Protecting and restoring our woodlands
If you walk across the northern end of the Ginninderra Field Station in spring and spot an array of yellow and purple wildflowers with gum trees towering overhead, you have come across an area of Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands.
These woodlands once covered large swathes of mid to lower slopes and landscapes across the ACT, Victoria, NSW and southern QLD. Across this region, only 10 per cent of the woodlands remain, with only about five per cent of those remaining in good condition. The picture is slightly better in the ACT, with an estimated 25 per cent of the original woodland remaining and in good condition.
The Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands have been in decline since the 1800s due to grazing from sheep and cattle. They were cleared to make way for agriculture, rural and urban developments.
Existing woodlands and grasslands are now protected under both national and state legislation, to guard against further degradation of these unique ecological systems.
The woodlands are typically made up of three layers: the overstory, which in the ACT consists of Yellow Box, Apple Box and Blakely’s Red gum trees; a patchy shrub layer; and a ground layer of native grasses and wildflowers. However, where the trees have been removed and just the ground layer remains, they are then described as ‘derived native grasslands.’
It’s this ground layer that’s critical to the ecology, according to CSIRO ecologist Jacqui Stol.
“When you look at the landscape most people only notice the trees, but the diversity is mostly in the ground layer. Typically, there can be up to 60 species of native wildflowers, orchids, lilies and a diverse range of amazing local plants at a very high quality site,” she said.
At Ginninderra, studies so far indicate there are approximately 114 hectares of Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands on the site of varying quality, including areas where trees have been cleared (derived native grassland). This includes 34 hectares of treed areas in high condition, mostly in the less-developed, northern end of the site, as well as 44 hectares of low quality grassland.
The woodlands at Ginninderra don’t exist in isolation, and are part of a broader ecological system. They link to other nearby woodland areas such as at Mulligan’s Flat, Goorooyarroo, Hall and north-west of Casey and Moncrieff.
“The way we think about how we conserve these sites is within a big landscape matrix,” said Jacqui.
“Ginninderra is part of that bigger picture, and a really important part of the landscape, and how the whole ecology functions.”
How to manage, protect and rehabilitate the patches of Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands is an important consideration in Ginninderra’s potential as a site for future sustainable urban development.
A team of CSIRO ecologists from across Australia met in November 2015 to investigate the site and discuss plans for the protection and improvement of the native ecology. They will continue to be involved in the discussions regarding Ginninderra and are well placed to apply best practice in ecological management.
The team hopes local conservation groups and future residents will be able to contribute to maintaining and improving these woodlands.
CSIRO’s significant expertise in Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands is on display in a comprehensive guide (linked below) for land managers that was recently published by Jacqui Stol and Suzanne Prober.
Measures such as reintroducing tree and shrub species where they’ve been removed could be implemented to help restore the Ginninderra woodlands.
The reintroduction of ground layer species to areas currently of low quality could return those bright purple and yellow wildflowers to more parts of the Ginninderra landscape.
If you’d like to learn more about the protection and management of the box gum grassy woodlands, download the guide:
Jewels in the Landscape: Managing very high conservation value ground-layers in Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands
By Jacqui Stol and Suzanne Prober
Click here to download the guide from the CSIRO Publications Repository
Bird, plane or scientific blimp?
Walking through the storage sheds at the Ginninderra Experiment Station, you would expect to find some interesting agricultural scientific equipment. What you might not expect to discover is a blimp.
However, like all shed items on site, the blimp has a story to tell. It’s part of a collection of items that also includes a ‘golf buggy on stilts’ or Phenomobile used to measure how effectively plants grow and perform under different field conditions.
The technology was developed by the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Centre, which is the Canberra node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility – a partnership between CSIRO, The Australian National University, University of Adelaide and the Federal Government.
The technology uses cameras that capture different light wavelengths and signals to photograph growing plants. The photographs created allow scientists to make measurements about the plants’ growth rates, their water use efficiency and how productive the crops are over the growing season.
Having lab and farm facilities on site allowed the scientists to develop the technology in the lab, then test it in the field. The Phenomobile can get above a row of plants without harming the crop and take detailed images. The blimp does the same and can photograph a whole paddock at a time.
Being able to measure the plant without disturbing the crop or destroying the plants means crops can be monitored throughout the growing season as the environmental conditions change. The performance of different crop varieties can be monitored during a drought to see which varieties preform best under Australia’s harsh conditions.
After being trialled, tested and perfected on the CSIRO site, (and surprising a few local residents), the equipment is now used to make measurements on the paddocks of research collaborators and farmers.
While there are now certainly smaller and more portable measuring tools, such as drones, that can fly over plants and crops, the blimp provided a steady platform for the development of the imaging and analysis tools that are used in photographing plants across large areas.
While the CSIRO blimp won’t be seen again in the Canberra skies, the technology it helped to develop continues to be used in farms across the country.
Advancing crop research and sustainability
CSIRO research has led to advancements that impact many aspects of our lives, from the way we conduct our finances to the way we communicate.
Some of CSIRO’s most well-known innovations include WiFi, Australia’s plastic banknotes, extended wear contact lenses and the insect repellent Aerogard.
Our scientists work on solving the nation’s and the world’s biggest challenges across a vast array of research fields.
In agriculture and plant science, CSIRO scientists work on projects ranging from improving grain and crop yields to sustainable farming.
The Ginninderra Field Station has been a key site for some of this research. Our innovations in barley and wheat crops, conducted at this site, have led to improvements in yields, quality and disease resistance, and are making an impact on a national and global scale.
This work includes the development of BARLEYmax, a whole grain with four times the resistant starch and twice the dietary fibre of regular barley grains.
