Woodland birds return to Pine Grove

Landholders: Peter Morison and Dr Jennifer Alden

Property: Pine Grove, Northern Victoria
Size: 100 hectares
Traditional Owners: Barapa Barapa, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung.
Covenanted in 2016.

Why we bought the property

I [Peter] discovered this property on a work trip when it was about to be ploughed. It was something more than the large ancient trees that drew me to it. There was a feel about the place, even looking in from the boundary.

Jen and I purchased the block in 2009, largely to prevent it from being cultivated.

Indigenous presence

We have found indigenous cooking mounds, scar trees and a possible birthing tree. Recently more stone artefacts have been found. An indigenous presence on the property is strong.

Property description

Apart from the large, hollow-filled Black Box and Red Gum trees, there are a few old Bulokes, sadly are all male trees so we have included plenty of Bulokes in our revegetation in the hope of stimulating some natural regeneration. During high rainfall years about a quarter of the property floods.

As with so many other Plains Remnants, it has a 100-year history of farming that has left it with a low-quality ground layer and almost no shrub layer.

What lives here?

The plant list has a moderate diversity, however, the bird list was mostly common farm birds plus a colony of Brown Treecreepers. Because of the poor quality understorey, Noisy Miners were quite dominant.

A disused Wedge-tailed Eagle nest survived in one large tree. This had been used by a nesting Peregrine Falcon. The Wedgies have successfully nested just over the boundary. 

What have we done?

We undertook the first major understory plantings in 2016 with the help of a grant from Trust for Nature. We have specifically used shrubs that are good insect attractors and good for bird nesting and shelter.

Further understorey plantings have been done in 2018, 2021 and 2022. I continue to experiment with burning, grazing and chemicals to help control the biomass. These are producing some interesting results and I have learned much.

What has changed?

Since the plantings, we have seen a few little successes as the shrubs grow larger. Most importantly, the Noisy Miners have lost their dominance. Common Bronzewings have made the property their home, as have a large family of White-winged Choughs and a few Singing Honeyeaters.

This year we had three pairs of Sacred Kingfisher nesting, and for the first time, Red-capped Robins have appeared. The Brown Treecreepers and Superb Blue Wrens have also considerably expanded their range on the property. We look forward to more birds making the property their home.

Our goals

Our goals with the property are to respect the indigenous history and to re-establish some understory to bring back some woodland birds. We would dearly love to see Plains Wanderers, Emu, Curlews and Goannas strut this land again.


Peter was a Land for Wildlife Officer with the Department of Sustainability and Environment for ten years, then initiator and Facilitator of Wedderburn Conservation Management Network. Peter then worked with the Department in community engagement for planned burning and has been a member of the CFA for nine years. He is currently a member of the Northern Plains CMN and the Friends of Terrick Terrick National Park and currently runs his own business in Conservation Management.

Jen has spent much of her working life in various aspects of the Health sector, from service provision and management to policy advisor roles. More recently, she was Mayor of the City of Greater Bendigo and is currently a Councillor.

‘Morwell’ in the Northern Grampians

Landholders: Catherine & Clive Carlyle

Property: Morwell, Northern Grampians
Size: 145 hectares
Traditional Owners: Dja Deja Wurrang/Djab Wurrang/Jardwadjali
Covenanted in 2020 with Trust for Nature

Catherine and Clive have always had a deep interest in, and passion for, exploring and protecting the natural world.

Catherine was co-founder of Community Action for Sustainability, a group that operated successfully in south-east South Australia (SA). She was also instrumental in establishing the Limestone Coast Protection Alliance, which resulted in a moratorium on unconventional gas development in south-east SA.

In her spare time, Catherine is a rural GP.

Clive has a background in research leadership, culminating as Assistant Chief of CSIRO Forestry and then Sustainable Ecosystems. His discipline expertise is in forest ecology and biogeochemical cycling. Among his many contributions, Clive initiated coordination of CSIRO-wide activity on mitigation of Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Both Catherine and Clive are members of Landcare; Clive is Chair of the Project Platypus Landcare Network and Catherine is Treasure of the Australian Plant Society Grampians Group.

Property purchase

Catherine and Clive always had “a vague notion” about buying a bush property; it became a reality in 2013 when they checked out some “for sales” on a rock-climbing trip to the Grampians.

They purchased the 145-hectare property in 2013 and moved there permanently in 2016. All but 5ha are under a Trust for Nature covenant.

Location and features

The property abuts the Grampians National Park and connects to other areas of significant native vegetation. It has a High Landscape connectivity score.

