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FOG: Friends of Grasslands


 
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Sarah Sharp, President of Friends of Grasslands (FOG), outlines the work that this 20 year old group does, shining a light on an overlooked ecosystem – grasslands. In many cases grasslands occur naturally where the temperature is so low that trees don’t grow. In the Australian Capital Territory, for instance, the overnight ground temperature can drop as low as -13º, much too cold for trees to survive, in cold air drainage areas, where fog can be seen up until lunchtime in winter. Trees might not survive in grasslands but many other species of plants do. Many of these die right back to their rootstocks in winter, giving the impression that not much grows in grasslands. Spring sees a flourish and grasslands can be extraordinarily attractive when there are lots of wildflowers.

 
Grasslands are home to a wide range of species, a number of which are threatened. Many of the creatures are small, like the Grassland Earless Dragon, the Striped Legless Lizard and the mouthless Golden Sun Moth.
Grasslands are home to many flowers such as daisies, lilies, orchids and peas. These range in colour from white to yellow to purple with a little blue and pink and these colours attract insects.
Generally bird-attracting red flowers are absent from grasslands, which is probably because many birds are vulnerable in such open areas. Larger birds like magpies do visit, as do raptors if rabbits or lizards are about.
Many grassland plants have also been used by Aborigines. A recent book, Ngunawal Plant Use, is a guide to traditional Aboriginal plant use in the ACT region. The roots of many plant species were used, leaves to a lesser extent, the Yam Daisy being a well-known food source.

 
Above: FOG related publications: Grassland Flora, a Field Guide for the Southern Tablelands (NSW and ACT), by FOG members David Eddy, Dave Mallinson, Rainer Rehwinkel and Sarah Sharp. is an easy to use field guide for grassy ecosystems of the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the ACT. ISBN 0731360214, Crown copyright 1998

 
FOG began in 1994, growing out of a strong push in the early 1990s to recognise grasslands as an important ecosystem. The commonwealth provided funding to the ACT Government to investigate where grasslands were located and the actions required to aid their recovery and support ecological research carried out by Sarah. The establishment of FOG was part of those efforts. Their main aims are advocacy and education, especially when decisions that impact on grassy ecosystems are taken. The natural grasslands and grassy woodlands of temperate areas are subject to a lot of change in terms of development and modified agricultural practices. Another role for FOG is to help others manage such grasslands, so they assist government and community groups by providing advocacy, advice and on-ground management, including weeding. They are often asked to attend meetings and to provide submissions, acknowledgement that FOG is a genuine stakeholder.

 
The ACT Government’s natural resources management program granted FOG $6000 for 2014–15 to control key weeds and do some planting at grassland sites on national lands. Above: woody weed control in Stirling Park site. Below right: Postive outcomes are evident at Stirling Park.     
In this way they can often help resolve potential problems before they become real issues. Throughout south-eastern Australia there is a lot of research into grasslands. La Trobe University, University of Melbourne, the ANU and the University of Canberra have all contributed and at present there are many trials being undertaken by community groups. Some look at the impact of weed treatments, grasslands being home to many invasive species like African Lovegrass (one of the worst), Serrated Tussock, Chilean Needlegrass and St John’s Wort.

 
Other trials are looking at the effects of fire and other potential restoration techniques. FOG also distributes publications which can be ordered through its website (http://www.fog.org.au).
The field guide, Grassland Flora, has sold over 12,000 copies so far.
Last year the group organised a conference which proved stimulating for a group that has been running for 20 years. Attended by over 150 people it proved that there were a lot of people across Australia that value native grassy landscapes.
New members are always welcome, to find out more about grassy ecosystems, or to become more involved in grassland advocacy and conservation. Details are on the website. FOG helps to shine a light on those ecosystems.

Survey at Yarramundi Reach Restoration site

 
Friends of Grasslands' volunteers and the weeds they dispatched during grasslands restoration at Yarramundi Reach. (c) J Pittock, 2009.

Sarah Sharp was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent.
Images are from the FOG website, reproduced with permission.
Summary text by Victor Barry, March 2015.

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Greener pastures Making a good recovery

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