What happens when a rare Australian plant species that was presumed to be long-extinct is rediscovered?
Not a lot it seems, if the critically endangered Seaforth mintbush (Prostanthera marifolia) is a typical example.
Back in early April, the federal Department of Environment posted a nine-line media release on its website. Six of those lines were hyperlinks to “new and updated threatened species listings and new conservation advices.”
Among that list was the briefest announcement that federal environment minister Greg Hunt had approved departmental conservation advice for the Seaforth mintbush. And that advice was that there should be no recovery plan for the species.
Presumably the buck is being passed to the New South Wales government, as the mintbush is restricted to an area of less than four square kilometres (400 hectares) across three sites in Sydney’s northern harbour region.
Reading the department’s conservation advice is a gloomy business. There’s little sense of…..um, botanical empathy. This is a species that was first described in 1810 says the advice notice. So does that mean it was collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander? If so……wow! Tell us more, please?
Who described it? Was it Solander or Jonas Dryander? Or someone else? Come on, a little departmental enthusiasm and zest for detail might not go amiss here.
The bare bones of the Seaforth mintbush story seem to be that it was first described in 1810, was being collected in the early 1900s, disappeared, and was thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 2001, near the suburb of Seaforth.
But it took another decade for the species to be “transferred from the extinct category to the critically endangered category on 9 September 2011” according to the ministerial conservation advice. Certainly doesn’t sound like a “Hallelujah, saved!” response……..
The NSW government conducted a survey in 2001 and found 70 to 104 plants. A second survey in 2004 found 56 to 96 plants, and a third survey reported 90 to 130 plants, with around 80 per cent at one site.
And as with many of Australia’s threatened species, very little seems to be known about the Seaforth mintbush.
It’s a perennial shrub with purple flowers. It’s assumed to flower in spring but even that’s not been confirmed. Its ability to survive and regenerate after fire is “unknown.”
But the list of threats to its survival is long and familiar – habitat loss, urban development, habitat fragmentation, small-scale urban clearing, soil compaction, urban runoff, invasive weeds, herbicide drift, rubbish dumping, encroachment of exotic turf grasses, hazard reduction burns and potential infection from the plant pathogen Phytophthora. And mountain bikes.
“The loss of habitat as a result of the development of mountain bike tracks is also a threat. Unauthorised tracks are closed when detected but pressure to create new tracks is ongoing,” says the NSW scientific report.
The NSW government does appear to be stepping up to the challenge and has designated the Seaforth mintbush as a site-managed species under a new conservation program called Saving Our Species. It’s also looking at a translocation site and seed bank.
Surely the least the federal government could do is come up with a recovery plan……..