19 October 2023

Restoring native grasslands: key findings from Dunkeld research

Media release
2 min read

The findings of this study by lead researcher Matilda Alverez, supported by Wannon Water, GHD, and La Trobe University, have far-reaching implications for conserving and managing endangered ecosystems.

The research site covers 27.5 hectares of Plains Grassy Woodland, a rare and endangered habitat in the Victorian Volcanic Plains Bioregion, and home to important native species like Plump Swamp Wallaby-grass, Growling Grass Frog, Striped Legless Lizard, Button Wrinklewort, and Hoary Sunray.

Using a mix of controlled burns, annual plant surveys and pest controls, the study sought to determine whether changing fire patterns would help degraded native grasslands recover, and if adding seeds would boost native plant diversity.

Ms Alverez said that the study found that holding off burns for now and protecting existing natural features, like old red gum trees and endangered species, would be more effective at restoring the site.

“There are many different ways we can try and restore natural environments, but it’s been really difficult to measure the impact they have,” Ms Alverez said.

“By stopping sheep and cattle grazing and changing the fire schedule, the study demonstrated that less frequent burns led to an increase in the number of native plants – though not necessarily in the variety of native plants – while more frequent burns favoured non-native plants.

“The research suggests that if burns are needed in the future, these should be smaller and more focused.

“We hope our long-term findings will help guide efforts in other similar environments using fire to help with invasive plant management.”

Wannon Water employees helped with the hands-on aspect of the research, sowing five native plant species that were rare in the area.

Natural Assets Project Officer David Brennan said restoring degraded grasslands is challenging, and safeguarding healthy areas is crucial.

“At Wannon Water, we manage critical habitats for endangered species in our catchment, so participating in research like this allows us to trial new ways of protecting this important natural environment,” he said.

“Grasslands need long-term protection, and this broader perspective could guide better conservation policies in the future.”

As part of National Water Week celebrations, Mr Brennan is delivering a free talk on using fire as a tool for increasing flora biodiversity at Pallisters Reserve on Sunday 22 October at 11am.

Pallisters Reserve is a sanctuary for biodiversity and home for brolgas, koalas, orchids and many other indigenous plants and animals.