Gleanings From The Journals: Who Was Our First Conservation Officer?

As the following article indicates there is much to be learnt from the old journals so much so that from time to time there will be a series of posts titled Gleanings from the Journals.

This first of the series was taken from Volume 36 No 10, November 2012 Journal of the Native Orchid of South Australia.

WHO WAS OUR FIRST CONSERVATION OFFICER?

Recently I’ve been looking over the old NOSSA Journals. I like (my husband says addictive!) reading history and even more reading original source material, so it’s not surprising that I’ve enjoyed this activity. There are some lovely gems in them. I like to read about the people, which brings me to the title of this article – Who was our first Conservation Officer?

Well if you ask Thelma Bridle, she’ll say that it was Karen Possingham but when I read in the April 1984 edition, I see that Margaret Fuller is said to be “the initiator of the Conservation Group” back in 1982. Margaret had a long involvement with the Bird Care and Conservation Group. She headed the NOSSA group who collaborated with the Education Department to produce Pic-a-Pac, an orchid teaching package for the schools.

Yet was Margaret the first? For I then read of two foundational members. Roy Hargreaves who is described as a “keen conservationist, ambassador and liaison person with numerous groups including SGAP, OCSA, Parks and Wildlife, the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, Black Hill Flora Research Centre, … an initiator of the R. S. Rogers Orchid House.” The other is Ron Robjohns who “drafted the Society’s Constitution and By-laws and formulated the Society’s Conservation Policy.” But ….. there is a third contender amongst the founding members – Peter Hornsby, the Society’s first editor and an organiser of field trips. Peter was always putting articles in the Journals relating to conservation. A keen conservationist and current member, he resigned his role as editor in 1981 to “concentrate on his study of the behaviour of the Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby in the North Flinders Ranges.” And yet we could continue for there were other foundational members who took a keen interest in conservation.

So who was our first Conservation Officer? Well, Thelma is right. It was Karen Possingham. She was the first one to have the title Conservation Officer when she was appointed to the role in March 1992 – fifteen years after the founding of the Society, and remained in that role until May 1997 when she became a councillor with the Burnside City Council. Karen formalised many activities, organizing bi-monthly meetings, Conservation Booths at the various NOSSA shows, lobbying, weeding, etc

Below is her report of their first meeting.

CONSERVATION GROUP PRIORITIES SET                                       K. Possingham

The first meeting of the 1992 NOSSA Orchid Conservation Sub-Committee was held on Wednesday 15th April. The following priorities were set at the meeting:

1) Lobby politicians; resolution to write letters to the Minister of the Environment, to National Parks and Wildlife, Department of Environmental Planning, Woods and Forests and Leaders of the Opposition Parties, and request a meeting in July to discuss Orchid Conservation strategy.

Liaise with other Conservation groups such as the Conservation Council; join at first as an Association Member and find out about South Australia’s conservation concerns and needs.

3) Monitor Hills Zone development; – liaise with Mt. Lofty Ranges Conservation Association.

4) Prioritise high risk sites that are not managed properly and in danger of clearance, habitat degradation etc.

5) In short term adopt a Reserve such as Belair National Park in order to monitor known Orchid populations, raise Society profile and provide assistance in weeding and other such requirements. This will provide conservation experience for members. There is easy access to Belair from Adelaide and the park and conservation activities should appeal to younger members as well as older members: we’ll be doing something concrete!

6) Possibility to apply for funding from Endangered Species Program, World Wildlife Fund and Save the Bush, to work on endangered orchids.

7) Education: area at Warrawong to be fenced off from animals for native orchids to be established and protected.

Meetings are to be held bi-monthly: Next meeting will be held on Wednesday, 10th June at 8

P.M. Anyone is welcome. Enquiries Karen Possingham, Conservation Officer, ph 364 0671.

Karen remained involved with the Conservation Group until the family moved to Queensland in 2000 where her husband Hugh took a chair in the departments of Mathematics and Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland. Prior to leaving Adelaide, Hugh had been President of the Nature Conservation Council, Professor of Environmental Science and Management at Adelaide University and instrumental in initiating biodiversity planning in South Australia. Hugh has made various trips back to Adelaide will be back here on 27th November to talk about Citizen Science prior to the Uni SA and ABC 891 Great Koala Count the next day.

