STEP member, Beverley Gwatkin, came up with the great idea of conducting walks for people unfamiliar with the amazing features of our local bushland so she approached Peter Clarke who agreed to lead the walks.
Until his recent retirement, Peter was Ku-ring-gai Council’s community volunteer program coordinator, so he has a wealth of knowledge about the local flora and fauna.
STEP will be organising a walk every couple of months on a Sunday morning. The first of this series of walks will be on 9 September 2018 through the critically endangered Blue Gum High Forest in Sheldon Forest.
Click here for more information and to register.
Mark Diesendorf, UNSW Australia Can Australians be sustainable and enjoy endless economic growth? It’s not likely.Read More
This walk on 22 June was fascinating. We heard all about the diverse diet and life of the local Kai’ymay clan, the history of encounters between the aboriginal people and colonialists. The two hour walk ended up going on for four hours!
Did you know that the first known map of Port Jackson had the name of Eve’s Cove for the area now known as Manly Cove? The area was given this name after the first meeting of the British settlers and some aboriginal women on 29 January 1788.
The walk was led by Karen Smith from the Aboriginal Heritage Office. The office’s main role is to regularly monitor and manage Aboriginal heritage sites to ensure their protection. The Aboriginal Heritage Office develops and implements community education programs and events aimed at increasing the collective knowledge of Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Our 40th birthday party on 22 July was a great occasion to remember the bold actions of the STEP people who developed great ideas for doing a better job of caring for our local bushland and fought against some very destructive proposals.
Two of our pioneers were Helen Petersen and John Burke. They both provided some insights into their work in their presentations to the audience that are reproduced below.
Helen was president from 1979–82 and active as a committee member throughout the 1980s. John has been actively involved with STEP since the 1980s and was president from 1990–93 and 2006–08.
Helen Petersen OAM
I have been asked to give a short overview of STEP’s early days and their achievements.
Looking back 40 years the following cannot really convey the difficulties we faced and overcame. Public awareness of the value of urban bushland has changed somewhat for the better which has filtered through to bushland managers.
After living in Singapore and Tokyo for seven years in the sixties, returning to South Turramurra made me realise how Sydney was so fortunate to have such wonderful, diverse bushland.
After the netball courts’ development in South Turramurra it became clear that our remaining urban bush needed protection and care. Thereafter a small group of STEP members continued on the long journey towards the present major force which STEP is today, caring for the environment.
Firstly we prepared a constitution and then became incorporated as STEP Inc.
Under the direction of Robin Buchanan we produced an impressive plan of management for South Turramurra bushland. This was the first of STEP’s publications, and is still respected today. This plan was so popular, two editions were sold, providing STEP with considerable funds.
In addition to these endeavours we realised that we had to engage and re-establish our contact with Ku-ring-gai Council in a more meaningful way. After successful lobbying by STEP, council formed a bushland management working party on which STEP was represented by two members. Major issues were discussed and acted upon. Further to this we established contacts within the North Shore Times and then Hornsby Advocate.
Several STEP members also worked under Joan Bradley’s tuition in the Mosman area, carrying out her method of bush regeneration. We also taught, through the National Trust, small groups in the Bradley method. We applied this knowledge while working with volunteers in South Turramurra’s bushland.
The STEP Track was also created by volunteers and is still maintained today. As well we led groups on walks through the Lane Cove Valley.
A significant event occurred when Ku-ring-gai Council was awarded a Commonwealth Employment Grant to employ four young people together with a trained supervisor to regenerate Fraser Park in Wahroonga. Here was the opportunity to showcase a large area of the park using the Bradley Method in moderately weed infested sections, as well as tackling severely degraded areas with other less sensitive methods. This involved the careful use of Round-Up administered only by the supervisor, together with the physical removal of some established weeds, such as privet.
Over the period of a year the natural regeneration in the Bradley treated areas was remarkable. However, in the formerly badly degraded sections there was no regeneration of indigenous species. Therefore we prepared a list of plants local to Fraser Park which we gave to council’s nursery team for propagation purposes. When grown these plants were successfully introduced to the relevant areas. The combination of all of these methods produced significant results. To this end the feasibility and cost effectiveness of a fulltime regeneration team in Ku-ring-gai was established.
