Our Projects

CSIRO Grassland Study

The purpose of this collaborative project between CSIRO Plant Industry and the Lake Cowal Foundation is to investigate the impact of invasive weeds on native dry temperate grasslands in the Bland Creek Catchment. Exotic species are known to reduce survival and the reproductive capability of native plants, and also can alter soil moisture levels, soil biochemistry and nutrient cycling regimes in a range of ecosystems. An understanding of the role and impacts of weeds will therefore be crucial for the development of successful long-term management strategies aimed at preserving native grassland remnants along the Bland Creek.

Phd study - ecological characterisation & Scenario setting for lake Cowal

Enrolled through the School of Environmental Sciences, Charles Sturt University (CSU), Ms LIU Xiaoying (Sahsha) is undertaking a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree following the acceptance of a scholarship from the Lake Cowal Foundation. Ms Liu commenced studies in July 2012 and her PhD program is supervised by Professor Max Finlayson (CSU), Dr Darren Baldwin (MDFRC) and Dr Daryl Nielsen (MDFRC).

The working title of the project is; “The effects of land use and water regime on the ecological character and sediment phosphorus dynamics of the ephemeral Lake Cowal ecosystem in Inland Australia”. The research objectives and research questions are listed below. 

 Research Objectives

  • Develop a conceptual model to illustrate and evaluate the role of the sediment and phosphorus dynamics in maintaining the ecological character of Lake Cowal; 
  • Analyse the extent of change in the sediment and phosphorus dynamics of Lake Cowal seasonally and over the longer-term;
  • Determine the responses of selected organisms to changes in the sediment and phosphorus dynamics in ephemeral system; and
  • Based on these analyses develop plausible scenarios for the future ecological character of Lake Cowal.

Research Questions

  • What are the key components of the ecological character of Lake Cowal and how are these influenced by the sediment and phosphorus dynamics?
  • What are the likely effects of changes in land use and high variability of the hydrologic regime on the sediment and phosphorus dynamics in the lake? 
  •  How do selected components of the biota in the Lake respond to changes in the sediment and phosphorus dynamics?
  •  What are plausible scenario for the future ecological character of Lake Cowal given changes in land use and high variability of hydrologic regime?

PHD Study - Movement of animals through fragmented agricultural landscapes

Kat - PhD Study PicNicole Hansen and Katherina Ng are PhD scholars at the Fenner School of Environment and Society in the Australian National University. In 2014, they commenced a landscape-scale project in the Lachlan catchment to study the movement of animals in fragmented temperate woodland landscapes. Their research targets reptiles, amphibians, small mammals (Nicole) as well as ground invertebrates, namely beetles, spiders and ants (Kat).

To maintain biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, millions of dollars are spent annually on restoration and establishing corridors. However, the effectiveness of these conservation actions hinges on assumptions about how animals move through these landscapes.

Their project aims to answer 3 key questions: what type of changes in the matrix (human-modified, non-habitat areas) can promote or limit animal movement, what are the habitat needs for animals to persist in agricultural landscapes, and can we manipulate the matrix to encourage movement? With agricultural production expected to increase with rising food demands, it is important to find ways to maintain an ecologically sustainable agricultural sector while still reducing the isolation of animal habitats.

The data collection has already begun with sampling to understand movement patterns, abundance and survival rates of targeted animals across sites in Binya, Grenfell, Wombat and Young, NSW. Kat and Nicole have established traps, at several sites, extending from remnant native vegetation patches into four different matrix treatments (recently planted native vegetation, added course woody mulch, pasture and cropped).

By understanding how matrix structure and quality affect animal movement, this research will lead directly to land management recommendations. The data collected will tell us whether recently planted corridors can improve connectivity for animals, or whether temporary changes in the matrix, such as fallowing or applying woody mulch, can promote movement without taking land out of production. More broadly, their research findings will inform land-use planning, policy development, restoration and stewardship payments that help maintain productive and ecologically sustainable agricultural landscapes.