Now used in a wide range of commercially available food products, BARLEYmax offers superior health benefits and can help combat cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Read more about BARLEYmax here.
Ginninderra has also played host to CSIRO’s rotation and dual-purpose cropping work. This work, supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, has seen CSIRO breed and release more than 10 dual-purpose feed wheat varieties in the last 15 years.
In addition to plant breeding, the Ginninderra site has played an important role in the work of CSIRO and partners in crop and pasture improvement, soil biology and crop productivity, sustainable farming, and the effects of climate change on crop production and soil carbon.
The recent purchase of 290 hectares of land in the heart of farming country at Boorowa, NSW, will ensure that CSIRO can not only continue this breakthrough research, but do so more effectively at a green field site set up to maximise the use of new technologies. You can find out more about the Boorowa farm here.
Canberra’s hidden reserve
The Ginninderra Field Station was established in 1958 as a site for agricultural research in anticipation of the closure of the Dickson Experiment Station to make way for urban development in that area, which eventually occurred in 1962.
The Ginninderra site is located in the northern area of ACT, surrounded by the suburbs of Gungahlin, Hall and Nicholls to the north, Giralang to the east, and Evatt, Spence and Fraser to the south.
While nearby residents know more, it’s an area many people have driven past every day and never realised what lay within.
Behind the unassuming ridges and rows of vegetation lies 701 hectares of grassy open space with 80 hectares of irrigated, arable land. The quality soil and water availability on the site has provided excellent opportunities to support CSIRO’s agricultural research effort.
There are three houses, a machinery shed, a workshop, a barn, shearing sheds and some scientific equipment and approximately 5,000 sheep on the property.
Australia is famous for its beautiful natural environment which is reflected throughout the site. A mixture of native grasses, Scribbly Gum woodland, Box-Gum woodland, Eucalypts and pines create the greenscape of the site.
A natural drainage system, Halls Creek, separates the upper and lower areas of the site. Surrounded by ridges and hills there are amazing views across to Belconnen Town Centre, Telstra Tower and the Brindabella’s from the highest points of the site.
Canberra is known for its ability to incorporate green spaces into the city. The future of the site will embody this, retaining green spaces, open reserves, and natural vegetation. Sitting within the north-eastern end of site lie two very special trees, Canberra’s oldest oaks. This unique part of the landscape will be preserved throughout the development.
The site is also home to native, endangered species including the Golden Sun Moth and Box-Gum woodland. Protecting the plants and creatures that call the Ginninderra lands home is integral to this project. Opportunities to improve the quality of woodlands and create natural reserves will arise throughout the course of the project.
A number of Aboriginal heritage locations have been identified on the site. When European settlement took place in the area homesteads were set up near the Ginninderra property. Nearby heritage listed sites include the Charnwood Homestead, the Palmerville (Ginninderra) Homestead and the Ginninderra Police Station. These sites are all important in better understanding Canberra’s early history and will be respected throughout the project.
Canberra CBD to Ginninderra Field Station [PDF, 4MB]
Draft Concept Plan [PDF, 1MB]
CSIRO in Canberra: from agriculture to space
CSIRO’s presence in Canberra is almost as old as Canberra itself, with just 14 years separating the establishment of Canberra and the creation of our national science body.
Since these early beginnings, Canberra has been a critical part of CSIRO’s research in agriculture and the natural sciences.
CSIRO’S Black Mountain offices opened in 1927, with the Department of Entomology moving into its own building in 1934. The Australian National Herbarium was also established during the 1930s.
The first site for agricultural research in Canberra was a site at Duntroon Farm, which later became Canberra Airport. A story in The Canberra Times in May 1931 said the costs of operating the farm would be covered by a £6,000 per annum contribution from the Empire Marketing Board, and that:
“Special attention is to be paid to investigations of wheat resistance and diseases, while a special section will be set aside for testing new grasses and forage plants to be introduced from abroad.”
This research site shifted from Duntroon to the Dickson Experiment Station in 1940, and experiments into crop and pasture trials continued here. Scientists also looked at how land could be used productively for livestock and crop farming, and housed a large flock of merino and Border Leicester sheep.
CSIRO’s history in Canberra is about more than agriculture, even though this has been a key focus. In 1965 the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex opened at Tidbinbilla, and has worked with NASA on space exploration missions ever since. For nearly 60 years, the Gungahlin Homestead property at Crace was used for CSIRO’s Sustainable Ecosystems research program.
As urban development began to encroach on the Dickson farm, it was time for the field state to be moved once again. CSIRO acquired the 701 acre land for the Ginninderra Experiment Station in 1958, moving all research there by 1962.
The Dickson area turned out to be much-needed land for urban development, as the ACT population almost doubled from 55,000 to over 90,000 in the five years between 1960 and 1965.
Photos from the time show the rapid pace of development in Dickson and the surrounding suburbs once this land close to the centre of Canberra was repurposed.
Meanwhile, the Ginninderra site over the years has provided space for multiple research projects, including testing varieties of crop seeds, animal farming and other agricultural experiments.
The site has contributed to Australian science including the development of BarleyMax and dual purpose wheats, crop and pasture improvement, sustainable farming, plant breeding and the effects of climate changes on crop production and soil carbon.
Once again, the city of Canberra has grown up around a CSIRO research site. Neighbouring suburbs include Hall and Nicholls to the north, the Belconnen suburb of Giralang to the east, and Evatt, Spence and Fraser to the south.
The story of CSIRO’s agriculture research in Canberra continues with the creation of the National Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Precinct, a $190 million investment bringing together research partners at CSIRO’s foundation site at Black Mountain. This initiative will bring together researchers from all over the world to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges in plant and environmental sciences.