Young Eco Champion Erin Lake reports from Bush Blitz Hiltaba

You will remember the gorgeous Eco Warrior Erin Lake was lured to Canberra earlier in the year to take up a graduate position with Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry


Back here on the farm we all thought she would be gobbled up and spat out by the bureaucracy and how wrong we were. Erin has had a wonderful time. In fact she has now got a permanent position in Canberra and she couldn’t be happier. 

Last week she was lucky enough to be a part of the 16th Bush Blitz expedition to the Gawler Ranges in South Australia, as part of the Graduate program with the Department of Sustainability and Environment (SEWPaC) and today in her guest blog she shares many of the highlights from her trip 

November 2012 ………

The Hiltaba and Gawler Ranges Bush Blitz is the second for the year, and is being run for two weeks in total. My role was to help organise the field logistics, participant contracts and payments, and to assist as a field officer during the expedition. After months of planning and organisation we finally hit the road, and headed 8 hours north-west of Adelaide to a remote former sheep station in the Gawler Ranges!


Hiltaba Station is a 77,000 hectare property in South Australia’s Arid Zone

The Bush Blitz crew arrived at the station last Sunday, and have been helping the team of scientists settle into the campsite for two whole weeks of intensive survey work.


Luxury accommodation…. The Bush Blitz camp and shearer’s quarters

While this property has only recently been converted from a sheep station to a conservation reserve, many of the scientists have commented on the exceptional diversity of unique species and habitats that this majestic property contains within. Peter Lang from the SA Herbarium says that the Bluebush plains here at Hiltaba are a real treasure because they are often converted into cropping or grazing land making it difficult to find large areas in such good condition.


Expansive Bluebush Plains- in good nick


Creatures Great and Small discovered on Bush Blitz Hiltaba

Hiltaba Station’s location adjacent to the Gawler Ranges National Park significantly adds to its ecological value, because it provides another jigsaw piece within the East Meets West NatureLinks wildlife corridor.

Greg Johnston, a leading ecologist with the Nature Foundation of South Australia, says that the Hiltaba Bush Blitz provides a unique opportunity to gain a specialised understanding of the species occurring on the property, which will significantly assist in the management of the unique biodiversity of the area.

Greg has been an amazing host, and has been working alongside the scientists daily to assist them in gathering information that can then be used to feed back into the ongoing management of the property in the future. Here he is with vertebrate expert Dave Stemmer from the SA Museum- looking at the three different species of bat which had been collected that morning.



Greg Johnston (left) from the Nature Foundation SA and Dave Stemmer (right) from the SA Museum are very happy to be back in the field


Going batty- Four individuals of three different species in one morning! Not a bad start and really highlights the amount of diversity which occurs in the area- no wonder Greg and Dave have such happy faces!

Mammals are only one part of the Bush Blitz experience however, and John Stanisic will tell you that it is always important to scratch the surface. John is one of Australia’s leading land snail experts and is known across the country as the Snail Whisperer. You may have heard of the Steve Irwin snail Crikey steveirwini ? Well it was John who named this snail after the late wildlife warrior, and he says that the story of the naming went around the world in 48 hours! That’s hot press for the slow moving sluggers!


According to John, Hiltaba station contains a very diverse range of snail species, supporting the full suite of species that occur in the region, and he has already found 10 different species.

While they are not usually recognised as particularly charismatic species, John explains that snails are crucial for local ecosystems and actually have quite interesting ecologies. They predominantly live in sheltered rock piles where there is a long-term stable moisture regime and have a number of strategies to improve their chance of survival. They are able to excrete what is called an ‘epiphragm’ which is a mucous shield, protecting them in times of drought. Snails are also important indicators of environmental health, and provide play a major role in breaking down organic material in the soil.


10 species of land snails have been found at Hiltaba- representing the full complement of the local fauna

John’s favourite snails are the large banded tree snails which are brilliantly coloured. There are around 30 different species and they live in the rainforest around Mackay and Proserpine.

Short range endemisim for snail species is very high as you can imagine, and some species are thought to only occur in ranges of around a couple of hectares, which means that whole species can be easily wiped out if proper precautionary measures aren’t taken to protect them. John’s findings at Hiltaba have added another 8 species to the current list of snails recorded for the Station.

Creepy crawlies are coaxed out of the woodwork at Hiltaba!

One of my less favourite things encountered on my Bush Blitz journey so far has been the spiders! The weather has been particularly good for spider hunting and luckily I had spider expert Barbara Baehr by my side to help me get around my arachnophobia while photographing them! Barbara is an absolute treasure to work with, and came all the way from Germany to study some of Australia’s most feared creatures.


