Bio·R Newsletter | December 2018

Director’s Letter

Bio·R’s main activities over the last year have concentrated on on-ground works and educational activities at Frahns Farm and in the adjacent Monarto woodlands where have been planting seedlings, engaging the community in monitoring nest boxes, small mammals and reptiles, and starting baseline monitoring of the understorey vegetation so that we can document the benefits of our on ground actions over time.

Over 360 nest boxes have been added to the reconstructed Monarto woodlands this year and they’ve been a great success so far, with dozens of species detected sheltering and breeding in them within a few months. BioR will continue to work on the design of the nest boxes to better serve the fauna that depend on hollows so that they can use and benefit sooner from the revegetation areas.

Sixteen lines of pitfall traps and tiles were run in late November across Frahns Farm with good numbers reptiles detected. It was great to see young and old being excited about what they found when lifting the tiles and brought back fond memories of when I was young – lifting stones and corrugated iron sheets to discover all sorts of animals.

Like many woodland areas in south-eastern Australia, overgrazing by kangaroos causes significant ecological damage to understorey plants and is a pressing issue at Frahns Farm. Any seedlings planted need to be protected from them, or they are quickly grazed often severely. In fact this winter as part of testing the need to guard seedlings we left 25% of over 250 seedlings unguarded. All were consumed and removed within 2 months, but guarding every seedling that is planted increased the materials needed and adds time to the planting process. We are therefore fortunate to have been given a generous donation from Klein Family Foundation and funding from the Federal Government’s Landcare Program that will see us put up a 5km kangaroo fence at Frahns Farm, which will not only reduce losses of seedlings that we plant but it will also allow some of the heavily grazed remnant understorey to recover. 

Summer and autumn are quieter months for BioR activities, with only the monthly watering of seedlings planted in winter 2018 taking place until March when BioR will once again hold a stall at WOMADelaide. The next major activity is our annual planting event in June and we’d love to have you join us there.

All the best for the festive season, and a special thinks to our many donors who offset their ecological footprints with BioR and all the volunteers who make things happen. 

David C Paton AM
Director, Bio·R


The Monarto Nest Box Project: Who’s at home? – Tristan O’Brien

How did the Monarto Nest Box Project get started?

BioR was awarded an Australian Ethical Community Grant to install 360 nest boxes across the revegetation around Monarto in the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges, SA. This provided a fantastic opportunity to both provide homes for animals who rely on hollows for shelter in revegetation lacking hollows, while assessing nest box designs and locations that are most attractive to wildlife. We collaborated with Repay SA and the Department of Correctional Services to involve inmates in the manufacture of these nest boxes. Our keen and tireless volunteers installed hundreds of these nest boxes over a number of days in winter, bringing their own equipment and enthusiasm, both essential elements for the job! The final nest boxes were installed by a team of wonderful volunteers at our annual Planting Festival in June. Honours student Shannon Robertson from The University of Adelaide has spent the year spearheading the project and collecting the data with lots of help from members of the public.

Shannon shinnying up a tree with ease

Why do we do Research?

Ecological restoration is an inexact science. Although some conservation organisations put many plants in the ground, it is rare that these areas are monitored to see if they can provide all the resources needed for animals to call them home.

This is where research comes in. By studying how animals use the areas that have been revegetated, we can ensure that we continue to improve our methods and provide better quality habitat for declining animals into the future. Installing nest boxes in immature revegetation is one such activity.

The nest box team ready to clamber some ladders

Why is this work important?

1. Natural woodland around Adelaide is scarce

By the time large-scale land clearing was outlawed in South Australia in the 1980’s, around 90% of native vegetation had been cleared in the Mt Lofty Ranges. Old, natural vegetation is able to support a diversity of wildlife, but now there is very little left. If we don’t put back habitat, then we will continue to lose animals species from this region.

2. Hollows provide shelter for many animal species

Putting plants back in the ground is great, but it can take over 100 years for trees to develop the natural hollows that provide homes for many species that live in and around Adelaide, a number of which are declining. Erecting nest boxes in the 40 year old woodlands planted around Monarto provides homes for hollow-frequenting animals much earlier than would naturally be the case.

3. Every animal species is unique

Each species has particular requirements to make use of a hollow. This research will improve how BioR plans and installs nest box arrangements for our restoration projects into the future. Hopefully we’ll find more and more species inhabit nest boxes over time…

What will the information tell us?

Gathering evidence for the most effective design and placement of nest boxes will give land managers confidence in the conservation value that a nest box can provide.

