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A Sustainable Adventure to Ecolinc Science and Mt Rothwell Conservation

Our Year 11 and Year 12 Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) class visited the Ecolinc Science and Technical Innovations Centre and Mt Rothwell Conservation and Research Reserve on Wednesday 10 May 2023, learn more about their experience on this engaging excursion!

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From the perspective of students, Noe and Kason:

One highlight on our ESS excursion to Ecolinc and Mt Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre was getting to study and evaluate native species’ fur samples under a microscope. We split into groups and studied the shape of the fur, the cuticle, and the medulla to deduce which animal the fur had come from. For our sample, we correctly guessed that the fur was from an Eastern Barred Bandicoot and learned that it has a cream-coloured tip with a lattice structure. Additionally, we enjoyed going on a night walk to view Eastern Barred Bandicoots, Potoroos, Rufous bettongs, and Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies. At the end of the peaceful and serene walk, we returned to find a possum pilfering through a teacher’s bag and carrying off a pair of bananas to a nearby tree. The thief proceeded to taunt us by slowly devouring the bananas in front of us. “Banana Gate” was a horrifying experience that I will not soon forget, but other than that the excursion was nice.

 

From the perspective of students, Thomas and Luca:

Lying just 50 km west of Melbourne, a sanctuary for some of Victoria’s lost Indigenous species is found in the Mt Rothwell biodiversity reserve. The year 11 and 12 environmental systems and Societies classes were lucky enough to have been able to visit this sanctuary on their most recent field trip last Wednesday, getting the chance to see for themselves animals such as the once-thought-extinct Eastern Barred Bandicoot and critically endangered Southern Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby. A once in a lifetime experience for the students, teachers, and even Josh Brody, who tagged along for the trip.  

The day began with a trip out to Bacchus Marsh – despite getting a little lost along the way, those aboard the iconic Preshil Bus arrived at Ecolinc Science and Technology Innovations Centre ready to learn. Learning about ecosystems, value systems, biodiversity, and even getting to meet a pair of Sugar Gliders, with the guidance of Ecolinc’s resident expert Amy the students had an experience they are sure not to forget. Rowan took particular interest in the distinction between different Environmental Value Systems, leading to lively class debate. 

After taking advantage of the extensive resources available at Bacchus Marsh Secondary College, it was back to the Preshil Bus for a trip to the Mt Rothwell Reserve. Greeted by the resident dogs as they arrived, the students walked through the electric, predator-proof fence (despite the urge of some to ‘test it out’) into a pristine ecosystem of native Victorian plants, animals, and barbeque facilities. 

After a hearty dinner, we went on a nocturnal walk of the sanctuary guided by full-time staff member Steph along the walk we managed to spot nearly all of the endemic species that call the reserve home. From the critically endangered rock wallabies to bandicoots, paddymelons and even a possum with a particular taste for Bellarine College teachers’ bananas, the tour was all that could have been hoped for and more. 

Unfortunately, the nocturnal walk came to an end, with everyone piling back on the Preshil Bus for our long trip home. Arriving back at School very late in the evening, everyone was tuckered out from their big, educational, day out but all around grateful for this amazing experience. A huge thank you to Felicity and Josh along with the amazing staff and volunteers at Ecolinc and Mount Rothwell for their assistance in making this all possible! 

 

From the Perspective of the Teacher:

The day started out like any other excursion, but little did we know that we were to see something magical on this day.

We arrived at Ecolinc and Amy, our educator, started the program with a discussion about biodiversity and what this looks like for the Victorian Western Plains Basalt Grasslands. The beauty of these grasslands was not lost in the panoramic scenes that we observed, but then came the crushing news…” There is only 1% of these grasslands remaining”. This also means that this 1% is all that was left for our grassland insects and animals. This was why we were here, to understand what is happening to this fragile ecosystem. Two animals were then introduced to us to exemplify the importance of these Grasslands, the Sugar Glider, and the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. To keep this short, I will simply provide the facts:

Sugar Gliders

  • Distributed along the Australian East Coast
  • 3 sub-species – Northern, Mid and Southern
  • Omnivorous
  • Territorial
  • Arboreal (tree-dwelling)
  • Habitat – Woody Grasslands and Eucalypt Forest, bandicoots require hollows for shelter
  • Introduced to Tasmania in the mid-1800’s where they resided peacefully with other wildlife.
  • In the 1990s logging of Tasmania’s old-growth forests displaced the Sugar Glider population pushing them into the habitat of the Swift Parrot (a critically endangered species). This resulted in the Sugar Glider attacking the parrots and taking over their hollows.
  • Solution: Revegetation of lost forests and grassy woodlands, however it takes 100 or more years for tree hollows to form. Stop the logging of old growth forests. In the meantime, Tasmanian Conservationists are working to re-locate the Sugar Gliders and Zoos are involved in the breeding program for the Swift Parrot.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot (EBB)

  • Originally distributed only in the Western Plains Basalt Grasslands between Melbourne and South Australian border (where our Grasslands once existed).
  • By the 1980s the EBB was declared Extinct in the Wild.
  • The threats…Foxes and Cats
  • The competition…Rabbits
  • In 1991 Zoos Victoria started working with the Bandicoot Conservation Group to extend the captive breeding program as there were thought to be less than 150 bandicoots observed in a small pocket in Hamilton, Victoria.
  • This small wild population was moved to Werribee Zoo as well as Mt Rothwell which took in 14 EBBs.
  • Mt Rothwell staff, mostly volunteers, are now the proud protectors of 2500 EBBs and there have been several wild releases around Victoria.
  • The good news…this has shifted the listing of the EBB from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered.
  • Solution…Whilst breeding programs have proved successful, the bigger issue is the loss of habitat and the impact of predators and competitors. Re-vegetation of our grasslands needs to occur to begin the process of bandicoot release. However, keeping cats enclosed on your property, and the removal of foxes and rabbits from this ecosystem will result in the greatest change.

From education to seeing a revegetated Basalt Grassland, it was time to head to Mt Rothwell. Before dinner, students went out into the conservation area to look for evidence of animals living at Mt Rothwell, of which there was plenty; fur, scratchings, bones, scats and footprints. A twilight dinner was started, and it was not long before we started seeing crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) wildlife as Southern Brown Bandicoots and Long-nosed Poteroos joined us at the picnic table. With dinner done and darkness upon us, now was the time to spot nocturnal wildlife. Very early into the walk, we spotted our first Rufus Bettong and then an Eastern Barred Bandicoot. Then the magical moment, our first Southern Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby. These gorgeous macropods with their very fluffy tails are listed as critically endangered. At present there are only two places where they can be found in the wild; the Grampians where there is a mob of just 5 individuals and another mob in the hills of Canberra with a population of less than 20. Mt Rothwell is now home to 250 Rock Wallabies. For the remainder of the walk, we were gifted with multiple sightings of all the wildlife that Mt Rothwell had to offer apart from the very shy Eastern Quolls.

To top off the night though we took a moment to watch the activities of a very brazen Brushtail Possum who had managed to open a bag back at the Picnic area and remove two bananas, which it took great delight in carefully breaking the skin open and removing the flesh.

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