Grasslands of the Victorian Volcanic Plains

Project: Victorian Volcanic Plains Recovery Project

Value: $5,000,000 over 5 years

Funding partner: National Landcare Program

Why are they so important?

Natural temperate grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain is a highly diverse ecological community, rich in native orchids, daisies, lilies and grasses, which provide habitat to small animals such as the Striped Legless Lizard, the Fat-tailed Dunnart, and the Golden Sun Moth.

The diversity of these grasslands is maintained by regular burning, which prevents native grasses and weeds from outcompeting the wildflowers.

This is an ecosystem shaped by thousands of years of Aboriginal land management and burning.

In modern times, these grasslands have become critically endangered. As a result of agricultural development and urbanisation, less than 1% of their original extent remains.

Some of the most diverse grasslands that remain occur on the wide roadsides of southwestern Victoria, which were originally set aside as stock traveling routes, but were burnt often annually by the local farming community to prevent large bushfires from burning farms. This practice dates back to at least the 1940s and led to the accidental conservation of grassland.

What is being done to support them?

The practice of roadside burning, which is undertaken by local CFA volunteers, is in decline. This decline has occurred as farming practises have changed, and people become busy during the burning season, leading to less volunteers being available.

Volunteer fire brigades, such as those in the Westmere region, used to burn almost 500 km of roadside every year. However, in recent years this has dropped to just a few kilometres annually.

A potential solution proposed by the Westmere fire group, is to start burning earlier in the season. For example, in November rather than March.

This would mean that burns would occur when the majority of grassland plants are flowering and before they are able to set seed. However, if burning does not occur at all, then competition would prevent new seedlings from establishing anyway.

A potential solution may be to burn early, but less frequently. For example, an early burn may sacrifice much of that year’s seed, but if the grassland is then spared from burns for the next 2-3 years there will be space for seedlings to establish in the years following the burn.

So in October 2021, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA worked with volunteer brigades in the Westmere fire region to monitor the response of grassland plants to early season burning through a series of monitoring plots. Over the coming year, the CMA will examine what impact the earlier burns have.

Watch the video on the recovery of the VVP