This study will primarily measure whether:

1. The spatial arrangement of boxes affects how much they are used by animals

Is it better to install nest boxes clumped together, or spaced further apart? Boxes that are clumped together might be preferred by animals that use multiple entrances (such as possums), whereas boxes that are spaced might attract animals that prefer isolation – see diagram below

2. Other characteristics of the nest boxes also affect their level of use

Does height, aspect, orientation and entrance size affect the use of nest boxes?

Nest Boxes diagram 1

Height: Does height have an effect on which species inhabit nest boxes?
Aspect: Will the direction that boxes face influence which boxes are chosen (due to prevailing winds, sun exposure etc)?
Orientation: Studies of natural hollows suggest vertical or horizontal boxes can matter!
Entrance: Do smaller animals choose boxes with smaller entrances to avoid being excluded by bigger animals?

Each of the above characteristics are studied to find out which are important for hollow-frequenting animal species. This information will be used to provide targeted habitat for those that are in decline.

Nest Boxes diagram 2

Fauna Monitoring: Who’s hiding at Frahns Farm? – Penny Paton

This gorgeous Barking Gecko (Underwoodisaurus millii) was one of the native creatures we found during a weekend of monitoring reptiles and small mammals at Monarto. We had over 40 enthusiastic community members volunteering to help us out too, which made for light work and lots of fun!

Beautiful details of a Barking Gecko

To find out what species on the property we used roofing tiles laid on the ground to attract sheltering lizards, and dug in pitfall lines – a series of pits dug into the ground connected by netting – to trap and release animals. The netting guides scurrying creatures to the pits, where they fall in and hide amongst vegetation we placed at the bottom.

We found plenty of amazing wildlife including six species of skinks such as the Eastern Ctenotus (Ctenotus orientalis) and Lowland Earless Skink (Hemiergis peronei), three species of geckos including Lazell’s Dtella (Gehyra lazelli) and the incredible legless Gulfs Delma (Delma molleri), and some Spotted Marsh Frogs (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis).

Gulfs Delma Eastern Ctenotus

Along with bird monitoring conducted earlier in spring, information from these surveys will form a valuable picture of the wildlife currently at Frahns Farm. Good conservation stems from good research, and we can use this data to observe how the wildlife changes as our restoration projects develop over the coming years, allowing us to improve our techniques to best benefit biodiversity.

Setting pitfall lines

A magical misty morning! Our 2018 planting festival

Did you know that over 90% of the Mount Lofty Ranges has been cleared of its native vegetation since European arrival? That’s almost 700,000 hectares of habitat destroyed in less than 200 years, and it’s caused the widespread decline and loss of much of our regional wildlife. Destruction on a similar scale can be seen Australia-wide, and it’s created a national biodiversity crisis with an ever increasing number of species slipping into extinction. BioR was established to help combat this crisis by restoring habitat across cleared and degraded landscapes, and our flagship planting festivals are how we get the community involved in this initiative too.

The team getting to work

In July this year our 100+ strong team of wonderful volunteers joined us at Frahns Farm, Monarto on a foggy morning and helped us plant almost 2000 seedlings from over 30 diverse plant species from, banksias to b. These plants will grow on to provide habitat and food for many native animals, including threatened species like Hooded Robins and Diamond Firetails. 

The crowd gathered awaiting instructions Major 22Moogy22 delivering his special 22Welcome to Country22

It was a fantastic day of on-ground action for our environment, and it was a privilege to have senior elder of the Ngarrindjeri people Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner talk about the history of the land and conduct a “Welcome to Country”.

Managing to navigate and distribute plants in the eerie mist

This year we also incorporated a new piece of kit into our plantings, making use of thousands of election posters that were saved from landfill and donated to us by The Greens SA. By cutting holes and notches in the posters we were able to turn them into funnels that fit into the mesh guards (that protect the seedlings from herbivores) and channel rainwater directly to the growing plant, which is especially important around Monarto as the area lies in the rain shadow of the Mount Lofty Ranges. As a bonus they also serve to stop weeds germinating in the soil surrounding the seedling.

Given climate change is only going to exacerbate the dry springs and summers in this region, these bowls may also help plants survive as conditions get ever drier. 

Even so, it was a very dry spring but we were lucky to be able to recruit another a great team of volunteers to give all our seedlings a big drink to help them make it through. Here’s hoping for some big summer rain on the horizon too… it’s thirsty work!

Once again, thank you to everyone who helped us out this year, and keep an ear out for news of next years’ event!

