Making time for nature - it's all part of the job

05 June 2020



This year we have all had the opportunity to pause and ponder the impact we have on our environment. In these exceptional times, nature is sending a clear message to look after the planet.

 

The environmental research and protection our Climate and Environment team heads up is vital work for our threatened species, rivers, world heritage areas and cultural heritage. And it’s a pretty rewarding job if you value our natural world.

 

Adam D’Andrea is an Environmental Scientist in Hydro Tasmania’s Climate and Environment team. He provides high-level environmental advice regarding impacts on our flora and fauna and manages waste.

 

It's hard to describe a 'regular working day' for Adam. A job made up of field trips, scientific research, data and meetings is difficult to wrap up in a neat box. What he takes away from his job is much easier to summarise: he loves making time for nature.

 

Adam investigates the health of native species, with some field trips bringing surprises. “I came across a variety of carnivorous plant, the alpine sundew, while undertaking a flora assessment near Scotts Peak Dam two years ago. Carnivorous plants in Tasmania form two categories – bladderworts and sundews. In Tasmania, these plants eat insects. Further afield in tropical areas, carnivorous plants can eat rodents. Most people know of the carnivorous Pitcher plants and Venus flytraps,” said Adam.

 

Sundew, image taken by Luke O'Brien Photography

 

"Sundews look small and delicate, and are far less menacing with a distinct glow to them in the sunlight. I guess if Venus flytraps are heavy metal, sundews are pop songs.”

 

Alpine sundew has particular needs, which explains why they’re only found in certain places. “They need cold, poor-nutrient soils. They make up for a lack of nutrients by producing a sticky, honey-like substance on their leaves, which attracts insects. This makes them unique,” said Adam.

 

"When insects arrive on the leaves, they get stuck there and the sundew sucks out nutrients such as nitrogen from the insects’ exoskeleton. Having touched this substance I can say it is almost like a super glue! It is difficult to get off your fingers.”

 

Rachael Wheeler is an Environmental Consultant for Entura (our consulting business) who undertakes flora and fauna surveys. She supports the Climate and Environment team in making sure all environmental risks and opportunities are identified and considered across our operations and during projects. Rachael comes across all kinds of creatures in her work.

 

Rachael, one of our Entura consultants, working from home during COVID-19 restrictions

 

“I get to work with Tasmanian devils, eastern quolls and spotted-tailed quolls in the south west of Tassie. This involves surveying specific roads for roadkill and fauna abundance that might indicate higher risk areas for road mortalities of these threatened species,” said Rachael.

 

It’s not every day you can come so close to threatened species, but Rachael is one of the lucky ones who gets to do this as part of her job. “Devils and quolls are carnivorous marsupials that frequently scavenge for carrion (the decaying flesh of dead animals). This often brings them to roadsides to feed on unfortunate critters that have been killed by cars, which puts them at a high risk of becoming roadkill themselves,” said Rachael. “Devils have the most powerful bite relative to body size of any living mammalian carnivore, which means they can eat whole carcasses including hair, organs and bones. For this reason, it’s easy to identify a devil scat from those of other marsupials with lots of hair and large bone fragments visible.”

 

Tasmanian quoll - image taken by Luke O'Brien Photography

 

“One of the most amazing things I’ve seen was a spotted-tailed quoll feasting on the carcass of a wombat near Strathgordon. Another time I was spotlighting on the Central Plateau for wombats, walking through the bush on a transect looking for the typical red eye-shine of furry critters. Suddenly I see blue eye-shine from big googly beacons standing above my eye line, which turned out to be the eyes of feral deer that were wandering through the bush beside me. It gave me quite a fright!” Rachael said.

 

Dave Graddon is the Senior Environmental Scientist for Hydro Tasmania in the Climate and Environment team. He coordinates our land management strategy and our weed and pest program. “Orange Hawkweed, is unfortunately an invasive plant of alpine areas. In Tasmania there is an association of the weed with some of the old village areas (Butlers Gorge and Shannon for example) that suggests it may have been introduced by a homesick European immigrant. We believe this because the plant’s home range is the mountains of Poland, Austria and Italy,” Dave said.

 

“The flower is a striking orange daisy, but the plant is difficult to identify as it doesn’t flower often. As well as spreading by seed, it spreads via underground roots (stolons) that lead to colonies of small rosettes that can stop other plants from growing.”

 

“Hawkweeds are strange, in that they can produce seed without fertilisation and plants can have two, four or six copies of their genome. This means viable seed can be clones of the parent plants or hybrids. Their flowers may not need to be fertilised to produce viable seed and their populations can be quite varied and adaptable,” Dave said.

 

Some of the strange things Dave sees on the job? “The stripping of foliage from 60ha of mature willows by the larvae of a small fly is pretty impressive, or the farming of Great Willow aphids for their excretions by honey bees or European wasps.”

 

Giant Willow aphids with some honey bees - image credit: David Graddon


Together, we need to manage ecosystems and wildlife, reduce habitat loss and fragmentation, avoid pollution and manage and remove invasive species, all in an effort to combat climate change.

 

Let’s make time for nature. 

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