Protection tool

ANU scientists’ bird protection tool wins Eureka Prize

A team of scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) have received one of the country’s biggest scientific prizes – a Eureka award – for developing a powerful tool that helps farmers predict how what they are doing in their farms could have an impact on different species of birds.

BirdCast was developed by researchers from the Sustainable Farms project, who have now won the Eureka Award for Applied Environmental Research.

The free web tool gives farmers an indication of what woodland bird species might be living on their farms and how that might change under different scenarios.

Sustainable Farms director Michelle Young said this latest recognition comes after decades of working closely with farmers to collect data.

“None of this work would have been possible without the support of these farmers who have enabled our team to monitor biodiversity on their properties for the past two decades,” she said.

“BirdCast is a practical tool that builds on this research and gives farmers and land managers access to scientific data to help protect and conserve our shared natural heritage.

“For example, it allows farmers to predict the changes that would occur if they planted a new windbreak on their farm or restored a degraded patch of residual wood.”

Sustainable Farms’ lead scientist, Professor David Lindenmayer, said tools such as BirdCast could play a crucial role in the future of schemes where farmers are rewarded for protecting wildlife.

“BirdCast represents a huge opportunity in this space. Satellite imagery is often used to assess land cover as an indicator of biodiversity, but this is an extremely crude measurement,” Prof Lindenmayer said.

“Census-type surveys are important, but we need to have boots on the ground and real data, we need to work with farmers. Tools like BirdCast based on real science are essential.

“There is currently no other tool capable of achieving this goal with sufficient scientific rigor to underpin a certification system that will stand the test of time and international markets.

“Australia has a chance to be a world leader in this. We have high hopes for BirdCast and the role it can play.

The Sustainable Farms team also paid tribute to field staff and supporters including Meat and Livestock Australia, NSW Local Land Services, Goulburn Broken and North East Catchment Management Authority and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

You can find more information about the Eureka Prize and this year’s winners here.