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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Travelling stock reserves (TSRs) in New South Wales contain some of the healthiest examples of remnant vegetation left in some rural areas – leading to an emerging biodiversity management role for Rural Lands Protection Boards. Ian Davidson tells the story, with the help of four on-ground managers.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The importance of travelling stock reserves

Travelling stock reserves (TSRs) – and the routes that link them – were developed in New South Wales some 160 years ago to allow graziers to move stock along certain roadsides, camping them overnight in these small crown land portions especially reserved for that purpose (Box 1, Fig. 1). Since the 1950s and the advent of modern transport, however, there are now better, faster and, arguably, more efficient means of transporting stock than droving them along roads. As a result, grazing pressure in many TSRs has eased from historical levels (McKnight 1977) and the potential now exists to manage these sites for biodiversity conservation as well as for grazing purposes.

image

Figure 1. Historically, travelling stock reserves (TSRs) and the routes that link them were designed to move stock between properties and to link properties to markets (explaining why TSRs tend to be located every ‘6–8 miles’– the approximate distance stock could travel in one day; McKnight 1977). Today, TSRs have an additional role, the conservation of ecological communities. As part of their duties, TSR rangers now monitor native sward condition and apply controlled grazing, such as shown here at Bells TSR in December 2004. (Photo, Allan Scammell).

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In many regions of NSW, over 90% of the landscape has been cleared and substantially cultivated for agriculture (Benson 1999). As a result, remaining native vegetation is scarce, fragmented or severely degraded – except, due to their lower frequency utilization, in TSRs; which now contain some of the most important remnants of native vegetation communities in their regions (Webster 1997; 1999a; 1999b; 2000a; 2000b).

The importance of TSRs as refugia for remnant vegetation and biodiversity conservation was identified first in the 1970s (McKnight 1977; Hibberd & Soutberg 1991), with a recent study undertaken on the environmental values of Central Western TSRs in the mid-1990s (Nowland 1997). In particular, TSRs often represent the best examples of high quality grasslands and woodlands in NSW; ranging from the grassy open forests of the coastal plains to primary grasslands and woodlands of the ands, slopes and further west. The temperate grasslands of the Monaro that occur within TSRs, for example, are among the most species rich of this community type (Eddy 2000) and TSRs also form an important stronghold for conservation of the once widespread but now endangered Box-Gum Woodland ecological community (i.e. Eucalyptus melliodora, E. albens, E. blakelyi associations) and their component (often threatened) fauna species.

In southern NSW, the geographical layout of the combined reserve/route system is such that reserves on the eastern ‘high country’ are linked to reserves on the western slopes and plains by wide roadside areas, often following the valley floor along creeks and rivers (NSW RLPB 2001). Some of the highland TSRs contain significant subalpine grasslands (Eddy 2000), whilst others contain significant riparian woodland or foothill forest communities. On the lower slopes, the dominant vegetation in most TSRs is grassy woodland, except TSRs located along riparian areas such as the Murray River or Billabong Creek, which support River Red Gum forest (Webster 1997; 1999a; 1999b; 2000a; 2000b).

The current dilemma for Rural Land Protection Board (RLPB) managers is that TSRs were originally intended for grazing purposes, however, they often contain remnant vegetation which is often in far better condition than anything else in the surrounding landscape, particularly in terms of the intact ground flora. The tension between the two needs, therefore, creates new challenges – as well as opportunities – for management.

Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

In recognition of the observed biodiversity values of TSRs, a major project was carried out in southern NSW between 1997 and 2000, surveying the biodiversity values and threats in TSRs (greater than 5 ha) in six RLPBs in southern NSW: Hume, Murray, Riverina, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai and Narrandera (Fig. 2; Webster 1997; 1999a; 1999b; 2000a; 2000b; 2001a; 2001b). The assessments ranked the TSRs on the basis of five categories: high, medium-high, medium, medium-low, and low (Box 2). Ranking was based on a set of environmental attributes including: the condition of the ground flora (e.g. richness and cover of native species as well as the weed status), the structural diversity of the vegetation, the age structure of the tree cover, the abundance of fallen timber, and the identification of any special features (e.g. rocky outcrop, wetland etc.).

image

Figure 2. In six Rural Land Protection Boards (Hume, Murray, Riverina, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai and Narrandera) all travelling stock reserves greater than 5 ha were assessed for their biodiversity values and condition. Many of the TSRs were found to be of medium-high conservation value, leading to a major shift in management practice. These and many of the other TSRs within New South Wales (totalling 600 000 ha) contain remnant vegetation including a number of the most threatened ecosystems in NSW. (Map courtesy RLPB Orange).

