Small Talk Spring 2017

In this issue

Secret lives of small mammals on the Fleurieu – Can you identify the many small Australian mammals that are so important to healthy ecosystems?

Defend your dung beetles – We must take care of them so they’ll take care of the dung

Managing spring pasture, and weeds –  How do you stop those weeds becoming a major problem?

Community call to action on Spiny Rush – It can smother existing vegetation and provide a habitat for rabbits and foxes

Living with snakes – How to manage them

Events – Find out what landholder events are planned for this spring

Handy hint – Focus on Flora

Things to do in spring – Get your property ready for the spring season


Secret lives of small mammals on the Fleurieu

Dr Elisa Sparrow, Ecologist, and Jeff Edwards, Sustainable Agriculture Officer, Fleurieu and Willunga Basin, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges

Yellow-footed Antechinus at Kangarilla. Photo: Elisa Sparrow  

Yellow-footed Antechinus at Kangarilla. Photo: Elisa Sparrow

Almost everyone can identify an echidna, a kangaroo or a koala, but how about the many small Australian mammals that are so important to healthy ecosystems?

Kangarilla Landcare Group and field staff at Natural Resources AMLR are raising the profile and understanding of some Southern Mount Lofty Ranges natives – Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes), Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus), Water Rat (Hydroxyls chrysogaster), Yellow-footed Antechinus (Antechinus flavipes), Western Pygmy Possum (Cercartetus concinnus) and Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus obesulus).

Why are these mammals so important?

Many small mammals are ‘ecosystem engineers’ – they help to maintain the health and stability of the environment they live in. Bandicoots are an example of the excellent diggers that improve soil quality and help native plants to germinate.

These species are locally classified as rare or endangered and they are no longer as widespread as they once were in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges region.

Land clearance, over-grazing and predation from introduced species such as cats and foxes, have all contributed to the decline of these species. They are also often mistaken for introduced black rats or house mice, and inadvertently poisoned through baiting or trapping. Their best protection is your awareness and recognition.

How are we helping to raise awareness?

In a recent set of workshops at Kangarilla and Myponga, more than 50 land managers heard from Fleurieu and Willunga Ecologist Dr Elisa Sparrow on how to look for and identify some lesser-known small locals.

The workshops, ‘Uncovering the secret lives of small mammals on the Fleurieu’, gave participants skills to:

  • more confidently identify local native mammals, and distinguish them from pest species
  • better understand conservation status, ecology, behaviour, distribution and habitat requirements
  • identify bandicoot diggings and signs of other native mammals
  • set-up and use motion sensor cameras to detect small mammals

The workshops shared many practical and creative ideas for managing habitat. Participants leaned about current conservation work in the region, including reintroducing nest boxes for Pygmy Possums, and trialling Black Rat baiting stations that don’t poison native rats.

Since the workshops, Natural Resources AMLR staff have been supporting property owners, local schools and land managers to set up sensor cameras to identify species on their properties, and then manage the vegetation and/or pest animal baiting regime accordingly. 

Know our small mammals

Yellow-footed Antechinus

  • Marsupials with distinctive white ring around the eye, pointed snout, and yellow belly and feet
  • Look ‘mouse-ish’ and could be found in your cupboard pilfering food but, no ‘mouse’ smell, and body and poos bigger than mouse

Easily confused with:

  • Introduced Black Rat - very long tail (longer than head plus body)
  • Native Water Rat - long tails with white tip
  • Native Bush and Swamp rats - shorter tail (equal or shorter than head plus body)

Protect our small mammals

  • Be a responsible pet owner: Keep your cats indoors – they are major predators of all these small mammal species
  • Protect native vegetation on your property (e.g. fencing to reduce stock grazing pressure)
  • Ask your local Natural Resources AMLR district officer or ecologist for help with identifying species on your property, and advice on management

Natural Resources AMLR updates information often on the mammals we are protecting. Visit the website for more information on the Southern Brown Bandicoot and other plants and animals of conservation significance, and keep an eye out for more workshops being planned on this topic.

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Defend your dung beetles

Ruby Wake, Sustainable Agriculture, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges

Onthophaqus ferox Harold 1867. Photo: CSIRO

Onthophaqus ferox Harold 1867. Photo: CSIRO

An average sized horse can produce up to 20 kilograms of dung daily, and a bull up to twice that much – that’s a lot to clean up!

