ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Research Impacts

irrigation spraysThe research undertaken by our researchers is making a difference. At the local, national and global levels, our  research generates insights that help to address issues of social significance, inform policy and decision making, and support people, communities and the natural environment.

Research Impact is defined as the demonstrable contribution that research makes to the economy, society, culture, national security, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond contributions to academia.

Research Impact - Examples:

2021 NSW Research Impact Showcase

A bird conservation project led by Associate Professor Melanie Massaro was selected by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer for inclusion in the 2021 Research Impact Showcase. The project, a collaboration between ILWS researchers, the Science Division of the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, the Lord Howe Island Board, and Taronga Zoo, involved protecting the Lord Howe currawongs during the 2019 rodent eradication program on Lord Howe Island. It was the largest rodent eradication program ever attempted on an inhabited island. The primary objective of the conservation and management program led by the Lord Howe Island Board and the Science Division of the NSW Department of Planning, Industry, and Environment
(DPIE) was to remove more than 300,000 rats and mice from the island in a bid to restore its natural biodiversity.
As the baiting of rodents threatened vulnerable island birds, Dr Massaro was involved in ensuring that birds were safe during the rodent eradication. She also led an ILWS research project - What are the effects of the rodent  eradication on the threatened Lord Howe currawong and its diet? Massaro, M., Whitsed, R. & Segal, R. (PhD student) (2018-2021) Australia and Pacific Science Foundation - that monitored the Lord Howe currawong population before and after the rodent eradication. The showcase was established by the NSW Deputy Vice-Chancellors (Research) Committee to highlight the important research being conducted by universities across the state.

The dangers of anticoagulant rodenticides

Much of eastern Australia experienced a devastating mouse plague which began in spring 2020 and continued into 2021. In response on May 13, the NSW Government announced a $50 million package in grants for bromadiolone to combat the mouse plague  seeking urgent approval from the independent Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for the chemical bromadiolone (currently only registered for home and industrial building use) to be registered for agricultural use. Dr Maggie Watson was one of many ecologists and environmentalists around the country that were very concerned when they became aware of the NSW Government’s appeal to the APVMA as bromadiolone, while very effective on mice, is a second generation anticoagulant poison and runs the very real risk of secondarily poisoning other animals. As well as a co-authored piece in The Conversation Mouse plague: bromadiolone will obliterate mice, but it’ll poison eagles, snakes and owls (which has had more than 35,000 reads) Dr Watson worked with CSU Media on an extensive media campaign to inform the public of the risks associated with using bromadiolone which continued after the APVMA's decision not to give approval for using bromadiolone-treated grain to perimeter bait crops. She continues to advocate on the dangers of using anticoagulant rodentcides and, in association with Dr Rob Davis (Edith Cowan University) and Dr Holly Parsons (BirdLife Australia), is working with veterinarians and the Wildlife Disease Association to safely collect carcasses of poisoned birds around Australia with the ultimate aim of determine what level of background rodenticides are bioaccumulating in birds of prey.

Impact of Equally Well

A CSU-led national initiative known as Equally Well is a concrete example of how our researchers are “making a difference”: of research impact. Equally Well was mentioned 48 times in the Australian Government Productivity Commission Inquiry into Mental Health report released November 17, 2020.

The report from the two-year inquiry into mental health has recommended all governments implement the actions of the Equally Well National Consensus Statement to improve physical health and life expectancy of people with mental illness.

“People living with a mental illness die 20 years earlier than the general population,” says Professor Russell Roberts Equally Well’s National Project Director. (Russell curated and developed the Equally Well National Consensus Statement in 2017.) “Each day, 28 people with a mental illness die of respiratory disease, heart disease, or cancer; and every year, ten times more people with mental illness die of avoidable chronic physical health conditions than by suicide. The reasons for this are complex, dynamic and inter-related, but include stigma, discrimination and lack of access to basic healthcare. In addition, many people with mental illness experience ‘diagnostic overshadowing’, where the focus is on treating their mental health overshadows basic physical health care resulting mortality-related conditions going undiagnosed and untreated.”

