Conservation of our native species and their habitat is something to which ANOS Inc. is obliged to give attention. One of the Objects stated in our Constitution is:
“To promote the conservation of Australian and Australasian native orchid species and natural hybrids, and, in particular, to assist in the preservation of those species and natural hybrids in their natural habitat.”
Australia has a higher proportion of orchids than any other temperate region of the world, with over 1,700 species recorded. The majority of these are terrestrial. Yet 25% of global orchid extinctions have occurred on our continent.
The greatest threat to the survival of our native orchids, and all our native wildlife, is us.
“Since European settlement, 13% of Australia’s vegetation has been cleared and converted to other land uses, predominantly agriculture. The extent of loss varies greatly between vegetation types. The greatest areal loss of vegetation since European settlement has been in the eucalypt woodlands, which have been reduced by one third, to around 84 million hectares. Each of eucalypt open forests, mallee woodlands and shrublands and other grasslands, herblands, sedgelands and rushlands have suffered a similar proportional loss, from smaller original extents. The greatest proportional losses, to around 60% of their original extent, have been in casuarina forests and woodlands, and low closed forests and tall closed shrublands.”
The vast majority of Australia’s native orchids are terrestrial. Where do most of those orchids grow? They grow in mallee woodlands and shrublands and open forests and woodlands.
Australia’s epiphytic native orchids occur in the coastal regions in the north of the continent from the Kimberley region of north-east Western Australia across the top of the Northern Territory into Queensland and down the eastern states into Tasmania. They tend to grow in the regions where most of the population lives. They grow on trees and shrubs in various types of forests, often the same forests where terrestrial species grow. Many of the epiphytic species grow in rainforests.
“Since the late 1700s much of Australia’s rainforest, including 75% of its original tropical rainforest, has been cleared for agricultural, industrial and urban development.”
The Role of ANOS Inc. and its Members
ANOS Inc. is as an umbrella organisation for the work that is being done by local ANOS groups. It is important for the ANOS Inc. conservation officer to be aware of conservation issues across Australasia and their likely impact on native orchids, but that requires some input from members. These issues should initially be reported to an ANOS group conservation officer for a response and then, if necessary, to the national conservation officer for consideration and response.
All ANOS members should be aware of proposed private and government development in their region. Notices appear in local and national newspapers regarding these developments and also on the websites of state and federal governments. Within the list of developments seeking approval will be documents relating to an Environmental Impact Statement or a Species Impact Statement. These documents are for public comment and members should read them, as local orchid knowledge is often more detailed than studies by consultants. If any irregularities are obvious as to the omission of threatened orchids known by locals to occur within a development area, then action should be taken.
Apart from those issues, ANOS members can be involved at other levels, and many are doing that: some on a small scale, and others on a larger scale.
What ANOS Inc. Members can and are doing
In order for orchid species to be conserved, they first have to be located and identified, and to have their populations and habitats studied and documented, and to have the threats to the orchids and their habitats identified and assessed. Adequate data needs to be available in order for a listing to be considered and a determination as to its conservation status made. This work is ongoing because populations of threatened species need to be monitored in order to know whether circumstances change and the species’ status needs to be reconsidered.
Some of these tasks require specialist scientific knowledge, but not all. Members of ANOS groups who do not have scientific qualifications can still make a significant contribution. Some members have acquired a high level of specialist knowledge over the years, but even groups and members that are not involved with organised conservation activities can make a valuable contribution.
Most groups have bushwalks. Bushwalking is not only an enjoyable activity but it can involve locating and recording and monitoring the species that occur in your area, which is valuable information in itself, and can lead to preparation of a field guide to those species, as some ANOS groups have done in the past. Bushwalking can even result in the finding of new species or re-discovering species that were thought to be extinct.
One Victorian species that had been listed as extinct because it had not been seen since 1926 was rediscovered by two orchid enthusiasts – Hans and Christa Korth – in September 2009. This is Caladenia pumila (the Dwarf Spider-orchid). Only two plants were found, however those two plants have been given very special attention and have their own comprehensive Action Statement prepared under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic.). In November 2011, the species’ Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act status was changed from extinct to critically endangered. The species has a team of scientists and volunteers working on observing and caring for the plants in the wild and attempting to pollinate them so additional plants may be reintroduced in future. The volunteers include members of ANOS Victorian Group, in particular Neil Anderton.
