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Restoring Red Hill: One Small Step
16 Jun 2011
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The Red Hill Nature Reserve is a 375 hectare undeveloped ridge line in central Canberra, forming a visual backdrop to the Australian Parliament House, National Library, Australian National gallery and other national institutions.

It is one of a patchwork of 33 mostly hill and ridge nature reserves scattered across Canberra, and which make up the Canberra Nature Park.

Red Hill is not only visually important but is environmentally significant, containing one of the largest protected remnants of Yellow Box-Red Gum grassy woodland in the ACT region. It supports one of the highest diversities of woodland plants recorded in south eastern Australia, and is habitat for 57 threatened, rare or regionally uncommon plant, bird, bat, lizard and grasshopper species.

The ecological importance of Red hill has not always been recognised, with early tree clearing, followed by cattle grazing, ad hoc developments and general neglect, resulting in over one fifth of the hill becoming choked by woody weeds.

The Red Hill Bush Regeneration Group is a volunteer community formed in 1989 with a mission to restore the Box-Gum grassy woodland to Red Hill and to encourage the native flora and fauna to flourish. It has committed over 20,000 hours of work towards achieving this mission.

In 2011 the Group were awarded a grant under the Communities in Landscapes Small Grants Scheme, to further their mission. With approval from the land owner, the ACT Government, and with help from Greening Australia, the Group planned to strategically ‘shrub up’ with 350 locally sourced native trees and shrubs, a former stock camp that today supports a few scattered mature Yellow Box and Apple Box trees and an understorey of exotic grasses and thistles. The objective of the project is to enhance species diversity significant to Box-Gum grassy woodland and provide habitat, particularly for declining woodland bird populations.

The area selected was well clear of houses to ensure that bush fire hazards were not increased, was reasonably flat and not too rocky for planting.

The week before planting day, first steps were taken to slash a planting area of about 300 metres by 50 metres and then to use a small auger to identify the planting pattern and drill planting holes for the tubestock. It was decided that planting should be informal, with plants clustered in groups of about 25.

A notice was erected on site to encourage Reserve users to come along to the planting day, and an email was sent out to the Group’s mailing list and to friends and collegues.

Planting day arrived with Greening Australia bringing the tubestock propagated in 2010 from local seeds, corflute guards for kangaroo and rabbit protection and planting tools. As volunteers arrived our Greening Australia expert gave a short demonstration of the important planting techniques – how to remove the plants from their pots without damaging them, how big and deep to make the hole, how to leave a good basin around the plant to hold water. We learned that the right technique is critical to future success.

Then for the next three hours 27 volunteers enthusiastically fanned out across the site to carefully plant the 350 delicate tubestock – which included Yellow Box, Red Gum and Apple Box, with Drooping She-oaks to attract the Glossy Black Tailed Cockatoos back to the hill, and Silver Wattle, Black Wattle, Blackthorn, Cassinia, Hop Bush and Tick Bush to attract declining populations of woodland birds including the Scarlet Robin, Double-bar Finch and White-winged triller.

Despite experiencing the wettest spring and summer for years, the ground was very dry by late autumn and watering in was essential. Fortunately, the old stock camp had been provided with a piped water supply for cattle, which was now put to good use for filling buckets to water the plants. This water supply was vital for follow up watering, which was undertaken a month after planting and in the absence of any rainfall.

Of course, no community planting event is complete without giving the volunteers a good feed and providing an opportunity to explain the purpose of the project and its importance to the ecosystem on Red Hill.

With the planting completed, the group photo showed our satisfaction and enjoyment with the project. Looking back on the day’s work we can see that this is just the start of our Box-Gum grassy woodland restoration mission, and there is much left to do.

This project could not have been completed without permission from the ACT Government, assistance and expert advice from Greening Australia, essential grant funding from the Australian Government’s Caring for Our Country initiative, and not least support from the community volunteers of the Red Hill Regenerators, who care enough to want to make a difference to the Red Hill Nature Reserve.

environment landcare
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