Thursday, May 30, 2024

Melbourne not kidding about Royal Park lizard plan

A tribe of goats has descended on Melbourne’s Royal Park this winter thanks to a City of Melbourne Council trial to regenerate the habitat of the White’s Skink, a regionally significant species of lizard. 

Council says the goats will feast on the park’s weeds, creating an optimal environment for the lizards, and reducing the need for herbicides in a difficult area to access and maintain. 

“It’s great to be working alongside researchers at the University of Melbourne to find new ways to protect and maintain Melbourne’s unique environment,” said Acting Lord Mayor, Nicholas Reece.

“We’re eager to see if the goats can work their grazing magic and help us improve the habitat for the White’s Skinks in this area of Royal Park. 

“We’re not kidding about our important ecological systems – the scale of this project is enough to make a White’s Skink blush.” 

White’s Skink (Liopholis whitii) (Photo: Peter Robertson).

White’s Skinks have been occupying an area of Royal Park for more than 20 years and are one of the only surviving populations in central Melbourne. 

The reptiles prefer rocky habitats and complex understorey vegetation with open areas to soak in sunlight, creating burrows to avoid predators, hibernate and reproduce. 

High weed density has reduced the quality of their habitat, with exotic grasses smothering their basking sites. 

Goats will be gradually introduced to seven fenced-off plots in Royal Park over the coming weeks, before being removed in early Spring. Eight additional plots will be used as control sites and left unmanaged, Council says.

“Protecting locally significant species like the White’s Skink and enhancing their environment is important, as we work to ensure Melbourne’s inner-city ecosystems are healthy and diverse,” said Environmental portfolio lead Councillor, Rohan Leppert.

“We hope this experiment can steer us away from the use of chemical herbicides and manual weeding in this challenging site.” 

He said indigenous grasses will be planted, and the White’s Skink population and quality of habitat will be measured again in Autumn next year. 

The trial is being delivered by the City of Melbourne in partnership with The University of Melbourne. It is part of the City of Melbourne Nature in the City Strategy, which aims to improve local ecosystem health and biodiversity. 

“We greatly value working with the City of Melbourne to develop new evidence-based urban landscape management techniques,” said University of Melbourne Urban Ecology Research Fellow, Julian Brown.

“By comparing grazed and ungrazed plots we can determine whether goats can safely remove the weeds and help restore the habitat of White’s Skink,” he said.

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