The Productivity Commission report estimated that reform of the mental health system would yield $19.3 billion annually in quality of life and increased economic participation. Reducing the gap in life expectancy for people with severe mental illness is highlighted as a priority reform in the report.

The aim of the consensus statement was to help bring together a national, cross-sector alliance, and using a collective impact approach to focus on improving the physical health of people living with a mental illness. Since then, the CSU Equally Well project team has led this initiative, with more than 90 organisations including all governments, 14 professional colleges, national peak bodies, and non-government service providers ‘signing-up’ and committing to make this issue a priority.

Since 2017 five research grants supported by the National Mental Health Commission, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the NSW Mental Health Commission, Neami National, Qld Dept of Health, and NSW Department of Health have been secured– a total of $1,182,114 (of which $849,114 has gone to CSU.)

New fishway to be built in Lao PDR

Researchers involved in the major Fish Passage project in Lao PDR and Myanmar are partnering with the Lao Department of Irrigation and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to build a new fishway near Vientiane in Laos, with funding from the Netherlands Support to Food and Nutritional Security funds.

Most fish in Laos migrate upstream and downstream to complete life cycles.  However, flood and regulator gates and dams block or restrict migrations so that fish cannot complete life cycles and fish stocks are known to decline. This impacts the people dependent on fish for food and income. Fishways are a passage of water around a barrier that enables migratory fish to easily migrate upstream or downstream.  One of the important first steps in building a fishway suitable for local conditions and local fish is the concept design. The design report for the new fishway has been published late 2020:

Thorncraft, G., Baumgartner, L., Mallen-Cooper, M., Thew, P., Conallin, J., Phonekhampheng, O., Phommavong, T., Robinson, W. & Vorsane, P. (2020). Houay Mak Hiew Fishway: Concept design report. Charles Sturt University and National University of Laos.

The report follows a Fish Passage Masterclass held at Dondok Campus in Vientiane in December 2020 which provided an overview of all aspects of designing fishways with a focus on developing a concept design and cost estimate for a fishway at Houay Mak Hiew.. The Masterclass was organised by the National University of Laos (NUoL) and Charles Sturt University (CSU), Australia. Participants included staff from the Department of Irrigation (DoI), Provincial Agricultural and Forestry Office (PAFO), District Agricultural and Forestry Office (DAFO), Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) officers, as well as representatives and experienced fishers (male and female) of the local community at the proposed site.

Since then engineers, biologists, river operators and fishers (NUoL, CSU and the masterclass team) worked together to produce a concept design that will: pass fish, be cost-effective, and be easy to operate and maintain. While several fishway designs were assessed, the vertical slot fishway design was considered the most suitable for Houay Mak Hiew Regulator.

The next step is for the DoI/ADB to commission further engineering work and progress to detailed design, tender and construction.
Further steps will include the development of an operation manual; training for regulator operators; and finally monitoring of the fishway to evaluate that it is passing fish and to provide any recommendations for improvements.

“The project is an excellent example of proof of concept research proceeding to practical on-ground solutions which are supported by national governments, donors and lending banks,” says project team leader Professor Lee Baumgartner.  “The long-term benefits of this project will be improved fisheries in the regions upstream and downstream of the regulator. It is expected that this will lead to improved livelihoods, nutrition and income for people in the regions where the fishery declined after the regulator was built.”

Shark management policy informed by social research

  • Since 2017, ILWS researchers have been involved in a series of social research projects funded by the NSW Department of Primary Industries through its Shark Management Strategy which have looked at public perception and acceptance of shark harm mitigation strategies. Harm from sharks is relatively rare but fear of sharks is widespread and has a range of important consequences. From their studies the researchers (led by Associate Professor Peter Simmons) found that the community had a clear preference for strategies that are less invasive to sharks and other marine life. Recent surveys have showed that the more invasive a strategy is, the lower the community support. The results of their studies were presented at a National Shark Bite Mitigation Measure Workshop, in Adelaide, February 2020, which included shark management policy leaders from NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia where shark management has been a contentious public issue in recent years, as well as Surf Life Saving, Taronga Zoo’s Shark Management File, the Federal Government, and researchers from five universities. Authorities responsible for shark management policy are recognising the importance of understanding and addressing community perceptions. Future policy will increasingly be informed by social research as well as marine environment and technology research, and involve targeted communication to ocean users.

