United effort to restore endangered ecology community

An ambitious project by staff at the Australian Cotton Research Institute (ACRI) near Narrabri will see an area of the research station returned to its former status as Native Carbeen Open Forest - an open forest environment of plants and wildlife.

For the past 50 years the three-hectare paddock on NSW Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) property adjacent to the Kamilaroi Highway has been used as a small trial plot and pecan plantation.

Now, with the assistance of the Narrabri Bushcare Community Group, the ACRI environmental group has embarked on a three-year project to replace the non-native plants with native vegetation to re-establish the endangered open forest with top, middle and under storey communities.

Spokesperson for the ACRI environmental group, ACRI Manager Tony Meppem, said the decision to create an open forest had been made by staff from NSW DPI, CSIRO, Namoi Catchment Management Authority, and the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC working at the Institute.

“Staff at Narrabri will work cooperatively to restore the natural environment as the first stage of a revegetation plan for the research station,” Mr Meppem said.

“The intention is to demonstrate the benefits to cotton farmers of maintaining and re-establishing areas of native vegetation for integrated pest management.

“Our aim is to use the area as an educational or demonstration site and provide an over-wintering area for insects as part of the Institute’s commitment to integrated pest management.

“We also see it as an opportunity to link the open forest with vegetation on the river and provide a habitat for wildlife.”

Mr Meppem said 100 trees were planned for Stage 1, with the number expected to reach 500 within three years.

“Ultimately we envisage that the site will allow us to undertake research into the environmental benefits of having woodlands as part of the farming system, and the impact on insect populations.

“This will help to create a greater awareness of the need to consider natural resources contributions for biological management of insect pests.”

Like most cotton farms, ACRI is best management practice (BMP) accredited, an industry standard fostered by Cotton Australia.

Carbeen Open Forest is the name given to the plant community that is characterised by Carbeen (Corymbia tessellaris) and White Cypress-pine (Callitris glaucophylla) and associated trees like Corymbia dolichocarpa, Eucalyptus populnea, E. camaldulensis, Casuarina cristata and Allocasuarina leuhmannii.

It occurs on siliceous sands, earthy sands and clay sands and is a distinctive plant community on the riverine plains of the Meehi, Gwydir, MacIntyre and Barwon Rivers.

Over the years Carbeen Open Forest has been cleared for grazing and cropping, with other areas threatened by fire management practices, and land-forming for irrigated crops. Remaining stands of this type are fragmented and often isolated.