Dr Pippa Kern is a freshwater and wetlands ecologist working with conservation not-for-profit Bush Heritage Australia on the Great Artesian Basin springs at Edgbaston Reserve in central Queensland. She shared what she believes might just be the secret to managing the bush for future generations.

Pippa Kern has been fascinated about animal behaviour since childhood.

“I was drawn to working outdoors with animals since I was a kid,” she explains. “I always saw myself in a role where I was contributing to the environment.”

Now Pippa looks after some of the rarest native species in Australia, right here in Outback Queensland. Pippa is a freshwater and wetlands ecologist with Bush Heritage Australia who works at Edgbaston Reserve near Aramac in remote western Queensland. “It gets tough working outdoors in the 43 degree heat but I definitely have the best office in the world. I get to work in some really beautiful places, all right here in western Queensland.”

Pippa Kern and Edgbaston Reserve Manager Rowan Hinchley watch a thunderstorm unfold. Photo by Pete Wallis

Alongside other ecologists and land managers, Pippa works to keep the ecosystems found on Bush Heritage’s Edgbaston Reserve healthy.

For Pippa, working in Western Queensland is not only about getting down in the dirt with cute critters, it’s about harnessing the strength of the community. “I love sitting down over a cuppa for a good honest chat about how we’re going to work together.”

Pippa works with Edgbaston’s neighbours, local sheep and cattle graziers, and with the Traditional Owners of Edgbaston. She says the secret to managing the land for future generations comes down to Queenslanders working together.

If we don’t look after what we have, Pippa says, we will not only negatively impact the bush but our livelihoods and the country that we share. “Everyone has a role to play. Floods and fires have human consequences so we all have to do our bit. In the end we’re all stewarding our patches of the bush.”

Pippa says the secret to ensuring the bush is kept healthy for future generations is breaking down the barriers between landholders who are managing the land for conservation purposes and those who are running businesses. At the end of the day, everyone is after healthy country and pasture. “Dialogue is key.”

The critically endangered Red-finned Blue-eye fish – image by Pete Wallis

Edgbaston Reserve is a nature refuge, or protected area on private land. This means it is protected through a covenant and an agreed management plan with the Queensland Government. Edgbaston is owned and managed by Bush Heritage Australia, with acknowledgement to the Traditional Owners of the area. 140 kilometres north west of Longreach, Edgbaston spans more than 8000 hectares incorporating the Mitchell Grass Plains and Desert Uplands. It protects 27 regional ecosystems, including two ecosystems listed as ‘endangered’ and six as ‘of concern’ and is home to a number of artesian springs.

These springs, fed by water travelling hundreds of kilometres beneath, host a rich variety of plants and animals, some of which are not found anywhere else on Earth. One species is the Red-finned Blue Eye, a tiny freshwater fish about the size of a matchstick.

“Without our work to protect them, this species would be lost.”

Over the past three years, Pippa has led a captive breeding program on Edgbaston to boost numbers of the Red-finned Blue-eye population which was on a “knife edge” when Bush Heritage purchased the property in 2008. Her hard work has paid off. She recently translocated some captive bred fish to wild springs for the first time.

“The population had declined significantly due to the invasive fish species Gambusia which basically pushed Red-finned Blue-eye to extinction in some springs. We had one wild population remaining so we had to implement some urgent conservation measures to make sure we didn’t lose the species.”

Pippa sees the Red-finned Blue Eye as a key piece to the puzzle in keeping the property healthy and resilient into the future. Healthy populations of the fish on Edgbaston means good overall landscape management.

“Losing numerous species would negatively impact the resilience of the bush and these incredible ecosystems. An environment that is not resilient has consequences for everyone from farmers to consumers, coast to desert.”

Pippa loves her job at Edgbaston – not only for the unique native species, but for what she learns from the country and the community.

“I do this work because I love the environment but also I want to do my bit. I want future generations to be able to appreciate the Aussie bush just like I do.”

This article was supplied by Our Living Outback, which is advocating for better funding for protected areas on private land, national parks and land management jobs.

All images supplied – feature image freshwater ecologist Dr Pippa Kern at Edgbaston Reserve in central west Queensland. Photo by Pete Wallis