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Table Box 2. . Conservation ratings used in the travelling stock reserves surveys
HighThe most intact category, with all structural layers represented (including at least some shrubs).
Medium-highGenerally intact structure and floristics but a major element missing (e.g. usually shrubs).
MediumRelatively intact but with some dense exotic patches in the ground layer in some places (e.g. exotic annuals under trees).
Low-mediumA proportion of the reserve in good condition (e.g. a rocky knoll or creekline) but the remainder dominated by exotics.
LowGenerally dominated by exotics, similar to the surrounding land.

Conservation rankings

Results from these initial biodiversity assessments showed that many of the reserves contain substantial remnant native vegetation. The survey ranked a substantial proportion of the reserves in each of the six RLPB areas as being medium to high; with the percentage of reserves achieving this ranking ranging between 41% (in Hume and Gundagai RLPB) and 79% (Narranderra RLPB; Table 1).

Table 1.  Conservation status of travelling stock reserves in six Rural Land Protection Boards in southern NSW (Webster 1997; 1999a; 1999b; 2000a; 2000b; 2001a; 2001b)
RLPBTotal No. TSRsTSRs rated med-high conservation value
No.%
  • *

    Hume Board comprised smaller RLPB areas of Albury and Holbrook when initial surveys were conducted in 1997.

Hume*1305341
Murray1347959
Riverina 987577
Wagga Wagga1156557
Narrandera 876879
Gundagai 963941

The survey also found that the reserves contained a diversity of important flora species – and that some of the reserves were considerably more floristically diverse compared to adjacent farmland, especially in terms of the native grasses and forbs. There are three explanations for this. First, TSRs have historically experienced periodic grazing with rest periods in between the sometimes intense grazing events (rather than the ‘set stocking’ usually practiced on private land which allows no rest period and can deplete palateable species; Box 3). Second, to the best of our knowledge, there has been no fertilizer use on TSRs. And third, they have never been ploughed for crops.

Table Box 3. . Some grazing terminology
Set stocking Stock are grazed on the site year round, without significant regular spell periods. This allows stock to graze preferentially, generally leading to the decline of palateable species.
Pulse grazingStock are grazed on a range of smaller, subdivided paddocks, and moved frequently to new paddocks, allowing significant regular spell periods. This avoids preferential grazing and the spell period allows recovery of all species.
Crash grazingThe use of large herds or mobs of stock, for a relatively short period of time, to remove or trample a ‘build up’ of biomass in the grass sward.
Targetted, controlled or strategic grazingUsing stock to achieve a vegetation management outcome, for example, using pulse grazing to sustain native pasture or crash grazing to reduce the amount of exotic annual grass seed fall.
Stock campingWhere stock rest at night, these sites are often regularly used and are very disturbed with highly enriched soil and a very weedy groundlayer.

General condition

Although TSRs are important from a conservation perspective, they are not ‘pristine’. Many are relatively small (usually 20–200 ha) and are scattered throughout the agricultural mosaic as isolated patches, except where linked by TSR roadsides. They are thereby, heavily influenced by external degrading processes such as invasions by exotic weeds, primarily annual pasture grasses. While condition of individual reserves is often quite variable, overall quality can often be attributed to their proximity to nearby streams or geographical position in the valley floor. The most weed-infested reserves in the Murray Valley, for example, are those on the more heavily stocked higher floodplain terraces running parallel to the Murray river, with the lower floodplain sites more protected from grazing by lengthy floods.

