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
Planning for the future
Retaining green spaces and corridors and protecting Ginninderra’s ecology has already been raised by many community members during the consultations so far.
As part of the process, we are conducting environmental studies to fully understand the Ginninderra landscape and ecology. At 701 hectares, it is a large piece of land with variations across the site. While studies are still ongoing, environment and conservation are a key consideration for the site.
Based on studies so far, approximately 150 hectares of the land is unlikely to be developable due to its topography, heritage and ecological values, and will likely remain open space.
This will provide valuable recreational and conservation areas, as well as preserve some of the views of the hills and ridges currently experienced by adjoining suburbs. These open spaces will also allow for wildlife to continue traversing the property.
Alongside the farmland on the site is a diverse ecology, including protected species such as the golden sun moth and box gum woodlands along with many other plant and animal species.
A program for ongoing management to support critical ecosystem services, biodiversity, and cultural values will be developed. With the support and research of CSIRO scientists, the approach to conservation management will take into account multiple factors, as part of an overall avoidance, mitigation and offset strategy. This will include measures to restore and support conserved areas.
Offsetting measures, if required, would seek to establish compensatory areas as close to the location of the impact as possible and would follow the established Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 offset policy.
The project team working on the biodiversity assessment aspect of the project were responsible for preparation of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment and are also presently working with the Riverview Group and ACT Government (LDA) in preparation of the West Belconnen Strategic Assessment.
The team has a detailed appreciation of the broader opportunities and constraints in the wider area, providing consistency between these connected parts of the landscape.
The Ginninderra site is an important part of Canberra and we look forward to working with local residents, conservation and community groups on the future of this land.
If you have any questions or suggestions on the environmental management of Ginninderra, please contact us.
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]