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Saving the plains-wanderer

A new and very important project in the western Riverina is bringing graziers and government agencies together to manage Riverina grasslands in ways that also benefit a small ground-dwelling bird - the plains-wanderer. Australia is the only place in the world where these birds exist.

From Jerilderie to Conargo, to north of Hay and south west of Griffith, native grasslands are one of the last habitats for this critically endangered bird. Monitoring by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has shown that plains-wanderers have declined by more than 90 per cent over the past 15 years. Only 300 birds are thought to be left in NSW. with the Hay plains now their “global hot spot”.

Funding from the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program has enabled Riverina and Murray Local Land Services and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to work with local landholders to develop a plains-wanderer stewardship program. This program aims to secure a future for this iconic species by managing its habitat and reducing fox predation – one of the key threats to the bird.

Three project officers are working with local graziers on the project – Cassandra Hooke based at Hay, Megan Purvis based at Griffith, and Claire Gannon based at Jerilderie.

Cassandra Hooke said the purpose of the project is to secure the management of plains-wanderer habitat to assist the recovery of the plains-wanderer in the western Riverina to a point where they are not on a trajectory to extinction.

“We are looking for farmers who’d like to work in partnership with us to ensure there is a sustainable population into the future," she said.

“We’ve been out talking to local graziers about management options that would assist them in maintaining suitable habitat in good condition. It’s a flexible project where the property owners talk to us about their individual situation and we work up a plan together."

Project Officer Megan Purvis said that the response from farmers in the Carrathool area had been encouraging.

“I’ve talked to a number of property owners who have expressed interest in the project and we are now looking at practical ways to get them involved in the program," she said.

From Jerilderie to Conargo, Claire Gannon is the project officer. She said that most farmers had heard about the plains-wanderer, but may not have seen them.

“It’s an elusive bird, very small and well camouflaged, making it hard to see in daylight. They are easiest to

find at night time with the aid of a spotlight," she said.

"If we are going to save plains-wanderers from the threat of extinction, it cannot be done without landholder help as they own and manage the largest land area of their habitat in the Riverina."

Recently the three project officers, along with David Parker, OEH Senior Threatened Species Officer and expert on the plains-wanderer, found five plains-wanderers in one night on the Nevinson’s property south- east of Hay.

“It was so great to actually see them," said Cassandra. “The patches where the birds are found are fairly sparse native grasslands which provide the vegetation structure they need for foraging and hiding from predators."

John Nevinson said that the birds have been around for a long time, but their numbers fluctuate with the seasons.

“In my experience, plains-wanderers will disappear from habitat that becomes too sparse or too dense. So we graze the paddocks where they live on a rotation that works for us and the birds," he said.

“It’s not hard to make it work within our grazing regime and it’s a great feeling to know that we are helping the birds as well."

Property owners who are interested in the project and think they may have grassland habitat for plains-wanderers are urged to contact the project officers to find out more. They can arrange a site visit and talk about options for grazing, fox control and any other ideas they might have to help the plains-wanderer while still using those paddocks.

Please contact Claire Gannon at the Jerilderie office of Murray Local Land Services on 0429 465 958; Cassandra Hooke at the Hay office of Riverina Local Land Services 0427 632 561, or Megan Purvis at the Griffith office of Riverina Local Land Services on 0428 941 061.

Media enquiries: Matt Lane, Communications, 02 6051 2252, 0427 459 755.