Coffee for a Cause at the Mokoan Hub & Cafe

The bushfire crisis has created a tough time for many residents and visitors to north-east Victoria. The outlook over Winton Wetlands’ swamps have been eerily clouded with smoke, akin the region, which has served as a reminder of the devastation occurring just 50km to the south-east of the reserve and beyond.

Acknowledging the amazing efforts made by our emergency services and the impact to not only human life, but wildlife, has lead the team at the Mokoan Hub & Café to forge ahead with some supportive initiatives throughout the summer months.

“Being able to support a cause the whole team and our customers can get behind, in a situation you can otherwise feel pretty helpless as a bystander, has been really gratifying” says Café Manager Samantha Trevena.

Throughout January, $1 from every coffee sold will go towards the Wildlife Victoria Bushfire Appeal. All February, the hard cover local history publication Winton Swamp to Winton Wetlands, will be sold at half price through the café with all proceeds going towards the charity that distributes funds to fire affected animal shelters.

Mrs Trevena says that “within the first weeks of January, [the Mokoan Hub &Café] has already raised over $600 for the Wildlife Victoria Bushfire Appeal”.

The team hopes that in the coming weeks the number will climb much higher with thanks to the generosity of the local community and visitors from outside the region, interstate and overseas.

Visitors to the region are encouraged to keep an eye on Vic Emergency (https://emergency.vic.gov.au/) and EPA Air Watch (https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/EPAAirWatch) services.

Determining the current kangaroo populations at Winton Wetlands

The Winton Wetlands ecology team have recently been carrying out surveys to determine the need for controlling local kangaroo populations.

Eastern Grey Kangaroos and Black-tailed Swamp Wallabies were surveyed using Line Transect methodology from sunrise to 9:30am when the species were more likely to be active. A total of 65km of transects spread throughout the Winton Wetlands reserve were surveyed on three separate occasions.

Results:

  • Average of 64- Eastern Grey Kangaroos per survey
  • Average of 8 Black-tailed Swamp Wallabies observed per survey
  • Kangaroo density of 0.33 per hectare (estimated using conventional distance sampling method)

Based on these results, we estimate the reserve currently holds approximately 3000 kangaroos.

“These densities are less that half of the suggested target density of one kangaroo per hectare for grasslands (ACT Kangaroo Management Plan, 2017) and also below the economic carrying capacity of 0.5 kangaroos per hectare (DEWLP), said Winton Wetlands Restoration Ecologist Dr Lisa Farnsworth.

These results will be incorporated into a Winton Wetlands Kangaroo Management Plan that will detail the following:

  • Kangaroo survey methods and results
  • Fence removal to reduce road safety concerns
  • New vegetation monitoring techniques
  • Future student research opportunities

“The survey results, combined with our highly successful revegetation program have lead us to conclude that, from an ecological perspective, active kangaroo control on the reserve is unnecessary at this stage,’ Dr Farnsworth commented.

In addition to the recent survey work, Winton Wetlands, in partnership with the Friends of Winton Wetlands team have commenced the removal of 12km of unnecessary roadside fencing on the reserve. The fencing that is being removed opens the reserve to create a safer path for native species to disperse and will reduce the likelihood of them becoming trapped in the fences or ‘funneled” along the roadway.

On a state-wide scale, the Victorian Government has recently commenced a permanent Kangaroo Harvesting Program to control increasing kangaroo populations. The new programs is administered by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, and includes strict safeguards to ensure harvesting is carries out at a sustainable level, that animal welfare standards are met and that the livelihoods of farmers are protected. Landowners or harvesters interested in being involved in the Kangaroo Harvesting Program should visit agriculture.vic.gov.au. All enquiries should be emails to kangarooharvesting@ecodev.vic.gov.au or call 136 186

 

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Image by Matt Devine

New Solar Project Proposed

Winton Wetlands’ environmental potential is being diversified with expressions of interest now open on a new solar project for the site.

In response to the Australian Government’s initiative to mitigate the risk of climate change and global warming, the purpose of the proposed project is to supply green electricity generated from solar irradiation into the National Energy Market.

“The Committee of Management is capitalising on the site’s natural economic strengths and aligning themselves to add to the State Government’s energy mix, as we work towards the target of 40% renewable energy generation by 2025“ said Dr Dennis O’Brien, Chair of the Winton Wetlands Committee of Management.

