Important environmental factors about our Box Gum Woodlands

Box Gum Grassy Woodland is the shortened name given to the endangered ecological community ‘White Box, Yellow Box, Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland’. This community is characterised by a sparse shrub layer, a diverse mix of native grasses and herbs, and is dominated by the eucalypts White Box, Yellow Box and/or Blakely’s Red Gum. Grey Box may also dominate or co-dominate in the Nandewar Bioregion.

Prior to European settlement Box Gum Grassy Woodlands were widespread along the western slopes and tablelands of The Great Dividing Range, occurring from Southern Queensland through to Central Victoria. Despite this wide ranging distribution, Box Gum Grassy Woodlands are rather specific in the geographic and environmental factors governing their distribution.

Soil fertility is the most important environmental factor governing the localised distribution of Box Gum Grassy Woodlands. They are closely associated with fertile clay loam soils of moderate depth on flat to undulating terrain, along the lower slopes of the Tablelands and Western Slopes in New South Wales. Within the Watershed Landcare region they occur mainly in areas with a 550 mm to 800 mm annual rainfall and an elevation below about 700 m above sea level.

On steeper, less arable and rockier ground, Dry Sclerophyll Forest replaces Box Gum Grassy Woodland. Dry Sclerophyll Forest may be dominated by the same tree species but the understorey is predominately shrubby, rather than a grassy one.

Today less than 4% of Box Gum Grassy Woodland remains, much of which is highly fragmented and in poor ecological condition. The productive and fertile clay loam soils are the reason, because when Europeans settled an area for agricultural purposes they would have first chosen the most productive parts of the landscape.

Many large hollow bearing trees of the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands are isolated and under stress, or reaching the end of their life span. Natural recruitment is rare due to much of the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands being converted to crops and pastures. Large hollow bearing trees provide habitat for a myriad of insects, birds, reptiles and mammals, shade for livestock, and give the landscape its quintessential Australianness. These trees cannot be replaced in the short to medium term and need to be protected from the added nutrients of livestock camps and the cultivation of soil close to their root system.

Watershed Landcare have launched our ‘A Home Among the Gum Trees’ project and we are seeking expressions of interest (EOI) from landholders in our region. Funding of $7,000 is available to conduct on-ground works to protect mature hollow bearing paddock trees in Box Gum Grassy Woodland. EOIs close 15 February.

For more information or to submit an EOI, visit our website.

The Watershed Landcare ‘Home Among the Gum Trees’ Project is supported by Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government and is a component of the Driving Corridor Connectivity Project funded through NLP2.

Helping your garden deal with the heat wave

In very hot weather, when the evaporation from the leaves is greater than water uptake from the roots, plants get dehydrated just like we do.

Unlike us, they can’t go for a swim or go sit in the shade. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to help our plants minimise heat stress.

When it’s hot and dry the best thing you can do for your garden is mulch, mulch and more mulch. A thick layer of mulch helps to conserve the water you put onto your plants and also helps them deal with the heat by keeping the root zone cool. Mulching also suppresses weeds so the plants have less competition for water.

Water when you get the most value out of it. In the early morning or late evening, the evaporation is at it’s lowest, the soil is cool and you get the biggest bang out of the least amount of water.

Plants susceptible to fungal diseases, such as lawns and tomatoes, should be watered in the morning so they are not left with water on their leaves overnight, allowing fungus to take hold.

Take care not to over water though; you can drown plants very quickly, while it takes much longer for them to die of thirst. So feel the soil, you can quickly asses the moisture level with your finger, if it comes out dirty with cool soil stuck to it, the soil is fine. If your finger is dusty and no soil is sticking to it, it is time to water.

Deeply water trees but don’t overdo it, water-logging trees can cause them as much stress as drying them out. A deep watering once or twice a week is usually sufficient.

Young trees also benefit from having other plants around them while they are getting established. This helps to create a humid micro-climate around them and less water is transpired through the leaves.

Planting trees in a garden bed protected by undergrowth is ideal. If you have an isolated tree in a lawn you can give it a helping hand by protecting it with shade cloth or hessian to create a humid pocket.

Other hints and tips:

  • use a foliar spray of seaweed or fish emulsion to toughen the cell walls of plants
  • place pots in saucers of water in the shade
  • put shade cloth over veggies to give them a bit of shade
  • if the leaves on trees and shrubs have browned off or dried don’t pick them off, they will provide protection for the new growth

Microbes deep within

Discoveries of life deep within the earth’s crust are challenging concepts of what was thought to be a ‘suitable’ environment to sustain life.

Microbial communities have been detected in rock as far as 3 km into seabed and continental crust. Their existence in habitats devoid of sunlight, water and nutrient poor, anoxic and hot is forcing scientists to reevaluate the limits of life.

Sites in the world’s deepest mines, boreholes, oceanic hydrothermal vents and cracks in the ocean floor have become accessible to scientists through ultra-deep sampling; scientific drilling projects and deep ocean submersible research vehicles. These technologies allow researchers to obtain samples for further analysis in the lab and to install in-situ monitoring equipment.

Early results from one site, Hole C0020A in the Japan Sea, indicate a slow-growing microbial community able to metabolize a range of carbon and nitrogen compounds more than 2 km below the seafloor.

HABITABLE?: These active hydrothermal vent chimneys may support microbial life. Photo: Submarine Ring of Fire 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program.

Other studies have revealed multiple, unique bacterial and archaeal species not encountered before, some existing at temperatures in excess of 100ºC. But this subterranean life is not just limited to microbes; various fungal species and more complex organisims have also been found, including 4 invertebrate species (flatworms, rotifers, segmented worms, and arthropods) at a depth of 1.4 km below the Earth’s surface.

Debate rages in this new field of research about the scale of the underground biomass, what has been dubbed the ‘deep biosphere’. There are suggestions that life can exist up to 10 km into the crust and estimates of the subsurface biomass range from 15-50% of the world’s total biomass.

Research is now focusing on understanding how such life survives. Sparsely distributed and slow-growing, these lifeforms seem to invest all their energy into maintain their existence rather than growth. Initial results suggest that these microbes are able to metabolise a suite of chemicals released by the interaction of water and rock such as sulfate, nitrate, methane, ammonia, and iron, as well as carbon.

Although in it’s infancy, this fledgling, but rapidly expanding, field of science is turning previously held assumptions on their head. Ongoing research may give us a better understanding of the deep biomass but for now questions – about the origins of life on earth, and the possibility that life here may have originated underground; the definition of what is hospitable for life, not only on earth but on other planets; and also how the presence of these microbes and their activity is affecting processes on the surface – remain unanswered.

Spiky citizen science

The echidna is certainly one of Australia’s iconic species but relatively little is known about these shy, spiky monotremes. A University of Adelaide project is trying to fill the knowledge gaps about echidnas and their wild populations. And you can get involved!

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have been studying the molecular biology of the planet’s oldest mammals, the platypus and echidna, and are asking the general public to contribute data to their research. There are only two wild populations of echidnas that have been extensively studied, one in Kangaroo Island and one in Tasmania, but very little is known about mainland populations.

The Echidna: Conservation Science Initiative project is trying to alter this by collecting a large enough data set from all around Australia to confer knowledge on population abundance, threats and possible conservation actions, all without having to track or capture these animals.

How can you help? If you see an echidna in the wild, or even your own backyard, take a photo or video and if you can find some poo that’s even better! DNA and hormones contained in the scats can provide information on the echidna’s environment, diet, health, stress levels and even reproductive status.

You will also need to record information of location, date and time of the scat sample collection and

observation photos of echidnas. Then send the scat in for analysis and upload the information into the Atlas of Living Australia.

You can also download the Echidnas CSI app to your phone, which will record date, time and location automatically and you won’t need to input this data manually:

You can find more information on the project on the Atlas of Living Australia website or type ‘echidna CSI’ into your search engine.

Filling the gaps in pest control

A new role has been created to support pest animal control and programmes in our region.

There are five pest groups within the Watershed Landcare area, these being the Hargraves Hill End Wild Dog Group, Ilford Running Stream Pest Group, Rylstone District Wild Dog Association, Munghorn Wild Dog Group and the newly formed Piambong Yarrabin Pest Group.

These groups are volunteer run and strive to support landholders and residents within their areas to manage wild dogs and other pest animals. While 3 of these groups have been active for more than 15 years, like a lot of volunteer run, community groups, struggle with membership and getting landholders to be involved in programmes.

Five Pest Animal Group Coordinators are now helping to support groups such as these in the Central Tablelands. In the Mudgee region the position is hosted by Watershed Landcare, through funding from the Central Tablelands LLS, and works closely with the CT LLS Mudgee Biosecurity team. This is a unique partnership and is getting a lot of interest from around the state.

Beth Greenfield has been appointed as the Pest Animal Group Coordinator for the Mudgee area. Ms Greenfields priorities have been building relationships, communication and helping pest groups with governance and funding applications. There is also a focus on working collaboratively with the National Parks and Wildlife Service on pest management where there are common boundaries.

One of the notable achievements since the inception of the Pest Animal Group Coordinator role, just 6 months ago, is getting full coverage of pest groups in the Mudgee area. There was a lack of clarity about where existing group boundaries lay; these have now been mapped, and stretched where there were gaps, so every property in our region is now encompassed by one of the 5 pest groups.