Changes to travelling stock reserves management

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Since considering the results and recommendations of the biodiversity assessment phase, the boards and RLPB rangers responsible for the management of the reserves have agreed to develop more active conservation grazing regimes in a subset of the reserves; with the goal of improving the health of the native perennial grassy sward. As improvements in the perennial sward benefit both grazing and biodiversity outcomes, this goal has won widespread support.

Originally, land managers and other experts advocated for more active conservation management of the better quality ‘high’ and ‘medium-high’ conservation value reserves’ but RLPB rangers argued that, at best, this would just be maintaining the status quo. It would be far better, they argued, if opportunities were taken up to alter and improve grazing strategies on the ‘medium’ and even some of the ‘low-medium’ reserves as well, as even ‘low-medium’ conservation status reserves (or at least patches within them) are able to recover to some degree.

As a result, the boards are therefore now committed to improving management practices and overall conservation status in all reserves. To this end, RLPB rangers have added controlled grazing (to enhance the perennial component of the ground stratum) to their regular duties including animal protection, weed control and other land management issues.

The potential to improve the condition of TSRs depends upon the ability of RLPB rangers to use selective grazing as a conservation tool. This is technically possible in these temperate areas because the growth phase of exotic annual grasses precedes the growth phase of most of the native forbs and perennial grasses. So if grazing is restricted to when annual grasses have developed but before they have flowered or set seed, improvements in the cover of native perennial forbs and grasses may result (Box 4).

Each RLPB ranger is responsible for over 100 reserves and, therefore, has many opportunities to strategically move stock between reserves. Rangers can ensure stock are moved on if reserves cannot withstand a long period of intensive grazing, and can also ensure that particular reserves are spelled for a long period after grazing if appropriate, as determined on a site by site basis. However, the flexibility available to the RLPB rangers to graze or rest particular sites depends on the location of individual reserves. For example, rangers often have great difficulty managing TSRs located along major stock routes, or situated near stock sale-yards. However, there are still opportunities to fence off sensitive sites in such reserves (Fig. 3), and ensure stock are camped in stock yards or more weedy, low conservation value areas.

image

Figure 3. Billabong Creek runs through two Rural Land Protection Board (RLPB) areas; the Hume and Murray boards. The section of unfenced creekbank shown in photo (a) indicates the condition of sections of the creek within travelling stock reserves (TSRs) prior to a cooperative program between RLPB Boards, Greening Australia and Landcare to fence the creek from stock. (Note the sheep at the top of the bank.) Photo (b) shows the dramatic recovery of the ground layer after fencing about 30 km of the creek within TSRs. The TSRs were then used as demonstration sites for private landowners. (Photos, Ian Davidson).

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‘Linear reserve’ pilot project

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Whilst the biodiversity assessment phase identified the main species and condition of each TSR, it soon became clear that specific strategies needed to be developed, in consultation with the boards and rangers, for each site. A recent 12-month pilot project has, therefore, been developed – focusing on 20 of the higher conservation value sites in three Murray Catchment RLPBs (Hume, Murray and Riverina) – to test procedures for developing specific grazing management strategies for each TSR. It is anticipated that this pilot project will be further expanded over the next 3 years through a project involving the Murray, Riverina and Hume boards.

One of the first steps in the pilot was to form an advisory committee made up of representatives of the RLPBs, rangers and (NSW) National Parks and Wildlife Service. This group came up with priorities for sites and the scope of the strategies, each of which involves specifications for formal monitoring for each TSR. As a result, each Site Management Plan has been designed to have at least one (and perhaps several) specific primary management activities which are then broken down into action-based objectives (including habitat management objectives) specific to the reserve or a particular zone within the reserve (Fig. 4). The reserve's management recommendations specifically address each objective in terms of grazing location and timing, revegetation activities (if required), fencing (if required), weed control, timber removal, erosion, and pest animal control.

image

Figure 4. (From left) Phil Maher, Steve Seymour and Rural Land Protection Board (RLPB) Ranger Mick Mullins at Wanganella travelling stock reserve in the Riverina Board area. This reserve contains both wetland and sandhill ecosystems and provides important habitat for the threatened Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), protection of which are major goals in the site's management plan. (Photo, Riverina RLPB.)

