14 Nov 2019
FIRST STEPS TO TURNING BACK THE TIDE ON THE YORKE PENINSULA
By Ashley McDonald, WWF-Australia
The first steps to restoring the spectacular Yorke Peninsula landscape are well underway, with a 23km predator-control fence being constructed to protect native animals from feral predators.
Over 27 native species have been lost on the Yorke Peninsula over the last century. WWF-Australia has launched an ambitious restoration project, in partnership with organisations like the Northern and Yorke Natural Resources Management Board and the Australian Federal Government, to return this area to its former ecological glory.
Losing these species has been detrimental to the entire Yorke ecosystem and, unfortunately, the extinction crisis here is not unique to the peninsula. Many other parts of Australia suffer species loss. In fact, sadly, Australia has the highest level of mammal extinction in the world. If this project is successful, it could become a model for restoring ecosystems across the country.
The goal is to reintroduce up to 20 locally extinct species across the southern Yorke Peninsula over the next ten years. This includes threatened species like brush-tailed bettongs, red-tailed phascogales and bandicoots. WWF-Australia’s Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes, Darren Grover, explains how:
The project has begun by starting construction in a fence that will enclose 170,000 hectares of the peninsula’s southern tip to stop the movement of foxes and feral cats into the Great Southern Ark.
Unlike most predator proofing enclosures, which are usually a large, completely fenced-in area designed to eliminate the predators within and then reintroduce the native animals, this fence only needs to be built on one side since the ocean becomes the barrier on the other three sides.
'This is a bold step we’re going to take to turn back the tide. We have to fight back and take a stand, and I think that’s what the Great Southern Ark is all about.’
The peninsula is a living landscape, so people and roads need to be able to pass through the enclosure. The fence has been referred to as a ‘leaky fence’ because it has four or five gaps in it, allowing people and feral predators to come and go. ‘What this means is we can become very targeted with our predator control instead of baiting and trapping across the peninsula,’ Darren said. ‘It’s a much better way to deploy our resources.’
This part of Australia has never seen such highly-efficient predators as the fox before, so sadly for a lot of Australian wildlife, ‘their first contact with a feral cat or fox is their last.’
According to Darren, large parts of the Yorke Peninsula are ‘unrecognisable’ from how they looked 150-200 years ago due to agriculture and mining. Locals and visitors will be able to see the fence and witness the species coming back to the area.
When the fence is completed, project officers will need to ensure that it’s working. Once they’re confident the invasive species are under control, the reintroductions will begin with the brush-tailed bettong, an ‘ecosystem engineer’.
By turning over four tonnes of soil and leaf litter every year, these natural earth-movers allow water and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the soil. They also play an important role in dispersing fungi and seeds. Limiting the number of mammal predators like foxes and feral cats within the peninsula will allow the smaller species like the brush-tailed bettong to thrive once again.
“We can't continue to keep doing what we've always done. So it means taking bold, even risky approaches, doing things a little bit out of the ordinary, a bit left field that we haven't done before. Some of them may even fail, but we've got to take these risks now. Otherwise we’ll lose more and more species going forward.”