Ms Greenfield has also been working on awareness raising to increase landholders’ reporting of wild dog sightings or their activity.

“There are many examples of people seeing dogs, not telling anyone and stock deaths occurring in the area shortly afterwards.” said Ms Greenfield.

“We’re trying to get people to take action when they see a dog and to get the word out.” she continued.

If you have seen evidence of wild dogs or suspect you are suffering from livestock attack or losses please contact your local pest group or the CT LLS Mudgee office.

Watershed Landcare Pest Animal Group Coordinator, Beth Greenfield, can be contacted for more information on 0438 090 525 or by email

Watershed Landcare AGM

Local landcare group, Watershed Landcare, held its Annual General Meeting last Friday, 23 November. The meeting was well attended and gave members an overview of Watershed’s activities over the past year as well as an opportunity to mingle and chat at the supper afterwards.

Watershed Landcare Chair, Viviene Howard outlined the group’s 2018 activities and her presentation acknowledged and celebrated the contirbution of the organisation and it’s members to environmental and natural resource management in our region.

“As Chair I’m continually surprised at how many people we touch in the community. As a group we have fantastic reach and do lots of great things for the environment as a result.” said Ms Howard.

Notable achievements of 2018 included attracting project funding to conduct on-ground works, as well as new funding for the Pest Cooordinator role; 7 field days with 250 participants;

the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days program and members efforts in growing tubestock for sale at the event; adoption of a new constitution and 3 year strategic plan; new partnerships and maintaining sponsorship for Green Day and making sure the event is sutainable.

The 10th annual Green Day got a special mention. The theme of this year’s event was waste and featured ABC TV’s Craig Reucassel as keynote speaker. It was the largest Green Day to date and Ms Howard thanked Green Day Coordinator, Beth Greenfield for her contribution.

“It was an amazing event and supremely organised.” she said.

The Communities of Practice groups, the Mudgee Microscope Group, Grazing Group, Women in Ag Group and Mudgee Bee Group, also remain a strong focus, bringing together diverse groups of people with similar goals. The 4 groups held 31 activities throughout the year focusing on members interests.

The election of office bearers for 2019 was overseen by returning officer, Julie Reynolds.

Ms Howard was re-elected as the Chair for the 2019 Commitee. Sonia Christie, Christine McRae and Hunter White will hold the positions of Vice-chair, Secretary and Treasurer, repspectively. Jane Young and Rosemary Hadaway will fill the other executive positions.

The Watershed Landcare Committee meets at 5:30pm on the first Wednesday of the month. The new Executive Committee will hold it’s first meeting in February 2019. All Watershed Landcare members are welcome to attend.

If you would like more information about any of our projects or would like to join one of our special interest groups contact our Coordinator, Agness Knapik, on 0435 055 493 or

Keep an eye on our Catchment Corner column for news and upcoming events, workshops and seminars.

Recognising and increasing the value of roadside corridors

Do you want to increase productivity, reduce operating costs and improve the land value of your farm?

The Central Tablelands region is one of the most highly cleared areas of woodland in NSW. The Central Tablelands were once dominated by box gum woodlands. Due to extensive clearing box gum woodlands are now highly fragmented and have been declared threatened ecological communities.

Roadside corridors are some of the highest value native vegetation remnants in our district. Not only do they provide corridors for the movement of wildlife and add to the picturesque aspect of our district, but they can also be used to extend their value onto your our own property.

Roadside remnants can be utilised on your farm by allowing natural regeneration from the roadside vegetation to occur, planting similar species on your side of the fence, or establishing an internal network of shade trees, vegetation corridors or shelter belts.

There are many benefits to inviting the roadside remnant vegetation inside your property:

  • Farms with shade trees and shelter belts are more aesthetically appealing and attract a premium over average land values. A survey conducted in the Central West indicated that farms with good quality native vegetation have a 15% increase on capital value compared to those without.

  • Pasture productivity is increased by remnant native vegetation and established shelter belts. Native trees and shrubs provide habitat for birds, lizards and bats, the natural enemies of pasture pests.

  • Pastures with some tree cover experience less soil moisture loss than those exposed to the full force of the wind.

  • Cold and heat stress in livestock can significantly reduce farm income by reducing stock fertility, weight gain, wool growth, milk production, and increasing the mortality rate of calves and lambs and the susceptibility of stock to disease.

  • Mature trees help to maintain and improve soil structure and fertility.

Many mature trees on our farms reaching the end of their lifespan, and once they are gone so will the benefits they provide. Landholders can the maintain these valuable ecosystem services by encouraging native vegetation regrowth on their farms.

