Saving an ecosystem

one of south Australia's endangered ecosystems, the western basalt plains grasslands, has found a saviour in John Wamsley, founder and managing director of the wildlife conservation company Earth Sanctuaries.

The South Australian environmentalist has bought a 1000-hectare property for US $7.8 million to protect Victoria's wildlife sanctuary at the You Yangs near Geelong. Only 200,000 hectares remain of the basalt plain grasslands, which once covered more than 2,100,000 hectares of Victoria. Less than 2,000 hectares are protected in reserves.

The grasslands have been gradually destroyed by cropping, excessive use of fertilisers and exotic pastures. Industrial and housing subdivisions are overtaking urban remnants, while exotic predators such as foxes have all but wiped out the area's small, nocturnal marsupials.

Earth Sanctuaries operates on the principle that threatened native animals will thrive if left undisturbed in a balanced eco-system with the full complement of pre-European biodiversity. The park is due to open in 2002.

Wamsley said the first step would be fencing the You Yangs property and eradicating all feral animals and weeds. The land would then be revegetated and endangered animals once abundant in the area, such as Eastern Quolls, Eastern-barred bandicoots and Brush-tailed wallabies, would be brought back. He said Australia had the worst record in the world for mammal extinctions.

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