Welcome to the first annual project report for Budgerum. This report outlines the monitoring efforts conducted in line with the project’s management plan. It provides a comprehensive look into the results found.

This report has been developed by Wilderlands Lead Ecologist, Deanna Marshall.

Wilderlands acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Budgerum Project, the Barapa Barapa people, and pay our respects to their elders past and present. We recognise and respect their deep ongoing connection to land, water and culture.

We extend our sincere thanks to our collaborators, Cassinia Environmental. A special acknowledgement is also extended to our hard-working expert volunteers Peter Morison and Ana Carolina Lima.

Budgerum is located in the heart of the Victorian Riverina, 250 kilometres north of Melbourne. The grasslands spread across the vast plains alongside the Avoca River.

These rich grasslands protect the Critically Endangered ‘Natural Grasslands of the Murray Valley Plains’ and include many threatened plants such as Chariot Wheels (Maireana cheelii), Bristly Love-grass (Eragrostis setifolia), Long Eryngium (Eryngium paludosum), Veined Peppercress (Lepidium phlebopetalum), Umbrella Wattle (Acacia oswaldii) and Bush Minuria (Minuria cunninghamii).

Although the property boasts suitable habitat for the critically endangered Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), they haven’t officially been confirmed on the property to date.

Vulnerable fauna species include the Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata), a small native carnivorous marsupial mouse, which was recorded on the remote cameras on the property.

Fat-tailed Dunnart, photo credit: David Paul

Budgerum’s native bird diversity is at 19 species, including the Brown Goshawk, Red-rumped Parrot, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Australasian Pipit and Black-Shouldered kite.

A Day with Deanna

Wilderlands documented a day-in-the-life of the monitoring our Lead Ecologist, Deanna Marshall, does on our Budgerum project.

In the video, we delve into the work we do alongside our conservation partner, Cassinia Environmental. The video documents the monitoring methods we use and explores why protecting this grassland is so important.

Deanna talks us through how we gather baseline data on the overall health of the grassland. This data helps us identify the actions needed to improve the condition of the grassland and determine the prevalence of some of the threatened species across Budgerum.

We captured the team conducting a range of conservation monitoring practices including standardised bird surveys, spotlight surveys, line point transects, and the ‘golf ball methodology for grasslands’ which are designed to help assess the grassland cover and structure.

Monitoring Sites

Wilderlands uses specific monitoring points across the Budgerum project. Through recurring assessments of these areas, we can attain a more precise understanding of changes in biodiversity and the overall site’s health.

As part of the management plan, landowners Cassinia Environmental, had historically established nine photo monitoring points on Budgerum and Wilderlands utilises 5 of these existing monitoring points to undertake our monitoring program. The primary objective of this program is to monitor environmental changes and contribute to the understanding of biodiversity management at the property scale (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Wilderlands monitoring sites located at the Budgerum Project site

How Wilderlands monitor the flora at the Budgerum

A comprehensive flora list has been compiled from property visits. Wilderlands and Cassinia staff will continue to record new species encountered over time.

Transects and quadrats were undertaken at each monitoring point, serving as ecological tools that enable the quantification of the vegetation’s relative abundance, the measurement of its structure, and allow the monitoring of changes over time.

The variability in grassland openness is crucial, given the diverse habitat preferences of various grassland plant and animal species. Effective grassland biomass management is essential to ensure heterogeneous patches across the property, particularly in the presence of exotic annual grasses capable of significant proliferation during favourable seasons, a prevalent concern in remnant native grasslands.

During favourable conditions, an accumulation of biomass, primarily from invasive annual grasses like Wild Oats and Barley Grass can occur. This biomass obstructs inter-tussock spaces, rendering them unsuitable for native plant germination and the habitat needs of specific animal species, such as the critically endangered Plains-wanderer, which is known from the local area.

Grassland Vegetation Cover using Line Transects

To assess the vegetative cover in the grasslands of Budgerum we use 25m transects. Along these transects, a pinpoint is placed at 50 cm intervals, and observations where the pin point touched were made based on the vegetation class, including litter (which encompasses dead plants), soil crust, or bare ground. Two 25m transects are undertaken at each monitoring point.