Showcasing ILWS research on sustainable water systems

  • ILWS environmental research on sustainable water systems (led by Professor Robyn Watts and Associate Professor Skye Wassens) was featured in the inaugural NSW Universities Research Impact Showcase to the NSW Parliament, in September 2019.  The work is highlighted by CSU on its Research Impact web pages, https://research.csu.edu.au/engage-with-us/research-impact/wetland-ecosystem

Input into the Aged Care Royal Commission

  • Associate Professor Maree Bernoth is actively involved in the Aged Care Royal Commission. Mid 2019 she submitted a third document to the Commission, with co-authors Associate Professor Marguerite Bramble, Dr Belinda Cash and Dr Robin Harvey. The submission was as a result of the Dubbo Aged Care Community Forum, jointly hosted by the Three Rivers University Department of Rural Health, the School of Midwifery and Indigenous Healthy, CSU, and Dubbo Regional Council, on May 7, 2019. Associate professor Bernoth was one of three CSU academics interviewed by a panel from the Royal Commission via teleconference about issues related to ageing in rural and remote areas.  In September she was again interviewed by two of the legal representatives from the Royal Commission. Her research is also featured by CSU on its Research Impact web pages  https://research.csu.edu.au/engage-with-us/research-impact/aged-care

Extending fish passage research to other countries

  • In 2018 the ACIAR funded project Quantifying improved fisheries productivity at fish passage rehabilitation sites in Lao PDR. (2016-2020)  received additional funding from ACIAR and USAID  ($800,000) to scale-out the existing work to include four additional countries of the Lower Mekong Basin - Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. ILWS, together with the United States Department of Interior, has partnered with agencies in each country to prioritise fish migration barriers for mitigation, construct a demonstration fishway in each country, and then research how well fish passage has been restored. The additional funding has also provided for extensive GIS-based work in each country to determine the proportion of tributary streams being blocked by irrigation infrastructure which impacts on fish migration and productivity. ILWS used the ACIAR funding to extend work in Laos and Myanmar; the USAID funding was used to extend outcomes of the project into Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. While the USAID funding did not come directly to CSU, our researchers have been working with the team and guiding the process. This project is an excellent example of research impact, where the results of an ACIAR funded project has been picked up by a donor and extended to other countries.

Responding to on-ground requests from practitioners

  • A series of research projects undertaken by social researchers Associate Professor Catherine Allan and Dr Michael Mitchell with a central theme of capacity building in, for, of and by Community Based Natural Resource Management Groups (CBNRM groups) is a good example of what can happen when researchers respond to requests from on-ground practitioners. In 2016 Murray Local Land Services (Murray LLS), in collaboration with the Murray Landcare Collective, two long term collaborators, engaged Catherine and Michael to help them develop a process for assessing the ‘capacity’ of CBNRM groups, drawing on existing best practice and a review of relevant literature.  The researchers developed, and administered, a new survey instrument which enabled the groups to assess their own capacity strengths and needs. The instrument was designed to provide snapshot reports with customised feedback to each CBNRM group, along with district level data. Over 2016/17 the survey was completed by 47 CBNRM groups in the Murray LLS area, encompassing Landcare type groups, producer groups and Aboriginal community groups. Additional funds were later provided to ILWS by Murray LLS to develop a way to automate the analysis and snapshot report production. The survey instrument was made available for others to use and in 2017 and again in 2019 Landcare NSW administered a slightly modified version of the survey instrument to its member organisations who are Local Landcare Coordinator Initiative (LLCI) hosts. Thirty-two organisations completed the survey in 2017, while 27 did so in 2018, with 17 of these completing the survey in both years. Landcare NSW then commissioned ILWS to undertake the analysis of and reporting on the results of the two surveys. The original project, while small, has already had impact in NSW. The favourable response by NRM practitioners Australia-wide when the work was presented at the 7th National NRM Knowledge Conference, in Wodonga, in 2019 is an indication that the work is likely to have greater and broader impact in the future. https://www.csu.edu.au/research/ilws/research/summaries/2019/landcare-report-card-2

