Habitat restoration at Walker Swamp gets a boost with Melbourne Uni to supply thousands of seedlings

Recently, we heard about an offer of free seedlings with provenance from the Gariwerd/Grampians area. With this lining up well with our future revegetation plans for Walker Swamp, we had to follow it up! We are chuffed with the result that the School of Ecosystems and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne will supply thousands of native seedlings for us to plant next year at Walker Swamp. But how did this come about? Well, it involves a PhD on fire and a student’s desire to see her ‘discards’ go to good use.

Ella Plumanns Pouton, a PhD candidate at Melbourne University, is investigating the influence of fire regimes, climate, and other environmental drivers on plant diversity in native heathlands. Ella and her team have conducted vegetation surveys at around 200 sites in south-west Victoria, and collected soil seedbank and canopy seedbank samples from the Gariwerd area. Ella’s work will attempt to understand the influence of climate in combination with fire, and the influence of fire on seedbank diversity. To check out a short video on Ella’s work on the soil seedbank and fire regimes, click here.

Back at the university after field visits, soil samples are heat and smoke treated to promote germination of the soil seedbank. As seedlings emerge in the glasshouse, they will be identified to species level. This information will help Ella understand which kinds of fire management are favourable or detrimental to different kinds of plants. Once the seedlings are identified, Ella and her colleagues have no further use for them. But rather than see these seedlings go to waste, Ella reached out to local Landcare and other community groups to find homes for them – and this is where NGT comes in! As her soil samples from eastern Grampians sites contain a seedbank comprised of species that would have grown at Walker Swamp prior to land clearing for agriculture, we were very happy to provide a destination for some of her seedlings. These seedlings will contribute to revegetation in a new kangaroo-exclusion revegetation area where we will be trialling different site preparation methods, mosaic burning, and standard management techniques to determine best practice for the wider reserve.

We had hoped that some of our Melbourne-based supporters may be able to assist Ella with the repotting of seedlings, but due to COVID restrictions, this will now be carried out by Ella, and Melbourne Uni students and nursery staff. However, there are still opportunities to be involved. We will be looking for help to transport the seedlings from Melbourne Uni when they are ready; we are also putting the feelers out for locations where they could be housed until planting time next year.

Looking south-west across Walker Swamp to Mount Abrupt

This project is just kicking off and if you would like to get involved with any part of the project, from the kangaroo fence construction, tree planting days next winter, or repotting seedlings at Melbourne Uni (pending Covid restrictions), please drop me a line (email address also below).

Finally, we’d like to give a huge thank you to Melbourne University for their support, and to Ella for her foresight.

Ella’s work is part of a wider project funded by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and DELWP to understand the effects of fire on ecosystem resilience.
The supply of seedlings to NGT’s Walker Swamp is proudly supported by Melbourne University.

Tom Sheehan