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Cost-sharing with government

One important element of the Linear Reserve pilot was the trialling of cost-sharing between rural landholders (who currently entirely fund the management of TSRs, routes and the boards) and government. In recognition of this need, the Murray Catchment Management Authority (CMA) has allocated $20 per ha for each reserve with a grazing management strategy specifically written for it. This funding, devolved from the federal government's Natural Heritage Trust, will enable individual RLPBs to offset the costs involved in conservation management activities and help them offset lost grazing revenue from reduced numbers of travelling stock on the road. Expansion and long-term security of this funding will be needed, however, to avoid some RLPBs taking on permanent agistment, an option that would result in set-stocking and subsequent decline in conservation values.

A shift towards a degree of public support for management of ‘high’ conservation status sites within the RLPB system makes considerably more economic sense to governments than excising the higher quality areas for complete conservation. This is not only because much of the infrastructure and management costs ‘piggy back’ on existing management, but also because the most feasible tool for controlling annual grasses in large acreages is the continued use of grazing itself. Furthermore, ‘high’ conservation value reserves provide important education opportunities for rangers, and their retention reinforces the rationale and motivation to manage the rest of the extensive RLPB estate.

Monitoring component

With access to additional funding secured, the committee agreed that monitoring specifications should be contained within each site management plan to ensure that outcomes of the actions (specifically changes in relation to the perenniality and status of the sward) can be measured over time. Permanent monitoring sites are to be established for each TSR in the project. While data collection techniques will vary depending on target parameters determined by RLPB rangers, the project conducted two monitoring techniques workshops in conjunction with other experts in the field. The workshops came up with a standard approach which involves setting up 100 or 200 m transects along which sampling is undertaken at the same time of year during two or three organized monitoring phases. Options for data collection include step-to-point monitoring, which is a simple method used by Agricultural departments for measuring pasture sward. In this method, a pin in the toe of one's boot is used to record the category of ground cover (e.g. plant type, bare ground etc.) occurring at the pin for each step or second step (to achieve at least 100 of these points along the transects). Depending on the level of knowledge of personnel, the plants may be categorized as ‘a perennial native grass’ or ‘an introduced annual’, which is sufficient to provide a measure of changes in relative abundance of perennial versus annual or introduced versus natives over time. In other cases, rangers may use quadrats or a number of other monitoring techniques (such as stem counts, tree health rankings, and permanent photo points).

Ideally, the project will monitor reserves on a 3–5 year cyclical basis, where a certain percentage of the reserves are randomly selected and the data analysed to see if there should be some adaptations made to management.

Key role of rangers

Neither the assessments nor strategies prescribe micromanagement grazing techniques for each reserve. This aspect is left to RLPB rangers on the basis that they are the ones ‘closest to the ground’ and can develop the most knowledge of the dynamics of the individual sites. The strategic planning process does, however, involve talking in detail about the sites with the rangers so that their ideas about how the treatments are likely to affect the preferred species can be teased out and integrated into the strategy. The rangers are, therefore, key actors in the rehabilitation of the sites.

Although it is too early to observe any results from the expanded Linear Reserves Project, noticeable improvements in the quality of native vegetation communities have already occurred in the last decade or so in many reserves. This is a result of active and enthusiastic management activities undertaken by rangers responding to the initial assessment phase, in conjunction with a fortunate downturn in use of the TSR and routes (Box 5). Where a reserve once may have contained a few large and scattered woodland trees, woody regeneration is now visibly occurring, and palatable understorey species are regenerating, improving the habitat values for associated native fauna.

Interpreting the strategies, undertaking the management activities and carrying out or supervising the monitoring will have the effect of progressively increasing the skills of the rangers and will provide a focus around which the general principles and skills are passed on to future successors. The rangers and boards are particularly conscious of the need for ongoing training and the induction of successors of the current cohort of rangers. It can be observed that new recruits to the job of ranger are more likely to have training in nature conservation as conservation management becomes more and more important in the everyday duties of RLPB rangers. But the rangers also point to the importance of a background of working in the rural sector. Sean Learmonth, for example, learned from his predecessor, Laurie Perris.

