Monday, August 21, 2017

Feral Animals in Australia / Part 3

Continuing on with our list of feral animals:
-Water Buffalo
Between 1825 and 1843, about 80 water buffalo were brought to Melville Island and the Cobourg Peninsula (now in the Northern Territory) as a meat supply.
When these settlements were abandoned in the mid 1900s, the buffalo soon colonized the swamps and freshwater springs of this part of  the 'Top End'.
Despite harvesting them for meat, hides and as hunters’ trophies, feral buffalo spread across the northern floodplains. There are two types; the river type from western Asia, with curled horns, and the swamp type from eastern Asia, with swept back horns.
Prior to extensive culling in the 1980s, the population was estimated at around 350 000. Numbers dropped dramatically as a result of the campaign but have since recovered to an estimated 150 000 animals across northern Australia in 2008.

The feral buffalo grossly altered the character of the northern floodplains.
With its wallows, trails, dung, trampling and disturbance, it caused soil erosion, channelling of flood waters, increased intrusion of salt water into freshwater habitats and destruction of wetland vegetation.
They can carry important diseases of cattle, particularly tuberculosis and brucellosis.
A number of small scale industries involving the buffaloes remaining have developed eg.meat for human consumption (local and international), pet meat, hides, horns, animals for live export and game for hunters.
Some Aboriginal communities depend on the buffalo as a food source and have negotiated
permission to maintain a domesticated herd.
Farming of re-domesticated herds is also increasing.
-Wild Goats
Goats came to Australia with the first fleet in 1788.
During the 19th century, sailors released goats onto islands and some areas of the mainland for
emergency food. Cashmere goats were brought into South Australia in 1837. In the 1860s, angora and cashmere goats were imported from Asia to start a goat fibre industry. Some herds were set free when the industry collapsed in the 1920s. More recently, goats have been used to keep plantation forests and inland pastoral land free of weeds.

The current feral goat population in Australia represents a mixture of all these origins.
There are at least 2.6 million feral goats but numbers fluctuate enormously with drought, management programs and high fertility so it is very difficult to accurately assess numbers.
They are considered a significant agricultural and environmental pest.
They have been estimated to cause losses to livestock farming of $25 million per year.
The goats also negatively affect conservation values and biological diversity by damaging the vegetation and competing with native animals.
Control of feral goats is a complex issue. While they are a major environmental and agricultural
pest, they also have some commercial value and are used as a game species by recreational hunters.
We don't have wild goats around here. Well, not the four legged variety anyway.
-Wild Pigs
The first recorded release of pigs in Australia was made by Captain James Cook at Adventure Bay, Bruny Island (just off what is now Tasmania) in 1777. This was part of his policy of introducing animals and plants to newly discovered countries (Thanks, Jim!). 
However today's problems with feral pigs really started when domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) were first introduced into Australia by the First Fleet in May 1788. Then 49 pigs were brought to Sydney as a food source and were subsequently allowed to roam.
By the 1880s they had run wild in New South Wales.
They now have declared pest status country wide.

Agriculturally they reduce crop yields by consuming or trampling plants. Fences and water sources can be damaged. Dams and waterholes are fouled through wallowing and defecation. They also compete with livestock for pasture and damage pasture by up-rooting vegetation.
Environmentally they disturb natural habitats by rooting up soils, grasslands and forest litter and consuming a range of native plants. They also eat a range of live native animals including earthworms, beetles, centipedes, amphipods, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles and their eggs and small ground-nesting birds and their eggs.
Feral pigs can be hosts or vectors of a number of endemic parasites and diseases, some of which can affect other animals or people eg. leptospirosis.
Control methods include aerial and ground shooting as well as trapping and strategic poisoning.
Deer were introduced into Australia from Europe in the 19th century as game animals.
There are now six species in various parts of the country: fallow, red, chital, hog, rusa and sambar.
They are a major emerging pest problem, causing damage both to the natural environment and agricultural businesses. Populations are expanding and deer are invading new areas.
They destroy native vegetation by trampling plants, grazing, and ring-barking young trees, fouling waterholes, causing soil erosion, spreading weeds and potentially transmitting diseases.
The most common control measure is shooting by recreational hunters and sometimes by professional marksmen.
Another control approach is prevention of the escape of farmed deer so that they do not create new wild populations or bolster existing wild populations.

