Bio·R Newsletter | December 2017

Director’s Letter

BioR has been busy over the last six months – we had the planting day at Frahns Farm in June, we provided bird-banding field activities for school groups and the community during science week in August, and then conducted regular monitoring of the use of nest boxes installed in the Monarto woodland plantings. These 40 year-old plantings are too young to have natural hollow, and won’t form hollows for at least another 50 years. By adding nest boxes we have provided homes for a wide variety of animals – both vertebrate and invertebrate. We have all been amazed at the frequency with which various birds, brush-tail possums and particularly pygmy possums have been using them. 

BioR was recently successful in securing additional funding from Australian Ethical to construct more nest boxes for deployment in the Monarto area next year (thanks everyone for voting for this project). We were also successful in our bid to have a stall at next year’s Womadelaide which we are thrilled about. We hope to see all you music buffs at the stall in March. We are also well advanced with planning our first annual monitoring program for mammals and reptiles at Frahns Farm that will run in December this year. Thanks to John, Loraine, Adam, Shannon, Simon and others for their hard work digging in the pitfalls. Next year’s planting day is also well advanced with orders for seedlings now placed. 

Special thanks are also due to Fiona, Tom, Grace, Hayley, Kimberly, Penny and James who have been (and continue to be) busy applying for grants, implementing BioR’s field activities and managing BioR’s admin and social media. They are the first to admit that none of their activities would be possible without the willing and able assistance of the many volunteers, and the contributions of our donors and subscribers. 

Although BioR’s achievements have been great over the last 12 months, those achievements are small in comparison to what is needed to make a difference and secure our biodiversity in the future. BioR’s activities need to increase substantially if we are to arrest biodiversity losses. You can help us grow by promoting our activities and by encouraging friends, families and colleagues to join BioR. Better still, encourage others to offset their ecological footprints (personal and or business) and in doing so increase our capacity to deliver benefits for biodiversity.  

Merry Xmas to all, 

David C Paton AM
Director, Bio·R


Cygnet Park: A place to call home – Fiona Paton

In 2009, less than 1000 birds were using Cygnet Park, a former sheep-grazing property on Kangaroo Island that Bio-R helps to manage. However, following the planting of some 200 species and half a million individual plants (see maps below), nearly three times as many birds took to calling Cygnet Park their home. The birds also now use the whole 310 hectares of Cygnet Park (e.g., Spring 2016), while previously they were often only found in the remnant gum woodland along the Cygnet River and in strips of mallee between the open paddocks (e.g., Autumn 2009).

Cygnet Park bird map

A greater variety of birds now call Cygnet Park home too, and some woodland species have particularly thrived in the new plantings. For example, while there were only 2 Crescent Honeyeaters and 2 New Holland Honeyeaters in 2009, the property now supports over 300 individuals of each of these species! A suite of small, insect-eating birds such as Brown Thornbills, Grey Fantails and Superb Fairy-wrens, have also responded very positively to the plantings. However, some species, such as the Scarlet Robin, have not.

Our next step is to work out what’s driving these changes in the bird population, so that we can manage Cygnet Park to continue to benefit birds in the future. For example, Scarlet Robins, which need open patches to forage in, may not have greatly benefited from the plantings because they are too dense (1.8 plants per square metre). So, to attract more robins to Cygnet Park, we may need to thin out plants in some patches. This type of knowledge will also help in planning revegetation for birds elsewhere, as there is still so much to discover about what makes the best habitat for wildlife. Bio-R uses best-practice revegetation techniques to implement what we do know, and adopts a learn-by-doing approach where we can use science to identify the habitat features (e.g., plant species, plant densities) that are important for wildlife and which must be provided in revegetation if birds are to find a place to call home.

Recovery from fire: the reveg challenge – James Trezise

Revegetated habitat needs to be self-sustaining and resilient to have the capacity to recover from inevitable disturbances such as bushfire. Plants re-establish post-fire by re-sprouting from the original plant, or via seeds; these seeds are held in “seed banks”, either in the canopy in fire-resistant structures such as gumnuts, or in the cool soil after they’ve dropped from the plant, waiting for the right conditions to grow. Fire is necessary for some plants to complete their life cycles, as many dormant seeds require specific cues to germinate – chemicals in smoke, for example. On the flip side of this, fire can be damaging to areas where plants have not yet developed substantial seed banks. The sustainability of revegetation at Cygnet Park (a property managed by Bio-R on Kangaroo Island) is at risk because of this, as the plants have grown large enough to carry a fire. What we don’t know is whether this revegetation has built up seed banks sufficient enough to be able to recover if a fire went through.

