ANIMALS species have disappeared from the region and others have moved into urban centres due to drier weather conditions, Wimmera conservationists say.
Wimmera River Improvement Committee president Gary Aitken said there was "absolutely no doubt" that climate change was affecting the types of vegetation and movement of animals in the Wimmera.
Mr Aitken said soil erosion from land clearing, changed farming practices and a reduction in dams following the implementation of the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline in 2010 had driven animals into towns.
He said animals that moved into urban centres were often competing for space, food and water, while becoming dependent on humans for their survival.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation research from November found that people with close links to the environment - such as farmers, graziers and bird watchers - were already noticing climate change impacts on hundreds of species and ecosystems across Australia.
The 300 people surveyed noted that the most common effects were plants dying, changes in plant seasonal effects and changes in animal abundance.
The researchers said survey subjects' observations were generally consistent with expectations from models projecting moderate to high degrees of change in biodiversity across Australia by 2050.
Wildlife corridors needed
FORMER farmer Gary Atiken said he had noticed rapid environmental changes in the last 15 to 20 years.
"I just can't understand people who say there is no such thing as climate change, because there is," he said.
"Slowly, but surely, you could sort of tell that it was getting hotter and hotter and hotter. It's certainly much harsher."
Mr Atiken said he had noticed a dramatic increase in the diversity and quantity of wildlife in urban areas since moving to Barnes Boulevard, Horsham about 20 years ago.
"There are so many more birds because of the fact that they've taken away the farm dams. So the birds sort of congregate towards the river and become more urbanised," he said.
"I could show you photos of rainbow lorikeets in this bird bath out there, and there's just not enough room for them all to get in there.
"And wallabies. Who would have expected to see wallabies within the urban environment? We came home from holiday a few years ago and there was five wallabies in our garden. But you never saw it once when we first moved here."
Mr Aitken said the construction of the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline and the amalgamation of farms meant the number of dams that animals could drink from, and wildlife corridors they could move through, had been reduced.
"Now the majority of people don't have sheep anymore. Once we were half sheep, half grain but now people don't have sheep so they have no reason to have fences and watering points," he said.
Mr Aitken said there was "no doubt" climate change had created an increasing reliance of wildlife on human behaviour.
"This is where the animals are coming off the bush to take advantage of our systems," he said.
"The birds are clever. On a really hot day we have the doors and windows open and (the birds) all line up to take advantage of the air conditioner.
"They just sit there on the decking and the windowsill. Some days when we haven't even turned it on (the evaporative cooling) they're sitting on the windowsill waiting for us to switch it on."
Mr Aitken said he was concerned about the death of mature trees and that a number of native plants were not coping with the rising temperatures.
"With the severity of the extreme heat, we've lost a lot of plants. The more fleshy, faster growing trees like acacias and wattle are suffering the most," he said.
Looking to the future, Mr Aitken said he hoped there would be an increase in shade and wildlife corridors, including the maintenance of the Little Desert to Grampians corridor he helped to establish.
"Wildlife corridors are the most important. For example some birds only fly within the height of the trees because if they fly above that the raptors get them," he said.
Koalas all but gone
ST Helens Plains resident Claudia Haenel said her property was one of the only safehavens for animals in the region but as waterways continued to dry up, some species were disappearing.
Ms Haenel moved to her property more than two years ago. She said she noticed that the rivers and creeks were drying up earlier in the summer season.
"It just means any animals will have to travel just that little bit further to get a drink. This is such a significant waterway here because it is a meeting of the Wimmera RIver and Mount William Creek, which flows from the Grampians," she said.
She said the decline in the availability of water was one of the contributing factors to the loss of koalas at St Helens Plains.
"According to locals there were koala populations here along the river. I haven't seen a koala here," she said.
"I believe the last (koala) sighting was just down the road about 10 or 15 years ago. Some locals saw a koala climbing up a silo and rescued him.
"This is a koala habitat but they are very territorial and were probably just having to travel too far to find water."
Ms Haenel said the disappearance of koalas from the region was one of the inspirations behind her decision to organise On the Brink - a festival to be held at her property in April to fundraise for wildlife conservation.
"My place has a conservation order on it and I didn't realise what that meant at first. But once I learnt about the significance it made me realise I wanted to raise awareness and money to protect it," she said.
Ms Haenel said the devastation from recent bushfires had only cemented her belief in the need for more money in animal conservation and research.
"With wildlife, once it's gone, it's gone. Extinction is forever isn't it?," she said.
Farmers adapt practices
KANIVA cropping and sheep farmer Steven Hobbs said he had to change his practices to adapt to the effects of climate change.
The fourth-generation farmer said he had noted patterns of annual rainfall decline by using a weather station at the farm. He said there had been more days of high temperatures and a longer frost season.
"The days of 32 degrees and above have been starting in October and extending into April, while the frost season has grown from about 90 to 100 days a year to about 142 days on average," he said.
"Once we established that these things were happening it explained some of the adverse effects we had been experiencing, such as decreasing quality and quantity of grain."
Mr Hobbs said he has changed his planting practices, switching to crops that had an increased tolerance such as oats and barely.
"The growing season has been starting to get shorter so we are trying to maximise plant growth by choosing faster growing plants," he said.
Mr Hobbs said he was also trying to evolve his breeding practices of sheep to produce animals that performed best under the changing climactic conditions.
"Using a sheep Electronic Identification system we can breed from animals that are more profitable, with faster growth rates and better fertility," he said.
Mr Hobbs said, like many farmers, he had been making these changes out of his own initiative and paying from his own pocket.
"At the moment there are a lot of people doing stuff off their own back and they've been driven by the market essentially, because if you can't keep ahead of the game you can't grow. But that's no good long term for an industry," he said.
Mr Hobbs said federal and state governments needed to work together on a strategic approach for the agriculture industry to transition its practices in response to findings from the Bureau of Meteorology about climate change.
"Looking back at some of the forecasts that were made five or ten years ago we are seeing that come into reality. We need to be on the front foot, rather than on the back foot," he said.
"What will happen in ten years time the economy will really get hit hard, it will get belted because we haven't made any planning or any foresight looking at adaptation to move with the changing climate conditions.
"There's been a lot evidence and people out there who really want to see adaptation become a major part of the conversation within the government and the public but we need that leadership to be show by the federal government."
Funding to protect biodiversity
PLANNING and funding is underway to protect biodiversity in the next 20 years through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
DELWP regional manager of Natural Environment Programs Michelle Butler said six on-ground projects worth $1.732 million to be delivered over three years by various groups had been announced for the Wimmera region as part of the Biodiversity 2037 plan.
These projects were identified on the maps and list are available here.
"There are several organisations that collect data through citizen science projects. At this stage, DELWP does not have a single system to consider all available data, but various groups are monitoring trends," Ms Butler said.
"Several of these were highlighted in a SWIFFT seminar facilitated by DELWP last year, entitled 'People for Nature- climate change'."
The notes are available online here.
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