I have wandered a bit from Karen as NOSSA’s first Conservation Officer but from what I can see in reading the Journals Hugh and Karen worked together in conservation and though no longer in South Australia are still actively involved in conservation. The objectives of that first meeting Karen left with NOSSA and continues to this day, albeit with changes to adapt to current issues and thinking.

Protect Our Orchids – Stay on the Path

This week there was a workshop South Lofty Block Orchid Recovery Project with representatives from Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management, SA Water, Forestry SA, Park Rangers, Threatened Plant Action Group and NOSSA. Many issues were discussed. One issue briefly discussed was the development of unofficial bike and walking tracks in parks and the negative impact that this would have on rare and endangered orchids.

This issue is not unique to Australia, the American Orchid Society whose mantra is Education, Conservation and Research published in their journal Orchid February 2008 a summary article titled Watch Your Step: Possible Consequences of Walking off the Trail.  The authors are Maryilyn H.S. Light and Michael Mcconaill and the original paper can be found in the Lankesteriana 7:294 – 298  Click on the titles to read the articles.

The researchers studied the effects of visiting a site once a day and standing in the same spot for 10 minutes ie the effects of trampling. Their research suggested that there are possible longer term consequences as they found that the effects of compaction was still observable 18 months later. This does not seem like much but it was sufficient for them to offer some advice such as

  • stay on the tracks,
  • don’t walk on the side as even walking on the side of the track can result in unintended damage as the track is widened,
  • when one person walks off the track others are likely to follow
  • think carefully of the consequences before walking off the track
  • where possible step on rocks, not soil

The research was carried out in Canada and though there are differences between the two countries, there are so many similarities it is worth our while to take note of their advice.

Possibly there is scope for research here in South Australia but in the meantime their summary sentence says it all – Until we know what is happening beneath our feet, we should really watch our step

Stay on the Path
Fortunately our orchids like the edges of paths and so the are easy to spot.  But at the same time, trampling on the edge of the paths means that the orchids can be destroyed and so be lost forever.

Related Article

Orchid Etiquette – Tread Carefully

Understanding the Conservation Status of South Australia Orchids

Endangered, Threatened or Rare?

Sometimes a particular species of orchid is said to be rare or endangered, for instance Thelymitra circumsepta* is listed as endangered in South Australia but has no listing federally whilst the endemic Prasophyllym murfetii* is listed as Critically Endangered federally but only Endangered in South Australia.

Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel's Leek Orchid)
Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel’s Leek Orchid)

What do these listings mean and why are they different for the same species?

What are the Conservation Categories?

Conservation listing by governments gives species a legal status, which can then be used to determine the type of consideration to be given to individual species in decision-making processes for species conservation.

In South Australia, the two main legislations affecting native orchids are the state National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW) and the national Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPB). There is also the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List which is used for international treaties. Each has their own set of categories resulting in terms with slightly different meanings.

The IUCN classification is quite detailed but in summary the conservation status used are

  • Extinct – not seen for fifty years or despite intensive searching not seen at a previously known site
  • Extinct in the Wild – no natural populations exist; only surviving in cultivation
  • Critically Endangered – known only from a single non-viable population
  • Endangered – in danger of extinction unless the factors causing decline are arrested
  • Vulnerable – likely to become endangered if the only large populations is wiped out for whatever reason
  • Near Threatened – close to qualifying or likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future
  • Least Concern
  • Data Deficient
  • Not Evaluated

The Australian Federal government, under Section 179 of the EPBC Act, has six categories

  • Extinct – no reasonable doubt that the species has died out
  • Extinct in the Wild – no natural population existing, surviving in cultivation
  • Critically Endangered – faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future
  • Endangered – faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future
  • Vulnerable – faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term future
  • Conservation Dependent – if the cessation of a specific conservation program ceased the species could become vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered

South Australia uses three categories based on the categories from the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.