Past presidents Helen Petersen and Yvonne Langshaw
While working in Fraser Park we also provided knowledge to residents whose properties were adjacent to the bush, thereby stopping the dumping of garden refuse. In addition, many complimentary letters were received by council from residents having witnessed the transformation of their bush.
Council was also given three framed prestigious awards for Fraser Park from outside organisations. They were gratefully received by council and hung in the Parks Department.
In 1985 STEP was successful in obtaining a Commonwealth Employment Program Grant which provided funding for six people to work on a major regeneration project at Browns Field. Browns Field was chosen because of its special significance and, I believe, the work there is still continuing.
Time does not allow me to detail STEP’s considerable influences in Lane Cove Valley Conservationists, Australian Association of Bush Regenerators, Ryde TAFE and Lane Cove State Recreation Area before it became a national park.
It’s great that the STEP’s 40 year history has been written. Reading it you will get a sense of the thousands of hours of work that the committee has put in, of the hundreds, if not also thousands, of reports, submissions, responses to draft plans, meetings, publications and site inspections and the huge amount of administration needed to keep such an organisation in business.
Saving the world is indeed not a spectator sport. It’s hard work.
Now everything that I’m going to say will be in the book but there are some points that I think are worth mentioning. In the brief time allotted to me I want talk about some of the things STEP has done. Give me another hour or so and I could talk about the wonderful people, some of whom are here today, who have been the doers. Many of them are of course mentioned in the book.
While there is, and will always be, much to be done – it’s also clear that a lot of progress has been made over these 40 years.
In the days before bushland management existed, it was seen by those with responsibility for bushland as not much more than an area reserved for roads, playing fields, garbage tips and the like. Indeed, twice, to my knowledge, councils had to be stopped from turning part of the Lane Cove Valley into a garbage tip. One of the reports on the proposed Lane Cove Valley Freeway spoke of how the views for motorists would be excellent if the road went through the middle of the bush. A version of enjoying it while destroying it. That was the sort of thinking that had to be changed, and to some extent, has been.
While STEP was of course not solely responsible for changing things in Ku-ring-gai and surrounds, we did have quite an influence. But there was a wide awakening throughout the whole community. The Lake Pedder and Franklin Dam campaigns from the late 1960s to the early 1980s were testament to that. More locally, the Bradley sisters developed bush regeneration and groups like STEP and KUBES emerged.
Ku-ring-gai was prevailed upon to form what was called the Bushland Management Working Party. Helen Petersen joined as STEP representative and I as a community representative. Janet Fairlie-Cuninghame and Harley Wright were there too. Jane Gye and others came later. Councillors and staff were there at first but soon lost interest. I reckon that was because they didn’t know what we were talking about and assumed it would all come to nothing. So for a while we ran the show ourselves and made recommendation after recommendation to council through the Parks and Reserves Committee where we had a seat. Many of those recommendations were approved by council, but not many acted upon.
A major achievement of the Working Party was the writing of a plan of management for
Ku-ring-gai bushland. We believed it was the first such plan in Sydney and perhaps in the state. Council adopted it in 1984.
Council funded a huge report on all of its bushland by Robin Buchanan, and a film and brochures and suddenly we were seen in a different light. People like Robin Grimwade started coming out of the universities with environment degrees and the nature of council’s staff changed for the better. The relationship with the Working Party changed from one where we were dragging council along to one where the staff felt that they had the better credentials. We had won and settled down into different sort of relationship with council and its staff. The role became more that of supporting staff against the ignorance of the councillors as well as keeping the staff focused.
One important issue was the proposal for the Lane Cove Valley Freeway. This road would have bisected the valley, bisected parts of suburbs and created noise and nuisance without achieving much. It was a radial route to the CBD while the actual need was for a route that allowed vehicles to bypass Sydney rather than head for the Harbour Bridge. We produced a position paper that set out the traffic and environmental reasons for opposing it, were joined by people like Bruno Krockenberger and participated in the Coalition Against Lane Cove Valley Freeways where Elaine Malicki was so effective. We were there at the start of that campaign and we saw it through. We supported the tunnel under Pennant Hills Road through further enquiries and, along with those supporting our views, won the day.
