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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

Harnessing the Power of Dead Wood: Conservation Success at Wombat Ridge

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Sometimes the most unassuming elements can yield the most remarkable results. When Threatened Species Commissioner from 2014 to 2017, I learned from Dr Adrian Manning at the Australian National University's Fenner School of the Environment about the invaluable benefits of using dead wood as a conservation tool. Fast forward to today, and the integration of dead wood into the Conservation Management Plan of my property Wombat Ridge Nature Reserve has become a cornerstone of success in achieving tangible and lasting improvements to woodland habitat.

Dr Manning, brought to light for me the pivotal role that dead wood can play in ecosystem restoration at Mulligan's Flat in the ACT. His insights there shed light on the ecological importance of utilising dead wood as a multifaceted tool, transcending its seemingly unanimated and even perceptional ugly nature. The knowledge he shared ignited a transformative journey for me, one that is creating real-world success at Wombat Ridge.

Dead wood, often dismissed as mere detritus, possesses an array of hidden potential that can drive positive ecosystem changes, especially where the ecology is degraded or under pressure from invasive species and climate change. At Wombat Ridge, we've harnessed this potential and the results have been inspiring.

Shielding Native Plant Seedlings: One of the most remarkable applications of dead wood is its role in nurturing native plant seedlings and saplings. By strategically placing dead wood around vulnerable young plants, we've allowed them to establish themselves by protecting them from herbivores. This simple yet logical approach has allowed young plants to thrive.

Erosion Mitigation: Dead wood has emerged as an unlikely hero in the battle against erosion which compromises soil stability and water quality. Parallel dead logs thoughtfully placed along the natural contours of the land have slowed down water flows, allowing for enhanced percolation and the capture of natural debris. Erosion has been curtailed, and the slopes are seeing an increase inmoss and ground cover. With time to take root before being washed away, and more tree saplings are also emerging.

Promoting Leaf Litter Accumulation: Integration of dead wood has proven instrumental in fostering accumulation of leaf litter and other plant debris. These organic materials, once captured by the strategically placed dead wood, have started to compost and replenish the soil with vital nutrients. They also reduce evaporation in summer and during droughts.

Track Closure and Habitat Recovery: Human and animal-made tracks can disrupt ecosystems and exacerbate habitat degradation. We've used dead wood as a solution for closing off unnecessary tracks and facilitating habitat recovery. Strategic placement of dead wood obstructs unwanted access, allowing disturbed areas to regenerate.

Climate Mitigation and Resilience: Another noteworthy benefit of using dead wood for conservation is its positive climate impacts. By encouraging dead wood to integrate into the soil, we can effectively sequester and increase soil carbon. And from a climate adaptation perspective, strategic placement of dead wood promotes climate resilience for the ecology. By capturing leaf litter and slowing down water flows, dead wood creates microclimates within the woodland. These microclimates offer strengthened resilience to the extremes of droughts and floods, ensuring that the ecosystem remains robust and better equipped to withstand challenges posed by a changing climate.

Of course, dead wood is only one of a holistic suite of caring for country actions that we implement at Wombat Ridge through our Conservation Management Plan. Cultural burning, weed management, feral animal control, assisted reintroductions, and nesting habitat supplementation are also important elements of our work.

Dead wood can be a champion of positive change and a brighter future for Australia's woodlands. When combined with Traditional Ecological Knowledge like cultural burning and other science-based actions, strategic use of using dead wood on country can have tangible, lasting, and inspiring impacts. This has certainly been the case at Wombat Ridge.

Dead wood has helped protect and nurture this heath bush.

Moss is more present and resilient where deadwood runs parallel to slope contours.

Grasses make a recovery where dead wood captures leaf litter and slows down water.

We used dead wood to close off this road four years ago.

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