Wild dog researcher a Tall Poppy

Tall Poppy award winner Dr Ben Allen calls for cluster fence science


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Dr Ben Allen on one of his wild dog research trips to western Queensland.

Dr Ben Allen on one of his wild dog research trips to western Queensland.

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A well-known Queensland wildlife ecologist who has just been recognised for his scientific excellence would like to see more rigour around cluster fencing claims.

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A well-known Queensland wildlife ecologist who has just been recognised for his scientific excellence would like to see more rigour around cluster fencing claims.

Dr Ben Allen, based at the University of Southern Queensland, was honoured with a 2019 Queensland Young Tall Poppy Award at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane last Friday.

He joined 700 of Australia's best young scientists to have been recognised by the nation's longest-running awards for excellence in science and science communication, hosted by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science in partnership with the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist.

He said he was "incredibly chuffed" at the recognition for efforts to bring science to the people who need solutions to complex problems.

Dr Allen, who specialises in invasive species and wildlife management, particularly in wild dogs in Australia, has been working since 2013 with Queensland's Department of Agriculture on monitoring the effects of cluster fences at Morven and Tambo.

He said while that had gathered some great data, the rapid uptake of fencing in and around both sites meant the results hadn't been able to be demonstrated in a high quality way.

"What you hope to see is grass coming back, dingoes going away, and more sheep," he said.

"You have to monitor outside a fence to attribute the changes, otherwise they could be due to any number of things.

"Our outside sites became inside sites because other fences were going up so rapidly, so that became a challenge for us."

Related: Ben's cluster crunching

In the seven years since the two cluster fences at Morven and Tambo went up, one-third of Queensland's traditional sheep zone has been fenced.

Dr Allen said anecdotal stories of stock returns were no substitute for scientific data when the EU was asking questions.

"If anything, vegetation could be worse if it means people are upping their stocking rate.

"I'm sure there's benefits to cluster fences but at the moment there's a focus on money for fences, not on collecting the data.

"People have got a good story to tell but it could be done better."

Read more: Biting off more than she could chew

As far as communicating science, Dr Allen said it was as important as the work itself.

"What good is research that is never shared and never used to improve community and industry? Science should not sit on a shelf," he said.

Speaking from Moonie on another trip west, he said he'd learnt that people in rural areas paid more attention to people on the ground than to white collar scientists talking at them.

He was looking forward to his Tall Poppy Award obligations in the next 12 months, which would see him work with school groups and others.

"I'm thinking I'd like to tour high schools, talking around strategy management of wild dogs, when to do it and so on," he said. "There's lots of programs around control, not so much on outcomes."

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