We of course had other wins, the solution to the dangerous corner on the Arterial Road below Koola Ave saved bushland and saved council millions, the amendments to the UTS Lindfield and Adventist developments are other examples. Probably more important, however, was, and still is, our ability to participate in the debate, to influence opinions and thus to achieve better environmental outcomes. We often lose our environment by a series of small decisions. Pushing back to change the conventional wisdom bit by bit is the other side of that coin.
STEP, along the way, also broadened its outlook from the very local to the wider Australian and world issues as we realised that they are all interconnected.
One issue that we took up was that of population growth and STEP has been the only environmental group that I know of to campaign on the issue. None of the three major political parties want to talk about it, environmental groups such as ACF and NCC run a mile despite it being perhaps the most important environmental threat facing Australia and the world. State governments and our councils hide behind the fallacy that it’s all the Australian government’s doing and out of their control.
It’s hard to think of an environmental problem that would not be a lesser threat with fewer people on the planet, in Australia and in Sydney. In Australia, at our current rate of growth we are doubling every 45 years. That means that Sydney will have 18 million in the probable lifetime of my grandchildren and Australia 100 million. This seems to be exactly what Lucy Turnbull’s Greater Sydney Commission wants. So goodbye backyards and urban bushland and hello to another World City. Tokyo is a world city – you can go up their tall tower there and look down over hundreds of thousands of dwellings and play a game of spot-the–tree. With our atrocious record on extinctions, degrading our river systems, dry land salinity and the rest it’s surely time to at least talk about it.
The fact is that, on present trends, we could still accept 70,000 immigrants a year while stabilising our population in the decades ahead. Plenty of room for refugees there, no need to run the risk of being called xenophobic, or racist! Of course there are plenty of countries with stable or declining populations that are doing very well. Japan, again, is still the third biggest economy in the world with a huge untapped workforce in its women and a declining population.
As I said earlier, I haven’t mentioned the wonderful individual members of the STEP committees. We have been fortunate to have a succession of very competent people over 40 years who have run and still run STEP. Some are here today and more are mentioned in the history that has been published. They deserve our admiration and our thanks.
In summary, STEP has been effective and STEP has made a difference and so all the work has indeed been, and continues to be worthwhile.
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Over 700 native plant species and 300 vertebrate species have been recorded in Ku-ring-gai. On 19 June Chelsea Hankin (council’s Natural Areas Officer) gave an overview of council’s fauna monitoring program, including the latest results of their three long-term monitoring programs. She made the following points.
The Ku-ring-gai Flying-fox Reserve (KFFR) in Gordon has been home to flying-foxes since the 1960s with reports of occupation in the 1940s.
Every third Thursday in the month (in collaboration with Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society and regular volunteers) council conduct fly-out counts at strategic locations surrounding the KFFR.
Monthly counts provide long term data and ties in with the national census.
Numbers flying-foxes have fluctuated, though a downward trend is clear.
KFFR is important during extreme heat when temperatures climb to over 40°C because it has good structural complexity of vegetation layers (canopy, mid- and understorey) so flying-foxes are able to move down into the lower cooler layers of vegetation.
Eastern Pygmy Possum
The Eastern Pygmy Possum monitoring program has been running for more than three years in collaboration with volunteers.
28 nest boxes have been installed.
Eastern Pygmy Possums have not been identified on the western Lane Cove NP side of the LGA. We’ve had continued presence of EPP in areas with connectivity to either Ku-ring-gai Chase NP or Garigal NP, with evidence of successful breeding.
Eastern Pygmy-possum have been observed foraging on a range of flora species, including Banksia ericifolia, B. spinulosa, B. serrata, Lambertia formosa, Angophora hispida and Callistemon citrinus.
Cameras have detected plenty of other wildlife: Swamp Wallabies, Feathertail Glider, Brushtail Possum, Antechinus and Sugar Glider.
