Ellenbrook Nature Reserve

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To celebrate National Tree Day, six members of the WA Naturalists’ Club and seven Club visitors teamed up with the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise and the Chittering Landcare Group at a tree planting day at the Ellenbrook Nature Reserve. After a couple of hours of planting a mix of Acacia pulchella, Grevillea bipinnatifida, Hakea varia, Hypocalymma angustifolium, Kunzea recurva, Melaleuca lateritia and Melaleuca teretifolia in the soggy clay soil (including some sightings of small frogs, right Crinia sp.? S Lofthouse) we were rewarded with a visit to the part of the reserve that is fenced to exclude predators and protect one of the few remaining populations of Western Swamp Tortoise. Our group was guided by Geoff Barrett of the DBCA and tortoise researcher Andrew Burbidge who taught us about the tortoises and their conservation.

Andrew Burbidge shows us the tortoises’ habitat S Lofthouse

The fence around the reserve extends below the ground surface to prevent foxes digging underneath and has an electric wire across the top awning to prevent feral predators climbing over. Remarkably, the tortoises are capable of climbing the fence from the inside when searching for places to lay eggs or aestivate over summer. To allow them back in, small one-way gates have been built into the fence to allow tortoises to re-enter while excluding anything larger.

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A tortoise gate in the predator-proof fence S Lofthouse

One downside to the lack of predators is that the Quenda population has grown so large inside the fence that they have been known to dig up and eat the tortoise eggs. To keep the Quenda population in check, some are translocated to other reserves. Black Rats are another problem, with several bait stations in place, raised off the ground to prevent quendas from getting inside.

We were led in single file along a narrow path, used by the researchers to limit any trampling of the sensitive vegetation, until we reached the water’s edge. We were surprised to see that the water is no more than half a metre deep in most places – the name Swamp Tortoise is very apt! This environment provides shelter for the tortoises and breeding places for the invertebrates and other small water creatures on which they feed.

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Drosera rostulata S Lofthouse

Our thanks to Geoff and Andrew for guiding us into the fenced reserve, to Tanya Marwood for organising for the Nats Club to join the planting morning, and to the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise and Chittering Landcare Group for providing the plants and continuing the conservation of this reserve and the very special tortoises that live there.

Stephen Lofthouse