Coming home as a graduate and seeing the Southern Grampians from a different perspective – by Mischa Peters

After finishing an Honours environmental science degree at the University of Adelaide, like many others I was wondering – what next?

Mischa Peters completed her graduate ecology internship with NGT in spring 2018

Before beginning my Honours, I volunteered down at the Coorong during annual surveys run by University of Adelaide’s Ecologist, David Paton. It turned out that also on the team was NGT Intern (at that time) Michelle Sargent. She mentioned her work and it sounded like a great opportunity and experience. I got in contact with NGT and I was very fortunate to be offered a graduate ecology internship very close to where I finished my schooling in Hamilton, Victoria. So for the past few months I have been helping Greg Kerr out at the picturesque Walker Swamp, near Dunkeld.

One of our main goals during this time involved developing a flora and fauna monitoring program for the Walker Swamp property. Initially it began by collecting information from NGT staff and literature on different survey methodologies, from fish and frogs to birds, reptiles and vegetation communities, just to name a few. With such a diverse range of biodiversity at the Walker Swamp property (terrestrial and aquatic), a major challenge was determining what aspects of ecology to focus on. While we wanted to know what was out there, we had to determine which elements may be key indicators of changes in biodiversity and the most cost-effective options for long-term monitoring. This also included what we would survey on an annual basis and what we would survey as a baseline and re-survey every five to ten years.

Of course, then it was time to start implementing it all!

During spring I was involved with undertaking surveys alongside other NGT staff, including: fauna trapping (pitfall and cage trapping), spotlighting, River Red Gum assessments, vegetation mapping and assessments, terrestrial macro-invertebrate surveys, Upper Wannon fish surveys, and waterbird and bush-bird surveys.

During my internship I also had the opportunity to complete a 10 week bird course run by Greg. The course furthered my interest in birds while also developing my bird identification skills. I have also had the opportunity to partake in training days including the Index of Wetland Condition (IWC) course run by the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority.

Another aspect which I have really enjoyed while being with NGT was working with the local community. This has included being involved with local landcare groups, property owners, Indigenous communities and schools. A highlight was having the opportunity to work with the school where I completed my secondary education. It was a pleasure seeing the young adults that I knew as primary school children and their growing interest in the natural environment.

My time at NGT has flown by and I have learnt so much. It has been a privilege having the opportunity to work back around my home town, and the experience has developed my appreciation for south-west Victoria’s natural environment, the community and the work that groups like NGT are doing.

Just one of the photos that shows my ‘workplace’ at Walker Swamp over the past few months. Photo by Mischa Peters

Mischa Peters