Collaborative Research Network (CRN)

Dr Birgita Hansen

Research Fellow

Federation University Australia

Dr Birgita Hansen’s projects within the CRN draw on her strong interest in the restoration of Victoria’s riparian zones – the interface between waterways and the hinterland. The poor condition of riparian zones through misuse can have a huge impact on downstream water quality as well as causing a host of other environmental issues. Dr Hansen aims to enhance and improve riparian and landscape restoration efforts.

Along with a group of colleagues from Monash University, Dr Hansen has carried out a comprehensive review of riparian and stream literature, which will be valuable in her work with the CRN.

“On the basis of this [review] we developed minimum width recommendations for riparian zones in Victoria,” she said.

“This review identified a number of gaps which I now wish to address using existing restoration sites in western and central Victoria.”

One of those sites will be Narmbool, the property owned by the Sovereign Hill Museums Association that contains over 6km of Williamson Creek as well as significant stands of remnant vegetation .

“It also has livestock so they will want to keep it as a viable agricultural operation but at the same time maximise the biodiversity of the area,” Dr Hansen said.

“Our long-term vision for Narmbool is to create a diversified, adaptive “working farm” where you can show the benefits of a conceptual process of restoring a landscape, managing a landscape for biodiversity, but where you are also able to get agricultural benefits from it.

“It has to be a viable pastoral run, I think we all understand that.”

Dr Hansen’s project will be part of the CRN’s focus on regional landscape changes.

“I see this as a really good project to work around the question of how we can restore landscapes and maintain ecological assets as well as allowing people to live off the landscape.

“Then we can provide the farmers with the information they need to build fences and plant trees in the right places and to get the birds and fish back and still being able to make a living from farming.

“This will also help improve downstream water quality and reduce the impact of high-intensity land use.”

As well as farmers, Dr Hansen sees herself working with groups like Landcare and regional water authorities like the Glenelg-Hopkins and Corangamite Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs).

“The CMA’s working on new catchment management plans now and it would great to be able to tap into those,” she said.

Dr Hansen’s journey to Ballarat and the CRN has taken her to most of Victoria’s estuaries and wetlands.

She has had a long interest in these landscapes, initially volunteering with the Victorian Waders Study Group (VWSG) before obtaining her PhD from Monash University and beginning her academic career.

Dr Hansen has strong research networks that she will draw on to carry out her research with the CRN. These networks span organisations like Monash University, Deakin University and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, where she worked on the Victorian Index of Estuarine Condition, for which she was responsible for developing methodologies for assessing bird communities. The index is helping government agencies like CMAs with the management and restoration of estuaries.

Dr Hansen is editor of Stilt, the journal of the Australasian Wader Studies Group, a special interest group of BirdLife Australia. Her last project “Western Port Welcome Waterbirds” revealed declines in multiple species of waterbirds from nearly 40 years worth of monitoring.

“I guess you can say that I am now moving from the water back to on to land,” she said.