However, rediscovering a species is only the beginning. Diuris fragrantissima (The Sunshine Diuris) is a species that is critically endangered because of changed land-use patterns. It was once common in its range. In 2001, only three plants remained in the wild. There had been previous attempts to reintroduce the species. About 89 plants were planted out In the early 1980s but it is believed they died out by 2001. There are currently about 30 plants remaining in the wild although a significant number survive in private collections. The species can be propagated successfully but difficulties arise when the plants are reintroduced to their natural habitat. It appears that the orchid grows in association with a narrow taxonomic range of mycorrhizal fungi, and reintroductions are unlikely to succeed unless the right fungi are present at the reintroduction site. The Australian Orchid Foundation is assisting with a project for the DEWLP & Royal Botanic Gardens to produce 3,000 plants for reintroduction.
These projects involve a long term commitment from people possessing the necessary skills, as well as funding, but all ANOS members can contribute at some level. ANOS Victoria Group members are involved in site maintenance and monitoring and other tasks associated with the conservation of Diuris fragrantissima and also other species. ANOS Victoria Group is well known for its conservation activities. Information about these activities, and those of ANOS Geelong, a group which is also active in conservation, can be found at their joint web site: http://www.anosvic.org.au/
In 2015, the Australian Network for Plant Conservation Inc. established an Orchid Conservation Program in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, with the aim of saving South East Australia’s unique and threatened orchids. A number of other groups are involved in this project, including ANOS Victoria Group. http://www.anpc.asn.au/orchids
NOSSA members are also actively engaged in numerous conservation projects such as surveys and monitoring threatened orchids, and a program for the propagation and reintroduction of various species, including Diuris behrii. NOSSA’s web site has a conservation page, and also a wealth of other information and photographs. https://nossa.org.au/
NOSSA members are also involved with a project called Wild Orchid Watch, which is to be an online service to allow users access to tools for identifying orchid species and maintenance of records of populations of orchids in the wild. This database of native orchids is to be available for access by different types of users, for different purposes. More about Wild Orchid Watch later.
Threatened Orchid Species
Worldwide, the primary focus of orchid conservation is to protect and preserve those species that are threatened with extinction. This involves identifying and listing the species and the degree to which they are threatened, identifying the processes that are threatening that species, and preparing plans of actions required to prevent the populations declining further.
The IUCN Red List
The stated goal of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is to provide information and analyses on the status, trends and threats to species in order to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation.
The Red List Categories and Criteria are comprehensive and can be found here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/static/categories_criteria_3_1
- The Red List categories are:
- Extinct in the wild
- Critically endangered
- Near Threatened
- Least Concern
- Data Deficient
- Not evaluated
At the present time only 34 Australian native orchid species are on the IUCN Red List, and, of those, 30 have been assessed as Least Concern. It should be noted that Red List assessments consider the abundance of a species globally, not just in Australia or in a particular state or territory. Thus, Vanda hindsii, which is listed as Vulnerable nationally and in Queensland, is Least Concern in the Red List. A significant factor noted in the assessment was that although it is highly localised in Queensland, it is reported to be widespread and common throughout Papua New Guinea. Similarly, Sarcochilus falcatus, which is listed as endangered under the Victorian Advisory List, and listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, but which is noted in the Red List assessment as being most common Sarcochilus species of Australia, is listed as Least Concern on the Red List.
The other four species on the Red List are Corybas dienemus(endemic to Macquarie Island) and Diuris byronensis(endemic to the vicinity of Byron Bay in northeast NSW) – both assessed as critically endangered – and Caladenia dundasiae (endemic to a small region around Watheroo, WA) and Cheirostylis notialis(the Southern Fleshy Jewel Orchid, endemic to southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales) – both assessed as vulnerable.