For a relatively small property, there is a very wide habitat range, including seasonal herbaceous wetland, seasonal riparian wetland, red gum plains grassy woodland, damp sand herb-rich woodland, red gum swamp and plains grassy wetland. This gives rise to extensive habit boundaries with dramatic vegetation changes over distances of a few metres.

Significant trees

There are 65 very large river red gums with circumferences ~4m – 9.5m. In addition, one individual has a circumference of 14m.

This tree is currently listed as the joint largest river red gum in Australia and is on the Victorian National Trust register of significant trees.


The property is being actively managed for biodiversity values. This includes ongoing feral animal control, weed control, enrichment plantings (mainly understory species; 4,000 plants will be put in in July 2022), wetland restoration and wildlife monitoring.

Pest control

Fox control is continuous with 1,080 (canid pest ejectors), cat control is via cage traps deployed when cats are sighted on camera.

Rabbit control was undertaken with RHDV1 K5 in 2018; since then sightings have been rare.

Wetland reconstruction

In conjunction with Nature Glenelg Trust, a weir was constructed in 2018 to restore natural drainage patterns on a seasonal creek resulting in the annual flooding of some 50ha of wetland, some beyond the property boundary into the National Park. This supports a very diverse wetland flora including ~10 EPBC listed plant species, six species of frog, the endangered Western Swamp Cray, and Southern pygmy perch.

The seasonal creek and wetland are zoned as Culturally Significant and there are two culturally modified trees on the property.

Native birds

To date 106 native bird species have been recorded, including Diamond Firetail, Hooded Robin, Barking Owl, Powerful Owl, and Brown Tree Creeper.

A pair of Powerful Owls have roosted continuously on the property since September 2021. This is a good indication that the property and adjoining areas have (or at least had!!) a high density of prey species, predominantly arboreal mammals. Southern Brown Bandicoots have been recorded at 17 locations over ~70ha of dense bracken habitat.

Native animals

Other animals regularly recorded are Sugar Glider, Feathertail glider, Eastern Pygmy Possum, Brush-tailed possum, Ring Tailed Possum, Yellow Footed Antechinus, Rakali (white-tailed water rat), Red-necked Wallaby, Black Wallaby, Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo, and short-beaked echidna.

Koalas move through but do not appear to reside on the property. Fat-Tailed Dunnarts and Heath Mice have been recorded within 5 km and Squirrel Gliders 10km of the property.

Common reptiles include Stump-tailed skink, eastern blue tongue, eastern brown snake, red-bellied black snake, Lace Monitor, Sand Monitor, eastern snake-necked turtle.



Morwell is situated between Halls Gap and Stawell at the foot of the Mt Difficult Range. Photo: Boroka Lookout, Mt Difficult Range, with thanks to David Clarke via Flickr.

One of the Powerful Owls on Morwell.

The giant river red gum on Morwell, listed with the National Trust’s register of significant trees.

‘Raakajlim’ in the Mallee

Landholders: Fiona, Phil and Emily Murdoch (Mallee Conservation)

Property: ‘Raakajlim’ in the Mallee region of north-west Victoria
Size: 490 hectares
Traditional Owners: Latji Latji
Covenanted in 2009 with Trust for Nature

Raakajlim is a 490-hectare property, managed for conservation since 2001.

Located in the Mallee of north-west Victoria and adjoining Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, Raakajlim is privately-owned by the Murdoch family and entirely protected by a Trust for Nature conservation covenant.

The family’s vision for the property is to restore a functioning semi-arid landscape; a diverse habitat and sanctuary for threatened plants and animals.

Key features of Raakajlim

Raakajlim is diverse and showcases most of the vegetation types found in the Mallee region.

There are Mallee woodlands, semi-arid pine woodlands, an ephemeral creek line and riverine (Blackbox) Chenopod woodland high on the floodplain, with River Red Gums closer to the Murray River.

The landscape also features high red sand dunes and native grasslands. These, although now recovering, are a legacy of past clearing and land use.

The property benefits from being surrounded on three sides by Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

Rare and endangered species

Raakajlim hosts over 60 threatened species, including the largest population in the world of the Arid Bronze Azure Butterfly. This unique butterfly has a complex relationship with Sugar Ants. The caterpillars spend their entire life underground in the ant nest. We think they eat the ant larvae. When the butterfly emerges and flies away it doesn’t feed on a host plant; it just mates and the females lay their eggs at the entrance to the ant nest and the cycle starts again!