Protecting Red Pandas

  • A three year project in Bhutan funded by the UK Darwin Initiative Fund, Sustainable rangeland management to protect red panda and herder livelihoods (2016-2019) achieved significant on ground impact and capacity building at local and national levels.  Dr Joanne Millar and Dr Karma Tenzing worked closely with Government staff from Bhutan’s Department of Forestry and Parks Services, and the Department of Livestock to implement a range of on-ground activities and capacity building activities with the Merak herding community in eastern Bhutan. Project impacts included rehabilitation of 105 hectares of eroded gullies and red panda habitat; Special Protection Zone declared over 200ha of rangelands; 80 ha sown to improved pasture boosting winter feed for yaks and cattle; two women's savings groups contributing to livelihood diversification; 100% increase in awareness of red panda ecology from school and community education events; publication of the first national and trans-boundary Red Panda Conservation Action Plan for Bhutan (2018-2023). Full plan at https://www.csu.edu.au/research/ilws/research/summaries/2016/sustainable-rangeland-management/Red_Panda_Action_Bhutan-2.pdf

PhD research is being used by water managers for better environmental outcomes

  • The findings from a PhD study undertaken by Dr Adrian Clements, under the supervision of Professor Max Finlayson, and Dr Daryl Neilsen (MDRFC), are being used to guide water regimes in Lake Brewster, in the Lachlan Catchment in central NSW. Using the findings regarding water regimes and vegetation composition, the Lachlan River Environmental Advisory group (EWAG) is continuing to work with Water NSW to adjust the water regime of part of Lake Brewster to increase the diversity of wetland vegetation, and to maximise the potential to improve water quality in the lake. The PhD study was done as part of the ILWS project Ecological responses of aquatic vegetation to the environmental water regime developed for Lake Brewster. Finlayson, M., Nielsen, D., Clements, A. (2012-2015) Lachlan CMA & State Water, $90,000.

Adaptive management of environmental water

  • Our researchers are leading two major long-term projects monitoring ecosystem responses to environmental water in the Edward-Wakool and the Murrumbidgee River Systems, both in the Murray-Darling Basin. In 2016, they also played key roles in researching a major blue green algal bloom in the Murray River and the widespread flooding that occurred in spring in many parts of the Basin. The information they collect is providing immediate assistance to the the decisions water managers make on a day-to-day as well as to longer term planning and future management decisions. This work has been selected by CSU as one of its Case Studies "Water Ecosystem Health" as an example of Research Impact.

Building community connections for disaster resilience

  • Our researchers have been working with the Blue Mountains community to research community connections and document experiences since the 2013 bushfires. Key insights include the benefits of connecting organisations such as emergency services, councils and neighbourhood centres.  Their research has resulted in the development of a Community Action Framework, accessible to other communities prone to bushfires and other natural emergencies, so that they also can better prepare. This work has been selected by CSU as pone of its Case Studies "Community Resilience" as an example of Research Impact.

Sloane's Froglet Conservation

  • A PhD study by Dr Alexandra Knight on a vulnerable species Sloane's Froglet has resulted in not only better ecological knowledge about the species but also heightened community and local government awareness. As a result concrete efforts are being made to protect and conserve the species, found in peri-urban areas around Albury and Corowa, NSW. This include town planning to retain and protect habitat, wetland planting field days and a Sloane's Froglet education  program for school-children. A brochure and habitat guide with management recommendations has also been produced.

