Farmers, beware of what’s lurking beneath those paddock rocks

2 JUNE 2021

Farmers, beware of what’s lurking beneath those paddock rocks

Researchers at Charles Sturt are urging landowners to adopt practices that preserve rocky outcrops, which provide habitats for animals and a host of plants.

  • Charles Sturt academic leads research on preservation of reptile habitats on farms
  • Dr Damian Michael encourages farmers to adopt practices that preserve rocky outcrops and bush rock on their land
  • Rocky areas on farms provide vital habitats for animals, such as carnivorous marsupials, frogs, snakes, and lizards, and a host of plants

A team of Charles Sturt University academics is urging farmers to think twice before they do away with those pesky bush rocks.

The next time farmers intend to clear rocky outcrops and areas of surface rock, often referred to as bush rock, Landscape Ecologist and Herpetologist in the Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS) Dr Damian Michael urges people to look closer.

He is collaborating with a team of researchers, including ILWS PhD student Mr Harry Moore, ILWS members Associate Professor Skye Wassens and Associate Professor Dale Nimmo and PhD student from the Australian National University Ms Jackie O’Sullivan.

They are investigating the ecological roles of rocks on farms and their importance to conserving biodiversity, especially for small vertebrates, such as carnivorous marsupials, frogs, snakes and lizards.

In Australia, more than 200 species of vertebrate depend on rocky outcrops to survive as they create island refuges for the animals to retreat to. Many threatened species like the pink-tailed worm lizard live entirely beneath surface rocks, even in grazed landscapes.

“Now, new technology has been developed that can rapidly turn rocks into gravel. The impact of widespread rock removal is the local extinction of many small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, increased soil erosion, overall land degradation and loss of biodiversity,” Dr Michael said.

“Some reptiles are restricted to small areas of scattered rock and survive fine in paddocks used for grazing, but when the land is converted to a cropping system, few species survive.”

Maintaining habitat for small animals such as dunnarts, skinks and small snakes are important as these seldom seen creatures help control pest such as locusts and mice. They are also a food source for birds of prey and kookaburras.

Unfortunately, these habitats get little protection in agricultural landscapes due to legal and routine farming activities, according to Dr Michael.

Pressure to maximise crop yields or ‘clean up the paddock’ could spell disaster for these animals as machinery is brought in to destroy these habitats at alarming rates, almost a hectare of rock every hour in some places.

Dr Michael suggests finding ways to work with nature and preserve these environments, rather than destroying them should be common sense given Australia’s poor track record in conserving species.

He recommends a preventative approach for farmers to ensure their land is suitable for their needs but also does not destroy these habitats.

“Once the rocks are gone, their cultural and ecological functions can’t be replaced. Some farmers are not even happy with the result,” he said.

“To ensure their longevity, we recommend fencing off these areas, excluding intensive cropping and using these rocky areas to focus on restorative efforts.”

If rocks do need to be removed to minimise damage to farm machinery, Dr Michael suggests relocating them to other parts of the property or along fence lines rather than crushing them into gravel.

Media Note:

For more information or to arrange interviews with Dr Damian Michael, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0429 217 026 or

Photo caption: Species likely to be affected by the removal of rocky outcrops include the pink-tailed worm lizard (left) and fat-tailed dunnart (right).

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