The results from the surveys indicate that exotic annual grass and litter dominate areas of the grasslands, particularly during winter (Fig. 2 & 4) but there were also areas that have excellent open structure with healthy soil crusts (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Point transect monitoring results for winter and spring/summer, 2023.
Figure 3. An example of a very high quality red soil grassland on Budgerum. The native grasses have a low tussock height, the soil crust was diverse and intact, native annual and perennial forbs, shrubs and geophytes were present.
Figure 4. An example of a grey soil grassland on Budgerum. The native grasses had a higher tussock height, the inter-tussock spaces were dominated by exotic annual grasses, native annual and perennial forb, shrub and geophyte cover was very low or not present.
Monitoring Site 2 – PPT6

Monitoring Site 2 – PPT6 is a red soil grassland with an open structure consisting of 39% soil crust/bare ground, winter grass species dominate with 22% cover and an average tussock height of 23cm, perennial native forbs and shrubs make up 22% and 15% cover respectively. Litter is low (3%) and exotic species are virtually absent rendering this site as being of exceptional condition. As of spring, more than half of the sampled plots had suitable structure for Plains-wanderers (Fig. 6). A remote camera has been operating on this site (see ‘Remote Cameras’ page 16 for results).

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT1

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT1 is a red-grey soil grassland. This site had an open structure consisting of 25% soil crust/bare ground, summer grass species dominated with 26% cover, followed by 17% litter cover, 16% cover of winter grasses and 16% cover of exotic annual grasses. The average tussock height was 39.5cm, perennial native forbs and shrubs had a very low cover. Cassinia Environmental undertook biomass reduction burning in May 2023. As of spring, less than half of the sampled plots had suitable structure for Plains-wanderers, however, this will change over time post burning (Fig. 7).

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT2

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT2 is a red soil grassland with an open structure consisting of 37% soil crust/bare ground, winter grass species dominated with 14% cover and an average tussock height of 20cm, perennial and annual native forbs made up 15% and 9% cover respectively. Litter was low (6%). Exotic annual grasses had an average cover of 18% across the site. As of spring, half of the sampled plots had suitable structure for Plains-wanderers (Fig. 8).

An acoustic monitor and remote camera have been operating on this site (see ‘Remote Cameras’ page 16 and ‘Acoustic Monitoring’ page 16 for findings).

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT3

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT3 was a grey soil gilgai puff area that graded out into a red soil grassland. Litter and exotic annual grasses dominated the gilgai puff (44% & 38% respectively), followed by summer grasses (23%). Average tussock height was 16cm. The red soil section opened up with 20% soil crust/bare ground and some perennial and annual native forbs and shrubs were also present. As of spring, less than half of the sampled plots had suitable structure for Plains-wanderers (Fig. 9).

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT8

Monitoring Site 3 – PPT8 was a grey soil grassland dominated by a high cover of litter (71%), exotic annual grasses and summer grasses. There was no soil crust/bare ground indicating that all the inter- tussock species were occupied with exotic annual grasses. The average tussock height was 32.25cm. There was a very low cover of perennial native forbs and shrubs. This area would not be considered habitat for Plains-wanderer (Fig. 10).

Grassland structure using the Golf Ball Monitoring

The golf ball survey methodology formed part of the recent visit to Budgerum and is a tool used by grassland managers to help assess vegetation structure, determine the biomass level and inform when management interventions are necessary to maintain native plant and animal diversity within the grassland ecosystem.

Monitoring structure allows us to compare the same grassland over time and can assist in determining habitat requirements for fauna. Vegetation openness was evaluated within 1mx1m quadrats using the ‘golf-ball’ technique (Schultz et al., 2017). The 1m x 1m quadrats were placed every 5m along two 50m transect lines at each monitoring point.

During winter, grass biomass accumulation in some sites, particularly if exotic annual grasses are present, crowds out the inter-tussock spaces. This means a lower golf ball score when undertaking monitoring (Fig. 5a – blue area). Cassinia Environmental, the land manager, undertook small areas of biomass removal using fire.

By spring/early summer, almost half of the sampled sites displayed an ‘ideal’ level of openness, creating suitable habitat structure for species like the Plains-wanderer (Fig.5b). The Plains-wanderer typically favours an openness level of 14-16 golf balls but also requires smaller patches with 10-13 golf balls (Nugent, 2023). Our monitoring confirms the presence of the requisite habitat conditions for the Plains-wanderer, suggesting that grassland openness may not be a limiting factor for their absence.

The flora results across each monitoring site

A total of 107 indigenous flora species have been recorded on the property, including 15 rare and threatened species. Notable threatened species included the nationally endangered Chariot Wheels (Maireana cheelii), that grow abundantly on the red soil grasslands (Fig. 11) and Spike-rush (Eleocharis obicis), which is exceptionally rare and associated with the seasonally wet gilgai grasslands.

