Partnership, patience, and hard work

the key to a healthy rail corridor

by Natural Resource Management Officer Kristy Gregory

That’s what it took to achieve simultaneous outcomes for bushfire safety and the natural environment in the Paterson Street rail reserve, Mundijong.

 

Removing woody weeds prior to the burn

In 2015, Arc Infrastructure (then Brookfied Rail) contracted Landcare SJ to coordinate the controlled burn and follow-up weed control in the section of rail reserve that runs through the town site of Mundijong. A hazard reduction burn was required due to the proximity to houses, and the site needed to be managed carefully due to the presence of both Declared Rare Flora and a Threatened Ecological Community.

The Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale came on board, with the time and expertise of Botanist Dr Penny Hollick. Furthermore, the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions provided initial technical support from Botanist Dr Ann Harris. With their help, flora monitoring plots were set up in May 2015, for the purpose of tracking the response of the Declared Rare Flora and other native species to the burning. Advice from the Department also included how and when to burn, to ensure the native regeneration was aided as opposed to hindered.

Before any other actions, an initial sweep of weed control activities was carried out using a range of methods. Love grass and broadleaf weeds were controlled with targeted application of a knockdown herbicide; and woody weeds were removed using the basal bark method. This was necessary because of the propensity of weeds to seed when stressed, such as during a burn.

Keeping the weeds away after the burning was also a necessary part of the plan, to reduce the ongoing fuel load, as weeds such as grasses are highly flammable.

Contrary to popular opinion, many native plants are of low flammability, and their presence is preferable to weeds, which can overtake a site that has been burned.

 

Weed control contractor Tim Heckler is a practitioner of targeted herbicide application to minimise off-target damage, and proliferate native regeneration.

“The success of the program depends on thorough site inspections for each weed control exercise because the site is so long and thin, and the edge effect is greatly pronounced”, said Mr Heckler.

“Windborne weed seed has huge access on both sides, in addition to the action of water runoff into the site at various locations, bringing unwanted seed and propagules of weed species”.

weeds burning on rail reserve

Mild burn in autumn of the area containing the flora plots

The site was divided into cells to facilitate a mosaic burning pattern, which allowed for progressive fuel reduction whilst minimising negative effects such as damage to fauna, and overwhelming response of weeds. The first burning exercise occurred in October 2015, and continued annually until mid-2017, when the section of reserve containing Declared Rare Flora was burnt in autumn. The Serpentine Jarrahdale Fire and Emergency Services and the Mundijong Volunteer Bushfire Brigade did a fantastic job adhering to the recommendations of the Department, for the protection and enhancement of the bushland.

 

According to Kristy Gregory, NRM Officer at Landcare SJ, the delicate method and timing of the burning allowed it to be used as a tool for regeneration.

“The Declared Rare Flora at the site is expected to respond well to a mild burn, which is why an autumn burn is recommended. It gives the plants time to recruit prior to cold soil temperatures and grow sufficiently before competition from other species comes into play”, said Mrs Gregory.

The flora monitoring plots that were set up in May 2015 were placed both within and outside of the burn area, for a direct comparison of species’ responses to the fire. Field sheets were completed at the time of establishment, which recorded information such as the species present, weed cover, leaf litter, and vegetation structure. Follow-up monitoring occurred in October 2017; and results will be collated after further assessment in spring 2019 and 2020.

rail reserve after burnbushland next to rail line Mundijong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo monitoring in burn cell 1, immediately after the fire and then 3 years later. No weeds!

Ongoing weed control is continuing at the site, to ensure continuing establishment of native species, and to increase the bushland’s resilience to future weed infestation.

This project is a great example of collaboration between organisations with complimentary capacity and expertise, which was underpinned by the investment of Arc Infrastructure in the protection and enhancement of a significant natural area under their management. It’s a case of not using the same set of rules for all sites, and tailoring on-ground action to individual circumstances. The result has been reduced fuel load in a built up area, maintained by keeping highly flammable weeds at bay; and an increasingly healthy and resilient plant community that looks great too. You should see the kangaroo paws in spring!

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