Council began monitoring microbats at Pool to Pond (WildThings program) sites and creek lines in 2017. In 2018 the program was expanded to include natural bushland areas, wetlands, golf course dams and backyards without water features (a total of 64 sites).
Thirteen species have been detected, half of which are threatened.
The three most common species have been Eastern Freetail Bat, Eastern Bentwing-bat (threatened) and Gould’s Wattled Bat (a generalist species and highly adaptable to the urban landscape – sometimes seen taking advantage of insect concentrations around lights).
The specialist fishing bat Southern Myotis (threatened) has only been detected at larger bodies of water like dams, creeks and sediment ponds/wetlands. Southern Myotis require open stretches of water without clutter (aquatic vegetation or algae on surface) so they can ‘trawl’ using their large feet to catch small fish and aquatic invertebrates.
Three new records have confirmed the presence of Chalinolobus dwyeri, a species which until now had only been recorded once in 1992.
Targeted surveys of freshwater crayfish in the last year have shown that two native species are co-existing, Euastacus australasiensis and E. spinifex.
OzAtlas https://www.ala.org.au/who-we-are/downloadable-tools/ala-mobile-app/ contribute directly to the Atlas of Living Australia database
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Call for Review of 10/50 Legislation
At their meeting on 11 July, council resolved:
- to write to the state government calling for a formal review of the 10/50 Clearing Code
- to present a motion for consideration at the NSW Local Government Conference calling for a formal statewide review of 10/50
The request is being made on that basis that:
… as the formal review was commenced following only two months of the scheme's operation, rather than two years operation as was the original intent of the legislation, it is questionable whether the review assessed the full impact of the 10/50 scheme over time.
The scheme commenced in August 2014.
The mayoral minute calling for the review argued that there is continuing community and councillor concern regarding the integrity of vegetation clearing being undertaken under the 10/50 entitlement scheme, and the ongoing loss of trees in 10/50 entitlement areas appear to have little to do with bushfire risk or hazard reduction. It pointed out that reversing the decline in tree canopy is a key objective of the Greater Sydney Commission and the clearing code is in conflict with council’s objective to plant 25,000 trees over the next two years.
Let’s Plant 25,000 Trees
The mayor, Philip Ruddock, continues his efforts to improve the tree coverage of the Hornsby Shire to make amends for losses over recent years.
$1 million has been allocated from the budget to plant 25,000 trees by September 2020. Details and a tally of trees planted are provided on http://trees.hornsby.nsw.gov.au.
Council is calling on the community to help plant these trees on special tree planting days and to nurture them as they grow.
A key source of the new trees will be council’s Community Nursery, 28–30 Britannia Street, Pennant Hills, where production is shifting to a new level. There is an event on 23 September when residents of Hornsby Shire can collect four free native plants.
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The NSW government is flush with money thanks to the property boom. But, according to the Opposition, the June budget continued the trend of spending below the budget allocation and cutting future allocations to the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) for a second year. OEH contains the National Parks and Wildlife Service where 26% of permanent rangers and 35% of area managers have been dismissed.
Last financial year there was a large under-spend of $165 million and this year there was a budget cut of $66 million for the OEH. Together this is $231 million less funding available to spend on the state’s environmental challenges.
$231 million is equivalent to 20% of all spending allocated to OEH in 2018-19.The budget for the OEH is less than the government’s first budget eight years ago.
I did try to verify these figures from the Budget Papers but they keep on changing the descriptions of funding categories so it is impossible to compare year on year figures.
Another Challenge to the Land Clearing Codes
Conservationists have been very unhappy about the NSW government’s attitude to the environment for a long time. One of their worst actions is the relaxation of the land clearing codes under the so-called Biodiversity Conservation Act.
In March the Nature Conservation Council won a case in the Land and Environment Court that declared the native vegetation clearing code that came into force in August 2017 was invalid. The grounds for the decision were based on a technicality that the primary industries minister failed to follow due process and obtain the concurrence of the environment minister before making the codes, as required by law. The government immediately reintroduced the same codes without any consideration of the objections for scientists.
