strainer assembly, star- dropper ramming, barbed wired run-out and straining and spacer installation.

By Wednesday 24th, all but a short run of fencing near the main spring and some fine-tuning of drainage line crossings were complete. This work was readily completed, whereupon there was an official gate-opening ceremony followed by a walk through the newly created exclosure. As part of this walk-through, Brendan and Simon established a number of photo-points to be used in following the progress of the springs and some dryland areas.

On Thursday 25th the group headed back to the Eldo at Woomera via William Creek and Billa Kalina. A flat tyre on Stafford’s vehicle was the only mishap on the journey. Lengthy showers and a celebratory meal at the Eldo were enjoyed by all.

Many thanks to all for making up a very convivial group and for completing a major project safely and enjoyably. A complete team effort, fine catering and an achievement FOMS can be proud of!

FOMS is particularly grateful to the SA Arid Lands Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board and the Friends of Private Bushland for providing funds to support this project. The NRM Board has provided FOMS with a $10,000 grant to support spring protection works and vegetation monitoring and $5,000 of this grant was used as a contribution to the Levi Springs fencing work. The Friends of Private Bushland provided a very generous grant of $2,000 and this was fully allocated to this project.

Fence alignment at Levi Springs

Bollards replaced at Peake Carpark

At the Peake OT site, indiscriminate access by vehicles to both the historic site and nearby creek- line was a significant problem until 2008 when FOMS volunteers installed timber bollards to define the carpark and limit vehicle movement. This work was subsequently reinforced through additional fencing installed as a cooperative venture by FOMS, the Environment Department and then lessees S Kidman & Co.

However, by 2018, the timber bollards were starting to deteriorate and some had been removed by visitors for firewood. During the May 2019 working bee, FOMS replaced ten of the timber bollards with synthetic recycled plastic bollards. The site is now secure and the remaining six timber bollards will be replaced by FOMS in 2020.

Brian Wheeler (L), Brian Donaghy and Greg Wheeler (R)
pause for the camera while Craig Whisson carries on regardless.
Installation of the new bollards is complete

Hopeful Signs for Fencing at Levi Springs

Levi Springs – approx. location

Readers of recent FOMS newsletters may recall the proposal to fence several mound springs at Levi Springs, on the Peake pastoral lease. This proposal originated as part of a major mound springs project (known as Desert Jewels) undertaken by the then state Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (now Department for Environment and Water). This project concluded before the Levi Springs fencing could be organised and FOMS has been trying to see this through to completion. The area proposed for protection is about 10 – 12ha, with approximately 2.3km of fencing.

Many of the steps needed to enable the fencing to proceed are now in place. The local Arabana people have approved the proposed fence alignment, as have the new pastoral lessees at the Peake – the Williams Cattle company. The Department for Environment and Water has organised the necessary fencing materials and has indicated that funding will be available for an Arabana fencing team to assist with fence erection. There has been some concern as to how the 200 or so required post-holes could be drilled but it now appears that funding approved by the SA Arid Lands NRM Board (see other item in this newsletter) will assist FOMS in hiring the equipment.

At the time of this newsletter it was unclear whether the on-ground fencing works will be completed in spring 2018 or autumn 2019.

FOMS acknowledges the ongoing support of the Department for Environment and Water – particularly Tony Magor, Manager, Parks and Co-management – in helping to progress this project.

Area to be fenced blue line shows original alignment, red shows agreed fence extension
One of the springs at Levi to be protected