Running a revegetation team

The Myer FoundationBackground

MCMC was conceived as a body which could both plan and implement restoration works along Merri Creek. Implementation required the establishment of a specialist unit to undertake restoration work, as no suitably skilled contractors were available. If the same decision were being made today, contracting the fieldwork could be considered an option. The Moonee Ponds Creek Coordinating Committee established over the last few years initially contracted out all its work but is gradually establishing the ability to undertake works in-house because this allows retention of skills and better networking and continuity with the community.

Initially MCMC's Parkland Management Team was established with a team supervisor, four team members, and one leading hand. Currently the Team has four Team Members, one Team Leader, one Technical Officer, and one Parkland Management Team Coordinator, and reports to MCMC's Conservation Coordinator.

All MCMC staff are paid under the Victorian Local Authorities Award 2001 (which sets the pay structure and main conditions and MCMC's Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. Team Members are classified as Band 3, Team Leader and Technical Officer at Band 4, the Team Coordinator at Band 6, and the Conservation Coordinator at Band 7.

Position descriptions for Team Members, Technical Officers, Team Leaders, Team Coordinator and Conservation Coordinator have been developed.

Skills/Training

MCMC has a Commercial Operators Licence (Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals). Parkland Management Team Staff have undertaken the 30hour Weed Control and Herbicide Course. In-house training and short courses familiarize staff members with locally indigenous plant species and local weeds. Occasionally plant identification tests are run in order to give team members feedback on their identification skills. Being able to discriminate between the weeds and indigenous plants is critical when working in remnant vegetation.

MCMC also has a Train Track Safety licence for work in the vicinity of train tracks (there are a number of rail lines which cross the Creek, and remnant vegetation is often located along rail lines). Training for this included the National Track Safety Awareness Course.

A number of members of the team have undertaken fire control training including the nationally certified Wildfire Behaviour and Wilfire Suppression units, available from a number of training providers.

Other training provided by MCMC to Team staff includes:

  • Cultural politics of participation in natural resource management
  • Chainsaw use and tree felling certificate
  • Continuous improvement
  • Craigieburn grassland guided site tour
  • Creating culturally relevant open space
  • Fire extinguisher use
  • GPS and Grassland Ecology
  • Grassland Ecology course
  • Koorie use of natural materials
  • Level 1 First Aid training
  • Level 2 First Aid training (for First Aider)
  • Native and Exotic Grass identification
  • Plant Identification
  • Plant Identification - wetlands
  • Rabbit control - netting
  • Shop Steward (union) training
  • Steep sites access - belaying
  • Train the trainer - difficult students
  • Train the trainer - grassland ecology
  • Train the trainer - school groups
  • Weed control & herbicides

Parkland Management Team staff come to their positions with relevant training also, including Science degrees, Advanced Certificates in Horticulture, Certificates in Australian Land Conservation and Restoration, or with other relevant experience.

Equipment

The Parkland Management Team needs the capacity to move its staff and equipment efficiently to work sites anywhere along the 70km of Merri Creek, and sometimes to tributaries or neighbourning Creeks. The bulk of its work is in the publicly owned sections of the Creek within the metropolitan area, and MCMC's depot, based in Brunswick near the Creek is well placed to serve that area. The Team owns 4 vehicles - one 4WD Landcruiser cab-tray, two twin-cab hilux trays and 1 king cab hilux tray. Four wheel drive vehicles are used because some of the sites are quite steep, because Merri Creek clay is very slippery when wet, and because the vehicles sometimes tow heavy trailers, including spray rigs weiging over one tonne. The vehicles are fitted with heavy duty towbars. Vehicles are checked weekly for safety features using a ticksheet.