Now the Nature Conservation Council has found better grounds to fight against the land clearing code and has launched another legal action through the Environment Defenders Office (EDO).
On the basis of the documents received under freedom of information laws, it appears that the minister for the environment failed to give proper, genuine and realistic consideration to the decision to grant concurrence for the making of the 2018 code and to the principles of ecologically sustainable development, as required by law. The documents indicate that the minister for the environment did not have sufficient time or material to enable to her to make the decision and that as a result, the 2018 code was made unlawfully.
The CEO of the EDO David Morris has stated:
This is a remarkable state of affairs. The legal regime makes it clear: the responsibility for ensuring that the code does not have an unacceptable impact on the environment lies with the Environment Minister. The code is predicted to have significant and far reaching impacts to biodiversity.
Further Details of the Code
The land clearing code allows landholders to carry out significant amounts of self-assessed clearing of native vegetation without further approval or environmental assessment, including in areas that might be home to threatened species and ecological communities. It doesn’t require any cumulative assessment of greenhouse gas emissions arising from clearing under the code. Under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 both clearing and climate change are listed as key threatening processes to biodiversity. Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to biodiversity.
While the 2017 code was intended to be released with native vegetation regulatory maps to assist landholders to identify where clearing of native vegetation on rural can and cannot occur, those maps are yet to be released, which means landholders continue to be required to self-assess whether such land management clearing codes even apply to their land.
If this case is successful, it will mean that there has not been a valid code in force under the act since the new native vegetation laws came into force. Given the ongoing legal uncertainty around the code, any clearing done in reliance on the code is potentially unlawful.
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The ABC reported that the May budget has reduced the budget allocation of funding to the biodiversity and conservation division of the Department of Environment and Energy by 25%. As a result the number of jobs will be cut by the full time equivalent of 60 (25% of the total) in the crucial area of threatened species monitoring. The Australian Conservation Fund has found that this department’s budget had been cut by about 60% in the forward estimates since the Coalition won government.
The only new spending on the environment in this year’s budget is the one off $444 million payment to support the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Partnership Program.
The biodiversity and conservation division coordinates the listings of threatened species and their recovery plans, devises Australia's national biodiversity strategy, and coordinates action around the country against invasive species and other biosecurity threats.
Researchers at the Threatened Species Recovery Hub in the Australian government's National Environmental Science Program found about a third of Australia's threatened species and 70% of its threatened ecological communities were not being monitored at all.
The staff reductions could delay threatened species being listed and having recovery plans implemented. Experts have said that it is highly likely species will become extinct and no one will notice.
Australia already has a world beating record of species extinction, which has seen it lose at least 30 mammals and 29 birds since colonisation – the highest mammalian extinction rate in the world. The budget cuts can only make this situation worse.
Senate Inquiry into Faunal Extinctions
The serious situation of species extinctions has been recognised by the Senate. An inquiry is being carried out by the Environment and Communications and References Committee into the ‘faunal extinction crisis’. Its official description is:
An inquiry into Australia's Faunal extinction crisis including the wider ecological impact of faunal extinction, the adequacy of Commonwealth environment laws, the adequacy of existing monitoring practices, assessment process and compliance mechanisms for enforcing Commonwealth environmental law, and a range of other matters.
Click here for more details and to make a submission. Submissions may be made up to 10 September and the committee is due to complete their report by 3 December 2018.
There is already a public consultation process underway for updating Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy – see STEP Matters issue 194. Submissions closed in March. The submissions on the website (282 in all) roundly condemn the draft new strategy. For example here is what the Threatened Species Scientific Committee has to say:
Overall the committee found the revised plan to be extremely disappointing. In particular, it lacks substance on how Australia will address its international commitments and it fails to provide the direction needed to guide national activities over the coming decade. If Australia’s strategy is to achieve its objectives, and to maintain Australia’s reputation as a global leader in biodiversity conservation, a fresh approach that explicitly lays out a plan with national leadership for real action is needed in the next iteration of the strategy.
The Senate inquiry is taking on a big task that we hope will have the authority to overcome the inadequacies of the process being undertaken by the Department of Environment and Energy.
