Murdoch to the rescue

May 9, 2017

Murdoch ecologists, from left to right, Dr Joe Fontaine, Dr Katinka Ruthrof, Dr Catherine Baudains, Dr Jane Chambers and Dr Rachel Standish

Murdoch ecologists, from left to right, Dr Joe Fontaine, Dr Katinka Ruthrof, Dr Catherine Baudains, Dr Jane Chambers and Dr Rachel Standish

Scientists from Murdoch University are helping to guide the restoration of a woodland site, which was cleared to make way for a new transport project.

The controversial Roe 8 project, located around 20 minutes south of Perth, was scrapped by the new Labor state government after its election victory in March.

However, the cancellation came after significant groundworks had been carried out at the site, clearing a huge swathe of native vegetation from the Beeliar Regional Park, situated just south of Murdoch’s Perth campus.

Ecologists Dr Joe Fontaine, Dr Rachel Standish, Dr Catherine Baudains, Dr Katinka Ruthrof and Dr Jane Chambers from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, are joining other local experts on the Scientific Advisory Group.

They will be guiding the politicians, contractors and community members involved with restoring the site and the community.

The new advisory group will provide guidance on restoring vegetation and returning animals and birds to these habitats.

Ecological restoration activities will create a positive focus for the local community and assist their recovery from the trauma of the clearing. Restoration can also address Indigenous archaeological and cultural concerns.

In the future, there will also be opportunities for Murdoch researchers and students to aid the recovery via investigations into ecological and social outcomes and to assess the success of different restoration tools.

“The clearing of the Roe 8 site left a huge scar across this important bushland corridor and the surrounding community,” said Dr Fontaine.

“Collectively, the people on the Science Advisory Board have the knowledge and the expertise to ensure the restoration job gets done effectively.

“Considering Murdoch’s proximity to the wetlands, we are elated to be working so closely with our neighbouring community to restore the area so that it can be enjoyed by residents and visitors once more.”

Dr Standish added that Beeliar Regional Park is significant “because it offers current and future generations a glimpse into how the Swan Coastal Plain would have looked prior to urbanisation”.

Members of the Science Advisory Group visit the cleared Roe 8 site

Members of the Science Advisory Group visit the cleared Roe 8 site

Murdoch ecologists became involved after contacting the politicians and community members tasked with deciding on the future of the site to ask how they could help.

The advisory group visited the site for the first time recently, agreeing it was critical to remove large piles of mulch as soon as possible. A limestone track also needs to be removed ahead of winter rains so that native vegetation can establish.

Dr Fontaine added that leaching from the limestone paths after the rains could be detrimental to surrounding banksia woodlands – unique to the Swan Coastal Plain – and recently declared endangered by the federal government.  The alkaline limestone changes the soil and can kill banksia trees and their relatives.

“Piles of mulch up to three metres high are suffocating the plants they cover,” explained Dr Fontaine. “Any surviving plants or seeds in the soil underneath will not grow under mulch. The piles are currently taking up a lot of space and may contain asbestos, so we can’t use them.

“If they are not removed in the next few weeks, we will be left with huge patches that will take longer to recover and add vastly to the restoration costs.

“Nature can do much of the recovery work but for this to happen we need to act now to take advantage of seeds stored in the seedbank that will germinate with the onset of the winter rains.”

Dr Fontaine added that while there are urgent issues that need to be addressed, there were plenty of positives from their recent site visit.

“Many native plants are sprouting already but we need to act now to ensure the best possible recovery outcomes,” he said.

“We don’t want to look back at this time in five to 10 years and regret not removing the mulch and the limestone track in a timely fashion. In the long run, taking this action now could save tens of thousands of dollars in seed and revegetation costs.”

The restoration plan is currently under discussion. One option mooted is ecological restoration that also incorporates east to west walking and cycling tracks to connect Bibra Lake with the coast.

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