Luckily we have dung beetles to help us out, but we must take care of them so they’ll take care of the dung.

Dung beetles eat dung juices, and then bury the drier fibres underground to use as a nest for their eggs. This process of storing dung in underground tunnels helps promote pasture growth and improves soil health by:

  • burying nutrients and organic matter
  • mixing surface soils and subsoils
  • increasing soil permeability
  • encouraging earthworm activity
  • minimising the need for fertiliser
  • reducing soil compaction

Dung beetle activity also controls dung-related pests and diseases, reduces the nutrients in runoff, and stores carbon in the soil, helping to mitigate climate change.

The dung beetle diet consists solely of fresh (>1–2 days old) dung, and populations can persist (without adding extra beetles) for years if their food source and habitat is suitable. However, if the dung contains high levels of some veterinary or agricultural chemicals, the survival of your dung beetle population may be at risk.

Veterinary chemicals

Dung beetles are vulnerable to many veterinary chemicals in drenches, vaccines and antibiotics. The most dangerous are those used to kill parasitic intestinal worms, and those that travel through an animal’s gut and remain in the dung. Some chemicals can make dung toxic to beetles for up to 30 days after stock treatment. 

Management

  • Consider alternative, chemical-free strategies to managing gut parasites, such as rotational grazing, cross grazing and biocontrol
  • Choose beetle-friendly chemicals like moxidectin, or those that are excreted in urine rather than in dung
  • In South Australia, apply chemicals during spring or autumn when dung beetles are scarce

Agricultural chemicals

Studies have shown that some insecticidal chemicals pose a threat to dung beetle survival, and can kill beetles even after a 5-day lag between spray and beetle exposure.

Management

  • Wait at least a week before re-introducing domestic stock to recently treated pastures
  • Consider integrated pest management and biocontrol measures instead of heavy chemical applications

Planning to protect dung beetles

Create a sound plan to protect your dung beetle populations and preserve their great benefits for your farm and local ecosystem.

Talk to your neighbours about these management strategies – dung beetles fly between paddocks, and a wider area approach will bring the most benefit.

Consult Dung down under by Bernard Doube and Tim Marshall for more information on the ecology and management of dung beetles in Australia.

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Managing spring pasture, and weeds

James Donnelly, Acting Regional Animal and Plant Control Coordinator, AMLR

Bridal Veil. Photo: Tim Parkinson

Bridal Veil. Photo: Tim Parkinson

Winter merges into spring. The days are longer, temperatures are warmer and rain is still nourishing your land. On your small property, the pasture responds with bumper growth. But, so do the weeds.

How do you stop those weeds becoming a major problem when you have little flexibility with livestock and little in the way of machinery?

Herbicides are the most common control techniques. They seem to be the best option because they act fast and are relatively cost effective. But are they always the best choice?

Inappropriate chemical control can be of great risk to you and the environment, and continual use could lead to herbicide resistance. Herbicides have their place but need planning and timing – and the correct herbicide for each situation – to maximise their effectiveness and minimise costs and risks. And other solutions might work better.

During the cooler months cut and swab (cutting a plant off at ground level and swabbing a herbicide onto the stump to kill the root system) woody weeds such as Broom, Olive, Hawthorn and Gorse.

For small plants, brush-cut or hand-pull the weeds before they set seed and leave to break down in situ. Take care that they are not species that can regrow from vegetative parts. Never allow seeds and root fragments to spread into bushland, paddocks or watercourses.

At this time of year, watch out for several weed species and manage them appropriately.

In the paddock

Many pasture weeds, such as Cape Weed, Cats Ear, Salvation Jane and some thistles, germinated several months ago and are generally too large to kill effectively with herbicide now. Try other options such as green manuring (slashing paddocks to reduce seed set), a salvage spray (designed to reduce or even stop the plant from setting seed) or using livestock in a spray–graze approach.

Heavy grazing for short periods at this time of year can help control annual grasses such as Barley Grass, Silver Grass and Wild Oat.

Some weeds in your paddock, such as Cape tulip, can pose a risk to livestock.

Cape tulip is the common name for two highly toxic and declared plants that produce pink to salmon coloured flowers from August to September.

