The recipe for successful ecosystem restoration

Scottsdale Reserve Sign

It takes patience, commitment and a long-term plan to restore land that has been damaged by decades of poor grazing and cropping practices. Fortunately the Bush Heritage Australia team at Scottsdale Reserve, led by Reserve Manager Phil Palmer, have these attributes in spades. But it is Phil’s ingenuity that is the real secret ingredient, making the work at this reserve particularly special.

Scottsdale Reserve is a private conservation reserve, south of Canberra, which protects remnant grassy ecosystems and a number of rare birds and other species that were once common throughout NSW.  The land was purchased by Bush Heritage in 2006 with the support of VFFF and others, and in November VFFF had the opportunity to visit the reserve to see firsthand the progress that has been made in the restoration efforts.

The Scottsdale Reserve team and their many volunteers have faced significant challenges over the past 16 years, not in the least, the bushfires which swept through the site in February 2020.  Heartbreakingly, large sections of the revegetation work that had already taken place were affected. However, there were some bright spots in this dark period, with the fire (in conjunction with a rigorous spray regime) reducing the impact of invasive species such as African Lovegrass and Serrated Tussock which had historically plagued the site and hampered efforts to restore the native grasslands.

The reduction of these invasive grass species particularly stood out to VFFF Trustee Emeritus Geoffrey White OAM, who was heavily involved in the initial acquisition and had not visited the reserve for a number of years. Geoffrey recalls that he was able to help Bush Heritage negotiate a lower purchase price based on the expert knowledge provided to him on the long-term costs of combatting these noxious weeds.

“ I was confident that the proximity of the site to Canberra would provide and foster the supply of valuable volunteers to support weeding and tree planting efforts,” added Geoffrey.

Restoring the reserve’s critically endangered temperate grasslands was always going to be an ambitious project.  But the fire in fact helped the project gain traction, reducing the competition from invasive species and increasing the germination of native grasses. Over the mid-term the project will be further helped along by two native grass seed orchards that Phil, Field Officers Kim Jarvis and James Suthern, and an army of volunteers, have established on site. This allows the team to avoid allocating scarce resources to the purchase of expensive native grass seeds by harvesting seeds grown on-site and planting them at scale.

For VFFF Member Sally White OAM, a keen gardener herself, the stand out was the state-of-the-art native plant nursery that has been established.  Phil spent his childhood helping out on his uncle’s remote native plant nursery so knew the level of patience and commitment that would be required to propagate the large number of native trees and shrubs that the long-term plan for the site requires.  The methods used in the nursery – including using cost effective, locally sourced recycled glass in the propagation mix – demonstrates the ingenuity that Phil, Kim and the team apply to their work each and every day.

As the tour drew to a close and the members of the group paused to plant a tree and reflect on both the progress to date and the long road ahead, the final example of Phil’s ingenuity was revealed.  Phil and his team would have been excused if they had used the COVID lockdown to have some much needed respite, but instead they took the opportunity to redesign the tree guards used on site.  The result? A more robust, cost effective, fit for purpose guard that is recyclable and manufactured locally – a win on so many levels.

Patience, commitment, a long-term plan, with a generous splash of ingenuity is unquestionably the recipe for success. It is reassuring to know the restoration of Scottsdale Reserve is in such safe hands. We can only begin to imagine what the reserve will look like when the next generation of the Fairfax family visit in future decades and hope the current VFFF grant in support of Bush Heritage’s Seeding the Future program, will unearth the next Phil Palmer.

Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer, with one of the tree guards he developed.
Scottsdale Reserve Manager Phil Palmer, with one of the tree guards he developed.
VFFF members with Scottsdale Reserve Field Officer, Kim Jarvis.
VFFF members with Scottsdale Reserve Field Officer, Kim Jarvis.

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