He was very passionate about looking after native pastures and is well respected in the district. I spent my first 12 months with him, trying to learn as much as I could. It comes down to a common sense approach. The practical side of land management I learned from growing up in farming has been a huge help to this job. I hope more young people get out into the rural sector first, before they look at a job like this because if you try and meet with landholders and recite something that you've read in a book or heard in a lecture it doesn't seem to go over too well. But if you take a common sense approach that both you and the landholder can understand, it works a hell of a lot better. Then, along with common sense, you need the research to back up whatever you’re trying to achieve on the ground.

Summary and directions for the future

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Since the creation of the TSR reserve network in the 1800s, the values, use and importance of TSRs to the community has certainly changed, particularly over recent years. Though their role in helping to conserve endangered ecological communities was unintended, TSRs are recognized both here and overseas as a legacy of good conservation planning in agricultural landscapes (Forman et al. 2003). While this result may be partly due to the pulse grazing pattern of travelling stock and a downturn in travelling stock, the deliberate consolidation of these gains within a planning and management context is largely due to the innovative journey the boards and rangers have made in the past decade. This is demonstrating that the boards are delivering a ‘public good’ environmental service in a cost-effective way, far more so than many other publicly funded revegetation programs. Recognition of this service should enable the boards to access funding on the basis of the results they are now delivering, to enable them to continue to successfully manage these precious reserves.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

This article would not have been possible without the efforts and contributions of all past and present RLPB rangers. Acknowledgement is also given to the Hume, Murray, Riverina, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai and Narrandera Rural Lands Protection Boards; the earlier work done by Rick Webster and the generous support of Norman Wettenhall and his Trust, who were major sponsors of the original surveys. Thanks are also extended to Mark Sheahan and Peter Spooner for reviewing an earlier draft, with Peter also providing valued editorial assistance.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Biodiversity assessment of travelling stock reserves in southern NSW
  5. Changes to travelling stock reserves management
  6. ‘Linear reserve’ pilot project
  7. Summary and directions for the future
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  • Benson J. (1999) Setting the Scene: the Native Vegetation of New South Wales. Native Vegetation Advisory Council NSW, Sydney.
  • Breckwoldt R. (1990) Living Corridors: Conservation and Management of Roadside Vegetation. Greening Australia, Canberra.
  • Dennis A. (1992) Conservation of rare and threatened species in linear reserves. Victorian Naturalist 109, 121125.
  • Eddy D. A. (2000) Conservation management of native grassland in travelling stock reserves and cemeteries of the Monaro. Ecological Management and Restoration 1, 6465.
  • Forman R. T. T., Sperling D., Bissonette J. A., et al. (2003) Road Ecology: Science and Solutions. Island Press, Washington DC.
  • Hibberd J. K. and Soutberg T. L. (1991) Roadside reserve condition 1977–89 in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. In: Nature Conservation 2: the Role of Corridors (eds D. A.Saunders and R. J.Hobbs), pp. 177186. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton.
  • McKnight T. L. (1977) The Long Paddock. Australia's Travelling Stock Routes. University of New England, Armidale.
  • New South Wales Rural Lands Protection Boards (2001) The Long Paddock: a Directory of Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves in New South Wales. Rural Lands Protection Boards in association with NSW Agriculture Resource Information Unit, Sydney.
  • Nowland A. (1997) Sustainable Management Strategy for Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves in Central-western New South Wales. Rural Lands Protection Board, Orange.
  • Webster R. (1997) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Albury Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.
  • Webster R. (1999a) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Holbrook Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.
  • Webster R. (1999b) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Murray Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.
  • Webster R. (2000a) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Riverina Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.
  • Webster R. (2000b) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Wagga Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.
  • Webster R. (2001a) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Narranderra Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.
  • Webster R. (2001b) Flora and Fauna Habitat Assessment of Travelling Stock Reserves within the Gundagai Rural Lands Protection Board. Ecosurveys Pty Ltd, Deniliquin.