Figure 11. Chariot Wheels (Maireana cheelii) flourish in the red soil grasslands of Budgerum. This species, classified as nationally endangered, derives its name from the distinctive chariot-shaped seeds it produces.

The key species of Budgerum

Chariot Wheels

Chariot Wheels (Maireana cheelii) is a fascinating perennial chenopod herb native to Australia. These remarkable plants typically reach a modest height of around 20 cm and exhibit distinctive growth characteristics, boasting slender, woolly, erect branches that emerge from a swollen taproot.

During the spring season, Chariot Wheels adorns itself with tiny leaf axils, each measuring a mere 1 mm in width.

As they mature, they give way to another distinguishing feature – fan-shaped, woolly fruits. These fruits, measuring between 5 and 6 mm in diameter, consist of five spreading wings, resembling miniature chariot wheels.

Chariot Wheels are particularly adapted to thrive in habitats marked by seasonally wet conditions, often found in heavy loam and clay soils. Its seeds, shaped like tiny chariot wheels, add to its distinctiveness.

The Chariot Wheels holds a vulnerable status on the National EPBC list and is classified as endangered on the state FFG list, underscoring the urgency of preserving this unique and ecologically valuable species in Australia’s biodiversity.

Veined Peppercress 

The Veined Peppercress (Lepidium phlebopetalum), is a native plant species endemic to Australia. This small herbaceous plant is characterised by its distinctive veined leaves and tiny white flowers. While it may not be as well-known as some of Australia’s iconic flora, the Veined Peppercress plays a crucial role in the country’s biodiversity.

Veined Peppercress, photo credit: Chris Lindorff

One of the primary reasons for the importance of the Veined Peppercress in Australia’s biodiversity is its role as a key food source for several native insect species. Many insects, including butterflies and moths, rely on this plant for nectar and as a host for their larvae. This makes the Veined Peppercress an integral part of the food web, supporting the entire ecosystem by providing sustenance for these insects, which, in turn, serve as a vital food source for various birds and other wildlife.

Moreover, the Veined Peppercress is an indicator species for specific habitat types in Australia. Its presence or absence can reflect the overall health of the ecosystem and the effects of environmental changes, such as habitat loss and climate change.

Conserving the Veined Peppercress and its habitat is essential for maintaining biodiversity, as it helps ensure the survival of numerous interconnected species and the overall ecological balance in Australia.

Fat-tailed Dunnart

The Fat-tailed Dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) is a small marsupial native to Australia.

Fat-tailed Dunnarts are characterised by their diminutive size, with adults typically measuring around 10 to 12 cm in length, including their tail.

Fat-tailed Dunnart, photo credit: W Terry

What sets them apart is their adorable appearance, with large eyes and a compact body covered in soft, dense fur. As their name suggests, they possess a plump, fat tail that stores reserves of energy, crucial for surviving in the often harsh and arid environments they inhabit.

These marsupials are primarily insectivorous, preying on a variety of small invertebrates, including insects and spiders. They are known for their remarkable agility and hunting skills, despite their small size. Fat-tailed Dunnarts are mostly solitary animals and are nocturnal, which means they are active during the night, helping them avoid daytime heat and potential predators.

Fat-tailed Dunnart, photo credit: Bernard Dumont

Their role in Australia’s biodiversity is significant, as they are both predator and prey in their ecosystems. They help control insect populations, which in turn affects plant health by reducing herbivorous insect damage. Additionally, they serve as a food source for larger predators, contributing to the intricate web of life in Australia’s diverse habitats.

Efforts to safeguard the Fat-tailed Dunnart are vital to preserve their presence and role within Australia’s ecosystems, as they confront threats like habitat loss and fragmentation stemming from human activities.

Bird Surveys

BirdLife Australia pioneered the Bird Atlas method, which involves the recording of bird species and the count of individual birds within a 2-hectare area during a 20-minute observation period. This approach has been adopted by individuals across the country, culminating in the creation of the nation’s most extensive biological database.

Figure 12. Budgerum winter and spring bird surveys highlighting very little species richness and abundance.

For the Budgerum Project, bird species and numbers were recorded 50m either side of a 200m transect (2ha) over 20 minutes at each of the sites, during both winter and spring.

Data was entered into the Birdata app. Additionally, incidental species lists for the property were compiled during both winter and spring visits and entered into the Birdata app.

Bird surveys were undertaken during winter and spring. In total, 14 birds of 5 species were recorded within the monitoring sites.

Furthermore, 14 additional bird species were recorded outside of the designated monitoring sites and periods.

