Narrator: Welcome to Heartland Journeys, and to Wingedyne Nature Reserve, just off the Albany Highway, to the west of the small town of Woodanilling.
Gen Harvey has been the Landcare Officer at Wagin Woodanilling Landcare Zone since 2015. Listen on and you will discover that her special passion is for the wildlife that lives here and was once more widespread in this landscape.
But first, here’s Gen talking about the ecology of the broader Woodanilling area.
You’ve got the wandoo woodlands recognised recently as a threatened ecological community, and there’s quite a lot of that out through this area. And the salmon gum country, which you don’t have to go much further east, where that’s all been cleared out for the big machinery.
I think salinity is probably one of the biggest risks on a broad scale at the moment that we have. And obviously, through land clearing, originally, but if that was the one thing that you had to pick that would impact agriculture and environment, it would definitely be that.
You look at all the species that were here I mean we had woylies which are well and truly gone from this district now and um burrowing bettongs for example. I’ve been to a few farms where they’ve still got the rocky, because they nest in rock piles on those granite hills tops and they would burrow into the – hence the burrowing bettong. So there’s still a lot of those nesting sites, of course the animal’s long long gone. So the impacts that we’ve had are very significant, you know, I think the bush out this way is that much more fragile than you get it down on the south coast, where you’ve got those higher rainfall zones. So I do think, that’s what makes what we do have out here special is because it is fragile, but then you do get some surprising things that persist.
Narrator: One of the most surprising things that has persisted in this area is the endangered red-tailed phascogale – a small tree-dwelling mammal with a distinct, long red tail.
I think it’s fair to say that this area for the little animal that we rant and rave about – the phascogale – it’s a sanctuary, this semi-arid zone is the only place left that they are. they were so widespread across Australia before. But this is an animal that you’ll never see in your lifetime unless you’ve got a nesting box. I mean I never would see one in the wild, if I didn’t have nesting boxes to go and look at, because it’s the kind of animal that’s nocturnal, it’s tiny, it’s timid, its fast. So you’d never see it.
We don’t have the really visible platypus and koala and things like that. And our animals are small, and you probably won’t ever see one, but you might see the scratchings. Echidnas are quite common, but you rarely, rarely ever see them, but you see loads of evidence but most people don’t know what that evidence looks like I just wish we had big rhinos and things like that, that people could see and be passionate about and get engaged in. But, things like dunnarts and pygmy possums and all these things that we do have here, I mean, when people do see a pygmy possum, they lose their minds.
Narrator: Within this landscape that has changed so much since European settlement, Wingedyne Nature Reserve stands out as a diverse patch of bush in good condition.
Wingedyne Reserve is a place that has never been grazed. And a lot of these reserves in the district have at some point, been grazed and had some impacts. and you’ve lost some of the diversity. But I don’t know the reasons exactly why, I’d say that the poisons, the Gastrolobium species in there, have something to do with it. Because obviously, that’s poisonous to sheep.
It’s just interesting that this has a nice diversity a bit of a snapshot of the landscape. I mean, you’ve got jarrah forest in there, you’ve got a wandoo woodland, you’ve got red gum patches, there’s the mallet outcrops on the breakaway country. I mean, they’re not great big areas of these vegetation communities, but you’ve got little snippets of the most dominant vegetation communities in the Woodanilling area anyway.
It does actually have Brush-tail Wallabies, also known as Black-gloved Wallabies, living in there, which whilst on the coastal areas aren’t necessarily a threatened species quite so much, out here they definitely are.
Wallabies won’t go further than 200 metres into an open paddock. Whereas kangaroos will cross an open paddock. So this is one of the problems that Wallabies have is that they just wouldn’t cross one patch of bush to get into another via a big open paddock or something. So to their own detriment, unfortunately…
It’s reasonable to assume the areas that are wandoo / sheoak that the red-tailed phascogale would be there as well because they are reasonably successful in the pockets of bush where there still is their specific habitat. But they’re very specific about where they live, hence why they’ve become so threatened.
Narrator: One of the things that is very notable about Wingedyne Nature Reserve is the lack of weeds, especially when compared to reserves in nearby areas. Gen attributes this to the lack of historical sheep grazing and the natural weed resistance of mallet woodlands.
Where you’ve had historical grazing a lot of that original understory isn’t as robust and there would have originally been some weeds brought into the centre of the reserve through sheep. And where you get those mallet woodlands for example where they don’t naturally have much understory, the tannins prevent, other things from growing . So there’s those natural weed resistance actions that they have anyway and not being interfered with, has allowed that to continue.
Narrator: Another reason that Wingedyne Nature Reserve is in such good condition is because the neighbouring landholders, the Pickford family, have been committed landcarers for the past forty years.
The Pickfords themselves actually have patches of bush and I’ve done a lot of revegetation programmes with them . Traditionally, the top of the breakaway country is mallet country, and that does not fare well with bothering by sheep. So they chose to protect them pretty early on, I mean, that farm has corridors that wind all the way through it. From that reserve, wildlife can actually access the entire farm through their network of corridors and across onto other reserves.
