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A Report of the recent Fire Management within Grassland Ecosystems Forum

Fire Management Within Grassland Ecosystems Forum, 13th & 14th March, 2014

Greg Kirby

This conference was organised by the City of Salisbury at Mawson Lakes and was very well attended. The title of the Forum does not do justice to the wide range of topics; we heard about historical matters, grass biology and evolution, grazing management and re-establishment of grasslands as well as the management and role of fire in grasslands.

The legal, political and social issues involved in deliberate lighting of fires for management purposes (e.g., safety and biodiversity considerations) in South Australia were discussed in two presentations. These issues are complex and made more difficult by a lack of coordination within Government – I never realised that it is the EPA who restrict burning outdoors to the time between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m., even though fire practitioners, for safety reasons, would prefer to burn before and after those hours.

The Keynote speaker was Tim Low, who developed the theme that grasses are an under-appreciated family of plants in that they are ecosystem engineers. Since they regenerate better and grow faster after fire or heavy grazing, they tolerate fire and grazing in a way that eliminates many of their competitors (trees and shrubs). They also benefit from the activities of other ecosystem engineers like elephants and humans. Tim also warned of the propensity of some exotic grasses to become invasive and form monocultures that exclude native plants and cause greater fire hazards.

Joan Gibbs presented a fascinating history of the attitudes to fire in Aboriginal and settler communities around Adelaide. The settlers brought the view that fire was an enemy and quickly suppressed the Aboriginal view that it was a management tool. By the 1840s, laws were passed against burning (even stubble burning was banned for a while) and Aborigines who lit fires were prosecuted. It is only recently that attitudes have changed and management fires have become legal.

There were several presentations that covered various aspects of restoration of native grasslands. Shaun Kennedy described the very large project that SA Water is undertaking near Clarendon to re-establish grassy woodland on old pasture for catchment management. Paul Gibson Roy reviewed some of the aspects of the Grassy Ground Cover Project sites in Victoria and our own Bob Myers described his work on his property.

There were several presentations on real experiences with fire in natural grasslands. Leanne Liddle spoke with eloquence about Aboriginal practice in the outback, illustrated with some wonderful photos. Anthony Watt, from the CFA in Victoria, spoke about his experience with burning roadsides and reserves for safety reasons, but also alluded to the losses of native vegetation that occur when regular burning ceases. I found it very significant that he always burns after New Year’s day, time when it is illegal to burn in SA. Randall Johnson described research that DEWNR are doing before and after controlled burns in Grey Box grassy woodlands. This is a great start, but I feel that conclusions about the impacts of fire are premature when you have had only two or three fires in the previous 150 years. We need data on what happens after several fires in a decade. Dr John Morgan gave us the natural history of kangaroo grass and the importance of burning in maintaining swards in Victoria. The experience in the Adelaide Hills is different: our swards seem limited by a lack of summer rainfall to allow seed germination and the tussocks rarely seem to die off from a lack of burning. But, if we were allowed to burn them more often, would we get healthier tussocks and more germination?

An important issue that has developed as Governments across Australia have moved to implement controlled burning as a management tool is that of a lack of experience in the community with fire. Dr Jon Marsden-Smedley from Tasmania described the innovative projects that he has done in Tasmania and South Australia to develop guidelines for planned burns and processes for training private landholders who need to use fire in land management. This seems to be part of a serious effort by the relevant Governments to improve fire management in all landscapes, and not just grasslands.

As an alternative to fire, Graeme Hand (from SW Victoria and the CEO of the Stipa Association) gave an enthusiastic presentation on the role that controlled grazing can play in broad scale regeneration of native grass pastures (natural or planted). His recommendations to farmers who want to increase the pereniality and biodiversity of their pastures include an emphasis on the importance of measuring landscape function. This can be done by assessments of biological activities at the soil surface. (On the web, you can see David Tongway’s Ecosystem Function Analysis that underpins Graeme’s approach.)

The City of Salisbury and the organisers of this conference are to be congratulated for putting together an array of excellent speakers in a well-run conference.

Forum presentations can be accessed at www.salisbury.sa.gov.au/firemanagementforum2014

With thanks to Ellen Bennett.

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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Events

 

A report on last November’s Stipa Conference in Murray Bridge

The Eighth National Stipa Native Grasslands Conference: Murray Bridge, 6th-8th November, 2013.

Greg Kirby

This conference wasfocussed mostly on the use of native grasses in agriculture and horticulture; however, there were also a couple of stimulating presentations on historical aspects of Australian grasslands. Dr James Boyce provided a great start to the conference as he described the importance of grasslands in Tasmania and SE Australia in supporting European colonisation of Australia. I had known of the struggles of the colony that was based in Sydney, but had never heard of the rapid and successful establishment of thriving communities in Tasmania and Victoria that were based on the native grasslands. On the second day, Prof Bill Gammage focussed on the role of Aboriginal land management in promoting a managed landscape in which grasslands were a key feature (based on his recent book: The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia ).

