Featured Grants

Program Area D: Australian Flora & Fauna

Impact investment: Conservation Ecology Centre

Impact investment to boost Wildlife Wonders
$500,000 over two years

A $500,000 impact investment loan has started the ball rolling for an important social enterprise and conservation project on the Great Ocean Road near Apollo Bay.

The loan from the R E Ross Trust to the Conservation Ecology Centre in the Otways, went towards the purchase of the 20-hectare property running from the road to the sea, five minutes west of  Apollo Bay.

The site will be the home of Wildlife Wonders, an eco-tourism attraction which will both engage Impact investment to boost Wildlife Wonders visitors and generate ongoing funding for conservation in the region.

Lizzie Corke, CEO of the Conservation Ecology Centre, says Wildlife Wonders is critical from a number of perspectives – social, economic and environmental.

“The Great Ocean Road is the most visited nature-based destination in Australia and currently there are very few facilitated or curated experiences in nature.”

Planning permits have been awarded and work has started on planting and the creation of natural pathways, which will enable visitors to experience the beauty of the natural surrounds, learning about conservation as they go.

To give some sense of the visual splendour planned, the Conservation Ecology Centre has engaged Brian Massey – the Greensmaster for The Lord of the Rings films and Art Director of the Hobbit films – as Creative Director for Wildlife Wonders. He will build on his reputation as the landscape designer for New Zealand’s successful Hobbiton, to develop a guided walk through spectacular bushland, to see wildlife living naturally. Conservationist guides will lead the walks, with an educational focus on the conservation programs and species people can see around them.

Invisible to the visitors, but very effective, will be a predator-proof fence to keep out foxes and cats, enabling small native mammals to thrive.

“Wildlife Wonders will play a key role in slowing down the normal Great Ocean Road trip helping visitors to connect with the area, extending their stay and spend,” Lizzie said.

As visitors come to Wildlife Wonders, all surplus funds will be paid as a conservation distribution to the Conservation Ecology Centre, funding further conservation and research right across the Otways.

“Generating reliable and sustainable funding allows us to invest in conservation in a way we’ve never been able to before, increasing the breadth and depth of scientific research and improving the viability and resilience of threatened species populations,” Lizzie said.

“The flow-on benefits of secure employment – estimated at 35 full time jobs – strengthens the community and increases the economic benefit.

“Often there are challenges in finding funding for long term or innovative conservation projects or salaries in conservation. The sustainability of a business-based approach means we can plan effective long-term programs.”

A subsequent commitment of $2 million from the Commonwealth Government and $1.5 million from the Victorian State Government will build on some of the important first steps towards this project taken when funders like the R E Ross Trust took the initial leap of faith.

All going to plan, Wildlife Wonders will open to the public in late 2019.

Visit the Conservation Ecology Centre website.

Featured Grant: Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater

Restoring habitat for our State emblem
$30,000 over two years

The Helmeted Honeyeater is the Victorian State avian emblem and is critically endangered. However, a strategic habitat restoration project in the Yarra Valley is starting to net results.

“It’s a bit like the canary down the coal mine,” says acting president of the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater, Alan Clayton, “the health and numbers of the honeyeater are an indication of the state of the overall habitat.”

Working on Sheepstation Creek in Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (YNCR), a narrow sedge-rich swamp gum habitat with a wide range of rare flora and fauna in the Yarra Valley, the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater have been taking a whole of ecology approach and, with the help of a $30,000 grant from the R E Ross Trust, restoring the habitat of this beautiful yellow and grey bird.

The restoration of a good habitat is based on a combination of science and experience with the help of almost 200 volunteers. Half a million tree shrubs have been planted in the reserve, one of the largest supplementary feeding programs in the country has been implemented, and changing the release time of birds bred in captivity in Healesville, from spring to autumn, is netting great results.

Where the honeyeater was all but gone, now over 200 are living in the YNCR.

A fencing project was a crucial component of the plan, with deer and kangaroo populations providing a significant impediment to the honeyeater maintaining access to enough food and shelter.

Alan says the fact that the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater group have been able to start scaling back the supplementary feeding program is a great sign of success.

This work is the first step in creating a corridor of protection, which will allow species to move and stay safe, even in times of disease, fire or drought, all of which have had significant impacts in the past.

The Helmeted Honeyeater remains critically endangered and that classification won’t be downgraded until there are over 1,000 birds in at least 10 separate colonies. There is a long way to go.

Visit the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater website.

Featured Grant: Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME)

Humane approach to feral cat threat

In 2017, the R E Ross Trust provided a $10,000 grant to the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species to allow it to optimise and test a new humane trap called the Felixer; an automated feral cat control device.

Feral cats represent a key threat to many vertebrates in Australia but have proven difficult to control due to their reluctance to take baits or enter traps when food is abundant. Through a decade of applied research collaborations, a tool has been developed that takes advantage of feral cats’ unique behaviour and morphology.

Grooming traps are humane, targeted and effective, automatically applying a measured dose of toxin to a cat’s fur, which is ingested when they groom.

The project enables engineering optimisation to enhance the performance of the grooming traps, as well as field testing of the Felixer prior to commercialisation.

Visit the FAME website.

Featured Grant: Cardinia Shire Council

Residents of Pakenham, Officer, Upper Beaconsfield and the surrounding area will be able to enjoy a wonderful new recreation reserve following a gift of 47 hectares of pristine bushland to Cardinia Shire Council. Known as the Hillview Bushland Reserve, the land lies between Bathe Road and Carpenters Road and is bisected by Officer Road.

The Ross Trust, through its subsidiary Hillview Quarries, has donated the area – the equivalent size to 25 MCG’s – to protect local flora and fauna and for the recreational use of the community.
The land has important environmental conservation values and is now permanently protected by a Trust for Nature conservation covenant.

Cardinia Shire Council Mayor Cr Brett Owen said the land handover was a generous gesture. “This area will become a wonderful asset for bushwalkers and bird watchers,” Cr Owen said.

Mrs Eda Ritchie, Chairman of the Ross Trust and a director of Hillview Quarries, said the company recognised the important conservation values of the area and the value of protecting it for the future.

Hillview Quarries originally purchased the land in the 1980s to expand the company’s quarrying interests. However the land was found to be surplus to its commercial interests, so the Trust requested Hillview set aside the 47 hectares for a reserve which the Cardinia Shire now owns on behalf of the community. An adjacent seven hectares was subdivided into nine large residential blocks. These residential blocks, running off Bathe and Leppitt roads, are for sale and the proceeds will enable more charitable grants throughout Victoria.

Cr Owen said the gift of the reserve was an example of how business, local government and philanthropy can work together for the lasting benefit of the local community.