Construction of a 23km fence to protect native animals from feral predators is underway near Adelaide as part of an ambitious project to enrich a rural landscape into a safe haven for some of Australia’s most threatened wildlife.
The first stage of the project will enclose a 148,800 ha area on the foot of the Yorke Peninsula, comprising Innes National Park, remnant vegetation, farmland and small townships.
Officially launched at an event at Warooka today, the predator-management fence is designed to limit the movement of foxes and feral cats into the area and allow for the reintroduction of several native animals that have been extinct in South Australia for more than 100 years.
The project is a collaboration between the South Australian and Federal Governments, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, Northern and Yorke Natural Resources Management Board, FAUNA Research Alliance, Birdlife Australia, Zoos South Australia, Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation, Conservation Volunteers Australia, and Yorke Peninsula Tourism.
The project aims to return up to 20 native species to the peninsula, in a bid to boost local tourism, improve agricultural productivity and restore the area to its former ecological glory.
If successful, it could become a model for transforming altered landscapes in other areas of Australia.
“Feral cats and foxes have wreaked havoc on native animal populations in this area and farmers have also lost valuable stock to these predators, so the fence is an important first milestone,” said Northern and Yorke Natural Resources team leader Max Barr.
“We can’t wind back the clock to 200 years ago, but we can try to restore key species to the system and create a landscape that balances healthy wildlife populations with prosperous farmland and tourism.”
At least 27 Australian mammal species are believed to have disappeared from the peninsula due to feral predators and the clearing of vegetation. While kangaroos and emus can still be seen around the area, many native species will never return without assistance.
The first species to be reintroduced will be the brush-tailed bettong, a critically endangered marsupial that plays an essential role in the ecosystem by digging up to four tonnes of dirt and leaf litter per year and spreading native plant seeds.
These tiny soil engineers once inhabited more than 60% of mainland Australia but are now only found in small pockets of Western Australia and offshore islands in South Australia.
Red-tailed phascogales and southern-brown bandicoots will also be reintroduced in the early stages of the project, while an existing barn owl population will be enhanced with nest boxes.
The predator-management fence, which has been funded by the federal government and donations from more than 1600 supporters of WWF-Australia, is due to be completed by March.
WWF-Australia’s Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes, Darren Grover said the project could be a real game-changer in helping to reverse Australia’s extinction crisis.
“It’s a ground-breaking effort to put the missing pieces of a healthy landscape back together,” he said.
“Getting the balance right between the animals, the landscape and the people that share it will demand some careful planning. It’s a bold and radical idea, but business as usual is no longer an option.”