Early European visitors to Cape Otway described the area as resembling ‘cups and saucers’ due to a system of ridges and valleys formed by windblown dunes. The Cape was maintained as an open woodland by regimental use of fire by the local Gadabanud, or King Parrot, people. The diversity of plant life in these woodlands was exceptionally high including an abundance of native herbs and orchids which thrive in sandy soils.
However, recent changes to stewardship and land management have seen the area become increasingly choked by shrubs which have spread from adjacent coastal ecosystems. This has not only disguised the Cape’s undulating nature it has also reduced the diversity of the woodland’s plants due to the intensely competitive nature of the coastal species.
If the process continued woodland plants like the endangered leafy-greenhood orchid faced local extinction. The cessation of controlled fire also broke the cycle of germination for many plants including the region’s trees. This has led to a lack of seedlings to replace ageing and senescent Manna Gums and Messmate Stringybarks.
Re-introducing planned fire into the Cape Otway landscape has allowed the CEC and the Country Fire Authority, our project partners, to stall the invasion of coastal shrubs. Enabling us to maintain the area’s floral diversity and pave the way for recolonization of species back into the woodlands. We are beginning to seeing profuse flowering in once common species like Creamy Candles, small mosquito orchids and Stork’sbills, and fire dependant species like Golden Tip, Austral indigo, and Running Postman are once again germinating.
Planned burning has also allowed the perfect medium for the planting of local tree species to initiate the recovery of the lost canopy. These trees are grown from local seed which is stored in the seedbank of our partners at the Southern Otway Landcare Network, and are carefully planted to recreate the woodland areas which have been damaged or lost.
The structure and diversity of Cape Otway’s woodlands is also vital for conserving the area’s fauna. Endangered species which are persisting on the Cape despite threats such as predation by cats and foxes include the long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus) , broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus) and powerful owl(Ninox strenua). These species rely on diverse habitats and therefore maintaining our woodlands will be critical to their persistence in the region.
Jack Pascoe joined the Conservation Ecology Centre in 2012 to manage the ever growing Conservation Programs. Jack grew up at Cape Otway before leaving to study Science at Deakin University and going on to complete his PhD with the University of Western Sydney where he studied the ecology of predators in the Blue Mountains. His key fields of expertise are conservation and wildlife biology and previous research topics have included wild dog ecology, lace monitor home range, the distribution of large forest owls and the interactions of exotic predators with native carnivores like the Tiger Quoll. Immediately prior to joining the CEC, Jack worked with one of our project partners, the Southern Otway Landcare Network, primarily focusing on mitigating the impacts of pest plants and animals throughout the Otways.
Jack is Chair of the Otway Community Conservation Network, is President of the Hordern Vale Glenaire Landcare Group, Vice President of Southern Otway Landcare Network and a member of the Expert Panel advising The Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Environment and Climate Change.
The Conservation Ecology Centre is a nationally registered non-profit ecological research, conservation and wildlife rehabilitation centre, dedicated to protecting and understanding Australian ecosystems.
See the many ways you can be involved in conservation of the Otways: http://www.conservationecologycentre.org/get-involved/