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What if Australia were to stop farming? At approximately 3% of gross domestic product, the removal of agriculture from the economy would be a significant hit. It would affect our balance of payments — 60% of agricultural produce is exported and it contributes 13% of Australia’s export revenue.
Towns that are slowly dying would collapse, jobs would go. But really the scandal of this thought goes beyond economics and into the very soul of the nation. The crucial insight to emerge from such a thought-experiment is that agriculture in Australia is a religion — it is as much a religion as it is an industry.
The powerful ideological connection between Australia and agriculture is being increasingly and diversely scrutinised and comes to the fore in Charles Massy’s iconoclastic epic, Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth (2017), which throws into question 200 years of assumptions about what it means to graze animals in Australia.
Massy’s joins a spate of recent books that seek to recast the basic assumptions on which Australian agriculture was built. They include Don Watson’s The Bush (2016), Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (2014) (which has recently been turned into dance by Bangarra) and Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (2012). If agriculture is a religion in Australia, these writers are its heresiarchs.
It is a truism that Australia, overwhelmingly urban for most of its modern history, draws its identity disproportionately from 'the land'. Those Qantas television advertisements with choirs of angelic children strewn elegantly in front of Uluru or the Twelve Apostles trade on the basic fact that Australians identify and want to be identified with the continent itself.
In this sense, Australia (the continent, the land, the soil, the bush) is imagined as a metaphysical substance which gives unity, meaning and destiny to what might otherwise seem like a collection of recently federated settler colonies, formed to extract resources for the benefit of a once powerful European nation state. The practice of agriculture is central to the belief that Australians as a people are expressive of Australia, the metaphysical ideal. Without this connection between agriculture and Australianness, we couldn’t make sense of such fashion icons as Akubra, Blundstone, Driza-Bone and R.M. Williams.
Serious questions about the way that Australia sustains people through the plants and animals that are husbanded on its ancient soils are not, of course, confined to the past several years. The revision might be traced to Tim Flannery’s The Future Eaters (1994), or even earlier to such seminal works of environmental history as Eric Rolls’ A Million Wild Acres (1981), W.K. Hancock’s Discovering Monaro (1972), and Barbara York Main’s Between Wodjil and Tor (1967) and Twice Trodden Ground (1971).
What each of these writers did was to make the Australian environment, or some part of it, an actor rather than a stage. The environment for these writers was not some broadly passive, albeit resistant, thing out there that needed to be overcome, battled, tamed, brought into submission — it was a dynamic system of interrelated parts, where every action had cascading consequences and complex repercussions.
At the centre of, or just beneath, all of these books is the attempt to try and locate some kind of basic environmental baseline. There seems to be no dispute about the fact that the agricultural colonisation of Australia by Europeans has had far reaching consequences for the organisation of the continent’s biota.
In almost every possible way the land has undergone serious and widespread interventions. The introduction of new predators, notably cats and foxes, caused (and continues to cause) mass extinctions of species. The introduction of hooved animals, in addition to their utterly different patterns of grazing, also hardened the soil and changed the extent to which rain is absorbed or runs off the surface of the land, often carrying soil into rivers which now run faster but also then silt up and slow down.
The removal of perennial, deep rooted vegetation for annual crops causes groundwater to rise and dissolves salt crystalised in the soil, resulting in soil salinity. Fire regimes have changed radically. Rabbits and other rodents out-compete native herbivores, while European carp have transformed the major river systems of the south east. The list goes on, and it is surprisingly familiar to all of us.
But as these things continue to run rampant, and as major questions begin to be asked about the sustainability of agriculture, we seem to be thrown backwards into the origins of these problems. And as we trace them back we come against the tantalising question of what it was all like before this. Before what? Before the arrival of Europeans. What did Australia look like in 1788, in fact? This is the question that each of these writers seems to be either answering, or at the least reacting against.
What it was like before
In this respect, Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, which builds in important ways on Gammage’s earlier book, provides the most concerted attempt to answer the question about the quality of the country — in particular, the interface between human and nature — in the pre-colonial epoch. Because of the oral quality of Aboriginal societies, many of these questions have traditionally been considered to fall beyond the province of history proper, and into the study of pre-history (archaeology) and anthropology.
