Innovative project to return former farm land to the bush

Published 22 April 2008

flowers.jpgThe University of New England is working with the Mount Thorley Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley, managed by Coal & Allied, to rehabilitate former farm and quarry lands now owned by the mine.

The five-year, $1.5 million research project will reintroduce local plant species to hundreds of hectares of Hunter Valley land that have been degraded by grazing and land clearance.

For the first time in Australia, scientists will deliberately reintroduce some plants that require bees and other fauna to pollinate their flowers, to test whether the new plant community has become self-sufficient.

Part of the study will include identifying and incorporating plants that rely on pollinators to set seed, as these will be important indicators of whether reproductive processes are being maintained in the vegetation.

UNE’s Associate Professor Caroline Gross said the research was the first time such a project had been tried in an area having the unique sand features that typify Warkworth, as it was unusual to find wooded sand so far inland.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the researchers involved,” Dr Gross said, “and the students who will take part will have the opportunity to develop their research and environmental management skills.”

“Many will go on to take up environmental positions with mining companies,” she added.

The researchers aim to recover native seeds buried in the existing soil and replant species (such as Grevillea montana, pictured here) that characterised the natural landscape.

“Many mining operations in the district have been rehabilitated back to pastures,” Dr Gross said. “This research will provide best practice techniques to demonstrate how mines can also be rehabilitated back to native vegetation.”

The research project has been required as part of an earlier approval obtained to extend open-cut mining operations at the Mount Thorley Warkworth mine.

Coal & Allied’s General Manager of Health, Safety and Environment, Rory Gordon, said the research would involve monitoring areas that were currently in good condition and promoting growth in areas that had been degraded through past agricultural and quarrying activities.

“This research will help to improve the available knowledge about rehabilitating native vegetation, and will help us and other mining companies in the future to improve our ability to leave behind thriving native ecosystems,” Mr Gordon said. “We are looking forward to watching and learning from the results.”