PARK WATCH Article December 2023 |

Dr Sera Blair, NatureWatch Coordinator, reports on three years of post-fire wildlife monitoring in East Gippsland

Since the devastating bushfires in 2019-2020, vast areas of East Gippsland’s forests have been in recovery. In 2021, our NatureWatch program responded with the Life After Fire project where 85 volunteers took part in multi-day citizen science expeditions. Initially, it focused on supporting private landowners in fire-affected areas to monitor wildlife survival and habitat recovery. Volunteer crews then went on three-day expeditions into parks and state forests in remote areas. Over each expedition, they were trained to use motion-detection cameras, audio recorders, spotlighting surveys, scat, track and digging surveys and photo points.

Research sites were 1km long transects with motion-detection cameras installed every 250m along the transect, five per site, and a photo point at each spot. At either end an audio recorder was installed, one acoustic and one ultrasonic (for bats). Scat, track and digging surveys were conducted by walking the transect, while spotlighting surveys were completed by walking the transect at night.

Research areas were chosen for two reasons. Firstly, where wildlife survival needed to be evaluated in burnt high conservation value areas. Secondly, in unburnt places threatened by preventable destruction from timber harvesting.

Research areas included: Errinundra National Park, Cape Conran Coastal Park, Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve, Mitchell River National Park, Swifts Creek, Nunniong Plains, Colquhoun Regional Park. All are on Gunaikurnai Country with Errinundra National Park also extending to Bidwell and Monero Country.

Success against the odds

This project has been a great success, but it certainly came with challenges. Field expeditions were cancelled or cut short due to Covid-19 lockdowns, some were run without volunteers, and storm events cut off access to research sites. Despite these added burdens on fieldwork, and thanks to our intrepid volunteers, we managed some fantastic outcomes:

  • 13 out of 15 planned field expeditions accomplished
  • 26 out of 30 planned research sites surveyed
  • 130 wildlife camera deployments
  • 52 audio recorder deployments
  • 23 kilometres of scat, track and digging surveys completed
  • 22 kilometres of nighttime spotlighting surveys completed.

Results include the analysis of 26,754 wildlife photos containing:

  • 22 native mammals
  • 29 native birds
  • 3 native reptiles
  • 9 introduced mammals
  • 3,896 hours of audio data – currently being analysed by Museums Victoria.

Cape Conran Coastal Park

This amazing coastal area is well-loved for its beauty and the ability for visitors to explore many natural environments.

Wildlife recorded at our sites two years after high intensity burns included bush rats and wallabies, with some Long-nosed Bandicoots, snakes, Agile Antechinus, White-footed Dunnarts, Sambar Deer and Black Rats. Ringtail Possums were seen in small pockets of unburnt tea tree. In areas recovering from low intensity/patchy burns we recorded Common and Mountain Brushtail Possums, Echidnas, Peregrine Falcons and endangered Southern Brown Bandicoots. In unburnt refuge areas we also recorded Eastern Pygmy Possums on cameras and spotlighting surveys.

Cabbage Tree Creek

Cabbage Tree Creek Flora Reserve is small, but it has a lot to offer! Low-lying pockets of rainforest are mixed through wet forests and Riparian scrub dotted with the southernmost stand of Cabbage-tree Palms (Livistona australis). The low-lying area of the reserve is unburnt and relatively unmodified, but the Lowland Forest surrounding the reserve has been impacted by timber harvesting and regular planned burns.

Thankfully, recent planned burns were patchy, and we recorded Long-nosed Bandicoots and Long-footed Potoroos in between burnt areas. Mainland Dusky Antechinus were recorded inside the reserve, Agile Antechinus and Bush Rats were both in and out of the reserve area. Mountain Brushtail Possums were recorded in the reserve and Common Brushtail Possums were recorded in both areas. Sambar Deer and cats were recorded both in and out of the reserve area, and foxes in the open Lowland Forest areas.

Colquhoun Regional Park

Rather overlooked as wildlife habitat, Colquhoun Regional Park is primarily used for camping, four-wheel driving and mountain biking pursuits. The state forests on its edge are depleted from timber harvesting and areas of the park are burnt for fire risk reduction.

Our sites inside the park recorded common animals like antechinus, wallabies, bush rats and Brushtail Possums, but also Eastern Yellow Robin, Yellow-bellied Gliders and Sugar Gliders.

We recorded Yellow-bellied Gliders only once outside of the park. Stands of Black She-oak (Allocasuarina littoralis) are present in and around the park, which are a critical food source for Glossy Black Cockatoos. These trees were wiped out across the burnt areas of East Gippsland rendering all surviving mature stands of high conservation value.

Errinundra National Park

Ancient rainforests and wet gullies wind through the old growth eucalypt forests of Errinundra National Park. Much of the southern part of the park, the Errinundra Plateau, was burnt, in many cases with high severity. Following decades of timber harvesting around the park, pressure increased around the edges of the park as planned logging coupes lost in the fires were reassigned.