All parts of both One-Leaf Cape Tulip and Two-Leaf Cape Tulip are toxic to all types of grazing animals.

Successful control depends on several factors. It requires persistence and a variety of control methods such as foliar spraying, blanket wiping and hand removal. Using a combination of these methods will produce the best results.

Bulbil Watsonia. Photo: Kate Blood

Bulbil Watsonia. Photo: Kate Blood

In the bush

Bulb weeds are difficult to control. Ask for advice on methods and timing for controlling bulb weeds.

Bulbil Watsonia is a bulbous perennial, a persistent invader of bushland and roadsides, and is a declared plant pest. Flat strappy leaves are a common feature of bulb weeds but Watsonia is taller than other common bulb weeds in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges region, such as Sporaxis, Freesia and Three-cornered Garlic.

Some bushland weeds are easy to spot. Boneseed, another declared weed, has bright yellow daisy-like blooms. It is relatively easy to hand pull when the soil is moist.

Other weeds may seem innocent enough until they become established and threaten biodiversity and habitat values. Creepers such as Bridal Veil, Bridal Creeper, Ivy and Bluebell Creeper are difficult to control once established and applying herbicide to these weeds can often lead to off target damage to native plants. Hand pulling creepers off natives and out of the ground can help exhaust the bulbs’ energy over time if the outbreak is small and isolated. If the infestation is large ask for advice from your local Natural Resources office.

Weed information

The Board’s YouTube channel (click the link on our web page: www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au and search ‘weeds’) shows the weeds mentioned here and many more. Each video explains why the plant is a pest, describes the plant and its biology, and demonstrates the most common and suitable techniques for its control in the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Region.

The Board’s website holds vast information, including factsheets, working with schools, community groups and land management issues – all available at the click of a button.               

For more information on weed identification, controlling weeds or land management, contact your local Natural Resources office at Black Hill (ph 8336 0901), Willunga (ph 8550 3400) or Gawler (ph 8523 7700) for advice.

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Community call to action on Spiny Rush

Sheree Bowman, Principal Consultant, TS Environmental Consulting

Landholders attending a Spiny Rush workshop with Sheree Bowman. Photo: Kim Thompson

Landholders attending a Spiny Rush workshop with Sheree Bowman. Photo: Kim Thompson

In the late 1990s members of the Upper River Torrens Landcare Group took a spring walk along the disused railway corridor between Birdwood and Mount Pleasant. They came across a plant they hadn’t seen before and knew it was a weed because of its immediate invasive distribution.

The action the group began that day for managing Spiny Rush continues today.

The Landcare group began to learn about the plant, its biology, growth habit and local distribution, and, most importantly, control options. They started control of the weed on some sites and over time sought government support and grant funding to manage spiny rush.

Over the last decade, a serious control effort by the Landcare group, the AMLR NRM Board and land managers has significantly reduced the weed across the district. They all know much more now about the weed and its distribution, and the most effective ways to control it.

Recently, the local community in the Upper Torrens area asked Natural Resources AMLR to run two field days to spread the word on what has been learnt over the years. Landholders left knowing how to identify Spiny Rush and the best ways to control it – and feeling united in the prospect of a community led offensive against Spiny Rush.

The community-led program has seen individual site visits and expert advice to landholders tackling the issue. Most landholders are now keen to control the weed this upcoming season.

A Juncus like no other

Spiny rush (Juncus acutus) invades damp places and infrequently inundated watercourses on the coast and inland. It can form dense impenetrable thickets that smother existing vegetation and provide a habitat for rabbits and foxes. Its sharp spines project at many angles and restrict movement of stock, machinery and humans. It is unpalatable to stock.

Spiny Rush is a declared plant under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004. It is illegal to sell or move the plant (including in cut hay) and landholders must control plants on their property.

The dark green, dense tussock plant usually grows up to 1.5 metres high but sometimes can reach 2 metres. It is identified by its very sharp spines and its relatively large clustered chestnut coloured fruit. The fruit is a 3-celled brown capsule, each holding up to 200 seeds. The growth habit of Spiny Rush gives the plant a characteristic globe shape. Spiny Rush can be easily confused with native rushes including Sea Rush (Juncus kraisii), Pale Rush (Juncus pallidus) and Knobby Club Rush (Ficinia nodosa). Make sure your identification is correct before starting any control program.