  • Endangered (Schedule 7) – includes Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild and Extinct
  • Vulnerable (Schedule 8)
  • Rare (Schedule 9) – this is a South Australian term not recognised elsewhere but the criteria are consistent with the IUCN Near Threatened category and refers to uncommon species that are naturally limited in location or are in decline. Hence it is possible for a species to be common interstate but threatened in South Australia, for example Anzybas unguiculatus* is rated rare.
07 sm JP Anzybas unguiculatus 2
Anzybas unguiculatus (Little Pelican or Cherry Helmet Orchids)

Another term that is frequently used is Threatened. For the IUCN Threatened encompasses the three categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable. It means that a species rated as threatened with extinction under these three categories may have different degrees of threat – note the adjectives in the IUCN definitions above. This serves as a guideline for its usage in South Australia. It should also be noted that Threatened and Rare are not interchangeable but a species rated Rare may be threatened by outside influences.

There is another level of conservation which is the regional status. This level does not have any legal standing but it is helpful in managing the species. The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria are used to assign a regional conservation status. This is helpful in managing species at this level.

Why does a species have different Conservation Categories?

Looking through Part Two of South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011, it is not uncommon to find a species with two different conservation statuses. It is not surprising when they have the same status eg Arachnorchis behrii* is rated Endangered both state and nationally but why are the others different? Some of this is due to the different number of categories – six federally but only three at the state level so Diplodium bryophilum* is nationally Critically Endangered but only Endangered in South Australia as there is no critically Endangered category. Others have a state status but no national status, for example the endemic Diuris brevifolia* is rated Endangered. Curiously there are no endemic species with the combination of a national status but no state status, although there are five non-endemic species found in South Australia that do have this combination.

Diuris brevifolia (Late Donkey Orchid)
Diuris brevifolia (Late Donkey Orchid)

This comes about because there are two different bodies determining the statuses through two very different processes.

Nationally under the EPBC Act any individual can nominate a species which is assessed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, put out for public comment, changes adjusted as necessary and then the recommendations are passed onto the Minister who approves or rejects the nomination.

In South Australia, DEWNR (Department Environment Water and Natural Resources) initiates the process by asking the experts, compiling data, holding workshops with the experts. A report is written for the National Parks and Wildlife Council outlining the changes under the NPW Threatened Species Schedules. Once the changes are approved, it is sent to the Minister for approval before being released for public comment. After any necessary adjustments the report is then sent to the South Australian Parliamentary Cabinet for final approval.

Both processes check the species under consideration against the IUCN criteria.

How many South Australian orchids are under threat?

On 22nd July 2014, Doug Bickerton presented a talk at the Native Orchid Society on the conservation status of South Australian orchids. The comparison between the State and Federal listings was as follows:

Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the NPW Act (State)

  • 77 species Endangered
  • 33 species Vulnerable
  • 32 species Rare

A total of 142 species or 49% of all South Australian orchids are recognised to be under threat.

Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the EPBC Act (Federal)

  • 4 Critically Endangered
  • 22 Endangered
  • 19 Vulnerable

A total of 45 species for the State have a Federal government legal conservation status.

The fact that one authority recognises a species and the other authority does not doesn’t mitigate against the seriousness of the threat to that species. The fact that a species does not have a conservation status from either authority does not mean that it is not under threat. It could still be in danger of extinction.

Cryptostylis subulata (Moose Orchid)
Cryptostylis subulata (Moose Orchid) State Conservation Status: Vulnerable National Conservation Status: not listed

Currently in South Australian there is a State-wide assessment underway and the results will be published in 2016.

This article was inspired and is based upon notes taken from a talk given by Doug Bickerton in 2014 at the Native Orchid Society of South Australia. I would like to thank Thelma Bridle, Conservation Officer, Native Orchid Society of South Australia, for her help.