Barbara is primarily interested in the Lycosidae family which are the wolf spiders, and Opopaea – the Goblin spiders. She has even named one after Sir David Attenborough and got to present a framed specimen to him earlier this year!

Barbara has spent many hours at Hiltaba sorting though the leaf litter looking for tiny spiders to observe under the microscope. She has also been probing sticks into giant holes in the ground and ‘tickling out’ enormous trap door spiders. She is able to catch them quite comfortably and refers to them as ‘darlings’- most certainly not the description I would give them…


Under the microscope- spiders are Barbara’s specialty

Who said that Fishing was bore-ing?

I was fortunate enough to go out for a day in the field collecting groundwater samples from a number of bores at Hiltaba Station, looking for tiny creatures which live in the groundwater. These ‘stygofauna’ could be tiny worms, molluscs or crustaceans and are usually blind. Stygofauna experts Remko Leijs and Rachel King showed us how to collect the samples and then we took them back to the lab to see if there were any stygofauna swimming around under the microscope. clip_image024

Fishing is not my strongpoint at the best of times- now i have been really put to the test- fishing for creatures that are millimetres in length!

The Hiltaba Bush Blitz has enabled the first stygofauna to be collected from the region, and so far Remko and Rachel have found worms and molluscs, meaning that the groundwater here is still in great condition.

Remko is also one of Australia’s top native bee experts, and was kind enough to show me some of the Hiltaba collections under the microscope.

So far, 26 species of native bees have been surveyed at Hiltaba from just one flowering Eucalypt, I had no idea that there were so many different species!


This native bee (I call him Lego man bee) has been mounted and will be taken back to the SA Museum

Remko explained that there is still not a great deal known about Australia’s native bees and there are not many people in Australia who are studying them. Bees are a difficult subject to study, as you can imagine it is very hard to count the populations. They are collected by sweeping a net over the flowering parts of trees and shrubs


It is tough being a bee sometimes…

There are 1500 species which have been described, however in the last 30 years there has been a lot of revisions and of the 500 that have been revised, around half have been found to be new species.

To revise a species, you need to first obtain the holotype- which is the specimen that was used to first describe a new species. Many of the holotypes are held by international museums such as the British Museum, so obtaining them adds a further level of complexity to an already complex process.

Remko’s favourite bee is the Blue Banded Bee as you can see it is very beautiful, and he has dedicated a lot of research into studying the populations. Remko is also looking into how Australia’s horticultural industry can utilise these native bees for pollination, rather than relying on importing foreign honey bees.


Bee-autiful, the Blue Banded Bee collected from Hiltaba Bush Blitz

A botanical paradise of flowers and fruits

I have been lucky enough to go out surveying with the Botanists from the South Australian Herbarium, doing a big loop around Hiltaba station’s north eastern corner. Peter Lang from the Herbarium is exceptionally knowledgeable about the local plants, having worked in the SA’s successful Biological Survey program -which set out to collect baseline data on the plant communities right across the state.


Peter Lang presses specimens for the Herbarium

Hugh Cross is a genetic biologist and is also a lichen and moss expert, and today we managed to collect a number of different species of lichen to be examined back in the lab. clip_image034

Hugh collecting lichen from this Western Myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) tree, which is probably around 200 years old


These colourful lichen specimens will go back to the lab for further analysis

Hugh and I also went looking for parasitic plant specimens such as Exocarpus and Santalum (Quandong). We collected a small sample from a number of individual trees in an area, and these samples will be taken back to the lab to test their DNA. Hugh and his associated back at the Herbarium are interested in finding out whether neighbouring parasitic trees are ‘clones’ and have the exact same DNA, or whether there is any genetic variation amongst the populations. Genetic analysis of plants and other tissues is certainly progressing full steam ahead. Hugh says that “Genetic analysis of the soil has allowed us to discover a wealth of hidden diversity beneath the ground”. It is a fascinating ecology that we usually just step over.

Juergen Kellermann also accompanied us on our botanical mission across Hiltaba. Originally from Germany, i was astounded by Juergen’s knowledge of Australian flora (not to mention his exceptional navigation skills!). He was very excited to find numerous populations of Stenanthemum arens, which is a member of the Rhamnaceae family of plants (the buckthorns).

The (Sten-an-them-um) is an endemic species and has only been found in areas around Hiltaba station. While it may not be much to look at, it is a very important indicator of the health of Hiltaba’s arid vegetation communities, showing us that they are able to provide refuge for a unique and diverse range of species.


Juergen gets a closer look at the Stenanthemum arens


One of my personal favourite botanical finds was this Ptilotus (tie- lotus) species, which is similar to the Foxtails that you would plant in your garden. Such beautiful colours and a very delicate flower.

