A poor and stagnant stand…

Old River Red Gums at Doctors Swamp in April 2010. Photo by Damian Cook.

Our attitudes to native vegetation have changed a lot over the past century. Nearly 50 years ago, the trees in this wetland were described as,

a poorer stand … of very low increment, poor form, short and branchy, and generally stagnant…

Nowadays, we’re more likely to see this as a beautiful stand of mature, old-growth, river red gums in a wonderful, diverse wetland.

The wetland is Doctors Swamp in northern Victoria. In a recent blog I described how the reserve’s vegetation changed after 1945. I suggested that many trees and shrubs may have regenerated after grazing stock were removed, but I didn’t have any accurate information on reserve management.

In response, Jo Wood from the Goulburn-Broken CMA emailed extracts from a letter written by a government official in 1966, when a wildlife reserve was proposed at the wetland. The letter contains an early description of the reserve’s vegetation.

In 1966, the dry Grey Box woodland was described as, “a fairly open stand of O.M G.B [over-mature Grey Box] trees with scattered clumps of coppice”. The description is brief, but notably it doesn’t mention young, regenerating trees, which is consistent with the open, over-grazed appearance on the old air photo. By contrast, the wetland area contained more young saplings in 1966:

… the area subject to some inundation carries a poorer stand of Q3 R.R.G [stand quality 3 River Red Gum] of very low increment, poor form, short and branchy, and generally stagnant, with scattered dense patches of R.R.G seedlings of similar form and varying from mainly saplings in South and centre to more recent seedlings along the North section. Approximate age from 12 to 36 years.

Given their young age in 1965, many of the “dense patches of R.R.G. seedlings” would have regenerated after the 1945 air photo was taken. Many more regenerated after the letter was written in 1966.

River Red Gums at Doctors Swamp. Note the dense stand of younger saplings in the background.
Photo by Dylan Osler.

Fortunately, the “short and branchy” over-mature red gums were seen as having “no commercial value” for timber purposes.

There is more potential value in the G.B. portion than R.R.G but little commercial value for R.R.G Sapling of this type. Future use single length sleeper trees, O.M. [over-mature] trees no commercial value.

In many other forests, over-mature veterans were ring-barked and killed to encourage regeneration by tall straight trees. The long distance from a major timber mill may have aided the survival of the red gums at Doctors Swamp. The letter states:

In the last six years no [forestry] produce has been supplied to local markets from this reserve, isolated from main forest. The only revenue is the annual rental of $133 paid…for Grazing licence No.4761.

The letter doesn’t say how many stock grazed the reserve, but perhaps it’s possible to guess a stocking rate based on the cost of the license fee? According to an online Inflation Calculator provided by the Reserve Bank of Australia, “A basket of goods and services valued at $133 in 1966 would cost $1,528.75 in 2011”. It’d be interesting to know how many livestock were expected to be grazed for a $1,500 [equivalent] license fee.

And finally, Jo forwarded Damian Cook and Dylan Osler’s great photos of the wetland at its finest in 2010. It looks pretty good for a stand of “low increment, poor form, short and branchy, and generally stagnant” old trees, doesn’t it?

A carpet of Billy Buttons (Craspedia species) at Doctors Swamp in 2010. Photo by Damian Cook.

P.S. If you haven’t yet voted on the reader poll in my last blog, please do so. The poll will stay open for another week or two, and I’ll write more about the topic in my next post. Thanks again to everyone who has voted already, I greatly appreciate it.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Tim Barlow and Jo Wood for emailing the historical letter, and to Damian Cook and Dylan Osler for allowing me to use their fantastic photos. If you’re interested in more details, a longer extract from Jo’s email, including the full historical quote follows.

“I was looking through some old files and came across a letter from 1966 to the Secretary of the Forests Commission titled ‘Doctors and Wallenjoe Swamps, proposal for consideration as Wildlife Reserves’.

The letter goes on to say “665 acres of Doctors Swamp as being reserved forest with the slightly higher ground around the N.E, E and S boundary not subject to flooding carrying a fairly open stand of O.M G.B trees with scattered clumps of coppice. The remainder of the area subject to some inundation carries a poorer stand of Q3 R.R.G of very low increment poor form short and branchy and generally stagnant with scattered dense patches of R.R.G seedlings of similar form and varying from mainly saplings in South and centre to more recent seedlings along the North section. Approximate age from 12 to 36 years. There is more potential value in the G.B portion than R.R.G but little commercial value for R.R.G Sapling of this type. Future use single length sleeper trees, O.M. trees no commercial value. In the last six years no produce has been supplied to local markets from this reserve, Isolated from main forest. The only revenue is the annual rental of $133 paid…for Grazing license No.4761. How wildlife management will affect or conflict with forest interests I cannot predict, but this should be considered before a decision is made. Also I assume Fire suppression on Wildlife reserves will be the responsibility of our Department. 14 nesting boxes erected in this area by Rushworth Field and Game. Apart from the possible loss of annual rental of grazing license, no objection be raised to Doctors Swamp being recommended as a Wildlife Reserve.”

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