Policy Brief for Laos

  • Our researchers, working in Laos on fish passage research in the Mekong River Basin, have worked with the Australian Embassy to produce a Policy Brief on Research Findings at the request of the Laos government to determine how research outcomes could be translated into new policy. The brief Incorporating fish passage in sustainable development practices and policy in Lao PDR outlines the potential policy implications on sustainable fisheries and irrigation expansion in that country.

Assessment framework for climate change adaptation

  • A Climate Change Adaptation Catchment Assessment Framework (CCA CAF) has been developed and tested as a planning tool aimed at catchment-level NRM managers. The tool has proved helpful to CMA project officers during a review of NSW Catchment Action Plans, allowing for the incorporation of climate change adaptation considerations into management activities within the CMAs' water programs.

New fishing regulations in NSW

  • A PhD project studying Murray Crayfish has contributed to the development of new fishing regulations for the NSW Murray Crayfish recreational fishery.

Strategies to improve the success of Indigenous enterprise

  • An ARC Linkage project (2011-2014) that investigated the factors that influence the success of private and community-owned Indigenous businesses across remote, regional and urban Australia has helped stakeholders better understand the challenges facing Indigenous enterprises in various geographic, economic and social settings. The findings have been presented to policymakers to assist in developing strategies to improve the uptake and success rate of Indigenous enterprises.

Improving access to fish resources and wetland management

  • Research projects funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in Laos and Indonesia have resulted in improved access to fish resources and wetland management, spreading income and risk from aquaculture, better pond management practices, more disposable income for households and increased support from government agencies.

Reigniting interest in freight rail lines

  • The on-going Reviving Regional Railways project has promoted a better informed debate on reinstating regional freight rail and presented a broader range of options than might have been apparent otherwise.  In August 2016, seven years after supporters of the revival of the Blayney-Demondrille line first met, the NSW State Government announced that $5 million would be invested to reinstate the Maimuru (north of Young) to Demondrille (near Harden) railway. Under the NSW Government's Fixing Country Rail program, several million more dollars were allocated among smaller projects. The Blayney-Demondrille project stands out for the breadth of community engagement, including the ILWS seminar held at Blayney in 2013, as well as its level of funding. Community support for the project remains strong.

CSU research informing improved dam operations

  • ILWS researchers have developed strong partnerships with commonwealth, state and regional water management agencies and have assisted managers balance the multiple benefits of water and achieve enhanced environmental and social outcomes. A long-term partnership between CSU researchers, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and Goulburn-Murray Water that examined ecosystem responses to variable flow releases from Dartmouth Dam has resulted in the development and application of new interim operational guidelines for Dartmouth Dam, the largest capacity dam in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Improving livestock profitability in Laos

  • A four year project funded by the Australian Centre for International Research has assisted the Lao government to help farmers adopt ways of improving their livestock production. As a result of the project the livestock profitability of over 500 farmers has improved; there is a greater understanding by extension staff on how to tailor their approaches for different ethnic communities; and the Lao government and non-government project partners have taken up recommendations from the project.

Improving landholder participation in NRM

  • A three year collaborative project with researchers from CSU, Sunshine University, University of Technology Sydney and University of Tasmania has identified how to best engage and communicate with landholders to increase their participation in natural resource management. The project focussed on the Great Eastern Ranges where five distinct landholder types (quality operators, traditional farmers, retiree life stylers, professional life stylers and blue collar blockies) were identified. As a result, the Hawkesbury Nepean CMA has reviewed its communication strategy to better engage with the blue collar blockies, a much larger and more significant group than previously recognised. The researchers also surveyed all NRM agencies in Australia with respect to their communication practices, and trialled seven different communication campaigns with the aim of  identifying which message/channel combinations were most effective at engaging landholders overall and in particular those landholders who were difficult to reach (absentee owners and life stylers).  They found that using emotionally based treatments was very effective in reaching a range of different types of landholders. The research is expected to lead to a more 'tailor-made' approach by CMAs that will drive higher levels of engagement for groups of landholders that historically have showed low levels of participation.