Charnley River – Artesian Range

© Wayne Lawler/AWC
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A ground-breaking partnership between AWC and Australian Capital Equity is set to deliver a win for conservation and the regional economy in Australia’s remote Kimberley region. AWC is subleasing a portion of Charnley River to ACE, and we have also sold them our Brahman cattle herd. Cattle will be excluded from key river systems on the property, and we are collaborating on fire management, feral animal control and weed control. The deal is part of a broader collaboration between AWC and ACE, and allows AWC to focus on conservation in the area whilst improving the sustainability of the cattle operation.

Quick Facts

Charnley River – Artesian Range
  • Size/area: 300,059 hectares
  • Bioregion: Northern Kimberley
  • Mammals: 56
  • Birds: 192
  • Reptiles: 112
  • Amphibians: 28
  • Threatened Wildlife: 10
  • Plants: 387
  • Threatened Plants: 3

Our work at this sanctuary

© Wayne Lawler/AWC
© Wayne Lawler/AWC
© Brad Leue/AWC

The Sanctuary

The Artesian Range is located adjacent to the Kimberley coast, in the heart of one of Australia’s most rugged and inaccessible regions. The area is home to more than 30 animal species that are found nowhere else in Australia, either because they have disappeared from the rest of their range (like the Golden-backed Tree-rat) or because they are endemic to the north Kimberley (like the Monjon and the Black Grasswren).

Bounded by the Charnley and Isdell Rivers, the area is a maze of spectacular sandstone ranges dissected by deep, rainforest-filled gorges. This rugged topography and high rainfall appear to have limited the impacts of feral herbivores, feral cats and wildfire. Visiting the Artesian Range is like stepping back in time – it is perhaps the only region on mainland Australia where there have been no faunal extinctions since European settlement. With most areas accessible only by helicopter, the Artesian Range is managed by AWC staff based at Charnley River Station and Mornington. Charnley River Pastoral Station (operated by AWC) is 300,000 hectares and includes the Artesian Range.

The integrated management of both parcels of land by AWC protects the full length of the Artesian Range.

The Sanctuary sits within the biodiverse North Kimberley Bioregion, and supports a rich variety of habitats including rainforest pockets, savannah woodlands, semi-deciduous vine-thickets, mangroves, salt flats and inland wetlands. It is estimated to host more than 1,000 plant species, with initial fieldwork uncovering a large number of threatened and endemic plants, as well as a number of undescribed species.

The northern part of the property comprises the extremely rugged sandstone of the Artesian Ranges, while in the eastern and southern section the landscape is dominated by savannah woodlands of mixed geology, including large areas of basalt-derived soils. On the north-western boundary, where the Charnley River drains into Walcott Inlet, a swathe of mangroves and mudflats adds further diversity to the sanctuary.

Wildlife of Artesian Range

The Artesian Range contains a unique assemblage of fauna and protects a remarkable number of threatened species, making it one of Australia’s last great wildlife havens. Even endangered species like the Northern Quoll survive in high densities.

The area is home to many animals found nowhere else in Australia – 11 threatened species and 29 species that are either endemic or have isolated Kimberley populations have so far been confirmed as present on the Artesian Range Sanctuary. It is a hotspot for mammals found only in the Kimberley such as the Wyulda (Scaly-tailed Possum), the Monjon (the smallest rock-wallaby species) and the Kimberley Rock-rat. It contains endemic birds such as the cryptic Black Grasswren and the Kimberley Honeyeater, as well as endemic reptiles like the Rough-scaled Python, Kimberley Crevice Skink and several species of gecko.

The Artesian Range and surrounds are a vital last refuge for species that are now extinct in large parts of their former range. The area is a stronghold for species such as the Golden-backed Tree-rat and the Golden Bandicoot which have disappeared from the rest of their distribution, including national parks such as Kakadu. For these and other species, this strip of the Kimberley coast could be the difference between extinction and survival. The factors that influence the ongoing survival of these species in the Artesian Range is the focus of long-term research.

AWC Field Programs at Charnley River-Artesian Range

The science and land management program at the Artesian Range includes:

  • Active fire management delivered by AWC field staff as part of EcoFire. At Artesian Range this involves prescribed burning in the early dry season (usually April-May) and, if required, fire suppression in the late dry (August – December). The aim is to create a patchwork of fuel loads of different ages, which limits the spread of wildfires later in the year and preserves patches of old growth vegetation, which many animals need for food and shelter. In the Artesian Range, AWC has halved the extent of late season fire scars in the Artesian Range since EcoFire began, and increased the proportion of the property that is “long unburnt” vegetation from 5% to 22%.
  • Feral herbivore control targeting feral cattle, donkeys, horses and pigs. The rugged landscape in the north-west of the property is largely inaccessible to feral herbivores, so densities are quite low across the sanctuary. However, in the savannah country in the south and east of the sanctuary, feral cattle and pigs represent a significant threat, so AWC land management staff implement an active program of shooting to reduce densities.
  • An extensive survey program designed to (a) measure ecological health; and (b) complete a biological inventory of this unexplored region, with a particular focus on restricted and endemic species. AWC field ecologists have been employing a range of survey techniques including standard trapping, hair tube surveys, camera trap surveys and track and scat observations. Each year AWC ecologists undertake over 4000 live trap nights and over 5000 camera trap nights, to measure key ecological health indicators. These include the diversity and abundance of key faunal groups, the extent of rainforest patches and fire-induced mortality of White Cypress Pine (Callitris columellaris), and the impact of threatening processes such as fire and introduced species.
  • Ground-breaking scientific research to assess the impacts of cats, fire and feral herbivores on the persistence of the endemic Wyulda and declining Golden-backed Tree-rat, and to investigate the impact of fire on Black Grasswrens.

Wildlife protected at this Sanctuary

© David Bettini

Golden-backed Tree-rat

AWC’s Charnley River-Artesian Range Wildlife Sanctuary protects a vitally important population of the Golden-backed Tree-rat.

Tom Sayers/AWC

Golden Bandicoot

The Golden Bandicoot is a ground dwelling marsupial that is largely nocturnal and solitary.

© Alex Hartshorne/AWC

Scaly-tailed Possum (Wyulda)

The Scaly-tailed Possum is one of only three species of possum that shelter exclusively in rocks.

Threats To Wildlife James Smith Charnley River © James Smith/AWC

Threats to Wildlife

Wildfires that occur in the late dry season are a major threat to biodiversity in the Kimberley. If not managed, they can burn at high intensity across areas as large as 1 million hectares, and leave no patches of unburnt habitat. AWC manages fire at Artesian Range as part of the EcoFire project, the largest non-government fire management program in Australia. 

Introduced herbivores and predators are also a threat to the fauna of the northern Kimberley. Preliminary research, including extensive camera trap surveys, suggests that the density of feral cats in the Artesian Range is lower than the central Kimberley, and AWC continues to monitor their impact. 

Latest news from the field

Wayne Lawler/AWC
Wayne Lawler/AWC
Feature 18 Jun. 2024