PhD Study PicNicole and Kat are thankful to the many land holders for their substantial assistance and access their private properties. This research is sponsored by the Central Tablelands Local Land Services (LLS), supported by the Australian Government Biodiversity Fund. Funding has also been provided from the Central West Local Land Services for equipment and technical assistance. Project resources and additional operational costs have been supported by the Lake Cowal Foundation, and Mount Mulga Pastoral Company. The students are supervised by Prof Don Driscoll (Deakin Uni), Prof David Lindenmayer (ANU), Dr Damian Michael (ANU), Dr Milton Lewis, Mr Angus Arnott (Central Tablelands LLS), Dr Sarina Macfadyen and Dr Sue McIntyre (CSIRO). 

Fragmentation project update newsletter_Dec2014_Issue1 Fragmentation project update newsletter_Dec2014_Issue1 (1176 KB)

Landholder_update_newsletter_Issue_2.PDF Landholder_update_newsletter_Issue_2.PDF (1703 KB)

PhD project_volunteers needed_fragmentation research PhD project_volunteers needed_fragmentation research (456 KB)

Lake Cowal Wetland Classroom

The Wetland Classroom Project will establish a landscape scale outdoor wetland study site for use by the Lake Cowal Conservation Centre, to be located on the edge of Lake Cowal. The study site presents an important opportunity for students to utilise an intact natural ecosystem for biodiversity studies relating to both flora and fauna.

The Wetland Classroom site will provide considerable added value to the existing study site and unit resources of the LCCC as students from local and regional schools will be able to carry out comparative analysis of a greater diversity of plant communities in the context of the local area. Students will gain an enhanced understanding of the intricate system functions which determine the biodiversity within the landscape as they relate to core units of the school curriculum.

Appropriate learning outcomes for the study site will be addressed through development of three site-specific core units catering for the needs of current NSW Stage 1, Stages 3-4 and Stage 6 curriculum guidelines. Students will build on environmental knowledge gained from related LCCC learning activities, consolidating their progression of geographic and scientific understanding to the completion of schooling.

The classroom site mid-way on the western side of Lake Cowal is unique in that it is the point at which the main lignum (Muehlenbeckia cunninghamii) community, Lake Cowal’s major wetland bird breeding habitat, is closest to the western shoreline. This proximity will optimise the opportunity for students and other LCCC visitors to observe and study this important area in greater detail. The site also demonstrates the transition of five distinct local plant communities as they relate to position in the landscape and successional processes.

The Wetland Classroom site will incorporate a designated observation transect through the five plant communities with a combination of interpretive signs, monitoring points, and paths and walkways to reduce the impact of student traffic. The site will have a covered outdoor learning area (COLA) 20 x 10 metres, which will provide an area suitable for classroom activities associated with on-site field studies equipped with seating, teaching aids and equipment. Proximity to the LCCC will allow for concurrent use of media resources in delivery of study units.

Birds of Bland

The Birds of Bland (BOB) Project, a community bird monitoring survey run by Greening Australia as part of the BIG project was also considered a great success after one year. In total, 149 bird species were recorded, including nine threatened and 10 declining species. The five most common birds recorded were the Crested Pigeon, Magpie, Galah, Magie Lark followed by the Red-rumped Parrot. The least common included the water birds Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Darter, Straw-necked Ibis and the Royal Spoonbill. In conjunction with Greening Australia’s Birdwatch project and additional support from Landcare Australia, a beautiful calendar “Birds of the Bush” was produced. All participants in the survey received a complimentary copy.

Lake Cowal Conservation Centre

The Lake Cowal Conservation Centre (LCCC) is the result of a partnership between the West Wyalong High School, the Lake Cowal Foundation Ltd (LCF), Evolution Mining PTY Limited with support from New South Wales Local Land Services (LLS). The LCCC was initiated in 2005 and, following the establishment of the facility and development and trialling of educational resources, was officially opened on the 2nd November 2007.

Natural Sequence Farming

Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) is an innovative technique that restores the functionality of riparian systems and their floodplains. The result is significant improvement in ecological and economic productivity. Seven landholders along Spring Creek are involved in ‘rehydrating’ 10km of Spring Creek, Lake Cowal.