Spiny rush infestation

Spiny Rush infestation at Mount Pleasant. Photo: Sheree Bowman

Best practice control methods

Effective Spiny Rush control programs are suited to their site. An eradication program takes at least three years, without any plants seeding, because that is the period seed is viable in the soil. As Spiny Rush often grows in a watercourse or damp area, exercise caution in all control efforts, including herbicide application and mechanical removal. If in doubt, engage a licensed spray operator or get advice from Natural Resources AMLR staff.

Herbicide spray application

Spiny Rush can be sprayed using a glyphosate® based herbicide 360 g/L such as Round-up Biactive® or Weedmaster® DUO at 200 mL per 10 litres (2%). The herbicide works more effectively with a penetrant such as Pulse® added. It’s best to apply herbicide during the warmer months (summer–autumn) when the plants are actively growing and there is less surface water present. When spraying Spiny Rush apply the herbicide to 100% of the plant. The best way to do this is by slowly walking around each individual plant as much as possible while spraying. Exercise caution when spraying near or in watercourses as herbicide can adversely affect the health of native fauna and compromise water quality in the catchment.

Mechanical removal

Small Spiny Rush plants can be removed by hand, but only if 100% of the root mass can be removed – Spiny Rush can vegetatively re-shoot and grow from small pieces of the fibrous crown. Do not manually remove large plants or infestations. Manual removal promotes the seeds in the soil to germinate, and can degrade watercourse areas.

Slashing or burning

Slashing or burning alone will not control spiny rush but is effective combined with a herbicide spray program. Slash or burn plants then wait for adequate regrowth before spraying with herbicide. This technique opens up areas around the plants for increased germination of Spiny Rush seeds. You’ll use less herbicide and are less likely to damage the waterway environment.

Competition

Establishing native revegetation or a strong, competitive, well-managed pasture that is tolerant of salt and waterlogging, significantly reduces space for Spiny Rush seedlings to grow.

Prevention through hygiene

Contain Spiny Rush seed to stop new infestations and the spread of existing infestations, by exercising caution when moving mechanically removed plants and employing vehicle and equipment hygiene measures.

Spiny Rush seed head. Photo: T Bowman

Spiny Rush seed head. Photo: T Bowman

Recent efforts to control Spiny Rush by private landholders and NRM authorities have significantly reduced the weed cover across the district. Control trials on private properties have informed best practice management and shown that with a concerted effort Spiny Rush can be contained.

Landholders in the Upper Torrens area and elsewhere are encouraged to report new infestations and seek advice on control. For further advice and identification please contact your local Natural Resource Centre, Black Hill (ph 8336 0901), Willunga (ph 8550 3400) or Gawler (ph 8523 7700).

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Living with snakes

Peter Mirtschin, Managing Director, Ophiobioscience Pty Ltd  

The Common Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis is an efficient hunter of rodents accounting for a significant proportion of their total cull. Photo: Peter Mirtschin

The Common Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis is an efficient hunter of rodents accounting for a significant proportion of their total cull. Photo: Peter Mirtschin

Spring is the time for snakes to become active again, and for thinking about how to live with them.

The danger real or imagined

The main thing to know is that snake bite is rare and death is even rarer. A little knowledge and a lot of awareness are your main defences against snake bite:

  • Don’t approach or handle or disturb snakes. Leave them alone
  • Do not place any part of your body in any area where visibility is poor
  • Use a torch or other lighting when moving around at night
  • When you see a snake, keep movements slow, never sudden
  • If snakes have to be removed, call a snake catcher
  • Monitor young children and pets
  • Keep pets in snake-proof enclosures when they are unattended, and avoid the veterinary bills

The benefits of snakes

Snakes are very efficient rodent catchers, and keep the rodent population, and our pesticide use, down. Snakes help keep a predator–prey balance. They form part of the natural biodiversity in our local environment.

The risks of snakes

Anecdotal evidence indicates that we probably increase risks to ourselves by removing or killing snakes. New snakes move in. They take a while to adapt to us and our movements, and are far more likely to bite if we inadvertently approach them. Formal research has not been conducted to prove this is the case.