The incredible community members who volunteering with us


Protecting new habitat

THE MISSION: Restoring habitat for wildlife
Over the past 4 years we have been working with Natural Resources Murray Darling Basin SA to restore habitat to Frahns Farm, a 550 ha retired farm at Monarto in the eastern Mount Lofty Ranges. Though heavily cleared, revegetation work from the 1970’s and small patches of remnant habitat are used by many threatened and declining animal species. This has provided a great opportunity to restore more vegetation that will increase the available habitat for these species, and with this goal in mind BioR has hosted annual Planting Festivals here, and – with the help of the community – we have already planted over 25 ha. We use scientific research to find the best approach to planting habitat that will maximise the benefits for declining wildlife. We hope to restore all of Frahns Farm to a productive, biodiverse woodland system over the next few years that provides an important refuge for local wildlife. However, it’s not always smooth sailing!

Constructing guards to protect seedlings

THE PROBLEM: Hordes of hungry herbivores

Since European settlement, kangaroo numbers have increased markedly across south-eastern Australia due to the clearance of woodland for pasture, an increase in favourable habitat for roos such as artificial watering points, and the extermination their main predator from the region, dingos. In drought, these large numbers of kangaroos cannot be sustained and many perish through starvation. This has created an imbalance in the ecosystem and kangaroos are now over-abundant in the Adelaide Hills. Being native herbivores, they prefer to eat tender native seedlings which hinders young plants from growing into adulthood in remnant woodlands. Without their habitat regenerating, threatened birds like Diamond Firetails and Restless Flycatchers, and our tiny Western Pygmy Possums have ever-diminishing options for food, shelter and breeding. These kangaroos are also a big risk to the seedlings BioR plants when we revegetate. The thousands of hours we and our volunteers spend growing, feeding, digging in, planting and watering these seedlings can all be wasted if they are grazed to the ground. To protect plants we have to install coreflute guards and “Mallee Mesh” wire around each seedling we wish to protect. This is tough work and, with many thousands of seedlings to protect, this substantially increases the cost and effort involved in restoring habitats, and even these can’t always protect the seedlings once they grow beyond the guards.

Roo proof fence

THE SOLUTION: Infrastructure and innovation 

Some biocontrol work is undertaken by the state government and the use of kangaroo products like meat and leather all help to control kangaroo numbers. However, these measures are not at a scale sufficient to reduce kangaroo populations to sustainable levels that don’t adversely impact vegetation. BioR is excited to announce the construction of a kangaroo-proof fence for Frahns Farm, made possible from the generous support of the Klein Family Foundation and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. The fence will be 4.95 km long and will protect over 140 ha of Frahns Farm from the chomping jaws of hungry kangaroos. It will rise 1.65 metres high – just enough to deter kangaroos from leaping over – and will sport an “apron” along the ground to deter animals from digging under. The spacing of the mesh will also allow smaller animals like possums and lizards to move in and out of the area. Fenced “exclosures” (yes, the opposite of enclosures!) are currently the most cost effective method for protecting plant growth from kangaroo herbivory at a large-scale. This investment in infrastructure will save our restoration work many thousands of hours and dollars as we won’t need to individually guard plants. It will also create a safe-haven for the thousands of seedlings that BioR and our community will plant at Frahns Farm over the coming years, and allow a diverse woodland to establish which will provide healthy, productive habitat for our unique native wildlife.

Outreach for National Science Week – Grace Hodder

A tiny Weebill

We had a wagtail of a time bird-banding out at Frahns Farm again for National Science Week in August this year. Across the week, several primary school groups and members of the public travelled around the state to Monarto in the hills to help us with our bird research and learn a thing or two about our wonderful native birds. These eager new scientists were shown how to carefully extract birds from the “mist-nets” that we use to catch them in, how to hold a bird correctly (gently but firmly!), and how to attach a unique identifying band on to its leg before releasing it back into its habitat.

Together, BioR and the school and community groups that attended captured, measured and released hundreds of woodland birds, from tiny Weebills (at 8cm long the smallest bird in Australia) to the much larger (and feistier!) White-winged Choughs and Crimson Rosellas. The data we collected on all of these birds gives us valuable information about which species are using which parts of the habitat, and whether those populations are doing well or are in decline. We loved chatting to young kids in particular about our research and why we love science, and we hope we’ve inspired some to consider a careen in the environment. We particularly admire the adventurous and dedicated teachers and parents who put in the hard yards to bring budding wildlife-lovers out to the bush to learn in nature! Thanks to all who came along, we appreciate your involvement in BioR and your dedication to connecting the next generation with our natural environment.

Nest box newcomers: A menagerie in the making

Australian Owlet nightjars using nest boxes

Forming a home among the gum trees or perhaps just a temporary roost, our nest boxes are already housing some curious creatures. Since the installation of 320 nest boxes in the revegetation around Monarto in June 2018 our team of experts has checked their occupancy monthly, helped by 25 fantastic volunteers for our community day in September. We’ve also had ecology student Shannon Robertson design his honours study around the project.

