Wildlife returning to Sydney
Shanes Park is the only Sydney site in the feral predator-free network, which is one of the most significant threatened fauna and ecological restoration projects in NSW history.
Set in Western Sydney, Shanes Parks is 40 km west-northwest of Sydney city's CBD and 10 km northeast of Penrith in Blacktown City Council.
Shanes Park will have around 555 hectares of feral predator-free area, with 535 hectares to be gazetted as a national park, around 5 hectares reserved for the pistol club, and up to 20 hectares may be required for a road corridor along the southern boundary of the property. If that area is required, Transport for NSW would provide compensation under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service Revocations Policy.
Gazettal will occur in 2022, after consultation with Aboriginal representatives to identify an appropriate Aboriginal name. The local community has long advocated for Shanes Park to be part of the national park system and for locally extinct species to be reintroduced.
How many animal species will be reintroduced?
Up to 30 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians will be reintroduced, making it one of biggest urban wildlife restoration projects in the world.
Twelve priority species that formerly occurred in western Sydney but have become locally extinct because of feral cats and foxes will be reintroduced, including:
- eastern bettong
- brown antechinus
- eastern quoll
- brush-tailed phascogale
- southern Long-nosed bandicoot
- New Holland mouse
- common dunnart
- bush rat
- bush-stone curlew
- green and golden bell frog.
Up to 20 additional reptiles and amphibians, which are now locally extinct or declining, will also be considered for reintroduction to Shanes Park.
How did we select the species for reintroduction?
All of the species to be reintroduced are species that once lived in this location.
The suitability of the mammal and bird species selected for reintroduction has been confirmed by one of Australia's leading ecologists, Dr Chris Dickman from the University of Sydney. The list of species is based on specimen records, sightings, distribution modelling, reports or other accounts, knowledge of their habitat requirements and their historic ranges.
For all species (except perhaps the emu), populations could be expected to increase 3-4 fold above the estimates provided in the report in the absence of feral cats and foxes. Such increases would be most likely for mid-sized mammals such as eastern bettong and eastern quoll, as shown in other feral-free areas. Species such as the eastern bettong disappeared from New South Wales more than 100 years ago, while the eastern quoll was last recorded in Sydney in the 1960s. Other species to be returned include the brush-tailed phascogale (an arboreal relative of the Tasmanian devil) and the brown antechinus.
What are the other ecological benefits of the project?
The program will see the reintroduction of animals that are ‘ecosystem engineers’, which play an important role in turning over soil, seed and spore dispersal, and population management through predation, among others. Individual eastern bettongs turn over tonnes of soil every year, while eastern quolls are important predators.
The return of these ecosystem engineers will help restore the health of ecosystems at Shanes Park.
Shanes Park hosts a number of threatened ecological communities which are in poor-moderate condition as a result of past disturbance and the ongoing impact of feral animals, weeds and illegal use.
The project will significantly improve the ecological condition of the site through the removal of all feral animals, the return of up to 30 species of locally extinct wildlife, the restoration of ecological processes and remnant vegetation, the effective management of fire and the prevention of unlawful activity (tracks, dumping of rubbish etc.).
A number of threatened birds use the site and will benefit from the project including speckled warbler, scarlet robin and rose robin.
What are the next steps?
First up, a 1.8-metre-high predator-proof fence will be built around the site in 2 stages, with the first stage finished in late 2022.
The fence will have base wire 'ground skirts', 'floppy tops' and double electrified wires to prevent feral cats or foxes getting inside. Similar fence design has been used in other feral-free areas across the country with great success, with small improvements and modifications made to specifically suit this site.
Control of feral animals will take place from the end of 2022, starting with any rabbits and hares, followed by feral predators such as foxes and cats.
Locally extinct species are expected to be reintroduced from early 2023, following the preparation and approval of translocation plans. Reintroduction will be ongoing for a number of years to accommodate the large number of species being brought back to this site.
People are expected to be able to visit from in mid-2023, with highlights including guided nocturnal tours. Development and adaptive reuse of existing visitor infrastructure will follow in a staged approach.
What will it be like to visit the park?
Shanes Park will provide a unique visitor experience for the community of western Sydney, and a must see destination for national and international visitors, one never before seen in an urban environment in New South Wales.
Visiting Shanes Park will be like stepping back in time to see the Australian bush as it was before the arrival of foxes, cats and rabbits – to a time when the Australian bush was alive with native animals.
Visitor facilities will be constructed and are expected to include interpretive signage, an education centre, walking trails and facilities for viewing wildlife.
Why is this project necessary?
Australia has the worst mammal extinction record in the world. Many surviving mammal species, along with many birds, reptiles, and amphibians, are threatened with extinction and are continuing to experience significant declines.
The key driver of mammal extinctions is predation by feral cats and foxes. Despite current efforts, there is no effective strategy for landscape-scale control of feral cats, and landscape-scale fox control is challenging in some settings, such as urban areas.
Feral cats alone kill more than 1.5 billion native animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians) every year across Australia. In addition, pet cats are estimated to kill over 240 million native animals each year.
The establishment of a large feral-free area at Shanes Park using conservation fencing is the only way to successfully restore the suite of animals such as bettongs and quolls that once thrived in western Sydney.
Do feral-free areas work?
There is strong scientific consensus that the establishment of feral-free areas is an essential element of an overall strategy to prevent further extinctions and promote the recovery of our most susceptible species.
Across Australia, feral-free areas (including offshore islands) have prevented 13 mammal species from going extinct and have protected populations of 40 mammal species susceptible to cats and foxes.
Six locally extinct mammals – including bilbies and numbats – have already been reintroduced into feral-free areas in NSW national parks as part of partnerships between National Parks and Wildlife Service and Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the University of NSW (UNSW).
Maintaining genetic diversity is important and will be achieved by sourcing a diversity of founders based on expert advice; ensuring an adequate size of founding population; and the ongoing exchange of animals between populations, if genetic monitoring indicates this is required.
How many feral-free areas will National Parks and Wildlife Service be establishing?
Shanes Park will be one of 7 feral-free areas in total in New South Wales managed by National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Three sites located at Sturt National Park (2 x 2000 hectares), Mallee Cliffs National Park (9570 hectares) and the Pilliga State Conservation Area (5,822 hectares) are being delivered with project partners, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and UNSW, operating as Wild Deserts.
The 4 new sites will be in:
- western Sydney – Shanes Park reserve
- central-west NSW – Yathong Nature Reserve
- north-east NSW – Ngambaa Nature Reserve
- south-east NSW – in the Eden-Bombala region, reserve to be confirmed.
Once all 7 sites are operating, there will be almost 65,000 hectares of predator free safe havens will exist in NSW national parks. These feral-free areas will deliver a measurable benefit for more than 50 threatened animal species.
Sites have been carefully selected to include ecosystems that are not represented in other feral-free areas (such as the tall forests in north-east and south-east NSW).
In addition, the project includes a 40,000 hectares feral-free area at Yathong – more than 4 times larger than Mallee Cliffs project, which is currently the biggest feral cat free area on mainland Australia.