The agricultural presentations started with David Tongway explaining how to read the landscape and the basics of his landscape function analysis. He seemed very practical and I recommend that anyone who is managing grasslands for grazing – and who is not aware of his work – should read about his research on variously degraded landscapes and recommendations for how to manage them (just Google his name). On the second day, Walter Jehne gave us his take on the complex processes in native pastures and Colin Seis described how he manages his property near Gulgong in NSW, using techniques like “planned grazing” and “pasture cropping” to restore native grasses and maintain species diversity. Graeme Hand (from SW Victoria) described how he uses Tongway’s landscape function analysis to advise farmers about land management for native grasslands and the use of appropriate grazing techniques to manage native grasses. David Tongway returned to show how severely degraded sites can benefit from the addition of “brushpacks” (branches from shrubs and trees piled up in mounds across the drainage pattern of a landscape) to the landscape to reduce the loss of moisture, nutrients and carbon and provide safe sites for establishment of perennial vegetation.

The field trips were a mixed bag. The first day, we took lunches out to Mercunda (east of Swan Reach) in the Murray Mallee. This provided eastern states visitors with a clear illustration of the difficulties of re-establishing native grasslands in parts of SA. There had been good early rains to germinate seeds of Austrodanthonia and Austrostipa, but a dry finish to the season meant that the grasses were drying off and the pasture was diminishing rapidly. The last day involved a full day field trip from Murray Bridge up to the Barossa Valley and back. We visited the Bradley’s property ‘Pantawalba’ (near Birdwood) to look at their trial to establish native perennial grasses into damp Hills paddocks. This was very moist compared with the drought at Mercunda and the native grasses were buried in exotics in full growth (despite being grazed). I should like to see how these native grasses have benefitted from the heavy rain that we had this summer; I would hope that they have grown and proliferated. We then moved on to look at trials to establish native grasses in vineyards at Henschke’s and Falkenberg Estate (near Nuriootpa).

JohnStafford explained to the gathering the changes in soil characteristics that have occurred in a stand of Chloris in the Nuriootpa Research Station vineyard that he has been monitoring for some 10 years. The improved soil health beneath the Chloris is now generating substantial yield improvement compared with the control. Both sites showed the difficulties in managing native grass stands in the absence of grazing animals, where exotic grasses are well established. At Henshkes’, the wild oats was overwhelming the Austrodanthonia, while at Falkenbergs’, Vulpia was a threat to the stand. Some discussion was had at these sites on the best management to maintain healthy stands in such situations. It seems that a mechanism of soil disturbance to create niches for seedling establishment may be required. The seeding machinery used by Chris Penfold for native grass sowing also created considerable interest from the participants.

I thought that this conference was valuable for my continuing education about native grasses because of the historical material and the exposure to several inspirational speakers with very practical advice about managing native grasslands for productivity in the 21st century.

Thanks are due to the Stipa Native Grasses Association for bringing their annual conference to South Australia and the Murray Mallee Local Action Planning Association for their excellent organisation of the conference in Murray Bridge.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Events

 

Fire Management within Grassland Ecosystems Forum 2014 – Final Reminder

This two-day Forum will be held at the Mawson Lakes Hotel and Function Centre, 10 Main Street, Mawson Lakes, 5095, on Thursday, 13th March and Friday, 14th March, 2014.  The Forum will open on the Thursday with Registration and tea/coffee at 9.00 a.m. and a Welcome to Country at 9.30 a.m., and wind up at 4.30 p.m. on the Friday.

To see Presenter profiles and programme details, type the full name of the Forum into your search engine, and choose the <nrmjobs.com.au> website, which will probably appear at or near the top of the list.

http://www.nrmjobs.com.au/index.php/search?g=6819782

Bookings can be made on-line at:

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/fire-management-within-grassland-ecosystems-forum-2014-tickets-9171882347

Single day bookings and Dinner bookings close on 28/2/2014.

Early-bird bookings (for the full forum only) close on 31/1/2014.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Events

 

Fire Management within Grassland Ecosystems Forum 2014

Fire Management within Grassland Ecosystems Forum 2014

When:  13th – 14th March, 2014

Where:  Mawson Lakes Hotel & Functon Centre, 10 main Street, Mawson Lakes, Adelaide, South Australia

The FIRE MANAGEMENT WITHIN GRASSLAND ECOSYSTEMS FORUM will be hosted by the City of Salisbury and attended by expert fire management officers, grassland practitioners, researchers and ecologists from around Australia, whose aim is to restore and manage temperate and grassy woodland vegetation communities using fire as a restoration technique.

The two day forum will bring together over 100 leading professionals to discuss latest practice and share knowledge. It will include presentations by leading academics and practitioners on the use of fire as a management tool; panel discussions on burning regimes within grassland ecosystems; and opportunities for networking and information sharing with industry peers.

The City of Salisbury is a leader and innovator in revegetation strategies, restoration techniques and world class storm water management through its extensive wetlands systems, providing an ideal location for this two day forum.

 

Presenters (Keynote):

  • Mr. Tim Low (Biologist, environmentalist, writer and photographer Grasses – A turning point in plant evolution; the plants that are most like humans in their influence over ecosystems)
  • Dr. Jon Marsden Smedley (Uni Tasmania, Honour Research Fellow, School of Geography and Environmental Studies New prescriptions for Planned Burning in South Australia)
  • Dr. Paul Gibson-Roy (Senior Restoration Ecologist, Greening Australia, NSW Topic: The management of grassy ground cover project sites: Fire as a tool in maintaining diversity and influencing vegetation structure)

 

A sponsorship brochure is available on request.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Events