“Solar farms are the most direct way to help us reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Solar farms feed surplus power to the mains grid thereby distributing renewable, clean energy”

After two feasibility studies considering the practicability of developing a solar photovoltaic (PV) facility and associated infrastructure on the Winton Wetlands site, and the preliminary ecological constraints and planning approval matters, it was determined that solar PV projects at the Winton Wetlands site are technically viable at a commercial scale.

“The choice of location for the Mokoan Solar Project is driven by two main factors. Firstly, this location has among the highest levels of solar irradiation in Victoria. Secondly, the site has excellent topography – being very flat, with excellent drainage features.”

The proposed site is up to 800 hectares of crown land, to build and operate 200+MW capacity, equating to a provision of approximately 50,000+ households.

The Expression of Interest process is now open until Friday 12 July 2019 with further information available by contacting Daniel Basham, Chief Executive Officer on 03 5766 4462 or at ceo@wintonwetlands.org.au

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Increasing Biodiversity

Media Release | 23 May 2019

World Biodiversity Day was recently celebrated and is in perfect timing with the recent discovery of evidence of increasing biodiversity at Winton Wetlands.

The team of staff and volunteers at Winton Wetlands and the Friends of Winton Wetlands have been working towards natural habitat renewal and recently, two major species, the Squirrel Glider and the Rakali, have been sighted at Winton Wetlands proving the continuing success of the team’s restoration efforts.

The Rakali (Australian water-rat) is an attractive and large aquatic mammal that resembles a small otter and they have just been discovered onsite at the Mokoan Ponds! This sighting is the first at the Wetlands for almost 40 years. It is thought that water-rat numbers have declined in many places in south eastern Australia, particularly since the mid-1990s, and our sighting is evidence of conditions improving for these species.

Similarly, Squirrel Gliders were discovered again at Winton Wetlands late last year, which is another first in 40 years. While the Squirrel Glider is widespread on the east coast of Australia, it is uncommon, and it is very exciting to have a population calling Winton Wetlands home!

In the woodlands, nest boxes are benefiting the population of Squirrel Gliders. ‘The discovery of Gliders points to the very strong value of corridors to allow species to recolonise the site and therefore increase the area’s biodiversity’, said Lance Lloyd, restoration scientist at Winton Wetlands.

‘Likewise, the improvement of habitats at the Mokoan Ponds in terms of aquatic vegetation, carp control and woody debris has meant Murray Cod can thrive’, said Lance.

Murray Cod, a native freshwater fish listed as vulnerable, have declined significantly in numbers across the Murray-Darling basin due to overfishing, river regulation, and habitat degradation. Despite the near absence of water, Murray Cod are present in our permanent water bodies and this shows the obvious importance of habitat improvements as a restoration process. Having rediscovered the species at the Wetlands in the past few years, we are proud to have evidence of prolific breeding and a healthy juvenile survival rate.

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Wildlife Rescue with Winton Wetlands

Media Release | 15 April 2019

The Friends of Winton Wetlands recently organised a ‘Wildlife Rescue info with Clean Up Day’ event which delivered information and knowledge on how to help injured wildlife, presented by Shirley Steegstra from Benalla Wildlife Rescue. An active effort to clean up the Winton Wetlands site was also a part of the day.

Winton Wetlands and the Friends would like to thank all those who attended the event and Shirley for her time and the wonderful work she does. Shirley has provided some basic information about what to do if you come across injured wildlife.

What to do if you find injured wildlife

If you find an injured native animal or bird, pick the animal up using a towel or blanket and place it in a cardboard box that is also line with a towel. Ensure you have put some ventilation holes in the box first. Place the box securely in your car, not in the boot as exhaust fumes can kill the animal. If you do not have access to immediate assistance, keep the animal in a warm, dark place and keep noise to a minimum to avoid stressing the animal. Please do not offer the animal any food and water as native animals have very specialised diets and feeding an animal that is in shock can be fatal. Take the animal to your nearest vet or contact your local wildlife rescue organisation. Vet clinics and rescue organisations do not charge to accept wildlife.

Please remember that some animals do not require rescuing. For example, some baby birds are left for a short time while the parents forage for food.

If you find a kangaroo, wallaby, possum or koala that has been injured be sure to check the pouch for young. If ever in doubt, ring your local wildlife organisation for assistance.

Becoming a wildlife rescuer

Wildlife Shelter Operator Authorisations are for experienced wildlife carers who have the expertise and facilities to house a range of wildlife in need of care, including those with complex requirements.

Foster Carer Authorisations are for those who wish to learn wildlife rehabilitation. Foster Carers are authorised under the Wildlife Shelter Operators so that people new to wildlife rehabilitation can gain experience and guidance in the care and treatments of native wildlife.

