The scope of this project, as approved by the Environment and Heritage Technical Committee, was to:
verify or otherwise assess the reliability of existing data records by revisiting sites of those records.
gather information which will improve the success of finding new locations of the species, and assist in assessing their viability and conservation priority. More specifically:
- gather information about reproductive ecology (especially flowering times) which will aid the planning of future survey work on the species.
- gather systematic information about the habitat in which the target species is found, to enable predictive searches of similar areas.
- gather information about population characteristics, in order to determine potential long-term viability and conservation priority of key populations.
expand the number of records for the species by strategically searching areas which provide similar habitat. Search areas will be chosen on the basis of any existing information and habitat information gathered from populations located in this study.
collate all available data for priority species from herbarium records, literature and other botanical collections/records.
conduct a rigorous, documented audit of the final significant plants database to provide a reliable dataset of distribution, population attributes and threatening processes for use in response to disturbance projects, species modelling and the development of conservation requirements for priority species.
identify geographic areas which are poorly sampled floristically and conduct surveys there. The NSW Scoping Agreement identifies a number of products or reports that require information on the distribution of various elements of the biodiversity of forest environments. These include a report on options for the establishment of a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) forest reserve system, and one or more reports detailing options for the protection of endangered species and other elements of biodiversity.
The JANIS Criteria (Commonwealth of Australia 1995) includes a criterion that 'the reserve system should seek to maximise the area of high quality habitat for all known elements of biodiversity wherever practicable' but with particular reference to 'the special needs of rare, vulnerable or endangered species’.
A major impediment to the production of the reports required by the Scoping Agreement and the implementation of the JANIS criteria is the uneven coverage of existing information on forest biota, and threatened flora in particular.
To achieve this end, targeted flora surveys were initiated to provide information on the distribution, population attributes, ecology and threatening processes pertaining to priority vascular plant species in the Upper and Lower North East CRA regions. Species included within the scope of this project are those listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995), or the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act (1992), or which have been identified by expert working groups as warranting regional threatened status.
The project covered two stages. Stage 1 comprised ten weeks of field survey covering January, February and March 1997, and employed five botanists. Stage 2 comprised 18 weeks of field survey utilising seven botanists from September 1997 to January 1998, and encompassed all other project tasks such as collation of existing data, data entry and checking and data validation. The botanists who participated in Stage 1 surveys were utilised for the second phase of this project, both for targeted field survey as well as for data checking, validation of existing data sets and assessment of the conservation requirements of priority vascular plant taxa as a part of the ongoing CRA process. This maintained continuity of knowledge of the field methodology, and contributed significantly to standardisation of data recording and field-based assessment of physical, biotic, stochastic and deterministic attributes of study sites.
Survey was largely confined to public land, as no formal arrangement for gaining access to areas of freehold tenure had been implemented prior to surveys commencing. Where botanists were able to gain access to private land through invitation by the landholder, they did so. The RACAC protocol for surveying on private land was implemented two weeks before completion of the first (January to March 1997) round of surveys. Under this protocol National Parks and Wildlife Service employees were not permitted to solicit permission to survey on private land. They were, however, permitted to survey on private land if an invitation to do so was made by the owner.
1.2 Study Area
The study area for the Upper and Lower North-East Comprehensive Regional Assessment is within a polygon between latitudes 28 11' S and 33 34' S and longitudes 150 00' E and 153 38' E. The region is bounded by the coastline in the east, the western boundaries of Tenterfield, Severn, Guyra, Uralla, Walcha, Nundle, Scone and Muswellbrook local government areas to the west, the Hawkesbury River to the south and the New South Wales-Queensland border in the north. The region covers approximately 9.7 million hectares and includes coastal, escarpment and tableland areas of natural vegetation dedicated largely to timber production and conservation, and extensive areas of cleared land used primarily for agriculture (NSW NPWS 1994; RACAC 1996a).
2.1 DATA COLLATION
2.1.1 Importation of Existing Data
Refer to McCauley (1997) for details of the UNE and LNE CRA data audit process.
Significant vascular plant localities were collated from the sources listed in Table 2.1. Only taxa of conservation significance in Upper and Lower North East NSW (De Vries 1997) were collated for the purposes of this project.
Table 2.1: Data sources for significant vascular plant localities
Importation of data sets into a purpose-built CRA database of significant plant species followed the methodology described in the flora report of the North East Forests Biodiversity Study (NSW NPWS 1994) and Sheringham & Westaway (1997).
Records were received as either delimited text files or Access files, and, after modification to ensure conformity of field names and field properties, imported into a relational (Microsoft Access) database constructed for this project. Where necessary, locality coordinates were converted from latitude/longitude to Australian Magnetic Grid (AMG) coordinates using an automated program.
2.1.2 New Data Data collected in the course of this project were entered manually into the database. Populations of target species that had been delineated on topographic maps by botanists were digitised. Where botanists had recorded their search transects onto topographic maps, these too were digitised.