The property also hosts lots of beautiful but threatened birds, including the Regent Parrot, Pink Cockatoo, Crested Bellbird and Hooded Robin – even White-Bellied Sea-eagles show up occasionally! Threatened reptiles include the Lace Monitor and Bandy Bandy.

But the plants! Oh my!

Nearly 45 threatened plant species (and counting) can be found on Raakajlim, including Silky Glycine, Bush Banana, Bush Bean, Skeleton Fanflower and Swainson Peas.

It is a rich landscape that is now thriving thanks to the Murdoch family.


Arid Bronze Azure Butterfly.

*Mallee Conservation is restoring habitat on Raakajlim and building awareness and appreciation of the plants, animals and habitat of the Mallee in northwest Victoria. The family hosts visits to the property from field naturalists and other environmental groups, as well as scientists and interested individuals. More stories about the property can be found on the Mallee Conservation website, blog and social media.

EcoGipps biolinks Gippsland

Landholders: Phillipson family

Properties: 4 properties in the Macalister River region of Gippsland
Size: Approx. 1,000 acres over 4 linked properties
Traditional Owners: Gunaikurnai
Covenants with Trust for Nature

EcoGipps consists of four diverse properties stepping from the Gippsland Plains to the Avon Wilderness. Reclaimed from former staging posts when cattle were driven through the wilderness to the alpine peaks for grazing, the properties encompass riparian woodland and lowland grasslands bound by the meanders of the Macalister River.

The properties create a stepping stone between the townships of Heyfield and the Alpine Nature Park, connecting public and private nature bushland. They follow a series of creeks and river systems likely used as migration routes for millennia and latterly as mountain cattlemen trails.

The properties are owned and operated by the Phillipson family, well-known for their environmental philanthropy and support for grassroots environmental organisations via the Rendere Environmental Trust.

The EcoGipps properties represent the family’s commitment to restoring and conserving Gippsland landscapes and to sharing knowledge with other covenantors, researchers, the Gunaikurnai Traditional Owners and the local community.

The family is not only concerned with protecting the flora and fauna of the area, but with promoting conservation as a contributor to the regional economy.

Conservation actions

The family has a large program of work underway to maximise habitat integrity to create thriving populations of local and significant species including Dingos, Swift Parrots, microbats and Gippsland Water Dragons.

The aim is to facilitate future opportunities to rewild the area with species previously lost, including the Eastern Quoll and Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby.

The family consults with and engages scientists to conduct ecological research, including baseline studies to identify species and habitats of significance and establish long-term monitoring. A number of other projects and activities, including seasonal tree plantings, are underway on the properties, with the family aiming to secure carbon-neutral certification by 2025.

Property details

Our four properties all have a distinct character, defined by their habitats and topography and shaped by past human exploits. Current management is focused on weeds/feral animal reduction and riparian plantings.

Property 1 (90 acres)

This formerly degraded cattle grazing country, which is bordered by an active irrigation channel and the Macalister River, holds rare remnant swathes of native plains grassland, including Wallaby and Kangaroo Grass.

The river and channel are bordered by riparian woodland and several locally and regionally scarce plants.

The property forms an important interface between habitats and a vital connection to other surrounding properties.

Property 2 (300 acres)

Largely intact, with dry Box and Stringybark bushland and many old tree nesting hollows, this property includes a rare sub-humid forest and Tea-Tree soak; part of remnant swampy lowland habitat.

Scarce plants such as Bushy Hedgehog Grass and Heath Platysace allude to the richness of these habitats.

Property 3 (350 acres)

This property encompasses locally-significant open grassy woodland dominated by Yellow Box grassland on Glenmaggie basalt, a localised habitat in Victoria.

Some grassland areas remain open due to the basalt, including a large alluvial terrace in a meander of Navigation Creek. This creek runs west-east through the property, joining the River Avon to the east and is flanked by mature riparian forest vegetation along its length, with many of the trees supporting excellent hollows.

At the western reaches of the creek, the valley steepens and microclimatic changes result in the area being considerably more humid.

Property 4 (300 acres)

The property consists of open woodland and glades and extensive bush and dry ridgelines. Ben Cruachan Creek forms part of the eastern boundary before joining the Avon River. The surrounding high escarpments are dominated by drier bush.

Several colluvial groundwater-fed springs environments are of particular interest, with further baseline research underway to help the team understand their biodiversity values.

Recent progress

Native grasses, ferns and shrubs are rebounding strongly, attracting small mammals, reptiles and ground birds.