Removing snakes

It’s your decision whether or not to remove snakes. In certain workplaces, houses, bird aviaries or some sheds, snakes do need to be removed. However, in poultry pens they control rodents without worrying the chickens or eating their eggs. They can live in harmony with most people in many situations. More and more people are doing this, and enjoying and benefitting from the presence of snakes.

If you do decide to remove snakes, use snake catchers unless you have adequate training. Snake catchers are formally trained to safely catch snakes and remove them from areas where they are not wanted.

A Red Bellied Black snake caught in bird netting. Unless removed it will die of exposure. Photo: Mike Grieg

A Red Bellied Black snake caught in bird netting. Unless removed it will die of exposure. Photo: Mike Grieg

Snake hazards

Bird netting

The bird netting we use to protect fruit on trees or other plants from bird attack, is extremely hazardous to snakes when in contact with the ground. As the snake tries to crawl though the netting, the mesh is trapped behind the snake’s scales and it becomes caught. Thousands of snakes get caught this way each year and many die slowly from exposure to radiant heat from the sun. Some fishing nets lying around can trap snakes in the same way.

Set your bird netting a small distance above the ground to reduce the chance of snakes trying to go through the netting. When the netting is not in use, store it above ground in the shed.

If you find a snake caught in bird netting, call a snake catcher to remove it.  

Pesticides and herbicides

The most serious risk to snakes are rodenticides with the active ingredient of warfarin (coumarin) or an anticholinesterase. They can cause fatal secondary poisoning after snakes consume poisoned rodents.

Some herbicides used in controlling weeds are toxic to amphibians and most of our large South Australian elapid snakes prey on them. Secondary poisoning in snakes has not been demonstrated but it is possible.

Snakes and our environment

Snakes are part of a viable South Australian environment and its diverse animal life. Forcing them into extinction will only add to the growing list of lost species. They are fascinating creatures and simply want a place to live their lives.

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Events

Landholder events are supported by funding from your NRM levy and the Australian Government.

Sign up for our monthly landholder events calendar for a list of upcoming field days, workshops and courses run by Natural Resources, community groups and industry groups by emailing caroline.dorr@sa.gov.au.

To view the latest calendar, click the link under the Education tab at www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/adelaidemtloftyranges.

If you would like Natural Resources staff to run a specific event for your organisation, please get in touch with any of the contacts in the column on the right.

Courses

Watercourse management – Hahndorf region
September/October, dates to be confirmed
Check the AMLR calendar for more information or email caroline.dorr@sa.gov.au to register your interest.

Field days/Forums

Hooded Plover conservation workshop
Sunday 10 September, 9.15am–3.00pm
Sellicks Beach Community Hall
Contact: bnb.events@birdlfe.org.au
Phone: (03) 9347 0757

2017 State Community Landcare Conference
11–13 September
Clare, South Australia

Small mammal workshops
Dates to be confirmed
Email Elisa Sparrow to register your interest

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Handy hint - Focus on Flora

Katrina Hewitt, Regional Landcare Facilitator, AMLR

Focus on flora cover

The cover of Focus on Flora.

Kersbrook Landcare Group has compiled 230 of the most common Adelaide Hills flowering plants into one easy-to-use book.

The 330 page book, Focus on flora: Native plants of the Adelaide Hills & Barossa, includes plenty of useful information for landowners and native plant enthusiasts.

For more than six years the group collected images of flowers, fruit and habitat for the book. It has complemented the images with brief descriptions including flowering times and where the plants are most easily seen.

Launched in early July 2017, the publication is available for $39.95 plus postage at kersbrook.landcaregroup.org.au or www.treesforlife.org.au.

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Things to do - spring

  • Test sheep and calves for worms and treat as necessary.
  • If you have a hay paddock, apply nitrogen fertiliser.
  • As the weather warms, use chemical control, hard grazing or slashing to prevent seed set of pasture weeds to reduce next year’s growth.
  • Start planning your summer rotational grazing pattern. Decide if you will be establishing a sacrifice paddock or using supplementary feed.
  • Review your bushfire action plan and start your clean-up now. Visit www.cfs.org.au for more information.
  • Assess your water resources for the coming months. Will you have enough water for your livestock over summer?
  • Cut hay in the second week of November when digestibility is highest. Good quality hay should be green in colour and sweet smelling, have good legume leaf and be free of weeds.

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Related links

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges