The Alpine Peatland Protection Program delivering results
Wednesday 6 June, 2018
Alpine peatlands are extremely rare. They occur in small pockets across Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, accounting for only 0.001 per cent of the total landscape covering the Australian continent. They are a somewhat niche environmental landscape - their ability to survive is contingent on a unique set of environmental conditions consisting of the right soil type, position in the landscape, climate and water availability.
Although this fragile landscape has been ravaged by fire, invaded by weeds, and disturbed by deer, Victoria’s Alpine peatlands are beginning to thrive again thanks to a five-year multi-government agency effort to preserve these unique ecosystems.
The Victorian Alpine Peatland Protection Program was established in 2013 to reduce the threats posed to these nationally significant landscapes, defending them against pest plants and animal invasion and improving peatland resilience.
The Peatland Protection Program is a comprehensive conservation and restoration strategy including weed control, peatland rehabilitation and deer control. It has facilitated the continuation of previously productive projects and initiated new projects to meet emerging environmental challenges in peatland areas. The initiative is jointly funded through Parks Victoria and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program via the North-East Catchment Management Authority
The peatlands are found at the source of many major rivers, including the Murray, and are home to many unique, rare and endangered plant species, vegetation communities and animals. Alpine peatlands are listed for protection under the Federal Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – the legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places.
Some unique species found in the Alpine peatlands are the Alpine Marsh-Marigold, a plant that flowers under the melting snow, and the diminutive black and yellow striped Corroboree Frog, that is not much bigger than a finger-tip.
Highly invasive peatland weeds such as Grey Sallow Willow and Soft Rush are the focus of continued efforts from the Peatland Protection Program. Willows and Soft Rush are thirsty plants with a liking for damp peatland areas. If left to spread, they create dense thickets precluding other plant species. Willows in particular emerged as a significant threat following the 2003 fires.
When most of the Victorian alpine landscape was blackened and peatlands were left bare, willow seed blew up from the valleys and germinated in the wet soil. Parks Victoria Ranger Team Leader Kevin Cosgriff recalls, “The sprouting willow seedlings were so great in number that they looked like the hairs on a dog’s back.”
While the response to this emerging threat was swift, and countless willows were removed from the peatlands, it was realised in 2013 they were still a major problem in the Victorian Alps. The Peatland Protection Program ensured that the willow control efforts continued to the point where many of the large willows in peatlands that were mature enough to set seed were removed.
Since 2013, 940 hectares have been treated for Willows and Soft Rush in the Alpine and Mount Buffalo National Parks.
In the past five years alone, more than 1000 volunteers have participated in 14 separate community events to help control Willows in the Alpine and Mount Buffalo National Parks. Willows and Soft Rush continue to present a challenge in peatlands, but the program ensures that there are far fewer plants producing seed than there were five years ago.
Another important aspect of the program, rehabilitation, has seen three significantly degraded peatlands undergo transformation.
More than 10,000 native plants and shrubs have been planted on previously weedy and degraded ground, while program funding has also enabled the breaching of an abandoned water channel on Spion Kopje Spur to return water flows to a large peatland and bring it back to life.
According to Parks Victoria Project Officer Anthony Thomas, “In a few years’ time, with a few more summers of maintenance and plant growth, it will be hard to tell that we were even here. This is almost the case at Langfords East Aqueduct where a once eroded and weedy slope is bursting with growth as the native seedlings mature.”
It’s not only pest plants that have caused issues within the fragile Alpine peatlands environment.
Sambar Deer also endanger peatland health by wallowing in pools, trampling and grazing native plants and spreading weed seed on their fur. The Peatland Protection Program broadened its scope to establish the Alpine National Park Three Year Deer Control Trial in 2015 in an effort to deter deer from moving into peatland areas.
Sambar are the predominant deer species in the Alpine National Park. Anecdotal evidence suggests that their numbers in the Alpine National Park have increased exponentially over the past decade. The trial is designed to support these observations with scientific calculations of abundance, deer movement and habitat use.
In 2015, more than 50 infra-red triggered cameras were set up across two areas of the Bogong High Plains to track deer abundance, movement and use of habitat. In that time more than 350,000 images have been taken with image data collated for further analysis.
The types of data collected include:
- Date and time to assist in the understanding of seasonal deer movement, particularly identifying the times of year when deer travel to higher elevation and the alpine peatland areas;
- Gender and age, that is, male abundance compared to female, numbers of mature deer compared to young;
- Habitat use with special attention paid to feeding and wallowing.
Another aspect of the Deer Control Trial is to test a variety of hunting techniques to see if any of them can be used to deter deer from venturing into the alpine peatland areas. Volunteers from the Australian Deer Association and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia have performed a number of targeted deer control operations as part of this trial.
The Deer Control Trial is yet to conclude, but Anthony Thomas is encouraged by the camera data: “The image data suggests that deer numbers are trending down ever so slightly, particularly in the areas where they have been hunted by volunteers. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.”
To ensure the effort already invested by the Victoria Peatland Protection Program continues, Parks Victoria and the North-East Catchment Management Authority are once again partnering funding through the Australian Governments NLP2 funding grants.
The funding will assist in tackling emerging threats to the Peatland communities, continue support of the Deer Control Trial and maintain the current investment in Willow and Soft Rush control and peatland rehabilitation.
Media enquiriesMelanie McVey-Di Lazzaro
0459 818 451
Parks Victoria media centre