Posted by Siwan Lovett | March 26, 2017
To evaluate outcomes we measure social and biophysical change over time, for example, have we achieved less bank erosion, improved water quality or connected two previously separate stands of remnant riparian vegetation? Are more landowners managing their riparian areas differently?
For our Rivers of Carbon projects we have chosen to use the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) method developed by Jansen etal in 2001 and 2005. The RARC assesses the ecological condition of riparian habitats using indicators that reflect functional aspects of the physical, community and landscape features of the riparian zone. The index is made up of five sub-indices, each with a number of indicators: Habitat continuity and extent (HABITAT), Vegetation cover and structural complexity (COVER), Dominance of natives versus exotics (NATIVES), Standing dead trees, hollows, fallen logs and leaf litter (DEBRIS), and Indicative features (FEATURES). The RARC was developed as part of the National Riparian Lands R&D Program and has been extensively peer-reviewed and found to be not only scientifically robust, but an excellent way to assess riparian condition, without necessarily having to do detailed surveys.
Every Rivers of Carbon site has a RARC Assessment completed prior to any works being undertaken to provide a baseline against which to assess change. In addition, we will often add in a bank profile, species list and other observational measures to build a complete picture of the site. Importantly, we also include what the landholder would like to see happen at the site. We feel this is very important, as we want to be clear about the expectations of all parties involved. We developed a RARC specifically for the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales as not all riparian zones are the same, and we wanted to have reference condition photographs that people would be able to recognise. You can take a closer look at the RARC by clicking on the image, as well as being able to download it for free.
When we started Rivers of Carbon we commissioned another review of the RARC methdology by scientists who are specialists in the field. We wanted to be sure that the RARC was standing the test of time, and that the data we are collecting is both rigorous and meaningful. Dr Paul Reich, one of the people undertaking the review made the following comment:
The Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) approach is well suited to assessing long term changes in riparian condition. It incorporates a diverse range of indicators that describe the physical and biological characteristics of riparian zones, and can be a good predictor of more detailed measures of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (eg: litter decomposition rates and bird assemblages). A key advantage is that the RARC approach is very quick to implement and requires minimal technical expertise, making it well suited to project like Rivers of Carbon where a large number of sites are being monitored through time.
You can read the full review by Dr Paul Reich and Dr Robin Hale by following the link at the bottom of this page. Our database of RARCs now extends to over 200 sites and we are currently undertaking another analysis of our most recent results that will be available in June 2017.
So what has happened on our Rivers of Carbon sites?
Our analyses to date have been brought together in the following tables that summarise the responses our sites have had to riparian restoration. These tables were prepared by Lori Gould, who undertook the analysis as part of her Masters Thesis (see below for full report).
Table 1: Summary of findings from Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition Sites in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales
We are currently undertaking a second round of RARC’s on sites in our Southern Riparian Linkages projects and our results are supporting those outlined in the table above. Haydn, our on-ground project coordinator summarised as follows:
Results of the second round of RARC monitoring of all sites for the Southern Riparian Linkages project have confirmed the importance of stock exclusion from riparian zones (rivers, creeks and gullies). Most sites saw an increase in vegetation cover, particularly groundcover, which is critical in controlling erosion. Excluding stock has enabled river banks and gullies to grass up, as well as native canopy and understorey species to start regenerating. This increase in native species has been enhanced by the planting of canopy and understorey species at the majority of sites.
We will have a more detailed report from these surveys available in June 2017.
Studying past sites to inform current work:
Once our project is completed, we go back and do another RARC to compare changes over time. Realistically, it is difficult to see a big change in just one or two years as the growth rates in the Southern Tablelands are quite slow and season dependent. However, because we have been using the RARC for some time now, across lots of different river restoration sites undertaken before Rivers of Carbon commenced, we are confident in predicting the trends over time of the impact of our interventions.
Lori Gould, our on-ground project manager, recently completed her Masters thesis by undertaking an evaluation of the Boorowa River Recovery project that was a precursor to Rivers of Carbon. Her thesis is a great read, and clearly shows that a combined output and outcome evaluation yields an enriching insight into the impacts riparian restoration can have on-ground and for the landholder and local communities. Rivers of Carbon is built on the success of Boorowa River Recovery and Lori’s thesis has provided us with a solid basis upon which to continue our work in the region.
In addition to Lori’s work, Honours Student Will Higgison recently completed his project by reviewing the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition assessments undertaken in the Bidgee Banks project. Will’s study has shown that lasting changes have been achieved and also validates the use of the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition as a measuring tool.
These reports are here for you to explore, as we feel sharing this knowledge is vitally important for all of us working in riparian restoration to demonstrate our return on investment. We are also using qualitative evaluation techniques to gather information from people involved in our projects about how they have experienced our projects and whether we have met their expectations. This work will largely be undertaken in 2016-2017 when many of our Rivers of Carbon projects are due for completion.