This cumulative effort resulted in the identification of 19 native bird species for the Budgerum Project. Welcome Swallow was the most numerous bird and Brown Songlark was the most widespread bird in the Wilderlands Budgerum Project during the 2023 monitoring season (Fig. 12).

Plains-wanderer Acoustic Monitoring

The Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) is a unique and critically endangered bird species endemic to Australia and the last of its kind, with a genetic history stretching over 100 million years and no living relatives. It has global significance, ranked number one in the world for conservation importance by the London Zoological Society.

Plains-wanderer, photo credit: JJ Harrison

They are known from grassland sites neighbouring our Budgerum Project. The females are notable for their distinctive appearance, having a rufous chest with a black and white collar. Both male and female Plains-wanderers resemble small quail or Button-quail, but they are not closely related at all.

Due to habitat loss and other threats, the Plains-wanderer population has sharply declined, making conservation efforts crucial to its survival.

Can you find the Plains-wanderer? The species is so well camouflaged during the day that they are virtually impossible to find. Photo credit: Remember The Wild

This unique bird is expertly camouflaged, making it hard for both predators to spot and ecologists to survey.

In February 2023, a SM4 Wildlife Song Meter was installed at Site 3 – PPT2. The Song Meter was programmed to record wildlife sounds for one hour at both dawn and dusk. Female Plains-wanderers are known to vocalize primarily during the spring season. As of now, there have been no positive detections of Plains-wanderers on the acoustic monitor within the Wilderlands Project site.

The acoustic monitoring devices have been a recent game changer in detecting Plains-wanderer presence and Wilderlands are extremely grateful to the numerous Government and Community groups that continue to collaborate with us for the ongoing protection of this iconic grassland species.

To address this, Wilderlands plans to persist in conducting opportunistic spotlight surveys and collaborating with project partners in Plains-wanderer recovery efforts. These endeavours aim to increase the likelihood of detecting Plains-wanderers on our Project site in the future.

The recent incorporation of acoustic monitoring devices has proven to be a significant advancement in identifying the presence of Plains-wanderers. Wilderlands expresses gratitude to the various Government and Community groups that continue to collaborate with us, contributing to the ongoing protection of this charismatic grassland species.

We will continue to work with our project partners on Plains-wanderer recovery efforts and hope that they will be detected on our project in the future.

Remote Cameras

Wilderlands has set up remote cameras across our Budgerum project. These cameras capture images and sound to help give us a glimpse into the private lives of the animals that call this area home.

Utilising heat and motion sensors, these cameras identify the presence of animals, capturing photographs and videos whenever an animal is detected within their field of vision.

Since employing these cameras we have had sightings of the Galah, Stumpy-tailed Lizard, Brown Goshawk, Kangaroo, Black Falcon, Nankeen Kestral, Blue Bonnet, Magpie, Australian Raven and many others.

Two remote cameras were deployed at Site 2 – PPT6 and Site 3 – PPT2. Over an average of 76 trap nights, Hare was the most frequently recorded species, followed by Fox (Fig. 13).

These pest animal species are ubiquitous throughout the landscape and require constant landscape scale control efforts. Several bird species have been identified from the remote cameras which is encouraging and increases the known avian diversity for the Project.

Figure 13. The frequency of captures on remote cameras over an average of 76 trap nights. * denotes a pest animal

Protect precious biodiversity at our Budgerum project. Forever. One square metre at a time.

In the heart of the Victorian Riverina, situated just 250 kilometres north of Melbourne, lies our Budgerum project. It is nestled alongside the Avoca River, and encompasses vast flat grassy plains.

But these valuable grasslands face many threats. Across the globe, grassland ecosystems are among the most endangered, their reserves dwindling into small, fragmented patches as agricultural expansion continues.

Preserving the remaining native grasslands in the Victorian Riverina is imperative for the survival of the species that call this ecosystem home. Among these species are the critically endangered Plains Wanderer.

Budgerum Grasslands serves as a 90-hectare sanctuary of exceptional biodiversity, comprising a range of threatened plants. Among these treasures are Chariot Wheels (Maireana cheelii), Bristly Love-grass (Eragrostis setifolia), Long Eryngium (Eryngium paludosum), the endangered Veined Peppercress (Lepidium phlebopetalum), Umbrella Wattle (Acacia oswaldii), and the rare Bush Minuria (Minuria cunninghamii).

By becoming a part of the Wilderlands project, Budgerum, you will be significantly contributing to the overarching preservation efforts aimed at safeguarding its vulnerable species.

Connect with our team to discover how you can join Wilderlands and protect this project today.