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia which aims to document the plants and animals across Australia’s National Reserve System.


Farmers holding positions of influence

Today Clover Hill Dairies hosted a visit by Natural Resources Commissioner Dr John Keniry and A/Executive Director Bryce Wilde. As always we take every opportunity to share farming stories and farmer commitment to people, animals and the planet with the wider community and people of influence.

Can you imagine how excited I was to find out the commissioner is also a sheep farmer from Cumnock running lambs and producing wool.

With farmers at less than 1% of the Australian population you don’t tend to run into people of influence with a strong farming background who know as much about growing pasture as you do


Dr John Keniry and the SRCMA team at Clover Hill

As it turns out Dr Keniry has worn many hats in his lifetime including a degree in chemical engineering with first-hand experience in the food and sugar industries. He is Chairman of the Pork CRC and Sheep Innovation CRC and Chairman of the Board of the Australian Farm Institute so he comes to the Natural Resource  Commission with an understanding of the everyday challenges of farming and managing on farm issues and that’s very comforting to this farmer.


The pasture was looking pretty impressive. I can see the cows licking their lips already when they see this. Erin’s wildlife corridors were looking equally good. Look at those trees grow Erin. What about the Persicaria a vulnerable species that has taken a liking to our creek beds. How rewarding is it that we have been able to link, enhance and establish additional populations of this native herb around the farm  



Not been able to join us for lunch Michael is not complaining as there is plenty of Panacotta left over to keep him dairy indulged over the next few days




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The environment is what we eat

Every now and then something that touches your heart happens. This week it was a young lady called Grace Mahon who is in Year 5 at Jamberoo Public School.

Grace entered the prestigious LandLearn NSW public speaking competition at the end of last year and she has been selected as a finalist to compete at the Dubbo Beef Spectacular on March 15.

Grace’s first round speech that caught the judges’ ear was entitled “The Environment is What we Eat. I don’t know Grace but her mother Ros tells me she wanted to focus on something local and did a little bit of internet research and found our farm.

For the finals her topic is ‘Australian vs. Foreign produce. How can we win”.  Winners, runners-up and a rising star will win cash prizes and the overall winner of the day will be invited to deliver their speech at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

With Grace’s permission I have used my favourite pictures of Clover Hill to turn her speech into a video which you can watch here


Thank you Grace we feel truly honoured and we are very confident you will give the other finalists a strong run for their money in Dubbo next month

Food is our common Ground

Previous winners and finalists speeches can be found here

Custodians of the land

Clover Hill Dairies in partnership with a number of local stakeholders has been lucky enough to access Federal government Caring for our Country funding to deliver great environmental outcomes on both local dairy farms and hobby farms which are also providing significant benefits for the waterways of the wider catchment

When we started these activities on the farm five years ago we recognised we didn’t have the expertise required to do the job to the level of significance our landscape deserved so we sought expertise from Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and Landcare Illawarra to ensure best on farm and wider catchment environmental outcomes. We outsourced cow comfort expertise from our farm consultant Dr Neil Moss and Dairy Australia’s NSW NRM coordinator Jess Jennings

Then we got stuck into it and we were pretty pleased with the outcomes and ourselves. A couple of years down the track we found we had ongoing maintenance problems and we readily admit we were well and truly out of our depth.

Cows grazing along water ways do a great job of keeping the weeds under control but the negative is they pollute the waterways and the negatives definitely out way the positives

So when you fence the cows out of the waterways and riparian zones the challenge is then how do you control the nasty weeds. Again you get the experts in and this time its was the bush regenerators. If you then take the time and have two way conversations with these amazing people you learn so much and we now have a new appreciation for our native landscapes and the plants who inhabit them.

We have worked with a number of bush regenerators over the years but our favourite is Erin Lake who I wrote about here

Erin with the help of director Ann Burbrook and videographer Tay Plain of Clear Cut Productions is creating a series of short videos with which we aim to engage, enthuse, educate and empower both farmers and rural landholders who care about their land but don’t necessarily have the skills sets to ensure the best outcomes for the landscape and the native animals

Here are some pictorial highlights from the last two days of the film shoot on the farm


Director Ann and “talent” Erin co write the scripts


On set Day 1 and Tay checks out the lighting


and action


Ann multi-skills and Erin proves to be a natural. Watch out Richard Attenborough


Day 2. As far as locations go it doesn’t get much better than this


Learning the lines


was never so peaceful


Cant wait to see the outcome of this footage


New life


Its a wrap and now long process of editing and reviewing the footage begins

We hope the take home message from our videos will be

Whether you are a commercial farmer or a hobby farmer or just lucky enough to have your own little piece of rural heaven it is pivotal to remember we are just custodians of the land

The landscape and our waterways are our lifeblood, they feed us, they provide us with natural beauty and so much more, they are not a toy and we must treat them with respect

If you don’t have the skills to manage them to the level they deserve GET THE EXPERTS IN

Next Gen giving our farm lots of TLC

It was a huge day at the farm on Wednesday with our eco warrior Erin Lake leading a team of volunteers in revegetating an important area of our riparian (areas around our waterways) zone.

