Bringing back an animal from the brink of extinction takes time, resources and lots of collaboration. For over 20 years, the community and governments in SEQ have been working to recover the magnificent Richmond Birdwing. This is one of Australia’s largest butterflies and used to be seen in clouds across SEQ, especially in and around rainforests, where its host vine grows.
The larvae (caterpillars) of the Richmond Birdwing are fussy eaters and only feed on two species of vine – both referred to as Richmond Birdwing Vines (Pararistolochia spp.). The protection of wild vines along with vine propagation and planting over the past few decades has arguably saved this stunning butterfly from extinction.
In collaboration with landholders and governments, the Richmond Birdwing Recovery Network is building corridors across SEQ for the butterfly. Corridors need to contain mature vines on which larvae can feed, and these vines must be within flying distance for an adult butterfly (< 20km). Two key corridors are the focus of recovery activities:
- Connecting the north-west suburbs of Brisbane to Samford and Mt Mee areas.
- Connecting Tamborine Mountain along the Albert River to Ormeau and Mt Cotton.
Recovery activities are occurring right across SEQ but this article just focusses on activities within these two corridors.
The Scenic Rim is lucky to have pockets of remnant Richmond Birdwing Vines, some of which are so large and old that they have formed into vine curtains and are truly stunning to see. One curtain was only discovered recently, tucked away on a Land for Wildlife property near Guanaba on the eastern escarpment of Tamborine Mountain.
To supplement wild remnant vines, Scenic Rim Regional Council has provided hundreds of free Richmond Birdwing Vines to landholders at Tamborine Mountain and Beechmont. In addition, Council has installed six core sites each with at least ten vines supported by trellises on Council reserves across the Tamborine Mountain plateau.
Tamborine Mountain State School has a new trellis with young vines that added to old vines planted as part of the initial Double Helix Birdwing Recovery in the 1990s. Together, these planted vines on public and private land will help secure the existing wild population of Richmond Birdwings in the Tamborine Mountain and Beechmont regions.
Over the past two years, adult Richmond Birdwings have been seen more regularly at Tamborine Mountain. This noticeable increase is probably the result of captive-bred butterflies being released and the expansion and maturity of planted vines. Last summer, many butterflies were also discernibly seen around Binna Burra and O’Reillys, which is not always the case. Again, this supports the theory that we may be witnessing a spike in numbers due to recovery efforts, or last summer may have just been a good season. Either way, it is great to see.
Over 400 Richmond Birdwing Vines have been planted in the past few years across Brisbane, mostly on Land for Wildlife properties. This is all part of the Bringing Back the Richmond Birdwing to Brisbane Project, which builds on previous work done by various groups and individuals.
Firstly, mapping was done by Brisbane City Council to show the distribution of historically planted vines and to highlight the gaps in recognised corridors. Then, Richmond Birdwing Vines were strategically planted to fill in these gaps and create corridors along which adult butterflies could fly. There are three key corridors within Brisbane:
- West – Fig Tree Pocket to Upper Brookfield
- North – The Gap to Upper Kedron
- South – Sherwood to Burbank.
Every 2-3km within a corridor, at least 20 vines were planted to create a core site. All core sites are on Land for Wildlife properties because their owners can look after the vines with watering and maintenance. Council provides advice, materials, replacement of dead vines and annual site visits. Council is also mapping and strategically controlling infestations of Dutchman’s Pipe (a weed vine that kills Richmond Birdwing larvae if eaten).
Historically, wild Richmond Birdwing Vines occurred in western Brisbane around Bardon and Brookfield, but unfortunately all remnant vines were removed over 20 years ago. There are positive signs for the return of the Richmond Birdwing to Brisbane with sightings of adult butterflies around Chapel Hill and Indooroopilly over the past five years, plus a female laid eggs on a planted vine in Sunnybank last year.
The Moreton Bay region connects populations of Richmond Birdwing butterflies from the southern extent of the D’Aguilar Range to the northern extent of the Bellthorpe and Conondale Ranges.
The launch of the Woodford to Dayboro Richmond Birdwing Vine Corridor Project was hosted by Samford Eco Corridor in July 2019 and resulted in the successful planting and establishment of 50 vines in the Samford Eco Corridor Bushcare area in Samford Parklands, Samford Valley.
In 2020, Moreton Bay Regional Council will be working with the Richmond Birdwing Recovery Network and Land for Wildlife members to plant and establish over 1,000 Richmond Birdwing Vines on private properties throughout the Woodford to Samford Corridor. This project will also assist in mapping and cataloguing existing vine populations, as well as mapping new plantings corridors throughout the region.
For several years Redland City Council has been working collaboratively with the community and other organisations to increase Richmond Birdwing butterfly habitat, remove Dutchman’s Pipe and provide educational workshops for the community. This summer there were sightings of Richmond Birdwings on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) and at Thornlands where there is a 24 year old vine in very good condition on a Land for Wildlife property.
Redland City Council and the Indigiscapes Nursery at Capalaba have distributed well over 1000 Richmond Birdwing Vines. The Indigiscapes Nursery can provide vines along with information on where and how to plant vines to ensure they flourish giving the best chance to encourage this beautiful butterfly to your property.
Article by Keith McCosh, Scenic Rim Regional Council; Cody Hochen, Brisbane City Council; De-Anne Attard, Moreton Bay Regional Council; Maree Manby, Redland City Council; and, Deborah Metters, Land for Wildlife Regional Coordinator