Admin & Governance, Citizen Science, On-ground

Without this group, there would be no bush capital

Forging a national park, researching rare reptiles, curating art shows, and forming their own publishing house – this multi-talented group knows no bounds when it comes to protecting Canberra’s biodiversity.

Volunteering type: environmental volunteering, citizen science, administration, communication, governance and more

Thanks to Esther Gallant, Martin Chalk, Don Fletcher, Sonja Lenz and Allan Sharp for their contributions

Banner image by Mark Jekabsons

The National Parks Association of the ACT (NPA ACT) was founded in 1960 with the aim of creating ‘a national park for the national capital’. It was spearheaded by CSIRO botanist Dr Nancy Burbidge. Twenty-four years later, in 1984, their dedication paid off and Namadgi National Park (NNP) was declared. Since then, NPA ACT have worked tirelessly to care for and protect Namadgi and other conservation reserves.

The breadth of work carried out by this entirely volunteer-based association is impressive, covering areas as diverse as advocacy, citizen science, education, hands-on land management and communication. Running this complex organisation takes a lot of work; its President alone contributes over 500 hours per year to running the group, and liaising with partners and government. The President is supported by a managing committee of 11 people, each with a significant responsibility. For example, the Treasurer manages the association’s finances in a way similar to a small business, and the Secretary handles all record keeping duties and serves as office manager.

The NPA ACT’s activity calendar is packed, often with two or more events on each week, and there are at least 50 volunteers besides the committee who make major contributions to different aspects of NPA ACT’s work. This includes coordinating and leading regular guided bushwalks, ranging from one to seven days of trekking through beautiful remote surroundings. The organisation’s heritage convener plans events and liaises with the heritage library, and others are responsible for ACT NPA citizen science and land management projects (scroll down for more detail).

 Image: Sonia Lenz, NPA ACT

The NPA ACT has over 400 members, and a dedicated member liaison contacts all new members by phone when they join. The member liaison monitors and maintains three social media accounts, and recruits outside speakers for general meetings. The organisation also has a small office which is staffed part-time by volunteers, handling administrative duties and processing book orders. It even has a dedicated baker who will turn out trays of slices when needed!

The National Parks Association of the ACT has a strong focus on education, organising nature, art or culture walks; a biannual art week at Gudgenby Cottage; and information stalls at local festivals and events. They even act as a publishing house. NPA ACT currently has seven books about the plants and animals of the ACT for sale, with skilled volunteers responsible for editing as well as some of the writing and photos. NPA ACT also supports research by providing an annual scholarship to support honours or masters research into biodiversity management in national parks and nature reserves. 

Communicating and engaging with the Canberra community

The NPA Bulletin is NPA ACT’s flagship publication and is published quarterly in print and as an extended online version (32 pages). There are currently four editors – one for each issue in a year – a graphic designer and a copy editor. All are NPA ACT members and provide their services for free. The Bulletin depends on contributions mainly from members, who provide reports on NPA ACT activities, including walks and work parties, as well as information about national parks, nature reserves and conservation issues and many photos.

In 2020, NPA ACT volunteers organised a photo competition for young environmental photographers aged between 15 and 35, to encourage interest in the environment among thing younger cohort. The competition was a great success, attracting around 200 entries from more than 80 contributors. An independent judging panel selected the winning entries, which were screened electronically at Canberra Museum and Gallery, and in a mounted exhibition at the Namadgi Visitor Centre. The event received widespread local media coverage following the announcement of the winners and presentation of prizes at the Canberra Southern Cross Club Woden. The competition was sponsored by Icon Water, the ACT Government and PhotoAccess.

Advocacy – Feral Horse Management in the ACT

A recent example of advocacy success for NPA ACT was the lobbying campaign they conducted to protect Namadgi and the surrounding area (including Kosciusko National Park (KNP)) from feral horses. The campaign focused on removal of feral horses from these parks; feral horses and other hard-hoofed mammals can cause severe damage to native vegetation and waterways, disrupting local ecosystems and compromising domestic water supplies. 

Realising that office meetings with politicians and public servants had their limitations when it came to communicating the severity of the impacts feral horses can have, NPA ACT organised site visits for key decision-makers to see this firsthand. A visit to Namadgi’s healthy, horse-free wetlands was attended by 28 people, including two MLAs and their staff, the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, EPSDD personnel and Icon Water officials.