Watershed Landcare AGM

Watershed Landcare would like to invite all members and the community to our Annual General Meeting. The meeting will provide an overview of Watershed’s activities over the past year as well as an opportunity to mingle and chat at the supper afterwards.

Join us as we celebrate our activities and achievements of 2018! There have been a few; 10 years of Green Day, projects focusing on improving linkages between remnant native vegetation and serrated tussock management, workshops to propagate seedlings and bus trips to explore farms in our region and the latest innovation and practices in regenerative agriculture, among other things.

Our guest speaker will be Beth Greenfield, our Pest Engagement Coordinator, who will talk about supporting landholders to manage invasive pests, including wild dogs in our area.

We are seeking interested members to be involved in the Management Committee for the next 12 months. The committee meets the first Wednesday of the month at 5:30pm.

The AGM will be held on Friday 23 November at the Lecture Room, The Pavillion at the Australian Rural Education Centre (AREC), 6-7pm followed by dinner.

Want to find out more about Watershed Landcare, our projects and how you can get involved in this enthusiastic, grass roots community group? Come along for a fun evening and meet other Watershed Landcare members. All are welcome to attend the Watershed Landcare AGM. This event is free, but please RSVP by Wednesday 21 November for catering purposes to Claudia Wythes, Watershed Landcare Coordinator, on 0412 011 064 or

A special resolution is also proposed for the meeting to accept an updated constitution. There have been a number of changes to both the Associations Incorporation Act 2009 and the Associations Incorporation Regulation 2016 that need to be reflected within our document. As such, the Management Committee have reviewed the proposed Constitution and recommend its adoption. Both the old and new versions of the Watershed Landcare Constitution can be viewed on our website: Don’t forget you need to be a current financial member to vote.

This event is supported by Watershed Landcare and is a part of the NSW Government’s Local Landcare Coordinators Initiative, supported through the partnership of Local Land Services and Landcare NSW.

Tackle your food waste problems

Did you know that each year, Australian households generate around 13 million tonnes of organic waste and that about half of that ends up in landfill?

Organic materials such as food scraps and garden waste breakdown to methane when decomposing without air in landfill conditions. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide so reducing its emissions is an important factor in combating climate change.

Landfill is the most expensive form of waste management and while it’s free to drop your rubbish off at the Mid-Western Regional Council waste stations, don’t be fooled – as ratepayers we fund the operation and maintenance of these facilities.

Food waste is a large contributor to the organic waste going to landfill and, in many cases, can be avoided.

ABC TV’s recently screened War On Waste series found that the average Australian family throws out 20% of the food they buy each week. That’s one in every five bags of groceries and equates to about $3,500 worth of food a year!

Food waste can be divided into three categories: avoidable food waste (food that could be eaten); potentially avoidable food waste (food that could be eaten but is not commonly consumed e.g. pumpkin skins); and unavoidable food waste (food products that cannot be eaten).

In addition to contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, throwing out food that could be eaten means that the resources used to grow it like water, fuel and fertiliser are also wasted.

How can your household reduce food waste?

We’ve all done it – raced into the supermarket on the way home from work, grabbed a lettuce to go in tonight’s salad only to find another one hiding in the back of the fridge going slimey when we get home.

So the number 1 tip for households reducing their food waste is to look in the fridge and pantry before you go shopping, write a list and stick to it.

Snags bring life to waterways

As well as something you throw on the barbie, snags are trees and branches which fall into and lodge into streams and rivers and form an essential part of river ecology.

Like coral reefs in the marine environment, snags are the place where the largest number and diversity of life is found in rivers and streams.

In the past de-snagging was practised across Australian rivers; to improve navigation, reduce erosion and for flood control.

It is now apparent that this practice not only damaged vital habitat for large native freshwater fish and other biota but, in some cases, also increased streambank erosion and downstream flooding.

The removal of snags is no longer common practice but there are few remaining snags and the source of new snags, healthy, mature riparian vegetation, is also scarce along the banks of many our watercourses.

Snags, or large woody debris, are a vital component in providing a variety of habitat structure in riparian environments.

Some snags may be submerged in the sediment in deep pools while others may protrude into the air and provide a ladder between the water and streambank. Some rest in open, sunlit conditions, while others may be shaded or in darkness.

Fallen trees and branches alter the flow regime around them; providing still pools or fast flowing eddies. They are integral in providing a refuge for aquatic organisms from faster currents in times of high flow and as nursery habitat.

By trapping leaves, twigs, sediment and other organic matter they not only provide a rich reservoir of food but also create an abundance of nooks and crannies for small animals. Fungi and bacteria living on the surfaces of snags contribute to its breakdown and in turn become food for other microscopic life forms, macro-invertebrates and fish.

So next time you see a bit of timber in your local watercourse think about the bounty of life that subsists in this rich and varied habitat.