Under the supervision of Peter Andrews, pioneer of NSF we commenced constructing the leaky weirs on the 23rd October 2006. Since this time all of the weirs were completed, an extensive revegetation program is underway and two Masters students from the Australian National University (ANU) have done research on this project.

NSF Project Implementation Report NSF Project Implementation Report (2663 KB)


ANU, Masters of Science student Kim Marchiori completed her project “Assessment of Spring Creek and its catchment: Implications for Natural Sequence Farming” in 2006. Her project provided important information about the creek and identified major causes of erosion, where the erosion was occurring and provided an indication of the function of the creek and its catchment prior to NSF project works. Kim also identified that the soils were highly unstable and that protective ground cover is critical to prevent further erosion problems.  

In 2009, Nick Streeton from ANU, sponsored by the LCF completed his Masters Degree on the development of an upstream sediment budget for Spring Creek. The video above is an interview with him at the completion of this Masters.

Additionally please see this paper written on the topic Rehabilitation of an incised ephemeral stream in central New South Wales, Australia: identification of incision causes, rehabilitation techniques and channel response.

The video clip is nearly 9 minutes long and contains valuable insights about the implementation and continued management of NSF principles on Spring Creek. The clip should only be played if the viewer has a broadband internet connection. If the clip "stops and starts", pause it, and wait for the download bar to progress before you click on the play button to resume viewing the clip.

Pasture Cropping Trials

Pasture Cropping Trials occur on 330ha of Evolution owned land and are implemented by the West Pastoral Company. Pasture cropping is an innovative and sustainable cropping and grazing system that has not yet been tested in semi arid conditions. The second year of the trials was undertaken but the drought took its toll which resulted in crop failure. Despite the loss of crop, the vegetation biomass under the different treatments was harvested and will be analysed over the next few months with the assistance of the Department of Primary Industries. Dr Stephen Cattle from the University of Sydney and his Honours student will commence a project in late February to investigate the response of the soils under different treatments in the third year of the trials.

The Stipa bus trip on 20th September 2006 was also very successful, with all participants looking and learning about different strategies, problems and solutions of perennial pasture management in the local area.

"Paddocks alight" at lake cowal

In early October 2013, the Local Land Services (LLS) in partnership with the West Wyalong Local Aboriginal Lands Council implemented the burning stage of the ”Paddocks Alight” -  Benefits of Traditional Burning project on Evolution Mining's property along Boneham’s Lane.The Wiradjuri people have a very strong connection to their Country and this project is allowing Aboriginal communities to re-connect to the landscape while discovering traditional ecological knowledge.

The innovative project is trialling traditional burning values across a wide area of the Lachlan Catchment to provide agricultural, biodiversity and cultural outcomes with 10 landholders participating in the burning trials. The project aims to:

  • Investigate the role of fire in the design of better grazing management in the Lachlan region;
  • Investigate the interactions of selected native grass species with a range of fires;
  • Monitor the interactions of native fauna with cool mosaic burn;
  • Share knowledge about burning with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community
  •  Facilitate a better understanding of how traditional burning may have been used in the Lachlan region and could be used again; and
  • Engage the community in proficient effective management of fire to realise productive outcomes for cultural development, biodiversity and agricultural production.

Spring and Autumn are broadly the optimum times for the ignition of fires because weather conditions and plant moisture result in fires of lower heat are more likely to produce positive growth responses from a greater variety of plant species.

Two trial areas have been established for the burn trial site on Boneham’s Lane, with one area to be burned and the other control area will be left in its present native grassland state. LLS staff and contractors have been monitoring the both sites since 2011 with baseline data collected for soils, flora and fauna. Following on from the burn, the monitoring process will be repeated through to 2015. 

 LLS and the West Wyalong Local Aboriginal Lands Council, together with NSW Rural Fire Service, Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation, Lake Cowal Foundation and the Clear Ridge Bushfire Brigade carried out the burning operation just on sunset with a consistent, light westerly wind providing perfect conditions for the spear grass to burn slowly into the wind.