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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Lesueur National Park

When the question of flower-rich Western Australian national parks arises, three names are cited: Fitzgerald River, Stirling Ranges - and Lesueur. Most eastern Australians who are interested in natural history know of the first two, rather less are familiar with the last. Unlike the better-known two parks, Lesueur is north of Perth, 250km up the coast on the sandplains inland from Jurien. In its 27,000 hectares some 900 plant species are known - this is 10% of all the species in this vast plant-rich state. In some places 80 species can be found in just 10 square metres; moreover, in a similar site a kilometre away half the species may be different. Given such figures, we might reasonably expect to be talking about tropical rainforests or coral reefs; instead this is sandy gravelly plains country, with much of the scrubby vegetation being less than a couple of metres high. These sandy heathlands are known as Kwongan in the west. The soil nutrient levels are horribly low, by European agricultural standards. It seems that in such apparently harsh conditions plants can't afford to compete with neighbours for scarce nutrients, so must change, albeit slightly, to use subtly different resources; this has driven rapid evolutionary responses and produced some of the highest plant diversity in the world. 
Mount Lesueur; named for Charles Lesueur, a brilliant self-taught painter-naturalist on the
unhappy and ill-fated Baudin expedition of 1801, the third and grandest of the French scientific expeditions
to Australia, sponsored by Napoleon.
 Moreover these low soil nutrient levels have saved the place; in 1850 colonial botanist James Drummond collected plants and rhapsodised over the area, but agriculturalists and pastoralists dismissed it as useless and it lay undisturbed until the mid-20th century when the coal-mining industry started taking an interest. The community response was fierce, and in 1992 it was finally declared national park. 

Until recently it could only be accessed by 4WD vehicle, but now a superb 18km circuit drive, with walking tracks and facilities, means that anyone can revel in its riches.
Calytrix leschenaultii, Family Myrtaceae.
The magnificently named Jean-Baptiste Louis-Claude-Theodore Leschenault de la Tour
was chief botanist to the Baudin expedition.
Verticordia grandis, Family Myrtaceae.
The wonderful Verticordias ('heart turners') warrant their own posting, and they'll get it one day.

Sphaerolobium pulchellum. Family Fabaceae.

Darwinia virescens, Family Myrtaceae.

Conostephium pendulum, Family Epacridaceae.

Hakea neurophylla. Family Proteaceae.

Isopogon linearis. Family Proteaceae.
 And of course the nectar-sippers will follow the flowers.
White-cheeked Honeyeater.
This is a remarkable species, from the heaths of the south-west, with a disjunct population o the east coast,
3,000km away, and another in mountain rainforests of the Queensland tropics.
It also provides a key breeding area for Carnaby's (Short-billed) Black-Cockatoo, a species in tragic decline.

 Another animal group richly represented in the kwongan is reptiles; the Australian deserts have perhaps the world's greatest diversity of lizards, but the kwongan is not far behind.
Western Bearded Dragon, Pogona minor.
So, next time you're in the west, don't miss this very special park.

6 comments:

Flabmeister said...

It sounds an excellent place which I hope to visit sometime.

Channelling either Edward Abbey or Ebenezer Scrooge I wonder how much monitoring is occurring to assess the impact of opening the tourist road on the natural resources?

Martin

Ian Fraser said...

Fair question Martin, which I of course can't answer for the management. My gut feeling (which could well be influenced by self-interest!) is that any damage is likely to be less than the alternatives. For a start I think it's a given that the current situation is better than farming or coal mining. Familiarity with the area - and the local income that comes with it - is a good protection against such a fate. Secondly, I gather that the road at least in part follows the original sand track; such tracks inevitably get widened and duplicated as sticky bits or deep loose sand appears. Hardening the track can actually reduce impact; likewise provision of decent toilets. Finally, I think the Honeypot Theory has a bit going for it; attracting people to one site which is either of lesser value or (as in this case) 'hardened' is a way of protecting other more vulnerable sites. I'd be very happy to hear other views on this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ian.

I think you will find that the road controls the use of the park more than it damages it. The alternative is 4wds tearing the place up.

Off to Lesueur on Saturday. Can't wait!

Simon

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Simon - have a great trip! I'd be pleased to hear your reactions to the park.

Unknown said...

Hi Ian, I agree with you completely. As the first ranger in the park I was horrified at the original plans for the road but after considerable pressure was applied, the route was realigned to the current one. I feel that it achieves the desired need for public access to the reserve so that it can be better appreciated and therefore valued, and limiting access. Full appreciation can only be achieved by walking (or if you were fortunate enough to have been the ranger - driving!). Lesueur is an awesome place that needs to be loved more than ever. This year is an excellent year for wildflowers and when I was there the other day, there were many people enjoying the plants and views.
As for reptile diversity, an American researcher (supervised by Eric Pianka, found an equal diversity of reptiles to Eric's desert populations and he believed with a bit more effort that he could beat the record. I advised him to publish his doctorate thesis with one less than Eric's record and THEN find the others!

Ian Fraser said...

Many thanks for this comment, though I'm sorry I don't know your name. I was pleased to revisit this post a couple of years after I'd written it - I must get back some time, though I've got a bit further to drive than you... Love the reptile story, and your understanding of academic politics sounds pretty much spot on!