For the sake of safety, MCMC's vehicles are fitted with 2-way radios which link into the City of Darebin's network, and each team takes to site a mobile phone. Unfortunately, working in the valleys means that mobile phone reception is sometimes poor. MCMC provides a range of safety equipment to its outdoor staff, but as much as possible attempts to make the workplace safe rather than rely on safety equipment. This is easier for work inside the depot than out on-site, where work may be unavoidably on steep slopes, with prickly weeds, rubbish, snakes etc.

Part of the team's work involves organising and carrying out ecological burns. MCMC owns a range of firefighting equipment, but also works with Fire Officers from Parks Victoria, Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade as necessary. Burns are conducted using a written procedure.

MCMC has two 1000 litre spray rigs mounted on a trailer, and two slip-on 250 litre tanks used for carrying water which can be used to mix backpack herbicide. A trailer is used for disposing of rubbish, weeds etc.

A list of equipment which may be taken out of the depot by the Parkland Management Team lists a total of around $50,000 worth of gear. This doesn't include vehicles or facilities established at the depot such as sheds, shelving, herbicide wash and storage installations, watering system, office equipment etc. MCMC's herbicide wash installation has a trade waste permit from Yarra Valley Water.

Works planning and monitoring

Prioritizing sites

Weed control work requires careful planning and prioritization, but must allow flexibility to deal with new outbreaks (More detail). Revegetation work is planned together with weed control, however a number of other factors are considered, including availability of funding. The following are taken into account in prioritising vegetation management:

  • local community interest, activities, action, including Friends of Merri Creek and other local Friends groups (Sumner Estate, Quarries Clifton Hill, etc) priorities.
  • Remnant vegetation sites are prioritised more highly than plantings adjcent to remnant sites, which are prioritised more highly than other plantings.
  • Primary nodes from the Merri Creek and Environs Strategy - i.e.
    • Moomba Park Fawkner and Reservoir
    • Jukes Road Grassland Fawkner
    • Central Creek vicinity and native grassland remnant Reservoir
    • Broadhurst Ave to Edwards Lake Park including Edgars Creek wetlands Reservoir
    • Lorne St/St Basils and Newlands Road escarpment areas opposite Zinnia St - Carawa Drive Fawkner and Reservoir
    • Coburg Lake Reserve and Pentridge precinct Coburg
    • Edgars Creek below Kodak - Merri Confluence North Coburg
    • Tate/Capp-Robinson/Egan/Strettel Reserves Cobug, Preston, Thronbury
    • Northcote Golf Course, Allard Park/North-east Park/Roberts Reserve Thornbury, East Brunswick
    • CERES site East Brunswick
    • Phillips Reserve, Kirkdale St Park, Sumner Park and Merri Park East Brunswick, Northcote
    • St Georges Rd to Rushall Station Northcote and North Fitzroy
    • Hall Reserve/Quarries Reserve Clifton Hill.
  • Funding bodies own criteria, for example Parks Victoria preferred accessible sites next to paths, major development projects, and sites with significant flora and fauna and/or cultural heritage values.

Designing and costing projects

Works are planned and costed after site inspections, using the project planning package CA Superproject. Areas may be estimated using GPS, or MCMC's geographic information system. Experience is used to estimate required times for various steps of the work, including preparatory and follow-up weed control. An hourly rate is applied to staff time, and materials other than herbicides are costed in. Actual time spent is recorded in Superproject, reconciled against the payroll system fortnightly, actual materials used is entered and invoices are based on the project actual costs according to Superproject. The hourly rate charged includes uptime as well as a proportion of downtime, downtime, equipment maintenance and depreciation costs, and organisational overheads.

Designing a revegetation planting

Selecting plants

MCMC plants only indigenous species of local provenance in its revegetation work. Mostly the plants MCMC uses for revegetation are purchased from the local indigenous plant nurseries. These nurseries collect seed and propagation material from Merri Creek, and are a good source of local provenance stock for Merri Creek. Nurseries MCMC uses include the Victorian Indigenous Nursery Coop, Keelbundoora Indigenous Nursery, Western Plains Flora Nursery, and the Grey Box & Grasslands Indigenous Nursery. Victorian Indigenous nurseries are listed by the Indigenous Nursery Network and Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association. Greening Australia Victoria has produced a map of indigenous nurseries around the greater Melbourne area. MCMC does collect some seed for revegetation work (for which it has a Permit To Take Protected Flora -Seed Collection from DSE), where it particularly wants a provenance of a particular species to be propagated, or where the seed is for direct seeding (Poa labillardieri and Themeda triandra in particular).