The Red List can be searched here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/search
The Commonwealth Government and each of the states and territories have legislation which deals with conservation of biodiversity and the listing of threatened species, and which provide for assessment of nominations by a Scientific Committee and for the preparation of action plans or recovery plans in respect of the listed species.
Each of the pieces of Commonwealth and state or territory legislation in Australia uses at least some of the IUCN Red List categories, though the definitions and criteria vary, sometimes significantly.
All the relevant legislation is accessible on the internet, and some of the government departments have comprehensive and very useful sites.
- The relevant Commonwealth legislation is the Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, administered by the Department of the Environment and Energy. https://www.environment.gov.au/
- The ACT has the Nature Conservation Act 2014, administered by the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate. http://www.environment.act.gov.au/
- The Northern Territory has the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2006, administered by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. https://denr.nt.gov.au/
- Queensland has the Nature Conservation Act 1992, administered by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/
- New South Wales currently* has the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, administered by the Office of Environment & Heritage. http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au
- Victoria has the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1998, administered by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. The Department also has a separate system of Advisory Lists of threatened species. http://delwp.vic.gov.au/environment-and-wildlife/conserving-threatened-species-and-communities
- Tasmania has the Threatened Species Protection Act 1995, administered by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. http://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/
- South Australia has the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972, administered by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/Home
- Western Australia has the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950, administered by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/plants-and-animals/468-biodiversity-conservation-act-2016
* However, on 17 November 2016, the NSW Parliament passed the Biodiversity Conservation Bill which will repeal the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and the animal and plant provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. This is significant change. More about this later.
Australian Native Species Listed as Threatened
Approximately 750 Australian native orchid species are currently listed either on the IUCN Red List or one of the Australian threatened species lists. (A schedule of all species included in the various lists is under preparation.)
The threats to our remaining orchid populations vary from region to region, and from species to species. The range of threats is broad and can include:
- Clearing of forests for urban development, road-building or agricultural purposes
- Overcollection by orchid enthusiasts
- Alteration of habitat by salination
- Altered fire regimes
- Encroachment of weed species
- Spread of disease such as Phytophthora which affect other plants in the vegetation communities the orchids require to thrive
- Feral animals such as rabbits, pigs and goats, which eat or disturb the plants
- Activities which can affect the populations of pollinating insects
The IUCN SSC OSG
The Orchid Specialist Group (OSG) of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an international network of professional and non-professional volunteers who are committed to the conservation and sustainable utilisation of orchid species and their habitats.
The OSG was established in 1984. Its stated mission is to assist in international efforts to conserve plant diversity, by providing technical support and encouragement for the development and execution of programmes to study, document, save, restore and manage orchids and their habitats widely. Its web site can be found here: https://www.iucn.org/species/ssc-specialist-groups/about/ssc-specialist-groups-and-red-list-authorities-directory-7
The text of the final form of the Resolution decided upon in the final session of the 6th International Orchid Conservation Congress (“Orchid Conservation – Bridging the Gap Between Science and Practice”) held in Hong Kong on May 2016, as posted by Michael Fay, the current Chair of the IUCN SSC Orchid Specialist Group, on the OSG Facebook page, is as follows:
Orchids are a flagship plant group with a high profile in human culture. They are known from all vegetated continents on earth but their occurrence reflects patterns in the global distribution of biodiversity and their intricate ecological associations, particularly with pollinators and mycorrhizal fungi, reflect sensitive ecosystem processes. Accordingly, orchids are indicators of ecosystem and climate health. Many orchids and their associated biota have been exposed to a variety of threats as a direct consequence of human-driven global change, with almost half of the ca. 27,000 known species now potentially at risk of extinction. Delegates of the IOCC support all efforts to research and mitigate these threats and secure environments on which orchids depend, and are committed to achieving meaningful conservation by recommending that:
- The creation of orchid enhanced habitats is a priority for ecological restoration.
- Enhanced in situ orchid protection requires the creation of orchid reserves. These will benefit a wide array of other species and biological communities and can be financed through various public and private sources.
- The international and domestic unsustainable wild plant trade is widely recognised by governments and civil society as a major threat to the persistence of many orchid species, and that its curtailment requires concerted government monitoring and enforcement, while strengthening pathways for sustainable legal trade.
