For 6 years the federally funded, $2.7M, Hunter Stepping Stones Project, has been connecting private land across the Upper and Lower Hunter with surrounding remnant vegetation and public reserves. Over 140 on-ground projects have been undertaken consisting of a mix of re-vegetation, weed eradication and protective fencing of riparian areas. These projects have delivered foundational connectivity conservation outcomes including:
- Over 500ha of connected plantings
- Over 1000ha of weed eradication
- Over 50ha of riparian protection
- 80,000 stems in the ground
Dedicated landowners have contributed an estimated $300,000 in cash to these projects and a further $450,000 in-kind through the preparation and maintenance of their projects. These landowner donations equate to an additional 30% for every dollar contributed by the project and demonstrate landowner commitment to the success of the project.
Whilst not formally measured, there have also been anecdotal accounts of the project helping to relieve family stress by providing funds to enable farmers to better care for their natural assets. Land restoration issues, such as noxious weeds can be extensive, and expensive to address. Funding through the Stepping Stone project has helped landowners to get on top of such issues, which in many instance provide regional benefits.
A full summary of the project can be viewed at: Stepping Stones Project (2011-2017)
Bird surveys have been undertaken across the Hunter landscape during the project period to record the presence of birds at key habitats. Bird surveys commenced at Black Hill in the Lower Hunter in Spring 2013, and have continued until Autumn 2017. Across the Upper Hunter surveys have been undertaken across Martindale (Spring 2014 – Spring 2015) and McCully’s Gap (Summer 2016 – Autumn 2017). A complete set of the data and field reports for each bird survey undertaken during the project can be found at:
Looking beyond the period of the project funding there remains an opportunity to further empower landowners who are already engaged in Stepping Stones to develop their capacity to become citizen scientists for their individual projects. The skills to undertake landscape functional analyses to efficiently and cost effectively measure the changes in biodiversity resulting from landowner projects will provide a true measure of the projects success into the future. Opportunities for habitat augmentation, for example through the installation of nest boxes, also presents various possibilities for strengthening the connectivity value of these private lands.
Turning these opportunities into reality will require greater investment in private land conservation by government. As biodiversity legislation is amended and implemented across NSW, mechanisms for consolidating private land conservation are uncertain. What is certain is that just 8% of NSW’s remnant vegetation is protected by our public reserve system, leaving an outstanding 92% across other public and private land tenuress – the future of our biodiversity is in our hands.
The Hunter Great Eastern Ranges Partnership will continue to seek funding to develop and deliver future project ideas across the Hunter that focus on connectivity conservation and we encourage you to keep up to date and support us in the future.