Seed germination

As part of my research I wanted to determine at what age the Cygnet Park revegetation develops adequate seed banks and is therefore resilient to fire. I did this by taking samples of the seeds in soil from different ages of the revegetation, as well as from the native remnant vegetation, for comparison. I treated half of these soil samples with smoke and heat by cooking them in an oven then placing them in a smoke-filled tent. I then transferred all the samples (burnt and unburnt) to the greenhouse where they were watered regularly to see which species – and how many – germinated. I found that the older the revegetation, the more seedlings emerged. The variety of species that grew in the burnt samples also differed from those in the unburnt, whilst the samples taken from the remnant vegetation had a far greater diversity of species.

Burning remnant leaf litter

This tells us that the ability for revegetation to recover from fire depends on the time it takes for the plants to develop adequate seed banks. Further to this, it appears that the revegetation sites at Cygnet Park younger than 5 years old don’t yet have sufficient seed banks to fully recover from bushfire. I’m currently working on small-scale experimental burns within the revegetation at my field sites to investigate the how revegetated species that are dependent on re-sprouting from their original plant will recover from fire. Bio-R will use this work to inform management of fire threats to our revegetation, ensuring plantings aren’t prematurely burnt before the habitat has grown sufficient resilience to recover from fire.

A big win to build homes for hollow-nesters

We’re thrilled to announce that Bio-R has won an Australian Ethical Community Grant to build, install and monitor 360 nest boxes for hollow-nesting wildlife at Frahns Farm. The boxes will provide a home for species to use until the young trees in the revegetation can grow large enough to form natural hollows. Without nest boxes, many species wouldn’t be able to breed in these woodlands any time soon.

Nest boxes Owlet nightjar

The project will provide opportunities for Adelaide Pre-release Centre prisoners to build the nest boxes and for community members, including kids, to take part in two community events – the first in winter 2018 to install the nest boxes and the second in September 2018 to monitor them. The grant will also enable Shannon Robertson (winner of the Wirltu Yarlu Student award) to investigate methods of nest box dimensions, styles and arrangement, as part of his Honours’ research project with the University of Adelaide.

Thank you to everyone who liked, shared and voted for our Australian Ethical Community Grant project – we were one of 17 lucky recipients from over 450 entries! As a small but dedicated non-profit, we could not have achieved this outcome without your support. Please stay tuned to find out how you can participate in this project next year.

Nest box newcomers!

We’re super excited about our nest box project because it connects people with nature and has real, tangible outcomes for our native birds and mammals. In fact, the 110 nest boxes already installed at Frahns Farm have been a great success.
This spring the nest boxes were home to 5 Western Pygmy Possums (including one with four young), a Brush-tailed Possum, 2 Lesser Long-eared Bats, 9 Owlet-nightjars and (1 nest with 4 eggs), 3 Southern Whiteface nests (including a nest with 2 chicks about to fledge), 7 Adelaide Rosella nests (including one with 4 chicks) and 1 Australian Ringneck nest with 5 eggs.

Nest boxes Pygmy Possum

Frahns Farm: Planting tomorrow’s habitat today

Restoring habitat takes good science, a dedicated organisational team and a multitude of fantastically enthusiastic volunteers. At our Franhs Farm Planting Festival this year we had all three requirements in spades (and trowels!). It was a great day to get outdoors, meet like-minded nature lovers and – most importantly – restore habitat for threatened species! And it was all made possible by the generous support of our members, so an enormous “thank you” to everyone who donates to Bio-R – you help us help our wildlife!


With 120 volunteers we planted 2500 plants over 12 hectares, including acacias, allocasuarinas, callitris, eucalypts, lomandras, melaleucas, pittosporums, rhagodias and sennas. These were planted in arrays designed by Kimberly McCallum (informed by her PhD research) to create aggregated arrangements – like those seen in natural plant communities – in an effort to increase seed production and hence create habitat that is as productive and resilient as possible. On the day, we also direct-seeded a collection of native grasses that Grace Hodder has identified from her PhD research as important food sources for the declining Diamond Firetail, particularly in autumn and winter when food is scarce for these birds. We also planted 600 blue and pink gums as part of a long-term experiment coordinated by Hayley Merigot to test the theory, generated from her PhD project, that we can recreate habitat able to supply nectar for honeyeaters and other sugar-loving critters all year round.

Seedling plan

Since the planting festival, Bio-R volunteers have installed mallee mesh around the plants that kangaroos find particularly tasty. With the help of the SAMDB NRM fire crew, our volunteers have also watered the plants intermittently because it was such a dry winter and early spring in our region. Thankfully though, Frahns Farm had over 40 mm in early November and is expecting a wetter start to summer too, so the plants’ thirst will be well and truly quenched before the heat hits!

