By Annie Leitch, Communication and Events Coordinator for Western Australia’s Fitzgerald Biosphere Reserve
Travelling by road through the Fitzgerald Biosphere in Southwestern Australia (known to be within a global biodiversity hotspot) this time of year there’s a good chance the grain carried by that truck you were stuck behind on the South coast highway was sourced from a property within the 1,184,720 hectares that make up our transition zone. Harvest is well and truly underway.
The Fitzgerald Biosphere Group (FBG) however (one of two landcare/natural resource management groups within the Fitzgerald Biosphere) are partway through a collaborative project that aims to understand and address a resurgence of dryland salinity within the region. The balance between increasing agricultural productivity without degrading natural resources is a problem for all farmers. It is hoped that Biosphere Reserves can provide an area for farmers to work cooperatively to experiment and learn about natural resource management, incorporate conservation objectives into farming systems and manage agricultural off-site impacts.
The Nowanup Caretakers (Rangers) who form a critical part of caring for country with the Gondwana Link program that is reconnecting wildlife habitat between the Stirling Range and the Fitzgerald River National Parks, are working hand-in-hand with FBG and farmers to heal Noongar Boodja (Noongar country) for the project Regenerating saline land: a new approach to an old problem.
The project began in 2021 with local farmers responding to advertised revegetation opportunities with their desire to remediate salt affected areas in addition to preventing further spread of dryland salinity whilst restoring aesthetic and biodiversity values of remnant vegetation patches on their land.
Basic information provided by landholders was assessed virtually (QGIS) and followed up with on-ground site assessments around state of the existing/former vegetation systems, proximity to sourcing salt tolerant species with local provenance, which revegetation methods would be most suitable and connection to significant remnant vegetation and waterways to allow for connectivity conservation methods. Seed collecting will be staggered over the next few months taking in seeding cycles of various species and techniques used.
Noongar Caretakers Rob, Connor, Errol, Marlin and Tyronne assisted their coordinator Jim and FBG Projects officer Carrie last week in order to begin collecting from target species that are currently presenting good seed and would do well to establish in the early stages of the project i.e., Saltwater paperbark (Melaleuca cuticularis). Carrie shares:
‘Some of the rangers had done a lot of seed collection so were able to help me with cutting techniques, identifying which seeds were and weren’t ready, tips for storing (sieving and storing seeds once dropped) to ensure mice/insects/winds don’t cause losses, laying tarps over the top of foliage to speed up the seed dropping and plenty more!’
There are challenges in managing natural resources in agricultural landscapes. Conservation objectives are often in conflict with those of increasing agricultural production. Revegetation efforts designed to help with the impact of salinity contribute toward positive social, economic and environmental outcomes for various stakeholders who all have vital roles to play in improving the places we live and work within our Biosphere Reserves. Local Noongar Caretakers (Rangers) are playing an important role in implementing the project while also building their capacity to do such restoration work in a culturally appropriate and empowering way for this and future projects.
Stay tuned with progress updates in 2023.
 Fry, J 2013 Improving Integration of Agriculture and Conservation through Biosphere Reserves Publication No. 13/022 Project No. PRJ-006634
 Fry, J 2013