Generous community donations to the Merri Creek Environment Fund in 2020 are supporting the expansion of our Nest Box project, the care of our Seed Production Areas and preliminary work on our Banksia Orchard. All these projects are strengthening and diversifying the habitat value of the Merri Creek linear corridor. They also provide oportunities for community involvement.
Expanding our Nest Box Project
We are continuing and expanding our nest box and artificial hollow projects. Thirty new homes were installed in tall eucalypts in Merri Park Northcote during 2020 and early 2021, bringing the total number at this location to 62 in April 2021. We also expanded to a new Merri site, at Moomba Park in Fawkner, where 30 homes were installed.
In both places, as for all of the lower Merri Creek south of the Ring Road, naturally-formed tree hollows are in very short supply. This is because the planted vegetation of the last four decades is not old enough to form hollows.
The ‘homes’ range from constructed nest boxes, naturally hollow logs that are attached to trees, log boxes (constructed from natural limbs that are hollowed out) and attached to trees, door cavities (created hollows in trunk or limbs fitted with a specialised entrance) and bat slots (a thin cut made in the tree trunk or a limb for microbats).These nest boxes and constructed hollows can provide homes for birds, possums and microbats.
Training Community Monitors
It can take months, even years, for any one species to move into the nest boxes and constructed hollows. Regular monitoring is essential to help us find out which bird and bat species are using the artificial hollows; what type of hollows they prefer; and what pests we need to manage for.
Our community monitoring events had to be paused during the Covid-19 restrictions of 2020. We welcomed their resumption in Autumn 2021. Nine new volunteers were recruited and a training event held. Volunteers monitor nest boxes and hollows, using a 5m long camera pole that reaches up to the nest box entrance and connects to a phone giving a view of what’s inside. Regular monitoring in Merri Park will ramp up in Spring 2021, an important time of the year for birds seeking safe places to nest.
Seed Production Areas
Community donations are supporting our seed production program. Seed Production Areas are genetically-diverse mass plantings of a specific plant species. They provide a plentiful supply of seed to help us reintroduce missing plants to the Merri Parklands.
There are four in-situ Seed Production Areas, located in the Merri Parklands in Fawkner and Reservoir. Fifteen locally rare and threatened species are thriving in these locations.
We regularly check that weeds are being kept under control in the Seed Production Areas as we don’t want our precious plants to be smothered. And every year, once the seed has ripened, we harvest it and bring it back to our depot where it is cleaned and safely stored until it’s time plant out these beautiful flowers and grasses.
Species in our Seed Production Areas
We are growing a variety of Lilies, Native Grasses and other small flowering plants in our Seed Production Areas. They include the following beauties (click on an image for a larger view and name):
Other species that we are growing in our Seed Production Areas are: Bulbine Lily Bulbine bulbosa, Pale Flax-lily Dianella longifolia var. longifolia, Grey Parrot-pea Dillwynia cinerascens, Variable Glycine Glycine tabacina, Austral Stork’s-bill Pelargonium australe, Basalt Podolepis Podolepis linearifolia and Tall Bluebell Wahlenbergia stricta.
Silver Banksia Orchard
We have begun preparing a site in Fawkner for our Banksia Orchard. A tree-form of Silver Banksia, Banksia marginata, was once widespread across the stony knolls and scoria cones of the Victorian basalt plains, including parts of the Merri Creek environs. We know this because annotations on maps and descriptions of landscapes from the early 19th century often include references to ‘Honeysuckle’, as banksias were then called. The Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung know the Silver Banksia as Woorike1.
Our partner organisations are beginning the propagation of banksias from seed, ready for planting seedlings in the orchard in 2022. Initially we hope to plant out 500 banksias and supplement any that fail to thrive with an additional 100 per year in following years. It will likely take around a decade before seed can be harvested and new seedlings grown. It's definitely a long-term project that will benefit from on-going support. We will use the seedlings to reintroduce Silver Banksia to landscapes of the Merri but will also make the seed available to other groups that want to grow this distinctive basalt plains form.
Our Banksia Orchard project has been inspired by the work of the Friends of the Forgotten Woodlands, a volunteer group working to rebuild woodland communities that were once a keystone in the ecology of the Victorian volcanic plains. They say that reintroducing these woodland communities will improve environmental biodiversity and allow future generations to enjoy these magnificent indigenous species. The three species they focus on are Silver Banksia, Sweet Bursaria and Drooping Sheoak.
1. The Plants of Coranderrk (2020) A visitor's guide produced by the Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation.