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ACT workshop report: identifying plants in the drizzle at Mulligan’s Flat

Sally Stephens

Australian Network for Plant Conservation Inc., Canberra. Email: sally.stephens@anpc.asn.au

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 16(4), March - May 2008, pp 33-34

“It was wonderful!” – music to the ears of any course organiser! This “wonderful” course was the ANPC’s Identifying plants of grassy ecosystems of the ACT region, held on 22 and 23 November 2007.

The course was field-based, with a short indoor introductory session each morning in the Australian National Botanic Gardens Theatrette. These sessions introduced beginners to plant structure, identification keys and plant identification for site assessment. Day one was designed for beginners and day two for those with more experience, though day one participants were welcome to register for day two.

Twelve botanists with an enormous skill-base tutored the course. These included two consultant botanists as well as the very obliging staff of several organisations (see Acknowledgements).

The course attracted wide interest and was fully subscribed well before the event. Eighty-eight people attended day one and 84 attended day two. As 55 attended both days, there were actually 117 individual participants, plus two assistants. Thirteen of the participants were sponsored community volunteers (see Acknowledgements).

Mulligan’s Flat Nature Reserve was the field site, with day one and day two at different locations to avoid repetition. The participants broke into five groups and rotated around five sites, varying in landscape and vegetation type. Two tutors were based at each site with the rotation ensuring that all participants experienced the diverse skills of all the tutors. Two tutors roamed between sites, providing assistance and expertise where needed.



Learning plant identification for site assessment with Rainer Rehwinkel and Margaret Ning. Photo: Sally Stephens




Plant keys and other identification aids were at each site, and microscopes and computers with interactive keys were set up at one site. Each registrant received a 10x hand lens as part of their registration and a copy of Grassland flora – a field guide for the Southern Tablelands (NSW & ACT), donated by the Natural Temperate Grasslands Recovery Team.

Despite somewhat inclement weather, with heavy rain at the end of day one and light drizzle for the first half of day two, the participants were not deterred. Tarpaulins originally intended to shade the books, microscopes and computers were in fact needed to shelter them from drizzle!



Rosemary Purdie showing that a dissecting microscope is sometimes essential. Photo: Sally Stephens





Almost half (48.5%) of the evaluation forms were returned, with analysis revealing a high level of satisfaction (for example, 87% agreed that the course would have ongoing benefits). For full analysis, see the ANPC website.

Some 45% of respondents were involved in Landcare and other community groups or were private landholders or ‘interested individuals’. As the conservation of grassy ecosystems often depends on volunteers and their dedication, they were a key focus group for this course. As well as training in plant identification, the course also provided them with resources and networks to continue to build their skills.

The form also provided space for individual comments and suggestions. One of the sponsored volunteers offered:

Thanks to you and all those who organised & presented the course. It was wonderful - diverse and useful information, well presented, tightly packaged - no wasted time. You deserve some applause.


The course was supported by an ACT Environment Grant. Course tutors generously provided their expertise and time: Greg Baines (ACT Parks, Conservation & Lands); Rainer Rehwinkel (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change); Laurie Adams, Brendan Lepschi, David Mallinson and Andrew Slee (Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research); Anthony Whalen (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts); Bindi

Vanzella (Greening Australia); Margaret Ning (Friends of Grasslands); Rosemary Purdie (ANPC), plus the funded consultant botanists Isobel Crawford and David Eddy.



Isobel Crawford guiding participants through the essential details. Photo: Sally Stephens



Sponsorship covered the course fees of 13 community volunteers: ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands (4); the Commonwealth Department of Defence (4) and NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (5).

The Natural Temperate Grasslands Recovery Team donated 120 copies of Grassland flora – a field guide for the Southern Tablelands (NSW & ACT).

Volunteer assistance in the ANPC office was provided by Merryl Bradley.