Word - 333 KB - Department of the Environment

Assessing Native Vegetation Condition using the Bushland
Condition Monitoring Method and South Australian Biodiversity
Assessment Tool (SABAT)
The South Australian State of the Environment Report 2003 (Nicholson et al 2003), noted
that there was a ‘critical shortcoming’ in ‘scientific techniques for measuring the condition
of key vegetation communities’.
The Nature Conservation Society of South Australia (NCSSA) Bushland Condition
Monitoring Program and the South Australian Biodiversity Assessment Tool (SABAT)
address this shortcoming, and provide an innovative approach to building community
capacity in vegetation management. The program allows conservation volunteers,
landholders and extension professionals to conduct an effective evaluation of the
outcomes of on-ground activities on the condition of remnant vegetation.
It will also allow Natural Resource Management (NRM) boards and state agencies to
quantify the biodiversity return from investment in regional revegetation and vegetation
management projects, and as such has a high degree of public benefit. Current levels of
investment in on-ground works are high and justification that the money was well spent is
essential to the ongoing success of conservation efforts.
The projects and methods
Every land manager and volunteer involved in the restoration and management of South
Australia’s biodiversity wants to know that their efforts are making a difference. Until the
NCSSA developed the Bushland Condition Monitoring Program, no cost-effective tools
were available for conservation volunteers, land managers or NRM professionals to
measure their progress and evaluate their efforts in conservation of native vegetation.
The problem of monitoring the condition of native vegetation is one of science and
capacity. Traditional methods have required high levels of expertise (usually beyond the
capability of volunteers) and intensive sampling efforts which have high cost and cover
only small areas. These methods have not been available for use by volunteers, land
managers and even many trained extension professionals.
The NCSSA method has been designed specifically for use by volunteers and land
managers, because no one else can take information about vegetation condition and act to
manage the vegetation in the long term, especially on private land. With non-professionals
as the target user, the NCSSA has developed a method designed to detect ecologically
significant changes with minimal training and effort on the part of managers and
volunteers. Putting this tool in the hands of the managers of native vegetation has the
potential to radically influence vegetation management as it becomes increasingly
evidence-based. The low cost, low expertise approach of the NCSSA method engages
community capacity and will result in unprecedented knowledge of the condition of native
vegetation in South Australia, and as yet unseen levels of direct feedback and reward to
the managers of native vegetation.
Without funding support, the NCSSA (a volunteer-managed non-government
organisation) developed the ‘Bushland Condition Monitoring Manual for the Southern
Mount Lofty Ranges’ (Croft et al 2005). The project has since expanded to develop
similar Manuals for the Upper South East, Murray Darling Basin, Northern and Yorke
Districts, and Eyre Peninsula NRM regions.
The program has become the basis of South Australia’s first full-scale market-based
biodiversity stewardship project (BushBids) and is used by Trees for Life and other
volunteer agencies to measure change in native vegetation condition.
The project crosses the boundary between community capacity and science. It delivers
outcomes on two fronts:
it builds the capacity of conservation volunteers, managers and extension
professionals to understand and manage native vegetation through a training and
support program
it is the only tool that has been developed that will enable reporting of the
condition of native vegetation in South Australia at a regional and state scale and is
compatible with the approach to the monitoring of native vegetation condition for
the National Native Vegetation Condition Indicator (Crossman and Smith 2006).
The Manual provides a cost effective method to identify, assess and score key
environmental indicators of bushland condition. The indicators are: Plant Species
Diversity, Weed Abundance & Threat, Structural Diversity, Tree Habitat Features,
Regeneration, Tree & Shrub Health, Feral Animals, Total Grazing Pressure, Fauna
Species Diversity.
These indicators are benchmarked using available data and provide objective and
instantaneous measures of change in the condition of vegetation. The indicators measure
dynamic attributes of bushland that tell us something about its current condition. Regular
scoring of each indicator will demonstrate how bushland is changing, the magnitude of
such changes, and if the condition or health of the bushland is improving, deteriorating or
remaining stable. Only a moderate level of expertise is required to score the indicators (as
the user is guided through the process with interpretive diagrams and descriptive text) and
so the monitoring manual is useful to both community members and skilled professionals.