- The propagation and cultivation of threatened orchids by small and local orchid enterprises should be supported for the sustainable production of orchids used in horticulture, medicine and food, in ways that ensure wild populations are not negatively impacted.
- Orchid cultivation should be licensed and audited by government or other government-approved body through a national (or international) accreditation scheme that specifies adequate safeguards to ensure best practice. Propagated orchids should be traceable and distinguishable from wild orchids so as to minimise the risk of laundering wild plants.
- National, regional and international networks should be established and strengthened for promoting in situ and ex situ orchid conservation.
- The next generation of orchid taxonomists, ecologists and conservationists is nurtured through improved training, education, publicity and awareness-raising programmes.
- Members shall strengthen the work of OSG by:
- Facilitating and conducting national and global Red Listing of orchids, and contributing to the Sampled Red List Index (SRLI);
- Monitoring and reporting on the illegal trade in orchids to national enforcement agencies and to TRAFFIC;
- Reviving Orchid Conservation International as a vehicle for web-based education and channelling funding to orchid conservation programmes, along the lines of Birdlife International;
- Embracing social media and other web-based interactive tools as dynamic and effective means of stimulating communication, raising awareness and building networks;
- Using citizen science as an effective means of motivating individuals and amateur groups to record orchid occurrence (e.g. OrchidMap, iNaturalist) and help scale-up the collection of verifiable data;
- Establishing and maintaining a global database of orchid reintroductions (including both successes and failures) and ex situ orchid collections that can be accessed and updated by members and which is linked to the IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group;
- Creating new sub-groups focusing on trade and molecular identification, to reflect important cross-cutting themes and challenges.”
Australian Commonwealth Government Initiatives
The Australian Government has a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030, which provides for a review every five years. It is currently reviewing the first five years. The Strategy is expressed to be a national framework guiding the biodiversity conservation policy and programmes of the Commonwealth, States and Territories. It is also an Action Plan under the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity to which Australia is a party.
The current Government recognises that our high rate of species extinction is unacceptable and is a problem that requires a fresh approach. Amongst other things, it has appointed a Threatened Species Commissioner and established a Threatened Species Recovery Fund of $5 million to support community-led work to protect our unique wildlife. It has also released Australia’s first Threatened Species Strategy. The Threatened Species Strategy sets out its 30 plants by 2020 initiative aimed at improving the trajectories of 30 threatened plants by 2020. Those 30 plants include four orchid species:
- Oberonia attenuata (Mossman Fairy Orchid – Queensland)
- Prasophyllum murfetii (Fleurieu Leek Orchid – South Australia)
- Thelymitra cyanipicata (Blue Top Sun-orchid – South Australia)
- Drakaea elastica (Glossy-leafed Hammer-orchid – South-west Western Australia)
The listings note the main threats and proposed actions.
State and Territory Government Initiatives
Australian State and Territory Non-Government Initiatives
In addition to the organisations already mentioned, there are various community-based conservation groups throughout Australia that are engaged in activities designed to assist in the protection of native plant species and threatened plant communities, and the recovery of threatened plant species and populations. Some of these are orchid-specific, others general. Examples are:
New South Wales – The National Parks Association of NSW
South Australia – Friends of Parks, South Australia
Tasmania – Threatened Plants Tasmania, which has an ongoing native orchid monitoring program and is calling for volunteers.
Northern Territory – Top End Native Plant Society
Western Australia – WA Native Orchid Study & Conservation Group https://sites.google.com/site/wanoscg/
ANOS Inc. Conservation Officer
20 November 2016
 Australian Rainforest Foundation website: http://www.arf.net.au/content.php?pageid=1265241063
“Reversing the decline of Diuris fragrantissima”, Knight, James & Akiyama, First International Orchid Conservation Congress, Perth, 2001
 AOF notes re Project: 306/2016
 “The Coalition’s Policy to Protect Australia’s Threatened Species”, June 2016. https://www.liberal.org.au/coalitions-policy-protect-australias-threatened-species