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Nature Conservation Assistance Program

Helping landholders to restore bushland on private property.

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Nature Conservation Assistance Program - Michelle Benson

Michelle Benson standing next to a tree

NCAP recipient Michelle Benson lives on a 24 hectare estate in Tallebudgera. Her passionate connection with its environment drives her to restore its degraded weedy areas back to the original native rainforest and eucalypt forest. Once cleared for grazing and then banana farming, the property now has significant ecological value as an important link in the east-west Burleigh to Springbrook bioregional corridor and neighbour to the City of Gold Coast’s Trees Road Conservation Area.

In the 16 years that Michelle has lived on the property she has always been a keen weeder. Her mission really stepped up four years ago though with the discovery of Cats Claw Creeper, which was invading one of the gullies and threatening its native vegetation, including Richmond Birdwing Butterfly habitat. The Cats Claw probably took hold about 20 years ago and, when discovered, the main infestation was approximately 2500 square metres in area. Michelle wasn’t discouraged though and felt confident that, with a little help from friends, she could knock it. Originally they started out by cutting off all the vines climbing up the trees and then treating the cut vines at ground level using the ‘cut, scrape and paint’ method.  Then Michelle foliar sprayed the ground mass monthly with a glyphosate/metsulfuron methyl mix (and Pulse penetrant) until it thinned out.  Whilst it was frustrating to see the tubers keep reshooting, Michelle persisted with monthly spot spraying and four years on, they’re almost there. Now Michelle prefers to dig out the last of those stubborn tubers by hand and she intends to stay on high alert for another few years yet to ensure the serious weed is completely eradicated.   

Michelle in the gully with a huge Richmond
birdwing vine behind her

The northern slope with Koala habitat and
Molasses Grass understorey

The northern slope 15 months after the initial
foliar spray of Molasses Grass

Natural regeneration of Native Ginger
(Alpinia caerulea) and Red Bean
(Dysoxylum mollissimum) under Camphor Laurel.

Having demonstrated her commitment to restoration and ability to maintain the work she’d already carried out, Michelle has been successful in receiving funding through the City of Gold Coast’s Nature Conservation Assistance Program (NCAP) for the last two years. The support has enabled her to engage a team of restoration contractors and drives a real incentive to succeed in her restoration efforts. 

The current project area is about 5.5 hectares and predominantly involves eradicating a wide variety of weeds including Molasses grass, Cats Claw Creeper, Lantana, Camphor Laurel, Tobacco Bush, Brazilian Nightshade, White and Corky Passionfruit, Ochna, Crofton Weed and Broadleaf Paspalum. 

The first part of the project focussed on the Molasses Grass that dominated the Eucalypt slopes. Whilst it was up to 2 metres high, it is an easy weed to kill. The contractors initially foliar sprayed the area, carefully avoiding any existing natives. Then Michelle did the follow up spot spraying and hand weeding, which took care of any grass that was missed in the original spray or new growth that had grown from the existing seed bank. Now, 15 months later, it serves as a protective layer of mulch for the soil and native groundcovers and grasses which are slowly starting to emerge again.

In the gully area the Lantana is either being lopped and reduced to mulch (with their stems cut, scrape and painted) or where there aren’t any natives amongst it, over-sprayed, leaving skeletal patches that continue to provide habitat for many small creatures until it breaks down. 

As frustratingly dominant as Camphor Laurels are in the landscape, there is evidence that they have had a role to play in regeneration and Michelle has observed many native species such as Red Kamala, Red Bean, Creek Sandpaper Fig and Native Ginger establishing underneath many of them. In autumn, when they are fruiting, the Camphors attract many frugivores (including Top Knot Pigeons, Catbirds, Orioles and Fig birds) that disperse native seed from nearby forests. In recognition of the role they play, Michelle is conscious not to open up the Camphor canopy too soon and chooses carefully which ones to target for stem-injection over the next few years. Once stem injected, the dead Camphors’ structure provides great support for vines, and perches for more seed depositing visitors.  In situations where there is no native canopy, Michelle prefers to leave Tobacco bushes until they are about 2-3 metres high (pre-fruiting age), then injects herbicide into nick cuts (a method known as ‘frilling’), leaving the structure to act as a perch for seed-dispersing wildlife.

Grateful for the few bursts of rain that finally arrived recently, Michelle is pleased to report that those faithful pioneers, Macaranga and Acacia, are at last germinating everywhere.  By providing a canopy, they’ll shade out understorey weeds and reduce the amount of maintenance that Michelle has to do. They’ll also encourage wildlife from nearby patches of remnant rainforest which will deposit a diversity of seeds into her restoration site.

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