New reserve for South Australia

By Rebecca Baker 9 June 2010
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The government has declared a new conservation area in a region home to peregrine falcons and many vulnerable species.

THE PEREGRINE FALCON, DUSKY hopping mouse and gibber dragon are just some of the species further protected after Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett launched South Australia’s Witchelina reserve this week.

The reserve, a former sheep and cattle station, was bought with joint government and private investment. The Government put up $2 million, while the rest of the funds were supplied by South Australia’s largest conservation charity, Nature Foundation SA, and private donations.

Nature Foundation president David Moyle said the foundation will actively manage the newly protected land as part of Australia’s National Reserve System. “Witchelina will remain an important part of the local community in its new role as a reserve,” he says. “We’ll be working with neighbouring landholders to maintain boundary fencing and establish effective feral animal control and generally to discuss the management strategy for the property.”

Wildlife lifeline

Despite many species’ ability to thrive in extreme conditions, Peter says, Witchelina and the surrounding region endures drought and feral animal infestation, so the Nature Foundation’s rescue mission is a lifeline for native wildlife. “In this International Year of Biodiversity, Witchelina is a much-needed wildlife refuge in arid Australia, and I applaud the Nature Foundation for rolling up their sleeves to nurture it back to health,” Peter says.

The land set aside for conservation sits south-east of Lake Eyre National Park and covers 4200 square kilometres of desert. It is the largest property ever purchased for the National Reserve System through the Government program Caring for our Country.

“The Witchelina project is a wonderful initiative, which hopefully will preserve an area of important and irreplaceable natural heritage,” says David Mitchell, president of the South Australian-based Friends of Parks organisation.

Habitat Corridor

Witchelina reserve also increases the habitat protection in two of Australia’s biologically important regions, the Flinders Lofty Block and the Stony Plains, which form a protected habitat corridor from Lake Torrens in South Australia and into the Northern Territory.

Much of this region contains more than thirty nationally threatened plant species including Spalding blown grass, spidery wattle and pink spider-orchids. The area also includes river red gums and acacia scrubs, which provide habitat for rare bird species such as the vulnerable thick-billed grass wren and the blue winged parrot.

The stony plains and red sand dunes are also home to important populations of nationally threatened mammals and reptiles, such as the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, southern brown bandicoot and pygmy bluetongue.

Bush Blitz has also offered its helping hands to the Nature Foundation in their fight to protect these animals and the surrounding environment. The project is a $10 million partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton, Earthwatch and the Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network, that sends research teams to document and discover the species in the National Reserve System. Nature Foundation SA CEO, Jim McHugh, says that the survey is a critical first step in the management of Witchelina.  “If we don’t know what is there now, how can we measure the success of the project for conservation, in the future?”

The partnership will be sending scientists to Witchelina reserve to complete the first ever survey of the areas rare plants and animals later this year.