Kalbar Conversations Column

What is a grassy woodland? Why are we worried about them?

   Friday 10th July, 2020

Grassy woodlands are common features across many agricultural landscapes. They can broadly be identified as areas of open grassy paddocks with scattered large trees. However, while common, almost all are dominated by exotic species including pastures and crops. Very few grassy woodlands dominated by native species remain.

Before Europeans arrived in Australia, indigenous peoples managed the landscape meticulously to ensure their food, cultural and spiritual needs were met. In large part, this was done using carefully planned firestick burning by which means they were able to manipulate the structure and composition of native vegetation to high degrees to match their various needs. Therefore, the open grassy woodlands and grasslands first viewed by Europeans were to large degrees artefacts of aboriginal management.

In these open states they were viewed as prime lands for agriculture (rather than denser treed bushland that had to be laboriously cleared). Over time, as agricultural practices became more intensive (eg artificial fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid varieties), factors such as overgrazing and extensive cropping led to the decline of native grasslands and grassy woodlands, and in many cases, local extinction of native species.

Today, grassy woodlands are among Australia’s most threatened ecosystems, and indeed, Gippsland Redgum Grassy Woodlands and associated grasslands are a nationally EPBC-listed (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) threatened plant community.

For this reason, the Fingerboards project has set itself ambitious goals to play a part in reversing this critical loss of native biota. As part of its post-mining rehabilitation, Kalbar has committed to plans that will attempt, over the 15-20 year mine life, to restore species-rich native Redgum Grassy Woodland to ~200 hectares of its project site in an area that is currently Bluegum plantation forestry. If successful, this would be likely to represent the largest and most complex ecological restoration of its type in Victoria.

Kalbar’s Grassy Woodland restoration project will not be simple or straightforward. However, Kalbar staff are committed to achieving these outcomes. Securing adequate supplies of native seed from a broad range of species will be a major hurdle, and Kalbar will develop native seed ‘farming’ approaches to do so. Kalbar hopes to harness the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm of many Gippslanders to reach these ambitious restoration goals. Key actions, that include the development of early seed production capacity, have already commenced. To this end, Kalbar staff very much look forward to engaging with stakeholders, regulators and community over coming years to create a key environmental legacy for the Gippsland region.

Kalbar Operations Pty Ltd

Dr Paul Gibson-Roy – Manager Ecological Restoration