Progress has been strong over the past 12 months at Witchelina Station in central South Australia – which was turned into the state’s largest private nature reserve with support from Santos – and has included academic research and an upgrade of facilities.
In 2010 Santos contributed to the purchase of Witchelina Station, near Lyndhurst which covers an impressive 4,200 square kilometres – twice the size of greater Adelaide. Its conservation will protect several threatened species, ecological communities and geological landscapes not previously protected.
The purchase of the property was made in conjunction with the Nature Foundation of South Australia, the South Australian Government, and the Commonwealth’s Caring for Our Country program. Santos’ contribution is part of the company’s obligation under the Native Vegetation Act 1991, which requires land users to set aside funds for environmental benefit according to the land disturbance of their activities. This applies equally to Transport SA, farmers and resources companies.
Fortunately, 2010 saw approximately 400mm of rain fall at Witchelina, double the annual average, which has had a dramatic effect upon the plants and animals at Witchelina and given the property a huge boost on its journey of regeneration.
Despite being hampered by sodden, boggy roads, the past 12 months have yielded many highlights, including:
• Implementation of a goat control program to reduce grazing pressure impact on plants, including a highly successful goat muster with a local indigenous group. A total of 2,400 goats have been removed since February 2010 through a combination of activities. The benefits of faster natural regeneration will be evident in future vegetation monitoring work.
• Promotion of academic research on the property to better understand its conservation values and the ecology or arid environments. Nature Foundation research grants are available for specific research at Witchelina and one Flinders University PhD recipient has already added more knowledge to the understanding of the various sub-species of brown snakes.
• Work commenced on the upgrade of the homestead precinct. Examples including, retrieving poly tanks from bores to increase rain water capacity, servicing and maintaining old generators, rewiring old electrical circuits making them compliant with today’s standards, making some of the buildings more habitable to support research and other visitors, and the seemingly never-ending task to remove rubbish accumulated over many years.
• Involvement from neighbours to work with Nature Foundation to maintain and improve boundary fencing, including assisting with trucking of mustered goats and grading of roads damaged in the rains.
Nature Foundation’s Council visited Witchelina for a three day trip back in April to view progress and finalise plans for a diverse work schedule in 2011- 2012. This work will include:
• A major biological survey across the property toward the end of the year. Results garnered from this survey will be a key contribution to their conservation management plans as they continue to learn about the many habitats within its 4,200 square kilometre expanse.
• An ongoing monitoring program that records changes in variables such as plant recruitment, regeneration, and species diversity (plant and animal) over time is crucial to their capacity to demonstrate the environmental improvements at Witchelina. This will allow them to quantify their achievements, demonstrate precisely how Significant Environmental Benefits are being gained, and provide them with the data to continually adapt and improve our conservation techniques.
• Improvements to the homestead precinct will include major upgrades to power supply, accommodation and water supply. This is a high priority to improve the functionally of the property to their conservation management staff and also to encourage regular, world-class research to be undertaken at Witchelina.
Community relations, Environment, South Australia