In August, just two months after their installation, we found 180 boxes (56%) that had evidence of use by animals and insects. By September, 244 boxes (76%) had been occupied and by October 265 (82%) boxes had been used. Caution for the arachnophobes among us though, our most frequent occupier was huntsman spiders with 128 eight-legged tenants spotted in our October surveys!

Scaling ladders to check those higher

The first colonisers of our boxes were Australian Ringneck Parrots, Australian Owlet-nightjars, Brushtail Possums and of course huntsman spiders. By September we also had Crimson Rosellas using the boxes and our first two Western Pygmy-possums. Our only new species in October was a colony of introduced honeybees, though much to our surprise we now had 14 pygmy-possums in the nest boxes – some of which were bringing in leaf material for nests! In November we found two new species, an invasive Common Starling (there’s always one…) and the locally declining Brown Treecreeper (a huge success!). We found the species preferred boxes with larger diameter entrances (makes sense), and ringneck parrots had a predilection for the higher nest boxes.

Animals using nest

Our nest boxes lived up to their name (otherwise they would just be called roost boxes, right?) as over Spring we have found evidence of breeding (either nest material and/or eggs) in many species, but more excitingly we have young: owlet-nightjar hatchlings still with their snowy down, naked crimson rosella hatchlings, robust brown treecreeper chicks, back dwelling brushtail possum joeys, and thumb nail sized pygmy possum joeys.

Once again, thanks to the generosity of the Australian Ethical Community Grant for helping us see this project to fruition.

Nest box possum and Owlet nightjar chick

Volunteers: The backbone of Bio·R

Reading through this newsletter, it’s abundantly clear that volunteers have contributed enormously to every single project and event BioR is involved in, and none of what we’ve achieved over the last few years would have happened if it wasn’t for the generous, dedicated and tireless efforts of literally hundreds of volunteers who believe in what BioR does and donate their time and skills for free to help us achieve our vision.

You may not know it, but the BioR Team is composed entirely of volunteers, who manage, organise, bookkeep, publish and outreach to make our conservation organisation as effective as it is. For the time being we plant to keep it this way, so that every cent we are donated can go towards offsetting the ecological footprints of our members by restoring habitat for wildlife.

There are a few people who have gone above and beyond in joining our team and helping make our 2018 conservation goals a reality.

We had huge team helping with our Frahns Farm Planting Festival this year working on plant prep, hole-digging, pitfalling, logistics, bird banding activities and plant watering. Fi Paton deserves a special mention for managing and coordinating the whole event, as well as the rest of the BioR team including Will King, John Morley and Loraine Jansen, Tommy “Toothpick” Bradley and Sandy Bradley, Kylie Moritz, Sophie Bass, Janet Klein, Grace Hodder, Tom Hunt, Casey O’Brien, Hayley Merigot, Ned Pisceroni, James Tresize, Priya, Tristan O’Brien, Adam Toomes, Bradley Bianco, Luke Ireland, Ellen Ryan-Colton and Declan Ireland. We’d like to thank Shannon Robertson and Fi Paton for heading up the Monarto Nest Box Project, as well as the team that helped to install the nest boxes: Mark and Lily Mackintosh, Alistair and Rose Down, Garry Trethewey, Keith Rudkin, Will King, Hayley Merigot and the team of cultural rangers from the Ngarrindjeri Land and Progress Association including Clive Rigney, Darryl Rigney, Desmond Karpany and Yanama Hartman.

Bio·R volunteers

​Digging in and installing 16 pitfall survey lines at Frahns Farm was an enormous and backbreaking task, and was only made possible through the tireless work of long-time BioR volunteers John Morley and Loraine Jansen. Brock Hedges, Adam Toomes, James Trezise, Will King, Bradley Bianco helped with the installation of the lines, and setup and monitoring of the pitfall lines was undertaken by Casey O’Brien, Claire Hartvigsen-Power, Janet and Lachlan Klein, Lily Mackintosh, Grace Hodder, Kylie Moritz, Alex Barrett, Garry Trethewey, Josh Rosser, Bradley Bianco, Hayley Merigot, Jay Iwasaki, Tom Hunt and Fi Paton.

Our plant community day was run thanks to Janet and Elliot Klein, David Paton, Penny Paton, Fi Paton, Bradley Bianco, Grace Hodder and Tom Hunt. Hayley Merigot and Grace Hodder also helped during our National Science Week bird banding activities, but in particular we’d like to thank Tom Bradley for his skills and dedication working over many years on our bird banding research projects.

We’ll like to take this opportunity to send out a very special “thank you” to each and every one of our volunteers from all of us here at BioR! We wouldn’t exist without your belief and enthusiasm for our cause, and we can’t wait to work with you all again over the coming years.

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.

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