The Northern Gulf Resource Management Group works in partnership with Cape York Natural Resource Management to identify the biodiversity value of and environmental threats to nature refuges in the two regions under their care.
This following is a progress report by Northern Gulf RMG, Dr Carly Starr and Michael Anthony.
Cape York Nature Refuges range from properties comprising hundreds of thousands of hectares, to areas the size of a football field. Woodland, riverine, rainforest, vine thicket and coastal habitats are represented in the list of reserves; one is an island on the Barrier Reef.
Owners and managers of 25 Cape York Nature Refuges have been contacted, and seventeen site visits were made between late October and December 2013. Despite visitation at the hottest, driest time of year, wildlife sightings were numerous, especially of those of nocturnal animals.
Due to the high temperatures, few small reptiles were observed. Numerous bird species were sighted near permanent water. Frogs were observed after rain events. Agile wallabies were common, yet other species of macropod were rarely seen.
Generally landscapes appeared healthy, with high plant diversity and adequate ground cover. Threats to individual refuges vary immensely, reflecting the diverse nature of properties involved.
Sicklepod appears to be the major weed threat. Lantana, Sensitive Weed, Noogoora Burr, Hiptus, Sida and Grader Grass are the common weed species sighted. Feral pigs are the major pest animal threat and low numbers of other feral faunas species including cats, horses and cattle, were reported.
Many fires, burning over large areas for weeks or even months were recorded. Methods of fire control vary widely, reflecting the variation in types of country and individual land manager preferences. In some areas residents of adjoining properties work together on fire, yet there often appears to be little communication between property holders.
Areas of erosion were observed, with the results of roadworks, affecting watercourses. Many refuges have suffered from unauthorised visitor activities including lighting fires, damaging roads, spreading weeds, knocking down fences, and in an extreme cases, burning infrastructure.
Fencing areas for cattle management of cattle is the most popular reason for funding proposals. Landowners expressed interest in biodiversity surveys, fire breaks, and weed and feral animal control.