Grassy woodlands endangered in Australia

Eucalypt woodland was once spread across 5 million hectares from southern Queensland, through NSW and Victoria to near Adelaide in South Australia. But since the early 1800s woodlands were cleared and altered for wheat and sheep production. Now, only about 5% of the original extent remains in fragmented pieces with reduced species diversity and poor ecological functioning. In many places species of birds and small mammals became locally extinct due to changed habitats and the impact of introduced plants and animals such as foxes, cats and rabbits.

ACT woodland reserves

In and around the ACT loss of woodland was not as great as elsewhere, and it has been estimated that about 30% of the original woodland extent remains. Nevertheless, in recognition of the enormous area that has been cleared or altered, the different types of Yellow Box – Red Gum Grassy Woodlands are declared Critically Endangered Ecological Communities under Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation.

As part of the national effort to conserve endangered woodlands the ACT Government has established several nature reserves that protect box-gum woodlands around Canberra.

In 1995, the Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve was established in north-eastern Gunghalin, adjacent to the ACT/NSW border following a community-led campaign to protect its box-gum grassy woodlands and fauna (especially birds). The Reserve covers approximately 750 hectares and has become a popular location for bushwalking, bird watching and other nature-based activities.

In 2004 a similar area of box-gum grassy woodland southeast of Mulligans Flat was protected in Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve. Together the two reserves (totalling about 1500 hectares) make up the largest and most intact contiguous area of Yellow Box – Red Gum Grassy Woodland reserve in public ownership across the original range of this community type in Australia.

In 2005, following the establishment of a major woodland research collaboration between the ACT government, ANU and CSIRO in the two adjacent reserves, the potential for Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve to include a cat and fox free Sanctuary was highlighted to facilitate the reintroduction of species that had disappeared from these woodlands.

Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary

Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary is situated within the Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve. The Sanctuary is owned by the ACT Government, is part of the ACT’s nature reserve system and is managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service as one of the many areas that are known collectively as Canberra Nature Park.

In 2006, the ACT Government announced its intention to build a rabbit, cat and fox proof fence Sanctuary at Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, with the expectation of reintroducing ACT fauna that have become locally extinct.

Construction of the Sanctuary fence commenced in November 2008 and in 2009, an 11.5km feral-proof fence was built and officially ‘closed’ at a ceremony conducted by the ACT Chief Minister, Mr Jon Stanhope MLA.

Work then began on removing feral animals and bringing back our lost native species.

In 2012, Eastern Bettongs were reintroduced into Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary. This marked the first time in a century that this species was living in the wild on mainland Australia.

View of Mulligans Flat from Goorooyarroo: Photo: Adrian Manning