By Dr Greg Holland, Regional Ecologist, Aled Hoggett, Regional Operations Manager and Dr Hannah Sheppard Brennand, Science Writer
The forest canopy, a distant shadow above, echoes with whispers of movement, growls and grunts. The thud of a glider as it moves from tree to tree. Impossibly clear water trickles underfoot and the scent of leaf litter floats in the air, joining the symphonic croaks and whistles of frogs. Log bridges negotiate a myriad of creek crossings in this lush and welcoming landscape. The terrain is folded like a crumpled piece of paper – always steeply up or downhill.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) newest wildlife sanctuary, situated less than three hours north of Sydney in New South Wales, is an almost 4,000-hectare wonder of topographically complex ridges and ranges, with dry sclerophyll forests at the peaks, shifting to dense, wet rainforest in the deeper gullies. Numerous mountain streams wend channels across the landscape.
The brand-new sanctuary – part of a conservation agreement with philanthropists and long-time AWC supporters Andrew and Jane Clifford to manage a private estate – is located on the Traditional Lands of the Worimi Nation, home to 18 different clan groups. As this edition of Wildlife Matters goes to print the sanctuary remains unnamed, as AWC is seeking to consult with the Local Aboriginal Land Council on an appropriate name. Importantly, this sanctuary will protect high quality forest habitat for the Endangered Koala. In New South Wales, Koalas are thought to have suffered a major decline in recent years due to drought and wildfire. The sanctuary is located in an area recognised by the NSW Government as being of regional Koala significance and is expected to provide a major contribution towards the conservation of this iconic Australian species.
Vegetation on the sanctuary is diverse. The dry sclerophyll forest community is comprised of Spotted Gum, Grey Ironbark, Grey Gum, White Mahogany, Tallowwood, Sydney Blue Gum, Forest Oak and Turpentine. The wet sclerophyll forest community is dominated by Sydney Blue Gum, Tallowwood and Brush Box, with significant representation by various rainforest tree species including Bangalow Palms with their feather-shaped leaves. The sanctuary is surrounded on three sides by significant natural forest and shares a boundary with Ghin-Doo-Ee National Park and Myall River State Forest, making it an important forested corridor for wildlife.
The sanctuary provides vital habitat for many forest-dwelling species that do not currently occur within AWC’s network of sanctuaries and partnership areas, and there are opportunities to protect and enhance the populations of many species, including the Endangered Koala. The dense understorey vegetation will likely hide a suite of small native mammals that call this place home.
AWC scientists have used the results from previous ecological surveys, historical records and publicly available data to estimate that the new sanctuary likely supports more than 100 vertebrate species – of which 12 are listed as threatened – and more than 200 plant species. Threatened animals include the Yellow-bellied Glider, the rainforest-roosting Golden-tipped Bat, the casuarina-eating Glossy Black-Cockatoo and the Green-thighed Frog, an amphibian that can only be heard calling a few nights of the year after heavy rain. A detailed survey of the sanctuary’s plants and animals was undertaken by State Forests of NSW in 2002. AWC staff and contractors have already encountered Short-eared Brushtail Possums, Greater Gliders, Red-necked Wallabies, Goannas, Diamond Pythons and Paradise Riflebirds.
As a new sanctuary, AWC will develop a sanctuary- specific science and conservation land management program over the coming months. There are two known Weeds of National Significance present that will be a focus of management programs: lantana and blackberry. Of benefit to AWC’s conservation efforts, intense wildfires have been very infrequent in the landscape and the grassy condition of the dry sclerophyll forest on the upper slopes of the property has been maintained by regular (~2 to 5 years) fuel-reduction burning and light cattle grazing in these areas.
The management of AWC’s newest sanctuary will see the organisation’s footprint in New South Wales increase to more than 162,000 hectares – adding to Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary, Mallee Cliffs National Park and the Pilliga Project Area where AWC works in partnership with the NSW Government, and North Head Sanctuary where AWC works in partnership with the Sydney Harbour Trust. Generous AWC supporter Richard Harding has committed $500,000 to underpin the first year of management and conservation at the sanctuary. We greatly appreciate his backing, the generosity of the Cliffords, and that of all of our incredible supporters. AWC invites you to join us in tackling the exciting new challenges that come with a new sanctuary.
State Government of NSW and Department of Planning and Environment (2018) NSW Koala Prioritisation Project – Areas of Regional Koala Significance (ARKS). NSW Government. <https://datasets.seed.nsw.gov.au/dataset/areas-of-regional-koala-significance-arks>
Read and download the full issue of Wildlife Matters here.