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The Story of the Belchers and the Boneseed Challenge in the Dog Rocks Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

When the 83 hectare Lilydale House Sanctuary property, (since renamed Dog Rocks Flora and Fauna Sanctuary), at Dog Rocks Road, Batesford, 10 kilometers northwest of Geelong, was covenanted with the Trust for Nature Victoria in 2006, the largely un-cleared block had become heavily infested with Boneseed.

This was due in part to earlier indecision as to the future of the property by the current owners/custodians George and Lit Belcher. The land is of similar formation to the You Yangs, and clearly control of Boneseed was of paramount importance if efforts to restore the land to its natural state were to succeed, and the vision for the covenanted property realized.

Immediately prior to covenanting, the property owners were successful in obtaining a Southern Victorian Bush Tender Grant through the Department of Sustainability and Environment, for environmental works over five years with boneseed control one of the principal aims. Concurrently, now that the future of the property had been decided, and having regard to the old title to the land, the owners negotiated a ‘peppercorn’ lease for a corridor along the property’s Moorabool River frontage together with the City of Greater Geelong, who accepted responsibility for public liability insurance and upkeep of the area when it became public open space. 

In 2007 a National Green Corps Jobs team, under the leadership of Stuart Quick, commenced a six month project concentrating mainly on the river frontage of the property, removing environmental weeds including Boneseed, boxthorn, blackberry, blanket weed, serrated tussock, olive trees, and the like. At the same time, and as part of the Bush Tender project the owners’ brother in law/brother Ted Thornley and partner Jo King headed up a five year assault on Boneseed over the rest of the property. During and since this time invaluable assistance with weed control and other works has been received from National Green Corps Jobs, Conservation Volunteers, community volunteers, students from St Joseph’s College, Covenant College,  Geelong Grammar School, the Geelong College, Medibank, the Geelong Landcare Network, with the Batesford/Fyansford/ Stonehaven Landcare Group, which also offered managerial as well as physical help.

Whereas in 2006 it was estimated that at least one third of the property was heavily infested with mature boneseed plants, and at the time of writing,  initially in 2012, this figure was reduced to 10%. As the area cleared of mature Boneseed plants expands, the challenge to keep the cleared area free of seedlings increases, especially with the recent end to the prolonged period of drought seeing the rate of seedling germination explode. Principally work on Boneseed removal has occurred during the cooler months. Methods employed for mature plant removal include pulling, digging, cutting and painting, with the removed foliage being piled up and burnt. Where the fire is hot enough, much of the seed bank attached to the burnt plants is destroyed, and by leaving the ground clear, regeneration of native plants is accelerated. Pulling and digging out the mature plants has been preferred, with cutting and painting a good option for plants jammed in between rocks. A second pick of new seedlings is attempted within two years, with third and subsequent, hopefully, diminishing picks to occur each two years. We are cautiously hopeful that we may conquer this weed. 

As I write now in 2015, entering  the Sanctuary is a different experience. Where once you were greeted by a sea of Boneseed in all directions,  native grassy woodlands  prevail, a tribute to the perseverance and tireless work of all involved.  It is timely, and also my pleasure to introduce the new custodians of the Dog Rocks Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, Woody and Amelia and their young family.

Now in our seventies, Lit and I are passing on the baton to this enthusiastic young family whom we know will care for the Sanctuary and continue to honour the covenant we have entered into with the Trust for Nature. 

George Belcher 

Lit and George Belcher with BFS Committee Members
and Geelong Landcare Network Facilitator and Syd. the dog