By Nathan Manders
It has been almost two years now since first I started in my role as Conservation and Land Management Officer at Arid Recovery so I have created a virtual photo book to briefly sum up my first wo years on the reserve and give readers a visual perspective of my job and what is involved.
I first arrived in Roxby Downs in early February 2020 right on the back of some pretty good rain in the area. Those first few weeks saw the reserve looking much greener than I imagined it would. It also allowed for my first encounter with shield shrimp. Shield shrimp are really cool prehistoric/alien looking creatures that were surviving in the pooled water left by the rain. I had always wanted to see these little guys up close.
This was to be the start of a reasonably good year in terms of rain. Good in comparison to the previous few drought years at least. It was also to be the start of an amazing year of learning, overcoming challenges, meeting incredible new people and overall just being thankful for the opportunity to live and work in this incredible environment.
Keep reading for more experiences with rain and mud…
Feral animal control
In my first few days I was introduced to what would be one of my many roles in this position – feral animal control. I started learning tracking and trapping methods and got straight into a pretty intensive 3-4 week trapping program in an attempt to catch some incursion cats. Whilst trapping for cats, I also had my first encounter with one of our beautiful Western Quolls and in doing so also had to quickly learn (over the phone) how to process him. It’s all about learning as you go and asking plenty of questions when you need to.
Cats are a huge threat to species both in and around the reserve so control needs to be continuous and multi-pronged. Along with the standard methods of control, I have also been introduced to some more technologically advanced methods since arriving.
The Felixer is basically a machine that uses lasers to identify target animals (cats and foxes) that walk past and then fires a poison gel that the animal will then ingest when grooming. The Felixer was something I had heard of, but never seen, so I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to learn and use such an exciting new tool in conservation.
With conditions being ideal in 2020 the cat numbers in 2021 have boomed. This has kept me and the volunteer shooters very busy with the number of cats caught this year (10 months so far) almost quadruple the number of cats caught last year (12 months).
The fence is arguably the most important feature of the Arid Recovery Reserve, and, along with feral animal control, the bit that needs the most constant attention. A large portion of time spent out here is dedicated to the monitoring and maintenance of the feral-proof fence. Whether it be revamping the sagging floppy-top, installing new footnetting over older corroded netting, adding smaller mesh to the dunes to prevent rabbits from squeezing through, installing 25km of new electric fence, fixing up parts that might have fallen over, adding new technology to existing electric fences, fixing gates or even adding more mesh to try and prevent naughty little quolls from accessing places they shouldn’t. The fence is a constant challenge that requires lots of work.
Rain & mud
As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t rain all that often out here. But, when it does, things become interesting very quickly. Some things still need to be done no matter what the conditions, and one of those very important things is the fence check.
Substantial amounts of rain might cause the fence posts to sink and move in the waterlogged ground. Or running water might shift sediment and create washouts under the footnetting making it easy for animals to get in or out. Or high winds during storm events might blow large debris onto the fence causing damage. Whatever it might be, you have to try and be prepared.
In the event of a forthcoming rain it is good to be prepared and get to the reserve before it starts as the access road to the reserve will close. This also means closing all traps prior to rain starting. If this can’t be done, you might find yourself trudging the 8km to the reserve in gumboots and then trudging the further 8km to the western boundary to check the fence, as I had to do once. And if you are out there when the rain comes down, you might find yourself on an ATV navigating your way around the fence through the dunes and the mud trying desperately not to get bogged. And this might be tempting fate, but I haven’t got myself bogged yet…
As well as presenting some interesting challenges, the rain also brings on a stunning change in landscape. Brief as it sometimes is, I have been lucky enough to witness it on a few occasions now.
There is nothing quite like rain in the desert. Everything just responds so quickly. Especially the flora. I love my wildflowers and they can really put on a great show out here under the right conditions.
And then no rain
And of course after the rain comes no rain. After what was a reasonably good year in 2020 in terms of rain came a very dry 2021. With little to none of the important winter/early spring rains, we see ourselves creeping into summer with still virtually no rain. This, coupled with some strong spring winds has often caused issues with dead vegetation blowing in from all over and piling up against the fence and constantly shorting the electric wires, amongst other issues, making regular fence checks all the more important.
As well as issues with the fence, these frequent dry spells are also having an obvious effect on the vegetation around the reserve. In an effort to relieve some of the stress on the flora and fauna within the reserve more soaks will be installed in various locations to drip-feed certain plants and create some more refuge for the animals.
Away from the fence
As well as all of these things (and more) I have also had the opportunity to assist in some of the survey work when possible. This includes our annual pitfall trapping, bilby catching, bettong trapping and radio-tracking quolls. Early mornings. Late nights. It’s all worth it when you get to see the special little critters that call this place home.
This has also given me the opportunity to work with the traditional owners of the land. Helping build on relationships with the Kokatha and Arabana mobs through assisting with survey work and learning from them on country. They have also helped us with works on the reserve.
I have recently been able to fulfil a long time goal of getting some training in venomous snake handling which instantly came in handy when I had to remove this beauty from around the research station.
So there it is. A very brief visual overview of my time at Arid Recovery so far. I have loved every minute up until now. And I’m sure I’ll love every minute to come.
I love the challenges.
I love the learning.
I love the people.
I love the environment I work in every day.
I love how dynamic it is.
I love how often what I have planned will change at the last minute. Though it can sometimes be frustrating, it always keeps you on your toes and thinking ahead.
I love how willing the people around me are to share their knowledge or offer up their time to lend a hand.
It’s a brilliant job. A dream job. I count myself incredibly lucky. And when I experience things like this on a daily basis, how could I not?