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Work begins on Bell's turtle recovery project

Work on the ‘Turtles Forever’ Bell’s turtle recovery project is about to commence with ecologists ready to trek into the last remaining areas of Bell’s turtle (Myuchelys bellii) habitat in NSW.

Specially trained sniffer dogs will also be used to detect turtle nests. Eggs will then be protected from foxes using exclusion cages on site or incubated off site so that hatchling turtles can later be released into the environment.

The Turtles Forever project aims to secure the entire Bell's turtle population in NSW (also known as the Western Saw-shelled turtle) which is currently listed as vulnerable, and is facing a high risk of extinction. The project will focus on three populations across the Northern Tablelands and one north east of Tamworth.

“This unique short-necked freshwater turtle is restricted to upland streams in the Namoi, Gwydir and Border Rivers catchments,” explained Kelly Twigge, Bell's turtle Project Officer with Northern Tablelands Local Land Services.

Kelly is calling on landholders to get involved in the project. “We are looking for landholders with riparian habitat up stream of dams and barriers, who would be willing to allow us to search for turtles in areas of potential habitat,” said Kelly.

The breeding season, from October through to January is when the turtles are most active, so project ecologists will be visiting habitat sites during this period to collect information on numbers, population age and health, and the true extent of their territory.

Target areas include the Macdonald, Namoi, Gwydir, Rocky, Deepwater, and Severn rivers, and Beardy Waters.

“Financial incentives are available to landholders in target areas to improve Bell’s turtle habitat. We also have stewardship programs available to landholders prepared to fence off critical habitat from livestock to prevent trampling and erosion.”

Participating landholders can benefit from project funded pest baiting programs, as fox and pig predation on eggs is one of the greatest threats to turtle survival.

Funding will also be available to install alternative watering points for livestock and for revegetation work to reduce erosion and remove weeds.

“This is a long term project that will run for ten years through until 2026, and brings together a consortium of partners with expertise in land management, turtle conservation and research to manage, protect and monitor key sites,” explained Kelly.

Northern Tablelands Local Land Services will receive almost $1 million to fund the project through the NSW Environmental Trust’s Saving Our Species Partnership Program.

For more information about the Turtle's Forever project, contact Kelly Twigge on 02 6720 8312.

Media contact: Annabelle Monie 0429 626 326, 02 6720 8317