The South Australian Department for Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation has
(DWLBC) developed the South Australian Biodiversity Assessment Tool around the
NCSSA method. The South Australian Biodiversity Assessment Tool (SABAT) was
originally developed to allow assessment of the biodiversity value of native vegetation for
the Upper South East Dryland Flood and Salinity Program, using the core methodologies
described in the Bushland Condition Monitoring Manual. It has since been used by the
Bushbids Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges Biodiversity Stewardship Initiative to assess sites
along the eastern flanks of the Mount Lofty Ranges as part of the Australian Government
Department of Environment, Water, Heritage & the Arts (DEWHA) ‘Maintaining
Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspots (MABH)’ program. It is a powerful tool that has the
capacity to:
At an individual site level:
provide site based reports on current vegetation condition within a site
provide reports on change of vegetation condition within a site.
At a regional/state scale
provide a central repository for Bushland Condition Monitoring data
collate and report regional data on a number of attributes related to vegetation
As of 2008, data has been collected from over 500 sites across these five different NRM
regions. The program has also trained over 300 people from 42 different community
groups and organisations. Over 180 of these people have evaluated Bushland Condition
Monitoring training. Over 85 per cent agreed that they had learnt new skills and concepts,
and over 75 per cent indicated they would change their actions as a result of the course.
Strong partnerships with other NGOs and community groups have been developed,
particularly Trees for Life, who alone have had 49 different volunteers and staff
participate in training, and who are currently monitoring in excess of 20 sites. The MABH
Bushbids Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges Biodiversity Stewardship Initiative in the Eastern
Mount Lofty Ranges has been able to use the NCSSA method to assess more than 160
native vegetation sites and provided information on monitoring to more than 70 private
owners of high conservation value native vegetation.
Recommendations and future actions
The NCSSA and DWLBC are working collaboratively to continue training and support
data entry from volunteers, landholders and extension staff. The NCSSA will also
continue to develop protocols for undertaking regional monitoring with DWLBC and the
regional NRM Boards.
The data collected to date in the Mount Lofty Ranges of South Australia has shown
significant trends in vegetation condition, namely
feral animal impacts are higher in vegetation communities with open shrub and
grassy understoreys than those with sclerophyll shrub understoreys
weed threat is greater in gully forests than other vegetation community types
the availability of tree hollows is higher in grassy woodlands than in forests and
woodlands with sclerophyll shrub understorey
species recruitment was higher in forests and woodlands with dense shrub
understorey than those with an open shrub understorey
forests and woodlands with sclerophyll shrub understorey had higher relative plant
species diversity and better vegetation structure relative to benchmarks than grassy
vegetation communities (O’Connor et al 2009).
These data may provide support for sub-regional planning for threats to native vegetation
The NCSSA is also testing and evaluating the methodologies contained within the Manual
to help evaluate the power of the method to detect change, and to appropriately refine and
modify the methods used, and training provided. This forms part of an ongoing
commitment to refining and improving the Bushland Condition Monitoring program.
Preliminary analysis of data collected from testing surveyor consistency indicates that the
method provides valuable and reliable data that can be used to assess and monitor changes
of interest in specific attributes of bushland that are well accepted surrogates for
biodiversity value (Milne 2008).
Volunteers undertaking
bushland condition
monitoring training in
coastal vegetation
Photographer Janet Pedler
Volunteers undertaking bushland condition monitoring assessment in coastal vegetation,
Waitpinga SA. Photographer Janet Pedler
Volunteers with a variety of skill levels being trained to assess native vegetation using the
Bushland Condition Monitoring Method. Photographer Janet Pedler
Croft SJ, Pedler JA and Milne TI (2005). Bushland Condition Monitoring Manual:
Southern Mount Lofty Ranges. Nature Conservation Society of South Australia Inc.,
Crossman SE and Smith F (2006). South Australian Native Vegetation Condition Indicator
Pilot Project Report. Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide unpublished
Milne T (2008). Can I tell if my bush is changing using the Bushland Condition
Monitoring Method? Preliminary analysis of field results. Xanthopus 26(1). Nature
Conservation Society of South Australia, Adelaide.
Nicolson C, Payne J. and Wallace J (2003). The State of Our Environment. State of the
Environment Report for South Australia 2003. Environment Protection Authority,
O’Connor PJ, Milne TI and Bierman P (2009) Bushland Condition Monitoring in the
Mount Lofty Ranges. Nature Conservation Society of South Australia Inc, unpublished