Having those neighbours definitely helps. And there’s people across the road as well, the Wilcox who are good farmers in terms of managing their pastures and their salinity. All these sorts of farms in the surrounding areas having better practices has only got to have a positive impact on how well that vegetation succeeds.
Narrator: Wingedyne Nature Reserve is managed by the State Government‘s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (or DBCA for short), but lack of funding means that DBCA is not in a position to do much active management of this reserve. For Gen, one of the major implications of this lack of funding is the reduction in the Western Shield fox baiting program.
The Western Shield fox management programme it was looking at fox baiting on a regular basis. For example, when I was working for Parks and Wildlife over in the Fitzgerald, well it was once a month every month, like clockwork, a week’s worth of baiting around the national parks and major reserves. That’s our process that was a lot more widespread than it is now.
As far as our wildlife is concerned for places like Wingedyne, I think, Wingedyne’s biggest threat would be the feral predators. Because ,for example, the Black Glove wallaby that’s out there, that there’s only a handful of them, and it only takes, one or two foxes to kill a…
Narrator: But it is not as simple as community groups stepping up to do their own predator control.
I think in terms of things like baiting, it gets very, very delicate. For instance, a lot of landholders out this way won’t bait because of the issues with dogs, with their own dogs. Even with the best of intentions, a crow can still pick one up and drop it in your backyard and your dog dies.
It’s not something that we’d look at broaching unless there was the potential to make it long term because everyone knows that you can bait something and get rid of everything and if you don’t maintain it, you could build up all your numbers and then just create a smorgasbord for the next lot of foxes that come through.
And then if you remove all the foxes, you get more of the cats. And the cats do more damage to the phascogales than the foxes do, so is it better to have the foxes there managing the cats? Of course, the foxes are detrimental to a lot of species as well but they can’t climb trees. So as far as the phascogales is concerned the cat is the bigger threat. it’s that never ending balance of what are you doing? What’s your priority? And how do you make that decision on what to let happen? And what to try to stop?
Narrator: In 2017 the Wagin Woodanilling Landcare Zone organised a BioBlitz at Wingedyne Nature Reserve, yet another great example of citizen science that helps to fill some of the gaps in knowledge left from the declines in government and university funding.
And so what a BioBlitz actually is, is basically one 24 hour period, where you go into an area, and you just survey it to within an inch of your life. So we had specialists that came in that were insects, birds, mammals, and a flora specialist that came in and you basically have a group of volunteers. Each specialist will take a group, you start at lunchtime on one day, and you go through and then you finish at lunchtime on the following day.
Narrator: The specialists and volunteers who took part in the Bioblitz documented 200 plant species and 12 fungi and lichen species. There were 215 animal species, including 44 birds, 3 reptiles, and 4 mammals. Scats were discovered from Black-gloved wallabies, brushtail possums and foxes. A motion sensing camera recorded Western Grey kangaroos in high numbers and the presence of feral cats. The majority of the fauna species found at Wingedyne Nature Reserve were invertebrates, with a total of 151 species.
The entomologist that came out with us, there was a couple of things there that he couldn’t quite identify. he had to send them off to just confirm what they were. that was pretty exciting in terms of the diversity of invertebrate kind of activity that was out there.
One thing I’ve learnt working in this field, I got into landcare and into environmental studies because I love the wildlife and the furry critters, but you come to appreciate the insects a whole lot more once you get into it, and you see the diversity. And you just see them everywhere. And they become so much more fascinating.
Narrator: Gen makes the point that Wingedyne Nature Reserve is important because at 254 hectares it’s larger than many of the nature reserves in the Wheatbelt.
I think that’s where we run into trouble out here is we’ve got lots of reserves, but they’re tiny. And unless you’ve got connections to those tiny reserves, they’re not really all that valuable to be honest. They might be for flora populations to some extent, but even then, some of these little reserves have historically been grazed and have weed incursions. And a lot of these little reserves are the ones where we end up with things like bridal creeper and that’s a major issue out here. And I can’t get 8 years worth of funding to control it. So a lot of these smaller ones that could be a harbour are inundated with things like that.
So Wingedyne, is pretty weed free. so I think it’s really important to recognise that being weed free and biodiverse, that’s not as common as people really think it is, you see plenty of reserves around, but you don’t realise that that doesn’t have the diversity that it should have.
Narrator: So, to make sure that this precious diversity is protected, if you do visit Wingedyne Nature Reserve, please make sure to Leave No Trace and practice excellent dieback hygiene.
This has been a Gondwana Link production with story development by Nicole Hodgson and Margaret Robertson, narration by Nicole Hodgson, and music by Rod Vervest. Our warm thanks to Gen Harvey and to audio editor and producer Kim Lofts of Blue Manna Studio.