Grassland restoration through fire management

How it all started: In 2008 the Grassland Restoration project was set up to determine best-practice management regimes for restoring the ecological condition of remnant patches of Natural Temperate Grasslands (NTG). Led by Dr Ken Hodgkinson (honorary CSIRO researcher and at that stage member of the North Belconnen Landcare Group), this GCG project established and monitored trial plots between Croke Place and the Lake Ginninderra dam wall in Evatt ACT.

The effect of spring burns versus autumn burns was compared with mowing treatments and a control to find a most suitable management for patches of native grassland. 

The research findings showed that autumn burns were the most successful treatment to 

  1. increase the size of existing native grassland patches,
  2. bring back native plant diversity, and
  3. reduce weed spread. 

These research findings have been presented at a regional grassland conference (http://www.fog.org.au/Articles/2014%20forum/Hodgkinson,%20Diversity%20management,%20Talk,%20FOG%20forum,%20hi%20res.pdf).

“At our Evatt trial site, we tested five different treatments for managing the
grasslands including: a low mow, a high mow, four spring burns at two year
intervals, four autumn burns at two year intervals, and a control strip where we did nothing. To our surprise, the autumn burn was the best and most spectacular, because we saw 10 native plant species that did not appear in the other treatments.”
– Dr Ken Hodgkinson, Landcarer and Fellow, CSIRO Land and Water

 

Expansion of the project in early 2016:
After three years of preparation and planning, a follow-on grassland restoration project was started, with the fire and mowing treatment regimes as used in the initial project (see above). The number of study grassland sites was increased to 13 sites of various quality and the overall study area was expanded to a much larger area within the Ginninderra Catchment. This ongoing research will test
the applicability of the Croke Place study results to other areas of degraded native grasslands in the ACT. The Native Grasslands Restoration Landcare Group was formed- led by Ken Hodgkinson, and its members are instrumental for carrying out the monitoring and planting/sowing efforts.

The four treatments at each of the 13 sites are:

  1. mowing six times a year (common practice in ACT),
  2. autumn burns every two to three years,
  3. autumn burns every four to six years, and
  4. control (no treatment).

 

Additional research question: The possible success or failure of reintroducing locally extinct grassland species through sowing and/or planting five once locally common native herbaceous flowering plant species (= forbs) is investigated. Individuals of these species are planted into each treatment at each site (total number of 52!!) to find out the best management for their survival and spread.

The focus plant species are: 

  1. Yam Daisy,
  2. Chocolate Lily,
  3. Bulbine Lily,
  4. Billy Buttons and
  5. Common Everlasting

 

“We want to find out if less frequent fire is just as effective as frequent fires, because burning has a cost and we want to get the ‘best bang for the buck’
in terms of the ecological response.” – Dr Ken Hodgkinson

 

Community Government Partnership

This is a community driven project, only made possible by financial and logistical support from Government.  The community effort of GCG and its Landcare and member groups has been backed by support from various ACT Government agencies including: ACT Environment and Planning Directorate (particularly Conservation and Planning), ACT Parks and Conservation Service (particularly the Fire Unit) and ACT Rural Fire Service. Support from land managers has also been critical, including ACT Territory and Municipal Services, rural landholders and CSIRO. In addition, Traditional Aboriginal knowledge has informed the project.

Funding has been received from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme and from as the ACT Environment Grants Program.

“So many community groups and volunteers have helped make this happen: from the Landcare Groups who identified the sites, community experts doing the baseline monitoring of grasses, the volunteers who established the plots and staked them out, and all of Rural Fire Service volunteers doing the burning. It’s incredibly inspiring to be part of this group of people who are dedicating their personal time to restoring the grasslands in the Ginninderra Catchment”

Karissa Preuss, Executive Officer, Ginninderra Catchment Group

You can find media coverage on the project:

ABC TV News: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-01/trial-by-fire-on-native-grasslands/7467028

CSIRO: http://ginninderraproject.com.au/firing-up-grassland-restoration-at-ginninderra/