Mission to restore Ground Parrot Country

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Words by: Tamika Farley-Lehmer, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne

Heathlands, such as the Carlisle Heath in the Otways region, serve as vital habitats for numerous threatened wildlife species. However, they also pose a significant fire risk due to their flammable nature. Consequently, effective fire management practices are imperative to safeguard both the ecosystem and its inhabitants. However, reintroducing fire to an ecosystem that has been devoid of it for decades presents unique challenges.

In the absence of regular fire, woody shrubs like Melaleuca squarrosa have flourished, particularly in wet heathland ecosystems. These dominant shrubs hinder the effectiveness of low-intensity fire management efforts and have contributed to the decline of habitat for species such as the Eastern Ground Parrot, which holds cultural significance for the Eastern Maar people.

The buttongrass restoration project aims to address the challenge of suppressing woody shrubs while simultaneously promoting plant species crucial for low-intensity fire management and essential ground parrot habitat, such as buttongrass.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Conservation Ecology Centre are collaborating with Forest Fire Management Victoria to investigate the effects of combining mechanical intervention techniques, such as mulching, with winter burning practices on the germination and response of specific plant species to these disturbances. This research aims to inform a management strategy focused on restoring buttongrass fields. Flora surveys have already been conducted across multiple wet heathland systems in both the Carlisle Heath and Cape Otway regions. Scheduled for the upcoming months of April and May, mechanical works and controlled burning will be implemented across these landscapes as part of the research efforts.

Shrub encroachment is a widespread issue across the state, heightening bushfire risk and decreasing biodiversity during a time of climate and conservation crisis. The collaboration between Forest Fire Management Victoria and researchers is essential for gaining insights into utilising fire management techniques to restore critical habitats, ultimately fostering the resilience of ecosystems for the future.