At the planting festival we also installed 30 nest boxes, many of which are already inhabited by Southern Whiteface and Pygmy Possums! We also banded 23 species and 170 birds, of which 40 were recaptures from previous banding days. A big thank you to the Adelaide Pre-release Centre for building the nest boxes, to Will King for managing their installation on the day and to Tom and Sandy Bradley, Tom Hunt and Peri Stenhouse for running the bird banding.

Digging pitfall traps

We began restoring pitfall trap lines at the planting festival too – we’ve now retrofitted a total of 12 trap lines in the area with longer and more durable pipes. We will use these animal traps to study the reptiles, mammals and invertebrates in the area and see how the wildlife community changes as our planted habitat regrows. A very special thank you to John Morley and Loraine Jansen for coordinating the project and working tirelessly until it was completed in late October, to Alan and Scott Beiler for lending Bio-R their dingo digger on multiple occasions, and to the tireless team of Adam Toomes, Shannon Robertson, Will King, Simon Fahey-Sparks, Alex Harland and Josh Mulvaney, who all toiled away on jackhammers, crow bars and spades for countless hours in all sorts of weather! If you’re as keen as we are to see what critters live at Frahns Farm, there are opportunities to help with our pitfall trapping this December.

Many, many thanks also to Kylie Moritz from the SAMDB NRM for her support and organisation of the event, to Milang nursery for lending us their trailer, to Monarto Zoo for loaning us their water cart and to Kate Buckley from Birds SA for so efficiently managing registrations and our information stand on the day. What a brilliant team effort!

Volunteer team

Bird research for National Science Week

In August we had a fantastic week of bird banding in the planted woodlands at Frahns Farm for National Science Week. We caught, banded, processed and released over 500 birds and more than 30 species, an amazing testament to the productivity of these planted woodlands, and solid evidence that revegetation works! A whopping 80 children attended the events during the week as part of 4 school groups, and 25 nature enthusiasts joined us on the weekend.

Bird banding Lorikeet

Ageing, weighing and sexing birds, as well as assessing their health, moult and breeding status gives us vital information on the biology of these species. Recapturing individuals we’ve banded previously also gives us a good idea of how birds are using this revegetation.

NHH bird banding

It’s pretty magical to see these feathered bush gems up close. We think reconnecting kids (and adults!) to nature is the best way to foster an appreciation of our environment, and the best chance we have at ensuring future generations can enjoy magic moments with our wildlife too. A very special and worthy event.

Are we headed for our own Silent Spring? – David Paton

David Patons Advertiser article

David Paton, one of Bio-R’s directors, wrote a piece in The Advertiser for National Bird Week (23–29 October) about South Australia’s declining birds and the inevitable “Silent Spring” if we do nothing to restore our habitats. Read an extract below.

Bird Week is a time to celebrate our feathered friends, but the cacophony of calls that makes a dawn chorus special is diminishing. Woodland birds are disappearing from our landscapes; we are heading towards a “Silent Spring”. In the 1906s Rachel used these emotive words to draw attention to losses of birds to pesticides and the world acted. Now, if we are to save our woodland birds, we must act.

Adelaide’s Mount Lofty region is a biodiversity hotspot, one of just 15 recognised in Australia. Biodiversity hotpots should be the last place where species are disappearing – but disappearing they are. They are heading towards extinction. Surveys of the distributions of woodland birds in 2012–14 showed most species have declined since 1984–85, many by 30–50 per cent.

Vegetation clearance is often proffered as the cause of woodland bird declines. Before the 1980s, there was extensive vegetation clearance, but it has been negligible since. In 1984, South Australia led the country by introducing legislation that protected native vegetation. But the birds continued to decline, a legacy of earlier vegetation clearance. There is a simple relationship: the less habitat that remains, the fewer species that can be supported. When vegetation is first cleared, most birds do not immediately disappear, but as time passes species are unable to survive in the fragments of woodland that remain.

This ongoing loss of species is known as an extinction debt. Based on the area of remaining woodland, more than 50 species of woodland birds are predicted to eventually disappear from the Mount Lofty region. The extinction debt is large and still being paid. All of the conservation reserves that I visited in the 1970s have lost species. There is still hope and it is not “doom and gloom” yet, because the populations of most species have not yet disappeared.

The extinction debt time lag provides a brief window of opportunity, but we have to act now. The solution is simple. Re-establish substantial amounts of woodland habitat and give homes back to the birds. The environmental debate of today is merely a squabble between governments over energy and water for human consumption. Governments have all but given up on biodiversity and – in concert with the birds – funding for biodiversity has declined. Biodiversity protection should be a core government activity.

Tomorrow will be too late. I ask the major political parties to stand up and take control by announcing long term environmental policies that aim to halt, and then reverse, the loss of woodland birds. I only hope my plea does not fall on deaf ears. For if it does, the “Silent Spring” will have already begun.”

