Targeted revegetation brings hope for threatened finch recovery

News article |

The Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board’s ‘Back from the Brink’ project has had an exciting development. The critically endangered Western Beautiful Firetail has been found using revegetated habitat that is less than 5 years old.

The project, funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, and the Landscape Levy, includes large-scale revegetation, designed specifically to support a suite of threatened heathland birds in the Mount Lofty Ranges (MLR) and Fleurieu Peninsula.

The revegetation is on-going and being undertaken across multiple parks in partnership with the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Local bird expert, Mr Graham Carpenter, was engaged to survey revegetation sites within Deep Creek National Park (NP) to assess which birds are starting to use the new habitat. Over 110 hectares of pastured land within the park has been revegetated since 2016, using a combination of direct seeding and tubestock planting. This area is roughly equivalent to 55 Adelaide Ovals.

Thirty-four bird species were recorded across 22 sites. Of these, the sightings of one of the target species, the Western Beautiful Firetail, were the most significant, with 14 individuals recorded at six of the sites.

The Western Beautiful Firetail (Stagonopleura bella samueli) is the smallest species of the firetail finch family, and is identified from other local bird species by its bright crimson rump, red bill and black face mask. The subspecies only occurs in the Hills and Fleurieu region (at Deep Creek NP and surrounds, and Cox Scrub Conservation Park), and on Kangaroo Island, and has declined in both range and abundance over the past 30 years.

Mr Carpenter talked about his surprise at seeing the species using the revegetation after just a few years, and commended the project.

“The foresight and hard work of the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, DEW and the NPWS staff to undertake the revegetation works is commended. It is heartening that the conservation prospects of a threatened species such as the beautiful firetail can be enhanced through targeted management works, during a period when so many other species are disappearing,” he said.

Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board Regional Ecologist Luke Price agreed and explained the revegetation and plant selection process.

“This survey has provided useful information about the ability of beautiful firetails to respond to our targeted revegetation and indicated positive signs that when you tailor revegetation design with appropriate species composition, structure, scale and location, you can achieve meaningful recovery outcomes for highly endangered species. The revegetation can rapidly increase the available habitat and food resources. When undertaken adjacent to areas where populations of these species exist, if the declining population still has the capacity to do so, they can positively respond.”

“We set out to recreate additional closed-shrubland habitat (this includes heath, heathy woodlands and swamps) to reduce the extinction risk for a specific group of highly endangered bird species, which includes the beautiful firetail. The revegetation is being established according to specific densities to achieve the desired habitat structure. Our plant selection also takes into account the dietary preferences of the target bird species, particularly the Western Beautiful Firetail, which includes specific seed types in its diet.”

“To see the beautiful firetails using the newly established habitat is fantastic news, particularly to have numbers close to 25% of the estimated mainland adult population already utilising our revegetation. It is a big step towards improving the recovery prospects of this area-sensitive species. We still have a long way to go, as we need to create thousands more hectares of habitat by revegetating previously cleared land, but this is confirmation we are on the right track. We’ll continue monitoring through our Back from the Brink project and hope to see more threatened species utilise our revegetation, including the Southern Emu-wren and the Chestnut-rumped Heathwren,” he said.

The Western Beautiful Firetail population in Deep Creek NP and surrounds is critical to the persistence of the species. It was once much more widespread. Extensive surveys recently undertaken by Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board Threatened Species Ecologist, Dr Joel Allan, were unable to find individuals in Mount Bold, Myponga or Newland Head, where they were once commonly found. His monitoring suggests that there could be less than 50 adult birds on mainland SA. The Kangaroo Island population size is unknown, but unfortunately had greater than 50% of its known habitat burnt in the 2019/20 bushfires. All evidence indicates the entire subspecies is now highly vulnerable to extinction. It’s national rating under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is currently being reviewed to better reflect its conservation status.

The Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board, DEW and NPWS plan to continue their partnership to revegetate previously cleared areas that form part of Deep Creek NP in the future, with the goal of further expanding the area of habitat available to these endangered closed-shrubland bird species.

Find out more about ‘Back from the Brink’ project outcomes here.

Targeted revegetation brings hope for threatened finch recovery
Western Beautiful Firetail. M Stokes
Targeted revegetation brings hope for threatened finch recovery
Targeted revegetation at Deep Creek National Park has re-established habitat for a number of threatened birds, including the Western Beautiful Firetail. L. Price

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