Asheena Guymala sets a camera trap for a biodiversity survey. (c) David Hancock
(c) Rowand Taylor
(c) David Hancock
Asheena Guymala sets a camera trap for a biodiversity survey. (c) David Hancock
Warddeken Land Management Ltd.
The Traditional Owners of the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area formed Warddeken Land Management Ltd. in 2007. This aboriginal owned, not-for-profit company combines traditional ecological knowledge with Western science to manage and protect one of Australia’s most unique environments.
Warddeken Land Management Ltd. operates out of the remote communities of Kabulwarnamyo, Kamarkarwan and Manmoyi in western Arnhem Land and employs up to 130 Indigenous rangers a year on a casual basis. The Indigenous rangers work on a variety of projects including fire management and carbon abatement, weed and feral animal control, rock art conservation, education and cultural heritage management.
Fire management & carbon abatement
Over many years Warddeken Land Management has been a key partner in the development of the innovative technique of abating the greenhouse gases produced in wildfires through implementing a combination of traditional and modern fire management techniques. By conducting prescribed burns in the early dry season and some fire suppression in the late dry season, the Warddeken Rangers are able to manage the timing, intensity and scale of wildfires, protecting the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This methodology underpins the ground breaking West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project where industry, government and community work together to offset greenhouse gas emissions. This project, initiated in 2006 sees ConocoPhillips and the Darwin Liquefied Natural Gas facility in Darwin work with the Northern Territory Government and the Darwin Centre for Bushfire Research to fund the work of 5 ranger groups over 2,800,000 hectares to protect the environment and produce an annual offset of 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.
To date this project has exceeded expectations and abated more than 1.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases with excess abatement marketed through the aboriginal owned, not-for-profit company ALFA (NT) Ltd. This has led to substantial locally generated revenue being reinvested into world class aboriginal ranger groups who manage the WALFA project. In this way the Djelk, Jawoyn, Mimal, Adjumarlarl and Warddeken rangers are seizing control of their own destinies.
On ground, fire management is conducted through extensive consultation with Traditional Owners. Each year more than 50 Warddeken Rangers are involved in prescribed burning and wildfire suppression. This has served to reestablish an appropriate fire regime based upon traditional knowledge and responding to modern threats.
Stone country animals & biodiversity
The Warddeken IPA covers almost three quarters of the West Arnhem Plateau bio region, one of Australia's biodiversity 'hot spots' and home to a host of unique and endemic plants, animals and ecosystems.
Rangers are committed to using both customary and western management practices to care for and protect animals and plants which are recognised as being culturally and scientifically significant.
The IPA is also home to the Northern Territory's only endangered ecological community - Arnhem Plateau Sandstone Shrublands Complex, which rangers look after using strategic fire management.
Rangers have worked alongside scientists for many years to establish long-term monitoring sites to track biodiversity throughout the IPA. In early 2017 our team will run the largest-scale mammal survey ever undertaken in the Kawarddewarddde, with motion sensor camera traps deployed by Traditional Owners and rangers across the most remote regions of the IPA. The information garnered through this research will guide management practices, increase monitoring and provide the most comprehensive snapshot of biodiversity to date in our unique part of the world.
Feral animal management
Warddeken landowners have long been concerned about the damage being done to fragile upland springs by high concentrations of Asian water buffalo. Indeed, these feral animals are the single biggest threat to the ecological and cultural integrity of the fragile upland wetlands of the Arnhem Plateau.
The remoteness, rugged terrain and poor soil quality across the IPA render these herds economically unsuited to harvest and as such they are a liability rather than an asset. However, the eradication of buffalo and other feral animals is not feasible or desirable and thus Warddeken's strategy is to undertake strategic feral animal control across the IPA targeting areas observed to be suffering badly from buffalo impact.
Each year a combination of aerial culling and ground shooting results in the removal of over 2000 buffalo from the IPA. The removal of these animals from the landscape is also a major contributor to food security at the Warddeken IPA outstations as buffalo meat is distributed to Landowners. The distribution of buffalo meat in this way mirrors customary practise and also maintains strong support for feral animal control in the region.
Rock art documentation & conservation
The Warddeken IPA is home to some of the most significant and valuable rock art in Australia with the artistic tradition reporting everything from events from tens of thousands years old to first contact with Europeans well into the 20th century. It is an integral part of the Warddeken Ranger program to survey and protect these rock art sites. As the majority of the sites are inaccessible by road, this often entails long journeys on foot or travel by helicopter. Information collected from each surveyed site is entered into Bidwern – Warddeken’s dedicated rock art information management system.
Recent rock art surveys have revealed an urgent need for feral animal exclusion. Along with degrading waterways and consuming valuable bush foods, feral buffalo and pigs sheltering at art sites cause irreversible damage to rock art images. Each year, rangers install and maintain a number of exclusion fences at key art sites across the IPA.
Allosyncarpia rainforest protection
Anbinik (Allosyncarpia Ternata), is a large, endemic rainforest tree that only grows in fire protected forests within the rugged terrain of the Arnhem Plateau. The protection and conservation of Anbinik forest within the IPA is a high priority for both its cultural and ecological values.
Five year funding from the Federal Government’s Biodiversity Fund has enabled Warddeken to implement a fire management project based on the protection of 50 ‘at risk’ Anbinik sites. Each year, key Anbinik sites are protected through the manual installation of mineral earth and back burnt fire breaks. This included the four largest Anbinik patches within the IPA assessed as ‘at risk’. In total, just under 20,000 lineal meters of firebreak are annually constructed and importantly, no damaging wildfire activity is recorded at any of those patches.
For the monitoring component of the project, rangers have been trained in the analysis and classification of high definition aerial photographs in order to establish baseline condition reports for 20 Anbinik forests. This long-term work will allow us to monitor the effectiveness of our management and adapt accordingly.
Knowledge & education
In 2015 the Karrkad Kanjdji Trust helped the community of Kabulwarnamyo establish a bicultural, bilingual school. The Nawarddeken Academy is owned and guided by the community and administered by the Indigenous owned company, Nawarddeken Academy Ltd.
This unique school employs a 'country as a classroom' philosphy, valuing both Western learning and customary knowledge and practices. The twin aims will be to equip the children for career options while helping to sustain one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures. Children are taught to be strong in both cultures by accessing the latest technology and actively undertaking scientific enquiry in ways that are meaningful to their lives, thus encouraging attendance and engagement.
Invasive weed management
The Arnhem Land Plateau, including the Warddeken IPA, is one of the most weed free areas of Northern Australia given its remote location and rocky terrain. Each year Warddeken run an extensive weed awareness campaign with landowners as well as a targeted weed control program to ensure that the country remains as weed free as possible.
NAIDOC 'Caring for Country' award
In 2015 Warddeken received the Caring for Country Award at the National NAIDOC Awards held in Adelaide. The award recognises over a decade of being at the forefront of Indigenous conservation and is testament to the commitment of Traditional Owners and Warddeken rangers to protecting the culture and environment of the Stone Country through customary management practices.
Warddeken Chairman Fred Hunter dedicated the award to the 'Old People', in particular the late Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek, for the wisdom, strength and passion they handed down to younger generations of Bininj.