Sadly, the response of the state government to David’s piece has been tokenistic at best, and the state opposition has shown little leadership in this matter. This underscores the increasing need for NGOs like Bio-R to take real action to save our biodiversity, and the importance of those members of our society who care enough about our wildlife to support them.

This extract was originally published as an opinion piece in ‘The Advertiser’, 27th October 2017.

Conservation is about people – Tristan O’Brien

This piece was first published on the ‘1900 Footprints’ blog on the 5th November 2017. To read more head to: www.1900footprints.com/follow-the-journey

A few years ago I came to the conclusion that what’s stopping us as a society from doing a better job at conserving our natural environment is our physical disconnection from the land. Ninety percent of Australians live in urban areas without access or regular exposure to healthy, pristine nature, a figure that dwarfs the rest of the world (54%). This figure is even more alarming considering our 1–2 million year history as a species living primarily in the wilderness.

I believe the importance of future research is significant. We already have overwhelming evidence from dedicated researchers suggesting that we should be managing things differently, with plenty of information to point us in the right direction, but the societal and political will is not there. I believe this is because our daily lives are largely disconnected from the natural world. If we are to protect our ecosystems, we as a society need to rediscover how to live more connected to natural systems, so that we see where the resources we consume originate from, how our waste is absorbed and we understand the effects of our daily activities on these systems.

Conservation is about people

Conservation, therefore, is about People. More specifically, it is about having conversations with ourselves, with our neighbours and with their neighbours. Conservation is about taking personal responsibility for our actions. That’s why my fundraising is supporting Bio-R, which works to offset the ecological footprint of its subscribers and help people get involved in hands-on conservation activities. Conservation is about getting outside more and appreciating and recognising the natural world around us. It is about understanding that we are a functioning part of the living earth (‘Gaia’) and not separate from it.

This is why much of my writing along the journey has focused on the people I’ve met and not the species that we are trying to protect. In order to make lasting change we need to have conversations with the people we meet in our day-to-day lives. Please join me in talking with the people in our daily lives about the importance of protecting nature and in taking real action in lessening our own impacts on our local environments and the species they contain.

Celebrating the amazing work of our BioR team!

Three (yes, three!) of our talented Bio-R team members recently received awards for the great work they’ve been doing, in particular for the contributions they’ve made to Bio·R and our “Three Rs”: Research, Reconstruct and Reconnect.

Our resident eucalypt expert and ecology PhD student Hayley Merigot was selected as a finalist for the Conservation Council of SA’s Young Achiever Award. Hayley was nominated for her significant contribution to cutting-edge revegetation methods. Over the past few years, Hayley has volunteered countless hours turning her PhD findings into on-ground action. Hayley found that individual populations of blue gums flower at different times of the year, so she sourced a range of seeds with different flowering times. She then planted and raised more than 1500 trees and organised a component of our Planting Festival at Frahn’s Farm to plant them out. Hayley plans to monitor these trees into the future to see if the young trees flower at the same time as their mother trees, which would have major implications for restoration science. This will require long-term commitment while Hayley waits for her young trees to mature. How’s that for dedication? Stellar job Hayley.

Bio·R team awards

One of Bio·R’s directors David Paton was recently awarded the inaugural Community Volunteering Award at The University of Adelaide. This award is acknowledges outstanding achievements by staff members who have made a substantial contribution to voluntary service in their community, beyond their workplace. David was recognised in part for starting and facilitating Bio-R and its many projects. He has also served 45 years and two terms as president for Birds SA, he founded the Biology Society of South Australia, and regularly inspres others with his love of natural history through countless public talks. On top of all this, David is a prominent, influential and passionate advocate for our state’s environment and continues to engage the community, media and politicians with the plight of our local ecosystems. A very well deserved award David!

Bio·R is lucky enough to have another star volunteer on our team – Shannon Robertson has been awarded the Wirltu Yarlu Student of the Year! This award, from Wirltu Yarlu Aboriginal Education, recognises excellence in academics, a positive contribution to the university and the wider community, the promotion of further university education, as well as demonstrating determination and resilience. Shannon is currently undertaking a cadetship in the Faculty of Science as a Research Assistant as well as volunteering regularly for Bio-R. Shannon is an enthusiastic and proficient volunteer and has contributed greatly to the design and implementation of nest-boxes in the Monarto Woodlands. Fantastic work Shannon!

Contact Us

If you have questions, comments or want more information on current events and how you can get involved, email us at info@bior.org.au

Except where specified, all photos have been taken by Fiona Paton, Thomas Hunt, James Trezise & Tristan O’Brien.

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