We do not have a problem with them around here but they are in plague proportions in the Royal National Park on Sydney's southern outskirts. It's a bit strange for us to see road signs warning about deer rather than kangaroos.
-Wild Horses (Brumbies)
The first horses, around seven of them, arrived in Australia with the first British colonists, in January 1788.
They became essential to the development of the nation’s pastoral, farming, mining and timber-getting industries and for decades were the main means for moving goods, supplies, mail and passengers between towns and around cities.
Today, horses have been replaced by technology but thousands of Australians continue to share deep connections with their animals, from outback stockmen, to racing, pony clubs and weekend riders.
In the meantime many horses have gone wild. In the more environmentally sensitive places like the Alpine regions eg. the so called 'high country' of Victoria and New South Wales much of which is national park, they are causing damage.

Authorities are calling for their removal wanting the elimination of 90 per cent of the estimated 6000 wild horses over 20 years in the Kosciusko National Park alone.
Aerial and land culling were suggested as the preferred options.
This is very controversial.
The brumby is ingrained in our culture. Many think they should be valued for the historical links to early settlers and popular legends such as The Man From Snowy River and military roles such as the Light Horse Brigade.
Others think it is more important to stop the degradation of the wetlands in the Australian Alps and protect critically endangered species such as the corroboree frog, alpine water skink, and the broad-toothed rat.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Winter Vineyard and Farm Work

We are nearly ready for vintage 2018 to begin.
It's been a busy few weeks.
The first job was pruning and burning off the cuttings. The latter was combined with our usual winter fallen timber clean up burn offs around the property so we saved a bit of time there.
The Pinot Noir block needed no additional work.
Raising the netting in the Tempranillo/Semillon block had to be finished and luckily Stirls was on hand to help with that as well as reset a couple of strainer posts ie. straightening and stay replacement.
The Cabernet Sauvignon block is now 20 odd years old and the infrastructure is showing its age a little.
One strainer post was completely broken off at ground level and the stump had to be dug out and the strainer replaced. Other strainers had moved loosening wires. These had to be straightened, stays replaced and wires tensioned.
Thankfully the weather has been good apart from a few days of strong westerly winds. It has been an unseasonably warm and dry winter so it was pretty comfortable doing all the hard labour.
The only major job left is net mending which is not too urgent.
We expect bud burst in the early varieties to begin in a few weeks. As the years pass, this gets earlier and earlier. I think the difference now to when I first planted is about three to four weeks. Climate change?
The burn offs went without a hitch. These are quite big fires and you have to monitor the weather forecasts closely. With it being so dry you don't want the wind to get up half way through a burn and set the neighbourhood on fire. Hazard reduction burns that get away can cause a lot of problems.
Our spray 'attack' on the dreaded tussock weed on the south side of the creeks continues. This is the second year. We can see progress is being made but it is a laborious process.

In winter these weeds take some time to yellow off and die due to the cooler weather so after a while it's difficult to know where you have been in a densely infested area. So the process is slow.
Hopefully it can be finished this year and a 'mop up' operation on any regrowth done in autumn next year.
Results of a similar program on the north side of the creek have been extremely rewarding. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Betty Cuthbert (1938-2017) MBE AM

When you get to my age, people whom you "grew up with" start to die. Whether it be actors, musicians, politicians or sports people, some have had an impact on your life and their passing  generates emotions, some stronger than others.
Today Betty Cuthbert, Olympic champion runner and Australia's 'Golden Girl', died after a long battle with MS.
This saddened me more than most.

As a young kid I watched her run at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games on a grainy, flickery black and white TV behind the window of an electrical goods store. Not many families could afford one of those recently introduced gizmos or even tickets to the games.
She won three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4 x100m relay.
This inspired me to run and sprinting became my sport of choice through my primary and high school days.
Didn't do too badly at it either.