A group of 20 then travelled by bus to KNP to see the damage caused to some of its wetlands by feral horses. This included a helicopter flight over KNP for key policy-makers and land managers, which allowed them to see thousands of horses in the park. Expert commentary on the damaged wetlands was also provided by environmental scientists. 

Incredibly, the costs for these site visits were covered entirely by NPA ACT member donations.

After these visits, EPSDD released a revised, zero-tolerance Feral Horse Management Plan, which was approved by the ACT Legislative Assembly in 2020. 

Land Management – the long war on weeds

NNP covers 106,095Ha, some 46% of the ACT, and forms part of the Australian Alps national parks. NPA ACT undertakes a range of on-ground land management activities to help preserve this vast area of native forests, wetlands and grasslands. 

During work parties, members build and restore tracks, rehabilitate damaged areas, control invasive weeds, and assist the Parks and Conservation Service with fire recovery projects. The 2003 bushfires were a catalyst for NPA ACT to establish regular work parties in Namadgi. They also assist the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service with management of other parks and reserves in the wider region. 

The dedication of these volunteers can be seen in their long-term efforts to control the weeds which are a legacy of early European attempts to settle and manage Namadgi.

PCS rangers sought the help of NPA ACT to control the extensive English Broom in the area between Brayshaw’s and Westerman’s Huts – some thickets approached the size of the huts themselves! Between 2006 and 2019, NPA ACT volunteers destroyed some 24,182 individual broom plants, protecting the rest of the park from infestation by this tenacious weed. 

Image: Adrienne Nicholson cutting a broom plant. NPA ACT.

The NPA ACT has also worked regularly at the Stockyard Creek Arboretum, which is in a remote location on the northern flank of Stockyard Spur. There are 28 arboreta in the mountains west of Canberra, established between 1928 and 1968 to test how a range of exotic tree species fared in the ACT’s climate. Work to return these areas to native vegetation is ongoing. At Stockyard Creek, NPA ACT has removed 300 different exotic species. In recent months and years, the group has been focussed on the control of juniper, which has escaped the southern boundary of the arboretum and spread down Stockyard Creek.

Image: Martin Chalk removing a feral juniper plant. NPA ACT.

Working only with hand tools, NPA ACT volunteers have also removed 15,635 pine trees from Blundell’s Flat, some with trunks up to 30cm in diameter. This work was part of a project to re-establish native vegetation in an area of pine plantation that was razed in the 2003 bushfires.

Early action against new incursions of pest species has been shown to be extremely effective and good value financially. The problem is that they mostly go unnoticed until well established. During other NPA ACT activities, one member, a retired botanist, has spotted two new invasive weed species not previously known in the ACT. These were swiftly reported them to authorities so action could commence. 

Many NPA members are retired scientists and have alerted authorities to a range of other finds – some more positive than weeds, such as unrecorded aboriginal sites.

Citizen Science – Rosenberg’s Goanna Study

Image: a Rosenberg’s Goanna in Namadgi National Park by Mark Jekabsons. NPA ACT.

NPA ACT has been running a research project on Rosenberg’s Goannas in NNP since 2017. This project is providing valuable insights into a previously unknown population of these lizards, which are one of the few remaining large predators native to the ACT region.

The project uses GPS tracking devices and wildlife cameras to monitor goannas in the park, and volunteers also take measurements and collect other information about goannas when they are trapped to have their tracking devices fitted. The research is already improving our understanding of Rosenberg’s Goanna ecology and how they use and move through their habitat, including differences between male and female behaviour.

Coordinating a research project like this involves applying for and administering funding, sourcing and using specialised scientific equipment, applying for licences and other approvals, and liaison with research partners and land managers to ensure the data collected is used constructively. As well as contributing thousands of hours of their time each year, volunteers on this project use their own 4WD vehicles and pay for fuel to access remote research sites. 

Image: Volunteers take measurements of a Rosenberg’s Goanna and mark it with non-toxic paint, so they can identifying if it is caught again in future.NPA ACT.

As with many citizens science projects in the ACT, NPA ACT’s research into Rosenberg’s Goannas has yielded new information about the species that would not have been uncovered were it not for its volunteers’ power. One example is 18 nests of Rosenberg’s Goanna found along 10 km of a valley in 2020, a number that astonished everyone involved. The project manager, Don Fletcher (who is of a volunteer himself), describes this as an ‘unprecedented research resource’ for understanding factors that limit the distribution of the species.

For a more in-depth view of this project and the information it is starting to uncover, check out the articles published on the NPA ACT website – type ‘goanna’ into the filter box.