When we bought our large bush block in the 1980s in the foothills of Toowoomba’s escarpment, the bush around us appeared to be an indistinct blur of green. As 20-somethings, we saw the ad “For the Adventurous” and we liked what we saw – tall ironbarks and views of the mountains and valleys. We called our block ‘Ironbark Ridge’.
A neighbour at the time, Pat Scanlan, who we lost some time ago, opened my eyes to the wonder of native plants and took us to a Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) meeting. When he visited, he excitedly identified native plant species and it slowly dawned on us that there were many different plant species.
In recent years, we’ve taken on weed management and natural regeneration at Ironbark Ridge and have become involved with our local environment group, Lockyer Uplands Catchments Inc (LUCI). We have obtained authorisation for volunteer weed control work at the adjacent Conservation Park owned by Qld Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS).
The discovery journey of our block started when we joined Land for Wildlife. With his encyclopaedic botanical knowledge, our Land for Wildlife Officer Martin Bennett, identified over 200 plant species and mapped 7 different ecosystems. It was like being handed a diverse treasure chest. This was a game-changer.
Our property is a forested, mountainous bush block, carrying no stock. We’re in the western Lockyer Valley with views to Mt Tabletop, the Lockyer Valley and Mt Campbell. It’s rugged, wild and biodiverse. The landforms are various and include basalt rock screes, semi-evergreen vine thickets (SEVT), ridgetops, deep gullies and sandstone boulder fields and caves.
Like the geology, our vegetation is a study in contrasts – dry eucalypt forests with ironbarks and Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) with shrubby understoreys, Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus) gullies, Belah (Casuarina cristata) forests and SEVT or ‘dry rainforest’. Regional Ecosystems (REs) with Endangered or Of-concern status are: 12.9-10.6; 12.9-10.7; 12.9-10.8 and 12.8.21.
What have we done with this property, beside enjoy it? Our number one achievement is that we’ve hung onto it for 30 years with no clearing (except for the house and tracks). This is a big feat given that over that time so much of the local landscape has been cleared. So, our big trees live to see another day and add more girth to their DBHs.
We have also done targeted weed control around the margins of our most vulnerable ecosystems, namely the SEVT and where we’ve found Koala scats.
The three main weeds that displace our native vegetation and/or put them at risk of hot wildfires are Lantana, Green Panic and Velvety Tree Pear. Lantana (Lantana camara) combined with a robust pasture grass like Green Panic (Panicum maximum var. trichoglume) creates a fire risk for the vine thicket margins. So, it’s in these areas where we concentrate our efforts. We use glyphosate on Lantana but sensibly and always minimising drift and damage to native plants, and we also hand-pick young Lantana seedlings out as well.
Green Panic is a more persistent problem; give me Lantana any day. Green Panic is a tall, bulky dominant grass that dries off to form a fire ladder structure unlike our native grasses. This changes the fire ecology where it grows. Green Panic produces huge amounts of seed and responds almost instantly to rain – great for graziers, terrible for ecosystems. It grows mostly on cleared road edges and ironically, our car acts as a seed disperser.
As we don’t run stock, we brushcut Green Panic to flatten it to reduce seed dispersal by wind. After attending recent Indigenous fire management workshops in the Lockyer, we are coming to the conclusion that we may need to do traditional, cool, small-scale burns (e.g. 10 x 10m) in ecosystems that can recover from fire to encourage native grasses. This might make the native vs exotic grass a fairer fight.
A pricklier threat is Velvety Tree Pear (Opuntia tomentosa), which produces sweet ‘prickly pear’ fruits that birds and feral animals love to feast on and disperse. Tree pears are big plants that steal valuable soil moisture and nutrients in our dry western ecosystems. Dropped, ripe tree pear fruit also support feral animals in places where normally there’s insufficient food. Feral pigs and deer wear nicely worn tracks to our tree pear!
On the flipside, being tall means tree pear are easy to spot amongst the trees and surprisingly easy to control. Hard to believe, but this big fellow is our easiest weed to manage. We stem-inject neat glyphosate manually into each tree pear trunk using a hatchet and about 2ml straight to each cut. It’s satisfying when a few cuts to the fibrous trunk and some drops of glypho can cause a tall tree pear to eventually brown off and die – with no impact to surrounding vegetation.
We do this work with help from our insect friends, the introduced Cochineal (Dactylopius opuntiae), which attack young tree pear. It’s a team effort – we get the old tree pear and Cochineal bugs get the young ones.
The feral animal problem is a tricky one. We’ve had pigs, deer, foxes and feral cats pass through our property for harbourage and watering at our neighbour’s dams. The damage they do to emerging vegetation can be extensive such as ring-barking young trees, digging out wallows and causing erosion in gullies. They also probably threaten vulnerable species like the Black-breasted Button-quail and Koala. With help from council and a local pest contractor we’re learning more about how to attract these animals to a specified location for humane despatch. We also hope by reducing tree pear fruit supply this will reduce interest from feral animals – no more free snacks from our place.
We find with any manual, unmechanised work the bush returns an immediate, intrinsic reward. As we work, we often observe birds, reptiles and other critters nearby and discover hidden plants along the way. Where we have removed Lantana, we’ve found native plants and entire hidden gullies, providing us with positive reinforcement. I don’t think we’ll ever stop!
As technology improves and becomes more affordable, we’re now learning to use remote sensing cameras, GPS devices and mapping software to reveal and record our flora and fauna. As we approach our retirement years, we’re acutely aware of our obligations to pass on this patch in the best bio-condition we can achieve, and to pass on our observations and learnings for the next generation’s stewardship. The gift of learning more about our property is only possible with support from organisations and groups like LUCI, Lockyer Valley Regional Council, Land for Wildlife, QPWS, Native Plants Queensland and University of Queensland. We are always eager to learn more and meet more people.
While we do our best to keep our bush connected to other wildlife corridors, our friends, family and local community keep us connected to people who enjoy, respect and care for nature in the Lockyer Uplands. We are keen to connect with other landholders who are actively managing and restoring SEVT, so if this is you, feel free to drop us a line at [email protected]
Mark and Penny Kidd
Land for Wildlife members
Stockyard, Lockyer Valley