For any particular site, an ecological community is chosen as a general target for revegetation work, and plants from that plant community are chosen for replanting. With more detailed site knowledge, plants can be selected that are suitable for particular micro-environmental conditions or niches within each site. This aims to maximise survivorship levels. The plant list will be reduced by availability from local nurseries of local provenance plants, and suitability of the species for revegetation purposes. Design of the planting must incorporate considerations of individual site conditions, to facilitate follow-up weed control. For example, on a site where Couch-grass is expected to be a problem, planting an understorey of native grasses just makes later maintenance a nightmare. If broadleafed weeds are expected, an understorey of dense grasses will not only suppress broadleaf germination and growth, it will allow use of broadleaf-specific herbicides for weed control. Interplanting indigenous grasses with indigenous herbs would preclude this shortcut. The likely interactions between species must also be taken into account too - grasses are unlikely to survive under a dense overstorey planting, or small herbs under a dense tussock planting. The mature size of individual species must be taken into account and a balance struck between overplanting to control weeds (with the extra cost of overplanting and reduced cost of weed control and the danger of overcrowding jeopardising long term survival) versus planting to suit mature size (with the reduced cost of planting but extra cost of weed control, and the danger of less than expected establishment and survival).

Similarly urban constraints such as overhead or underground powerlines, underground drains or water, sewage or gas pipes, shared paths, views, altered soil conditions etc must be taken into account in designing plantings.

A computer spreadsheet is used to compile plant orders. Rows are used for species, and columns for planting sites, or with large sites for sub-sections of the site. At the start of the spreadsheet the growth habit of the species is listed in a column together with a page reference for further information about it. A column is set aside for each plant community in the catchment and each row is ticked if that species is known to occur regularly in that community. At the top of each planting site column the target community is recorded together with the target number of plants to be planted. Download spreadsheet.

Weed control mulches

Various weed control mulches have been trialled over the 13 years the team has been working.

Woven plastic matting was used initially as it was very effective in controlling the very dense weed growth typical on the rich basalt soil of Merri Creek. Its disadvantages included the time required to fasten the sheet down to the ground in case of floods or heavy winds, and as it emerged years later, the time taken to enlarge holes in the sheet as plants grew and remove the sheet when a good level of foliage cover was obtained. Removal was necessary because the weathering sheet became untidy, it continued to strangle the trunks of trees unless the holes were enlarged, and because the hardware used to fasten it became a hazard to park users.

Wood or bark mulches work well on flatter, flood-free sites, and on these sites MCMC uses a fine pine mulch derived from plantation thinnings. Many sites however are steep (and the mulch slides down the slope, smothering small plants and causing a slipping hazard for people) or flood (and the mulch ends up in Port Phillip Bay). On steeper sites MCMC now uses either EucaMulch (a by-product of eucalyptus oil distillation which contains lots of long twigs which mat the mulch together), or Jutemat (a jute product which rots down over time, isn't really a weed control product but is good for erosion control). For sites which flood no really satisfactory product has been identified, as our requirement for biodegradability contradicts our need for the product to be able to be firmly held down. We have found that Jutemat for example becomes brittle after some time on the ground and will break and lift in severe flood. Fortunately due to the drought in Melbourne, there has been no flooding over the last few years.

Other references for planning revegetation works include:

Community planting days

MCMC has a policy on Community Planting Days which specifies that Community Plantings be held as part of the team's activities. Guidelines for planting days have also been developed.

 
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