Betty was injured for the 1960 Rome Olympics but won gold in the 400m in 1964 Tokyo games.
News of her MS filtered out in 1974 and she dedicated much of her life towards raising awareness about the condition. Most of my generation followed her progress when dribs and drabs appeared in the press.
She was back in the limelight again at the opening of the 2000 Sydney Olympics as one of the final torch bearers. She was accommpanied around the stadium in a wheelchair by another athletics great, Raelene Boyle, to a huge reception.
Now she is gone.

Four Olympic gold medals, sixteen world records and the only Australian to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.
Vale Betty.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Feral Animals in Australia / Part 2

Following on from my May '17 post which seemed popular, here are some more introduced species that have caused or are causing problems.
During the 19th century camels were imported into Australia from India and Afghanistan and used for transport and construction during the colonization of the central and western parts of of the country.
After railways and motorized transport started replacing them in the early 20th century, many were released into the wild resulting in a fast-growing feral population.
By 2008, it was estimated that Central Australia's feral camel population had grown to about one million. They are known to cause serious degradation of local environmental and cultural sites particularly during dry conditions.
A management program was funded in 2009 and upon completion in 2013, the feral population was estimated to have been reduced to around 300,000.
Aerial and ground culling plus mustering for farm use were the techniques used.

A camel 'industry' does exist with meat being exported to various countries for human consumption. It is also used for pet food.
A number of camel dairies have also been established.
Live camels are occasionally exported to the Middle East where disease-free wild camels are prized as a delicacy.
Live camels are also exported as breeding stock for Arab camel racing stables and for use in tourist venues in places such as the USA.
-Black and Brown Rats, Mice
The black and brown rat and house mouse were accidentally introduced to Australia with European settlement.
As all around the world they are a problem not likely to be rid of.
Mice plagues are common in some rural areas. Australia's worst mouse plague was in 1993. It caused an estimated $96 million worth of damage.
Poisoning and trapping are the main controls.
Bush Rat
Australia also has around fifty native rats and mice.
These are presumed to have arrived within the last 4 million years from Asia.
They are difficult to differentiate from the 'foreigners'.
We deal with the native bush rats and field mice here but never in plague proportions.  
The exact date of the carp's initial introduction to Australia is unclear. Some records claim the species was introduced to waters near Sydney as early as the 1850s. Others claim the first introduction was to Victoria in the 1870s.
They are a pest because of their destructive bottom-feeding habits which stir up sediments and muddy the water. This causes serious damage to the native fish populations in the lakes and rivers that they infest by out-competing other fish for food and space. 
Carp are also thought to lower water quality, which can kill off sensitive organisms like native freshwater mussels.
Although they are commercially fished as well as processed into fertilizer, the government is intent on eradicating them.
They have announced a $15 million project that would see a strain of the herpes virus, which was discovered in Israel, released into the Murray-Darling river system by the end of 2018.
The virus only affects European carp and is expected to kill 95 per cent of that species of fish in the river system over the next 30 years. 
-Fire Ants
These little pests are one of the latest unwanted imports. They are native to South American floodplains of the Paraguay River in Brazil, Paraguay and Northern Argentina.
They would have been unknowingly imported into Brisbane around 20 years ago possibly in a shipping container from the United States. They were first detected in the Brisbane area in February 2001.
Fire ants are a serious pest that threaten our lifestyle, the environment and agriculture.   
There have been six separate incidents of fire ant infestation, five recorded in Queensland and one in Port Botany NSW, the most recent at Brisbane Airport in 2015. Many of the colonies have been successfully eradicated but it is an ongoing battle to prevent their spread.
Bio-security Queensland is using a low-toxic bait treatment applied by broadcasting it over an area using about 4grams per square metre.
Worker ants take bait granules back to the nest, where they are passed among other ants and fed to the queen. These baits do not kill the ants but sterilize the queen and stop the larvae from developing. The worker ants are not replaced and the colony dies out.
We have to keep an eye out for native venomous ants eg. bull ants and jumping jacks when out and about so we don't want another one added to the list.
Continued here