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Link to Calochilus pulchellus update 2008

orchid species alan stephenson
Alan W Stephenson's  Orchid Species of Shoalhaven, NSW Australia

A book about Australian orchids, habitat,  and conservation

Available from:
[email protected]



Click on pictues for larger pictures

Calochillus pulchellus
C pulchellus plant

Calochillus pulchellus
Calochillus pulchellus

Calochillus pulchellus in stump
Orchids in stump

First group of three orchids at stump
First group of three orchids at stump

Stump in compound
Stump in compund showing location of orchids

Site after extraction of single plant
Site after extraction of single plant

C pulchellus vincentia habitat
Original C pulchellus vincentia habitat

wide view of stump compound
Wide view of stump compound

Daracan clearing site to the nth
Daracan clearing site to the nth

Main daracan clearing site to the nth
Daracan cleared site

Alan dig single plant Alan digging up a plant
 Alan with extracted orchids in containers
Alan with extracted orchids in containers

Cutting wedge with orchid from stump 1
Cutting wedge with orchid from stump 1

Cutting wedge with orchid from stump 2
Cutting wedge with orchid from stump 2

extracted orchids in containers ex stump
extracted orchids in containers ex stump

John applying roo proofing to translocation area
John applying roo proofing to translocation area

stump with orchid translocated
Stump with orchid translocated

Translocated larger single orchid in bud
Translocated larger single orchid in bud

Translocation site nearest to leisure centre
A translocation site

Orchid Habitat Loss 

Calochilus pulchellus   photos and text by Alan Stephenson

C pulchellus
Calochilus pulchellus

Only formally described in March 2007 Calochilus pulchellus was in serious trouble when the New South Wales Government gave consent late in 2006 to the Stockland development at Vincentia.

C pulchellus vincentia habitat
Calochillus pulchellus habitat at Vincentia

As soon as the description was published a nomination was completed for its listing as a Vulnerable Species under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act). Unfortunately these events were overtaken by the approval for the residential development by both the state and federal governments, as the latter approval was made public in the last days of July 2007. The problem was obvious, as at that time five of the 25 known plants occurred on this site.

C pulchellus plant Vincentia
Calochillus pulchellus plant

No sooner than the public release of development consent I received a phone call from Michael Drum, the Stockland manager in charge of this development. We met the next day for a talk and I put forward a proposal to rescue the population. I was referred to Mark Klein, the Civil Engineer on site and met with him the following day at the orchid site. In the meantime I had contacted John Briggs of the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) in Queanbeyan, to ask for his assistance with the proposed translocation of all plants. He agreed to help but was unable to do so until the last two days in August. This difficulty was put to Mark and he agreed to wait until then. The sense of urgency was real as this was the first stage of development and work was to begin immediately. We met on a Wednesday, machinery was assembled by Friday, a site office was installed during the weekend and clearing commenced the following Monday.

Wide view of stump compound
Daracan at site
 Daracan clearing site to nth
Daracan clearing site

I had initially located four plants in November 2004 and despite the drought, one of these plants also flowered in 2005. I again visited the site in 2006 and was amazed to find an individual plant in flower in a tree stump. This plant became the focus of an article in my local Newspaper. Meeting Mark at this stump in early August, I noted the same stump dwelling plant had produced a new leaf and appeared quite healthy. I was further surprised to note numerous seedlings in the ground around the stump, obviously produced from the capsules of the 2006 flowering.

First group of three orchids at stump
Three Calochillus pulchellus at stump base

In total there were seven leaves and from two of these a flowering stem was apparent in addition to the plant in the stump. Just what I needed, a growing population about to suffer the indignity and uncertainty of being uprooted and relocated. These plants were in two groups of three and a larger individual. At this time a barrier was erected around both populations to protect them from the large number of machines designed to uproot trees and clear vegetation. I am pleased to say that all on-site people were most co-operative and more than a little surprised at my concerns about a few small orchids. However when informed the entire population (including recent additions) was still limited to a paltry 32 plants, some recognition of the situation was expressed.

To further illustrate the plight of this and many other species of flora and fauna, the current number considered to be under threat, has risen from 962 in 2005 to 1013 in 2007. This includes all flora and fauna but is for NSW only and with numbers continuing to rise, bragging rights are not contested. C. pulchellus is not yet listed as either vulnerable or endangered but I feel certain it will be listed before the end of 2007.