*Based on information found in South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011

References:

South Australia’s Native Orchids Bates 2011

http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species#categories accessed 13th November 2015

http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/managing-natural-resources/Plants_Animals/Threatened_species_ecological_communities/Conservation_status_of_threatened_species/State accessed 13th November 2015

IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES AND CRITERIA Version 3.1 Second edition Prepared by the IUCN Species Survival Commission As approved by the 51st meeting of the IUCN Council Gland, Switzerland 9 February 2000

 

Orchids come in ‘under par’ at Grange Golf course

With the development of cities here in Australia, many of our orchids were lost as habitat was cleared and the newly arrived settlers built houses and reconstructed the gardens they knew from the Old World; but the odd pocket of native bushland has survived.  Cemeteries and golf courses have often been the only refuge for remnant bushland.  One such refuge has been The Pinery, Grange Golf Club, the only known location of Oligochaetochilus arenicola (syn. Pterostylis arenicola) on the Adelaide Plains.  In the National Parks and Wildlife Act, this orchid is scheduled as vulnerable. The Golf Club left this site intact and has been supportive of the conservation efforts of the Threatened Plant Action Group who in turn have received assistance from the Native Orchid Society of SA and the Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges.

Typical of the rufus hood this Oligochaetochilus arenicola shows the sencesing leaves, pendent petals and hairs on the labellum. Photographer: H Lawrence
Typical of the rufushoods, this Oligochaetochilus arenicola shows the sencesing leaves, pendent petals and hairs on the labellum.
Photographer: H Lawrence

Below is a media release from the Natural Resources, Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges

Orchids come in ‘under par’ at Grange Golf course

News release
30 September 2015

A tiny remnant population of rare orchids which survives in a patch of bush on Grange Golf Course has increased 50% since last year, according to a new survey.

The survey conducted this month found 1200 individuals of the Sandhill Greenhood Orchid (Pterostyllis arenicola), a nationally threatened species which is considered critically endangered in the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges region.

When surveys began 20 years ago, only about 100 plants survived at this site. But the latest survey has revealed the population is steadily increasing

The orchid comeback is thanks to decades of care by four groups involved with the annual survey: the Threatened Plant Action Group, the Native Orchid Society of SA, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges, and with support from the Grange Golf Club.

The tiny fragment of native pine bushland in the middle of Grange Golf Course is one of the only known locations of this species within the entire Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges region, with other small populations known from near Wellington and Tailem Bend.

The orchid grows 10cm-25 cm high and produces hood-shaped flowers that are green and brown or red-brown with white markings. Most species of orchid flower for only a short period and for the Sandhill Greenhood, it will flower only for the next few weeks.

Grange Golf Course just happens to provide ideal conditions for the plant: red sandy soils and an over-story of native cypress pine trees.

Dedicated project partners have tackled the main threat to orchids – suffocation by Perennial Veldt Grass and Soursob weeds – through years of patient hand weeding.

The orchid comeback is a great success story of collaboration across the community to save one of our state’s tiny floral gems.

As a demonstration of nature’s interdependence, conserving the Sandhill Greenhood also means conserving a particular mycorrhizal fungus that must be in the soil for Sandhill Greenhood seeds to germinate. In addition, the flowers must be pollinated by a particular type of insect, the fungus gnat. The gnat is attracted by the orchid’s pheromones and tries to mate with the flower, only to find itself loaded up with a packet of pollen which it then transfers to the next flower as it continues its romantic adventures.

While the survey results are good news, the Sandhill Greenhood population is still precariously small, and it is hoped that as the population grows, so do the options to secure the species into the future.

South Australia has over 260 species of orchids, including 50 species of greenhood.

For a free colourful field guide to local orchids, go to http://www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/adelaidemtloftyranges/home and search for ‘orchid’.

Help Save South East Austalia’s Unique and Threatened Orchids

Australian orchids are special but Australian orchids have been disappearing from our landscape.  Throughout the country individuals and groups are attempting various conservation methods to help save our orchids.  One such group is Dr Nouska Reiter and her team from Orchid Conservation Program, and arm of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation Inc

Dr Nouska Reiter is seeking to raise money for a conservation laboratory to cultivate threatened orchids for reintroduction into the bushland.  She has a month left; so for details about the project and on how to help, go to Help save South East Australia’s unique and threatened orchids!

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