One of our sites was in long-unburnt forest and recorded many Agile Antechinus, Bush Rats, Mountain Brushtail Possums, Swamp Wallabies, Satin Bowerbirds, Yellow-bellied Gliders, Sugar Gliders and Greater Gliders. The spotlighting survey was thrilling – packed with possums and gliders in this incredible forest rich in tree hollows.

Our second site was on the edge of the park, across the road from a planned logging coupe. Again, small mammals were abundant, joined by records of Long-nosed Bandicoots, Long-footed Potoroos, and Mainland Dusky Antechinus and we saw three snakes (Tiger and Lowland Copperheads) on our scat survey. Also, present were deer, cats, mice, rabbits and several unwelcome leeches.

Mitchell River National Park

The furthest west of our sites, Mitchell River National Park was identified as an import area of unburnt Lowland and Wet or Damp Forest after the fires. While the state forests that border the park have been logged over time, and large areas of the park burnt for risk reduction, it still provides older, more complete habitat areas than recently burnt areas that will take decades to recover. Our sites inside the park were open, dry forest, one that recently had a planned burn. No bandicoots or rodents were recorded on these sites, but wallabies, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, wombats, echidnas, Brown Hares and foxes were. Spotlighting and scat surveys recorded Brushtail Possums, and evidence of deer.

Outside of the park, our sites were not recently burned but located along planned logging coupes. Both recorded Agile Antechinus, Bush Rats, Long-nosed Bandicoots, White-footed Dunnarts and Eastern Pygmy Possums. Southern Boobooks and Tawny Frogmouths were also recorded while spotlighting.

Swifts Creek

Moving up towards the high country, Swifts Creek is a stunning area of dry forests changing as elevation increases to Wet Forests and Montane Woodlands dotted with Montane Riparian Thickets and wet gullies. The area has a long history of logging, most recently this has concentrated on the lower elevation areas.

One of our sites intentionally ran through two planned logging coupes in long unburnt forest, that were squeezed between the Cassilis Heritage Area and large areas of Special Protection Zone in the Mount Delusion State Forest. The site was simply magnificent – stunning forest with incredible views.

The cameras recorded the commonly seen animals plus Long-nosed bandicoots, Eastern Pygmy Possum, many bird species and even baby Emus. The Emus were also recorded on the scat survey along with fox, cow, deer, rabbit, and wombats. Spotlighting was amazing with multiple Greater Gliders, Ringtail Possums, Brushtail Possums, Yellow-bellied Gliders and Southern Boobooks. We referred the Greater Glider sightings to Parks Victoria and DELWP (now DEECA) for review of the planned logging coupes. Thankfully, the coupes will be removed at the end of this year.

Two other sites along planned logging coupes recorded common species as well as Long-nosed Bandicoots, Yellow-bellied Gliders, Greater Gliders, Sugar Gliders, Southern Boobooks, Ringtail Possums and Mountain Brushtail Possums. These coupes were also referred to Parks Victoria and DELWP for review.


A short drive off the Great Alpine Road heading to Omeo, just north of the fire line, is an amazing pocket of endangered Sub-alpine Wet Heathland and rare Alpine Damp Grassland surrounded by Montane Woodland and Wet Forests at Bentley Plain Natural Features and Scenic Reserve.

This little oasis recorded Broad-toothed Rat in the past, but sadly we did not pick them up on our sites. We did record both Swamp Wallabies and Red-necked Wallabies on our sites along with Swamp Rats.

Scat surveys showed evidence of cows in the delicate grasslands and the spotlighting surveys had Greater Gliders, Sugar Gliders, Mountain Brushtail Possums and Boobook owls.

Bentley Plains is a remarkable area to visit. Wildlife abounds and misty mornings across the wetlands are stunning. However, intense logging has happened, and more was planned, all around the reserve.

It’s a wrap

The incredible teams of volunteers trekking across East Gippsland to record the recovery of wildlife shows how passionate we are about the recovery of forests, plants and animals. Getting to visit so many amazing areas in East Gippsland with so many passionate people was a great adventure. The fieldwork was enormously fun and the contribution by the volunteers to knowledge is significant: our wildlife records have been added to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas.

Thank you to all the volunteers who joined our expeditions for their hard work, sharing of knowledge and sheer willingness to get stuck in and get things done. Each expedition became a tight team working together – not just on the fieldwork but on enjoying the whole experience including camping and cooking together and leaving with a great sense of achievement.

While this project has concluded, the need to monitor wildlife recovery, particularly of threatened species, and to reduce preventable impacts continues. We will retain the connections we have made across East Gippsland and look forward to returning in future.

Now we are turning our focus out west, where three-day expeditions will survey wildlife in the central west/Pyrenees area in 2024.

This project was supported by an Impact grant from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.