During the time arrangements were being made to translocate the orchids, I visited my local Newspaper on an unrelated matter and was contacted during this visit by Damian McGill, the photographer who took photos of the orchid in the stump the previous season. We spoke about the severe impact the development would have on the bushland and I mentioned the rescue attempt. He then asked if he could get access at that time for another story. This was not easy to achieve as I discovered after contacting Michael Drum to ask for this to be allowed. He did however manage to convince Stockland corporate people a positive story would result from a rescue operation. On the day of the translocation we attended the site to undergo the induction process necessary for the purposes of Occupational Health and Safety, which seems to rule all workplaces in this modern world. We were issued with hard hats and high-visibility vests and proceeded to the orchid site. John Briggs and I first assessed the number of extractions necessary and then explored all sections of the Environmental Zone (EZ) to select suitable sites for translocation. We decided to spread the orchids over five sites to give them the best chance possible to survive. Translocation of orchid species of this type (greatly fungal reliant) is not an option I would normally choose, however under the circumstances I could not allow them to be bulldozed without making a serious effort. As this species is rare and limited to four known sites with populations of one, one, five (now 12) and 18, it is certainly selective in its choice of habitat and no positive information is available as to a pollinator.

The choices we made for the new sites were based on similar vegetation, sunlight availability, soil type and moisture content but all of this was slightly educated guesswork. The soil at the stump was quite dark and rich looking but none of the selected sites was exactly identical, although all were similar.

Translocation site nearest to Leisure Centre
A Calochillus pulchellus translocation habitat

Removal of the plants was not easy as both groups of three were among the roots and when the soil plugs were lifted we noted one tuber in each group was situated hard against the roots of the stump and as such when lifted were exposed to the elements, although none were damaged. After lifting the plugs they were placed in containers and more loose soil was packed around the plug to retain moisture and prevent movement during transport to the new site. The transport distances were less than one kilometre on a road suitable only for a slowly driven four wheel drive vehicle. The initial transport included both groups of three and the single plant at the base of the stump. The plant in the stump and that from the original site were removed and transported later in the day.

Alan extracted orchids in containers
Alan with three containers of Calochillus pulchellus

At the new sites a suitable sized hole was dug, with loose soil from the host site placed at the bottom, as it was hoped the plants would benefit from any mycorrhiza from the original site. The plug was gently lowered and placed at the same angle at ground level and more original soil was used to fill any vacant space. The plants were then watered with water collected from the site and a numbered metal stake was placed near the plant as a record and location point. Final touches were the placing of wooden stakes on a north-south line, each stake situated two metres from the relocated orchids and the positioning of a barrier of dead shrubs to prevent Kangaroos from accessing the orchids, either by accident or design. A GPS point was then recorded for each orchid plot. At each site two plots approximately 20 metres apart were constructed far enough from any road or track so as not to be visible. The containers used were 32 litre capacity plastic storage boxes and with the plug containing the orchid/s and loose soil for packing, each container weighed approximately 25kg at the time of transport.

John applying roo proofing to translocation
Kangaroo proofing of tranlocation area

Originally it was intended to remove the entire stump with the orchid intact but a decision was made to cut a large wedge section from the stump using a chain saw, provided by a machinery operator from the contractor’s workforce.

Cutting wedge with orchid from stump
Removal of stump wedge with a Calochillus pulchellus

This proved successful (and heavy) and the stump was relocated on its own in another section of the EZ. It was sunk into the earth at a depth of 20 cm to retain moisture and provide greater stability. This was treated the same as the previously translocated plants, with water, protective barrier and GPS point. By the time all plants were finally relocated we realised we had spent nine hours on this project. As I live within 30 km of the site I am able to monitor any progress on a regular basis. The hope is that those orchids with emerging flower stems will be able to complete their flowering regime and manage to attract a pollinator.
 
Translocated larger single orchid in bud
Translocated large single Calochillus pulchellus in bud

All of the above has been done in the hope of saving 28% of the known population of C. pulchellus but in reality luck and prevailing good weather conditions will be as much help as any orchid knowledge we were able to provide. As previously stated, this operation is not the preferred option but at the time the only option available and what was achieved was achieved with the co-operation of those involved on both sides of the ideological equation.

As I finish writing this article I have been contacted by Michael Drum and invited to attend a small scale ceremony to mark the initiation of work on the residential estate. I accepted, albeit reluctantly as I find it difficult to look at so much previously good bushland disappearing so rapidly. Further to this I have learned the stated 58% of bush to be removed has now been increased. It appears the hollow trees used by birds and animals as habitat are to be reduced in number as they are considered by the Shoalhaven City Council to be a danger to future residents. The estimate of lost habitat is now at approximately 70%. This action only serves to illustrate the lack of environmental ethic within the political and bureaucratic arms of council and perhaps readers can now understand my continued dislike and distrust of this body.

Link to Calochilus pulchellus update 2008

Alan W Stephenson
National Conservation Officer
Australasian Native Orchid Society (ANOS)
Conservation Director
Australian Orchid Council (AOC)