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Future Proofing Little Penguin Habitat

Future Proofing Little Penguin Habitat


To protect the Summerland Peninsula from the threats of bushfire, flammable vegetation in this area is being removed in order to increase the amount of penguin habitat and create green firebreaks. Phillip Island Nature Parks will be undertaking works to modify penguin habitat to reduce flammability and land temperatures, particularly in areas where common fire risk reductions such as controlled burns or fire breaks can’t be used because of the impact to significant vegetation and wildlife.


WHERE

Works will be taking place within three specified areas on the Summerland Peninsula. See map for details.

WHEN

The flammable vegetation will be removed over a three-month period commencing May 2023. This will involve mulching along the three firebreaks as shown on the map. Whilst this initial mulching work is conducted, Mandeville Road will be closed to all traffic for the safety of staff working in this area and the public. Works are expected to take a few days. Phillip Island Nature Parks staff will survey each site daily for penguins and penguin burrows ensuring there are no risks to the colony whilst this work is undertaken.

Work has now commenced on the next phase of this project, planting up to 40,000 new fire-retardant plants.

Planting days have been held (each spanned multiple days) for which we have been working closely with the Penguin Foundation, corporate (NAB) and community volunteers (Scotch College students) and the Bunurong Land Council.

The final planting day planned for mid-October will involve 70 corporate volunteers (from Royal Canin and Penguin Random House) plus staff from Nature Parks, the Penguin Foundation and the Bunurong Land Council and celebrate the end of the 2023 planting season. A feature of this year’s planting effort has been the establishment of a fenced browsing exclusion trial (small, fenced plots) that aims to assess the impact of browsing on conservation plantings and the vegetation in general by species including swamp wallabies, Cape Barren geese, brushtail possums and rabbits.

WHY

The Summerland Peninsula is home to Australia's largest Little Penguin colony. It has a vital role in securing the future of the species, given vanishing/declining numbers at other colonies. The creation of these green firebreaks will reduce the severity and impact of heat stress events and the scale, intensity, and speed of a bushfire. Controlled burns or large, completely cleared firebreaks are not viable on the Summerland Peninsula due to the harm they may cause little penguins, their burrows and their habitat.

WHO

This project has been made possible thanks to the support of the Penguin Foundation and a NAB Foundation Community Grant.

Conservation Works Exemption for the removal of native vegetation has been issued by Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.

If you would like further information, please email us or call us 03 5951 2800.

 

“We are proud to have awarded a NAB Foundation Community and Impact grant to support the exceptional work being done by The Penguin Foundation. Now more than ever, there is a growing need to support communities to rebuild and prepare for the challenges ahead. In these times we are honoured to be able fund green firebreaks in Australia's largest little penguin colony to protect vulnerable penguins against bushfires and reduce the risk of bushfire impacting the tourism and local business economy in the region” – Mil Kairouz, Retail General Manager Regional Victoria and Tasmania at NAB.

PROGRESS TO DATE



Mandeville Road from the north end looking south, before (above) and after (below) completion of mulching and slashing operations of the firebreak area.

 

During May 2023 Phillip Island Nature Parks staff and contractors completed a mechanical fuel reduction/weed control operation within the Summerland Peninsula as part of the first stage of field activities of the Future Proofing Little Penguins from Bushfire project.

The aim of this project is to create a series of three parallel ‘green’ firebreaks that run north-south across the Peninsula. The three firebreaks are situated along Mandeville Road and two management tracks east of Mandeville Road (formerly known as Solent Avenue and Portslade Road). These firebreaks will help reduce the risk of bushfire from impacting the Peninsula including the penguin colony while also providing habitat for penguins and other wildlife.

Recently completed operations resulted in the effective removal of the woody fuel load from the firebreak areas and specifically thickets of Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia) that dominates extensive areas of the interior of the Peninsula. Swamp Paperbark is indigenous to the Summerland Peninsula and is an important component of the vegetation, but as with some other species it poses a significant fire risk in some situations and needs to be managed.

Great care was taken during mulching and slashing operations to ensure that wildlife were not harmed and that burrowing animals and their burrows/nestboxes were protected. This involved conducting daily fauna surveys with a special focus on looking for animals in burrows, spotting for animals during operations, and protecting ‘high risk’ areas (where animals were identified) from mechanical operations.

The next stage of operations will occur during Spring later this year when native, mostly indigenous, firewise plant species will be planted within the firebreak areas. These species will generally be low growing, herbaceous (non-woody), and fire resistant/retardant, but have been selected to provide for the habitat requirements of penguins and other wildlife and to promote biodiversity.