Bell Miners

To: "Baus" <>
Subject: Bell Miners
From: "Graham Turner" <>
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2006 12:30:53 +1100
Here is the ABC's version of the story (below).

As I see it the trigger is land clearance and habitat fragmentation, plus the spread of lantana. If you have a small patch of bush with a lantana understorey in some or all of it, you will get Bell miners. In undisturbed areas bell miners aren't all that common.

Graham Turner

     Bellbird blamed for destruction of eucalypt forests
     AM - Monday, 4 December , 2006  08:21:00
     Reporter: Sabra Lane
TONY EASTLEY: In the eucalypt forests stretching from Melbourne right to Brisbane, their call is the quintessential sound of the Australian bush.

But some residents say if you hear the call of a bellbird, that could well herald a forest in peril. The bellbird, or bell miner as it's known, is being blamed for killing thousands of hectares of bush on the east coast.

Dieback is a condition in which trees progressively die from the top downward. The condition spreads through the leaves and branches, and eventually often the whole plant then dies. So bad is the problem on the far south coast of New South Wales, the birds are being caught and killed.

     AM's Sabra Lane reports.

     (Sound of a bellbird's call)

SABRA LANE: That is the call of the bellbird. The unattractive looking native brown birds appear harmless enough, but wildlife experts warn bellbirds, or bell miners, are becoming a major ecological problem.

JIM SHIELDS: I well recall when I first heard them and it's a magical sound. It's a subject of a poem by Australia's first forester. The bellbirds singing, singing, singing, and it's a beautiful sound.

     SABRA LANE: I can hear them in the background there now.

JIM SHIELDS: Yes, you can. If I stepped outside the door, you could hear the colony that's in the gully down from my house that's been gradually moving up the hill. At the moment, the trees are healthy except for the ones right in the centre of the colony, which would have begun to show signs of dieback.

SABRA LANE: That's Dr Jim Shields, a wildlife manger, who consults with New South Wales Forestry and National Parks. He explains why the birds are being fingered as the culprits of a major dieback of eucalypt forests.

JIM SHIELDS: The bell miner is, the colonies where they live, are often filled with dead and dying trees. As time progresses, and the colonies get bigger and bigger, this has been a relatively recent phenomena and causal factors are truly unknown, but it is definitely a fact that where there are large colonies of bell miners, the trees decline in health.

This is because the bell miners exclude other birds and the leaf-eating insect populations get out of balance, and eventually if enough leaves are eaten, the trees become unhealthy and expire.

SABRA LANE: In some areas, the birds are in plague proportions. The population in some areas has gone from none to 20,000 over 20 years.

Among ecologists, this phenomenon even has a name, Bell Miner Associated Dieback, or B-MAD.

JIM SHIELDS: It's a significant problem but not, at the moment, not an environmental catastrophe. There would be hundreds to thousands of hectares affected depending on how big an area you look at.

The problem goes from Melbourne in Victoria, right up to Brisbane, all along the south-east coast and there would be thousands of hectares involved of declining or dying forest.

SABRA LANE: On the south coast of New South Wales, near the coastal town of Merimbula, the problem has become so bad that one property owner sought permission to kill the birds.

     It's believed to be the first large-scale cull of the animals.

JIM SHIELDS: We've caught them in nets, we use a RSPCA-approved method of euthanasia, C02 gas when the birds go to sleep, and we have worked over the past 18 months to carry out that program.

The first signs of success have begun appear about six months into the program when the colonies were solely occupied by bell miners, were reoccupied by other native species.

SABRA LANE: But Dr Shields says this trial has been costly for the private landowner. A national group is now looking at other, cheaper ways of managing the bellbird problem.

     TONY EASTLEY: Sabra Lane reporting.

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