Ironbank burn to enhance bandicoot habitat
28 January 2022
A landscape protection burn at Ironbank in December will help expand habitat for a local population of nationally endangered Southern Brown Bandicoots (Isodon obesulus obesulus).
The prescribed burn was carried out by National Parks and Wildlife Service South Australia (NPWSSA) on 15 hectares of private land near Mark Oliphant Conservation Park. It was undertaken as part of the NPWSSA Burning on Private Lands Program, which aims to strategically reduce fuel in high bushfire risk areas to reduce the spread and intensity of bushfires to protect human life, property, flora and fauna. The prescribed burns can also deliver a range of important environmental outcomes, including helping restoration of bandicoot habitat in the longer term.
Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board Regional Ecologist, Luke Price, said that the burn will help create additional habitat for bandicoots when it regenerates. It is an important contribution to the community-led Bandicoot Superhighway project; delivered by the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board (HFLB) and Sturt Upper Reaches Landcare Group (SURLG), and funded by the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife.
“The ‘Bandicoot Superhighway’ project aims to reduce the extinction risk of Southern Brown Bandicoots in the Mount Lofty Ranges. Project activities include protecting and restoring native vegetation to ensure a ‘highway’ of bandicoot habitat across the region. Prescribed burning is an important tool in maintaining and restoring that habitat highway.”
Prior to the prescribed burn, the project team, in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife Service, undertook surveys in the proposed burn area and adjacent habitat using remote cameras. Results showed bandicoots present in the better-quality (dense) habitat and none in the more ‘open’ proposed burn site.
The results did not come as a surprise.
“Quite often ageing or degraded native vegetation is viewed as healthy habitat at first glance, but in many areas, further scrutiny can reveal degradation due to various combinations of weed infestation, overgrazing by kangaroos and deer, or the prolonged absence of fire. This area was a prime example. Overgrazing by native and introduced herbivores, competition from weeds and extended fire-interval all contributed to reduced habitat value for bandicoots in this case,” said Luke.
The use of appropriate ecological fire management across the landscape is a cost effective and efficient way to maximise habitat for many threatened species in the region.
“Prescribed burning can help improve vegetation condition and structure, providing certain vegetation communities with improved capacity to support small marsupials, including bandicoots. Prior to the burn, the vegetation was lacking a suitably dense structure for use by bandicoots, despite its potential to do so. Much of the native vegetation in this region has evolved with fire and bounces back vigorously from underground energy reserves or the soil seed bank. When the scale, timing, intensity and interval of prescribed burns are appropriate relative to the vegetation community, they can maintain vegetation condition, species diversity, habitat structure and food resources.”
Although the vegetation in the burn area lacked the low, dense structure that bandicoots need, the use of fire should improve the quality of habitat and allow the adjacent population to expand their area of occupancy.
For the Bandicoot Superhighway team, the burn is only one part of the process of restoring habitat. They are also investigating temporary fencing options with the landholder for minimising excessive kangaroo and deer grazing pressure at the site, while the vegetation regenerates. NPWSSA is also working in partnership with the landholders to conduct follow up weed control to manage weeds post burn.
Sturt Upper Reaches Landcare Group (SURLG) President Danny Rohrlach agrees.
“Post-burn weed control is critical to maintaining the integrity of the restored habitat. SURLG is excited that this partnership is assisting private landholders with their efforts to manage their properties for better biodiversity and improved prospects for the bandicoots.”
Remote cameras will continue to be used by the Bandicoot Superhighway team for surveying and monitoring at the burn site to see when bandicoots are returning to the post-fire regenerating habitat. The results of the monitoring will also help NPWSSA plan future prescribed burns to improve outcomes for threatened species and manage bushfire risk.
The Bandicoot Superhighway team will host a workshop in the coming months for community groups and the general public to learn more about bandicoots, how to use remote cameras and identify diggings for bandicoot surveys, and how to enter valuable sightings data to help direct recovery efforts. A community planting day is also planned for mid-2022 to expand available habitat for a priority bandicoot population in Mark Oliphant Conservation Park.
Keep an eye out on our Bandicoot Superhighway project page for further information about the project and how you can be involved.
The HFLB and SURLG Bandicoot Superhighway Project secured a two-year funding commitment of $250,000 from the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife to promote the recovery of Southern Brown Bandicoots through community education, improving knowledge of their distribution and habitat needs, reducing threats to isolated and vulnerable sub-populations, and preserving, restoring and revegetating habitat. It is a community-led recovery approach that is supported and guided by a steering group with representatives of all project partners.[i]
[i]Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, Sturt Upper Reaches Landcare Group, Department for Environment and Water, Green Adelaide, University of Adelaide, Friends of Parks, Nature Conservation Society of SA and private landholders.
0497 318 706