Wildlife rehabilitation is rewarding but is time demanding and can be physically and emotionally demanding. It requires a range of skills such as safely capturing and handling distressed wildlife, administering first-aid (sometimes performing euthanasia) and providing appropriate food and enclosures.  All this must be done in a way that doesn’t stress the animals and maintains their natural behaviours to allow a successful life in the wild after release.

If you are interested, DEWLP recommends that you volunteer with an experienced authorised shelter prior to applying for a Foster Carer Authorisation.

Find more information at www.wildlife.vic.gov.au


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Wall-to-Wall at Winton Wetlands

1 April 2019

The Wall-to-Wall festival is nearly upon us and Winton Wetlands will host one of this year’s featured murals. The staff and volunteers at Winton Wetlands and the Mokoan Hub & Café are very excited to welcome renowned street artist Andrew J Bourke (Sirum) to the wetlands this weekend to turn the main interior café wall into an eco-inspired masterpiece, capturing the ecological essence of the site.

With a deep curiosity for the natural world, Andrew’s work is inspired by the energy and beauty that is found within nature. “Since I was a child, I have found myself curious of the natural world … Drawn to the smallest of details, I look to find the space in-between” said Andrew.

This passion for detail is seen in Andrew’s finely observed graphic work, and his deft use of colour. Having refined his craft over many years as an urban artist, Andrew moves between the mediums of aerosol, house paint, charcoal and acrylics with considerable skill. His work is distinctive for its rich and vibrant colour, technically accurate, fast, free-flowing line, and ambition of scale.

Andrew’s mural work can be seen around the streets of his hometown Melbourne, and throughout much of the Australia thanks to his extensive travels in search of inspiration. It is his love for “country” that has led to Andrew’s passion for photography, a further extension of his creativity and often becoming a source of reference that flows back into his work.

Many of Andrew’s artworks can be seen around Benalla including the ‘Kelly Snake’ at Fruits N Fare and Ned Kelly at Rambling Rose. Like these murals, the café wall will reflect its surroundings and feature two local threatened species; a Growling Grass Frog and a Tree Goanna.

While the painting is taking place, the Mokoan Hub & Café will remain open (9am-5pm), continuing their wonderful customer service and serving a delicious menu. A range of options will be available including vegan and vegetarian as well as gluten and dairy-free meals as well.

The Wall-to-Wall event hosted at the Mokoan Hub & Café is a must-see event and will require bookings for a table. Please contact 0429 423 659 or cafe.manager@wintonwetlands.org.au.

These Drying Times

In these drying times it can be difficult to see that wetland sites, like Winton Wetlands, provide vital, productive environments.

Cradling biological diversity, the wetlands provide the perfect setting for countless species of plants and animals to survive and thrive. Drying wetlands are a natural phenomenon. In fact, in those wetlands that do regularly dry out, it is an essential process. Australian wetlands have evolved to exploit the boom and bust of our seasons.

Drying also ensures the wetlands spring back into life at the next filling event by:

  • supporting large numbers of water birds
  • allowing the nutrients that have built up in the wet phase to be processed and reduced
  • guaranteeing the mudflat plants to sprout and become established on the floor of the wetlands, binding the soil
  • providing habitat for many animals and insects, including water bugs (invertebrates) who lay dormant eggs in preparation for the next wet.

But it is what happens below the surface that goes unnoticed.

“Winton Wetlands currently has water held in the Mokoan Ponds along the Dam Wall, which are supporting many water plants, water birds, fish and yabbies all year ’round” said Lance Lloyd, Aquatic Ecologist at Winton Wetlands.

Under the water, the native fish are growing with the warm conditions and the waterbirds are feeding on the yabbies, invertebrates and water plants. Small mammals and reptiles are flourishing under the grass cover – feeding and growing, out of the hot sun, and the insects are burrowing and aerating the soil, creating a balanced and diverse ecosystem.

“Wetlands are biological supermarkets, providing great volumes of food for many animal species. These animals use places like Winton Wetlands in their life-cycles.”

“Plant leaves and stems breakdown as water subsides, creating small particles of organic material called detritus. This enriched material feeds waterbugs, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals”

During this dry period, Winton Wetlands are:

  • unwavering in their efforts to reduce European Carp populations
  • revegetating the wetlands to replace the woodlands, grasslands and reed beds to provide shade and habitat
  • undertaking works on the wetlands that we can only do in the dry, like managing drainage and maintaining tracks and
  • preparing the site for when the next wet period arrives

Wetlands also provide a blend of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity – ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and carbon cycle.

“Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus, wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.”

Functioning as natural sponges, wetlands trap and slowly release surface water, rain and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the wetlands. This combined water storage and braking action reduces erosion and lowers flood heights, albeit hard to imagine significant and prolonged rainfall in current conditions.

Image: Lesley Ricker

One giant leap…

An important aspect of the restoration of Winton Wetlands is the re-establishment of native species local to the Wetlands. The availability of hollows as shelter and nesting sites for threatened tree-dwelling mammal species is vital to their persistence and movement through the landscape.

Through the ‘That’s One Giant Leap’ project, funded by the Victorian State Government, the Friends of Winton Wetlands have been able to involve the community in very meaningful and innovative restoration activities at Winton Wetlands. Since 2014, over 100 nest boxes have been installed to provide supplementary habitat for tree-dwelling mammals, including the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and the Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa.)

Since then, various activity of a range of species has been recorded within the nest boxes demonstrating the success of the project. Winton Wetlands and the Friends of Winton Wetlands are most pleased to confirm the recorded sighting of one of the two targeted species being the Squirrel Glider.

“Finding a Squirrel Glider using our nest boxes is the highlight of the Friends four-year nest box program so far. This and finding several families of young Yellow-footed Antechinus in an area previously populated with poor nesting hollows, provides the incentive to continue the program. We hope to extend the chain of nest boxes to continue encouraging wildlife to utilise the entire Wetlands and to create links to nearby woodland.  Well done to all those who have participated in construction, installation and monitoring,” said Geoff Barrow, Friends of Winton Wetlands volunteer and nest box monitoring manager.

Not only is this the first record of a Squirrel Glider since the onset of the project but also the first ever recorded sighting at the Winton Wetlands site, marking it as a very exciting and special event.

The 2019 Friends of Winton Wetlands membership applications are now open and available instore at the Mokoan Hub & Café.

 

Fish hotels – Need a place to put your fins up?

Media Release: 13 December 2018

In restoring Winton Wetlands, we need to provide habitat for plants and animals that has previously been lost. In the long term, new vegetation will provide a range of vital habitats for fish and other organisms. However, establishing vegetation which will then provide woody debris to the ecosystem is a lengthy process.

Fish hotels at Winton Wetlands

The Winton Wetlands Committee of Management together with the Friends of Winton Wetlands are creating ‘fish hotels’ as a quick way to restore aquatic habitat for our threatened fish species, including the iconic Murray Cod.

Two types of fish hotels are being used:

  • Hollow logs – sustainably sourced from road and pipeline clearance projects.
  • Constructed fish hotels – made from smaller logs and locally sourced from fallen timber.

Wood surfaces attract food for fish

“The surfaces of the wood provide an excellent place for algae and other biofilms to grow, attracting shrimp and other crustaceans which are a major food source for fish. Further, Murray Cod and other fish love to use the surfaces of the wood to lay their eggs,” said Lance Lloyd, Restoration Scientist at Winton Wetlands.

“These fish hotels will provide great fish habitat and allow aquatic species, including the threatened Murray Cod, to survive”.

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Fish hotels waiting to be installed at the Duck Pond - Image by Lance Lloyd
Fish hotels waiting to be installed at the Duck Pond – Image by Lance Lloyd

Growling Grass Frog – will we hear them growl again?

30 November 2018

Frogs are a vital part of our ecosystem and are great indicators of the success of our restoration efforts. Frogs add to our biodiversity and are an important part of the food chain for birds, snakes and fish.

“One species that has been lost from our site and also regionally is the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis), and we are looking into how we can reintroduce the species back to the reserve,” said Dr Lisa Farnsworth, Restoration Ecologist at Winton Wetlands.

In a project supported by the Wettenhall Environment Trust, Winton Wetlands staff and volunteers are embarking on an innovative plan that aims to re-establish the charismatic Growling Grass Frogs on the reserve. Key project activities include:

  • Monitoring frog calls (collected by citizen scientists) through acoustic recording, to remotely identify species.
  • Researching the feasibility of reintroducing the species including testing for appropriate water quality, water temperature and vegetation cover
  • Habitat enhancement appropriate to the species requirements
  • Analysis to determine the extent of chytrid fungus on the reserve (an infectious disease that affects amphibians worldwide)

“We are improving frog habitat through revegetation and the addition of rocks to allow Growling Grass Frogs to bask in the sun and to limit the spread of chytrid fungus”.

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