Comment from Land Covenantors Victoria secretary, Diana Droog

“The Phillipson family are highly experienced covenantors who work with Trust for Nature and other groups to ensure the EcoGipps properties are protected in perpetuity. Jim Phillipson has been instrumental in getting Land Covenantors Victoria off the ground and together we are working to ensure that more individuals and families get the opportunity to conserve and restore private land for future generations.” 

Photo credits: Landscape photos with thanks to Dan Brown via Flickr. Diuris sulphurea with thanks to NSW Grassy Ecosystems. Calochilus robertsonii with thanks to eyeweed via Flickr. Swift Parrot by David Cook via Flickr.e

Nature Reserve, Strzelecki Hills Gippsland

Landholders: Gavin Wigginton and Andrew Kleinig

Property: Nature Reserve in Strzelecki Hills, Callignee
Size: 236 acres
Covenanted: 2008

We acquired the 236 acres property in 2007 and placed a Trust for Nature covenant on the title deed in 2008. We regard it as a nature reserve that we hold in trust for future generations.

The property in the Strzelecki Hills in Gippsland is a blend of lowland woodland, damp and wet forest with several gullies and seasonal streams that run through to Traralgon Creek. There is an abundance of flora and fauna, including a koala colony, lace monitors, bandicoots, 60 bird species and some rare orchids.

The property was severely impacted by fire in 2009, from which it has recovered. We survived in a car in the shed as the house burned down. In 2012, a more fire-resistant house was erected in the domestic area. The property is off-grid with a solar energy system.


Since acquiring the property, we have established 5 km of walking tracks, renewed fencing and actively manage the removal of weeds. Flora and fauna surveys are completed intermittently and we have undertaken a camera trapping program.

Acquisition of the covenant has given us peace of mind that the property will remain free from the threat of development. We welcome the establishment of Land Covenantors Victoria as a means of sharing knowledge and experience, promoting the adoption of a covenant by other landowners and potentially facilitating landscape ecology.

Gavin is currently an author specialising in biography and history. Previously, he was a senior manager in both the public and private sectors and a management consultant. He has been a member of the Wilderness Society for over 30 years and, for ten years, he was a Board Member of the Australian Conservation Foundation of which he is an Honorary Life Member. Andrew is a long-time environmentalist and a manager with Melbourne Water.

St Arnaud and Slaty Creek carbon sequestration

Landholders: Rob Youl and Alison Harris

Property:  Three blocks around St Arnaud, Wimmera region

Traditional owners: Dja dja wurrung

Size: 268 hectares

Covenanted: 1991-2015

I [Rob] am a retired forester and Landcare worker living in Melbourne. Alison is a retired town planner. In 1991, when I was with Greening Australia, Trust for Nature staff alerted me to a 127-ha block at Stuart Mill between Avoca and St Arnaud. We remain on good terms with the vendors.

Venerable Blue Mallee, Slaty Creek, Victoria

To our delight, it was the type locality for a very rare spider orchid. Several other endangered orchids grew there. Since the mid-1990s the department, under its different names, has conducted orchid research here. Eleven hectares of old buloke grow there.

Later, when I worked for Landcare Australia, we bought more land around St Arnaud, particularly for carbon sequestration. We have renovated and greatly enjoy the cottage on our last block at Slaty Creek.

Whilst our Stuart Mill and Tottenham blocks are entirely bushland, the Slaty Creek property, former grazing country, has 50 ha of revegetation established by planting, direct seeding and natural regeneration. We also endeavour to re-create chains of ponds along drainage lines and have started to convert conventional dams into wetlands.

Conservation rewards

This has led to thinning grey box regrowth at Stuart Mill and transferring much of the slash to the nearby major gully, again to try to re-establish native grasslands and chains of ponds and eliminate streambed erosion.

Chain of 19 ponds at Slaty Creek

We often use this land for Landcare training, community and school planting days and farm and nature walks, including Indigenous groups and installing nest boxes and creating small biolinks.

Our covenanted land brings us great pleasure. Firstly, after a lifetime in forestry and Landcare, I am still practically engaged and learning on-the-job. I am particularly interested in re-creating chains of ponds along drainage lines and new habitats.

Our three-monthly surveys of birdlife are rewarding. Next is our satisfaction from maintaining biodiverse bushland and catchment in perpetuity for the community.

We have gained many insights into regional Indigenous culture and reconciliation. Land management activities afford contact with neighbours, the south east Wimmera community and Trust for Nature. Association with natural landscapes improves one’s health – physical, mental and spiritual. Finally, friends and family can share our bounty.