Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary general manager Jason Cummings releases a bettong in at Mulligan's Flat.

Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary general manager Jason Cummings releases a bettong.

Back from the brink

Bettongs went the way of the dodo in mainland Australia but an ANU-led program has seen them flourish on Canberra's outskirts, as KATE PRESTT reports.

They were once in abundance around Canberra but the eastern bettong was pushed towards extinction by imported predators.

Weighing less than 1.5 kilograms, the native truffle-loving mammal was so widespread in South East Australia they were considered an agricultural pest.

Bettongs disappeared from the Australian mainland more than 80 years ago following the introduction and rapid spread of the fox.

Back then, they could only be found in Tasmania.

But thanks to the decade-long Mulligans Flat-Goorooyarroo Woodland Experiment, the native marsupial is making a comeback.

A decade ago native woodlands were being lost, despite the ACT having one of the best reserve systems in Australia.

"Working with the ACT Government, CSIRO and specialised statisticians from ANU, we have established a designed restoration experiment set in an outdoor laboratory to try and understand ways of restoring the structure and function of temperate woodlands to increase biodiversity in the ACT and beyond," says project lead Associate Professor Adrian Manning, from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.

The Mulligans Flat-Goorooyarroo Woodland project, located at the edge of Gungahlin, transformed unused scrub and farmland into a protected haven for native animals. Close to 2,000 tonnes of deadwood was scattered across 96 one-hectare sites, each 200 metres long and 50 metres wide.

In Goorooyarroo, 20 plots were precision burnt. Simple fences were also built to exclude kangaroo grazing from half of the sites.

"A lot of things in the early days seemed impossible but working together enabled us to see the impossible become a reality," Manning says.

The next step looked at which species would not return naturally and the team investigated how they might be reintroduced.

It became apparent that what was needed was a giant 11.5-kilometre predator-proof fence and it was erected following a $1.3 million ACT Government grant.