Living Landscapes - Returning Functionality to the South Olary Plain

About the South Olary Plain

The South Olary Plain is a vast landscape stretching from the South Australian Riverland north and across into New South Wales, bordering the Murray River to the south. While little more than 20% of the total South Olary Plain, the South Australian section includes a complex of conservation reserves totaling more than 721,000 hectares of land featuring mallee woodlands, semi-arid non-eucalypt woodlands, ephemeral wetlands, acacia shrublands and chenopod shrublands.

The area is ecologically rich with a diverse and unique collection native flora and fauna, including many endangered and threatened species and ecological communities. The red-lored whistler, black-eared miner, regent parrot, striated grasswren and the malleefowl characterise the local fauna along with the southern ningaui and the knob-tailed gecko.

Conservation reserves in the area are managed by several organisations, each with an interest in conserving the ecological value of the region. The area also holds important cultural value for First Nation’s communities.

The Impact of Grazing

All of these properties are former pastoral stations which bear the ecological impacts of livestock grazing, with varying levels of damage reflective of the intensity and duration of historical grazing practices. While some zones were retired from grazing half a century ago, the ecological function has not recovered sufficiently to sustain the natural character of the South Olary Plain and the area exhibits a number of persistent ecological problems:

  • Overgrazing of native vegetation by kangaroos, goats and rabbits.
  • A weakened ability to recover from bush fires
  • Continued decline of threatened species including ecosystem engineers
  • Poor emergence of many plant species including critical habitat forming species.

The construction of dams and drains has also drastically altered the way water moves across the landscape and its availability to plants and animals. The drains intercept run-off from rainfall events, funneling it into dams which retain it as standing water far longer than is natural in this landscape. By exploiting this water, native and introduced herbivores exert far greater grazing pressure than the surrounding vegetation can sustain. Meanwhile trampling of soils and simplification of the vegetation structures by the herbivores further accelerates water run-off, robbing plant root zones of water they need to grow and regenerate naturally. Despite standing water being present for longer, most of its volume is lost to the ecosystem through evaporation. Plants are less productive and support less invertebrate life for insectivorous fauna and these low-lying areas no longer function as refuges in a dry landscape.

Restoring the Ecology of the South Olary Plain

With the aim of giving this landscape the best chance to prosper, property managers, conservation groups, First Nations people and the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board came together to lead a comprehensive project to address some of the key issues.

  • Reducing grazing pressures through animal control and the removal of redundant pastoral dams
  • Revegetation projects including seed production, collection and propagation
  • Strategic restoration activities undertaken in high priority areas
  • Development of knowledge about the interaction between fire, flora and fauna
  • Research to understand the feasibility of reintroducing missing fauna.

Restoring Functionality to the South Olary Plain is funded through the Landscape Priorities Fund with an emphasis on ensuring that investment stay within the region as a means of economic stimulus. Actions within the project are undertaken by the various project proponents using a collaborative and coordinated approach to ensure the best possible outcomes for the region.

Project Delivery Partners

  • Australian Landscape Trust
  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy
  • BirdLife Australia
  • Federation University
  • NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
  • Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board
  • National Parks and Wildlife Service SA
  • River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation
  • Trees for Life
  • Zoos SA

Bulldozers for Conservation