Little aside on Erin – Erin has passion for biodiversity like no other and she takes every opportunity to share her passion with the world

In her role as a Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion


Here is Erin with the Castle Hill High School Archibull Prize entry team. See the video she made for her school presentation to Castle Hill High School here. Its awesome

Out in the streets hunting down and eradicating the dreaded evil Madeira Vine

Madeira Vine

or waging the war against the nasty environmental invaders on farms across the Illawarra and south coast

Erin Lake and Jake Proust  Clover Hill Dairies Bush Regeneration team

Here she is with fellow A team bush “regener” Jake Proust

Or organising community events like Dune Day

View album

Erin Lake event organiser

or spreading the good eco messages thru the media

Erins Passion for the Land

Or engaging with and encouraging young people to have a greater appreciation for the landscape

Erin Blog Post0002Erin Blog Post0001

Now back to today’s story –  the volunteers hailed from the National Green Jobs Corps– a youth training and employment program encouraging young people to be involved in the NRM ( natural resource management) industry.

Erin identified an area in one of our creek lines as an important wildlife corridor which links together two significant stands of Rainforest on the farm, and in need of a little help to get re-established.

So the wonderful Michael (Strong) arrived at the site before any of us were even awake, to slash the Kikuyu to make it easy for the volunteers to plant into. And what an amazing job he did! Oh and as usual- he did it with a big smile

Michael and Lynne Strong

Michael my hero – ooooooooooh palpitations

The Green Corps arrived early to get stuck into the planting. They were very excited when they found out that they were going to be getting a lift to the site in the back of Erin’s Ute (albeit very slowly) – but just as excited when they found out they were going to be revegetating some important sub-tropical rainforest.

Back of Truck

The trees that were used in the planting were nothing short of amazing- there was a huge variety of local species supplied by Richard Scarborough from Landcare Illawarra. Richard tells us that these trees were grown from around 7 different local nurseries and this makes sure that there is a wide genetic diversity in the plantings, which is very important for biodiversity.


Richard Scarborough – local legend

The trees we planted included some of Erin’s favourites – Native Tamarinds (Diploglottis australis), Black Apple’s ( Planchonella australis)

and even a couple of Giant Stinging Trees (Dendrocnide excelsa)- which are a very important local rainforest trees apparently ie if you can forgive the almighty sting you receive if you brush against one of the leaves! and I dont find myself very forgiving in this instance particularly after the day I thought a young one was a Tobacco Bush which I decided to pull out withy my bare hands. Oh how I regretted that little “do good” effort

Baby Stinging Nettle Tree

Stinging Nettle Trees love the soil at Clover Hill – I don’t love them  – baby ones popping up everywhere – that “thing” with the big round leaves next to the Red Cedar ( love them)

So the Green Corps did an amazing job of planting nearly 200 trees and we were very grateful for the use of a Petrol Auger that was supplied by Landcare Illawarra!

Erin and Mick returned on Friday to put on the tree guards (thanks to Couriers Please for your as always delayed service… LESSON TO ALL NEVER EVER USE “COURIERS PLEASE”).

We are trialing the use of Milk Carton Guards as they are biodegradable and very appropriate for a planting on a dairy farm!


And seeing some of our milk goes into PURA cartons I think we should be able to get a better deal on our next purchase and I can assure you it wont be “Couriers Please” who bring them to the farm

Our maintenance regime will be just as important and our plan is to mow and snip to keep the Kikuyu down and use a light Glyposate mix to keep the grass away from the plantings. This is where the guards will be very useful- they highlight where the trees are to the mowing contractors, and they protect the plants from any spray drift while they are only little. Once they grow to a metre- they will need very little maintenance and they will grow into beautiful trees before we know it.

So all in all a great day and another example of how effective partnerships can make a huge difference and lead to great successes in Natural Resource Management on Australian dairy farms and help keep our cows happy and healthy.

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Erin is a great advocate for the Nationals Green Jobs Corps Initiative. “This is a program that works. I have been lucky enough to be involved with a number of these groups and I have found that their team leaders are consistently brilliant- patient and very enthusiastic about training these young people- and learn a lot themselves from working with such a diversity of people.” says Erin

Well Done Green Corps and Erin!