Indeed, there is something of a demarcation dispute around this crucial hinge between Aboriginal and European colonial lifeways. One of the strengths of Pascoe’s book is its ability to bridge archaeology, anthropology, archival history, Indigenous oral tradition and other more esoteric but highly revealing disciplines such as ethnobotany and paleoecology.
The key contention in Pascoe’s book is that the whole distinction between the farming colonist and the hunter-gatherer indigene is based on a radical, and frankly self-serving, misunderstanding of the way that the Indigenous peoples of Australia lived in their countries. Pascoe assembles a persuasive case that Indigenous Australians farmed their land, lived in villages, built houses, harvested cereals, built complex aquaculture systems — possibly the earliest stone structures in human history — and led the kind of sedentary agricultural lives that were meant only to have arrived with Europeans in 1788.
Pascoe is an Indigenous historian and is clearly motivated by a desire to redress the serial denigration of Indigenous people. His cards are on the table, but this does not mean that he is not a rigorous and exacting judge of the historical record.
Massy, for his part, was born and bred on a sheep and cattle farm on the Monaro plain — a farm he has now run for over 40 years. By his own confession, he spent the majority of his farming life assiduously contributing to the problems he is now just as assiduously diagnosing in The Call of the Reed Warbler. The book is in many respect a conversion narrative, documenting the moment when the scales fell from his eyes and he saw truly the world as it was — not a land made efficient and productive by the application of agricultural science, but a land emptied of its relationships and webs of life by a kind of collective psychosis. Farming wasn’t sustaining the land, it was ruining it. It was an extractive industry that had gobbled up thousands of years of sustenance in a few generations of sustained plunder.
Don Watson’s book The Bush is the most literary of these recent contributions, and it moves effortlessly and elegiacally between science, history, reminiscence and anecdote. He has a writing style that is epigrammatic and sonorous, reminiscent of the way that, in an American context, Wallace Stegner treated the tumultuous history of the American Great Plains.
Against the bluff empiricism that underpins Gammage and Pascoe, and the ardour of the convert that galvanises Massy, Watson offers something more elliptical and rhapsodic. He moves from his native Gippsland to Australia at large through a sort of sly mimicry of the discourse of the Australian bush. The bush is both the object of Watson’s study and his linguistic mode, since he draws his wry sensibility directly from Joseph Furphy or Henry Lawson. The distinctive admixture of acerbic humour, dark melancholy and a poignant apprehension of the absurdity of life that was the hallmark of the Bulletin school of writers.
Something is broken
What all of these books are saying, and why they are in fact getting traction now, is that something is broken. These books are not announcing that the environment is broken — they merely mention this in passing, regarding this as beyond any reasonable doubt. Instead, what these books are announcing is that agriculture is broken.
This, in the context of our self-image, is something that is much more terrifying and it will be savagely resisted. But each book is also hopeful in its way. None more than Charles Massy, whose book’s subtitle A New Agriculture, A New Earth is openly salvationist and The Call of the Reed Warbler is a detailed plan for the regeneration of degraded pastoral country that allows for both agricultural production and environmental recovery.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting the rock formation we whitefellas have called Wave Rock, in Western Australia’s southern wheatbelt. It is a stunningly beautiful granite outcrop and central to the lifeways of the Noongar people of this region.
What stands out now is the contrast between the cleared fields stretching to the horizon in every direction and this tiny oasis of bushland surrounding the rock. The paleo-river channels that shaped the landscape are now heavily waterlogged by a rising water-table and everywhere you see the signs of salinized soil — dead and dying shrubs and trees.
But as tourists we carefully avert our eyes and pose for photographs at the rock. This is in many ways a microcosm of the determined blindness that these recent books are trying to rectify.
Bangarra’s Dark Emu ran in Sydney at the Opera House until July 14 then toured Canberra, Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne.
STEP welcomes new members of the committee and other members who would like to contribute to our work in some…Read More
Two weeks before the Federal election with Warragamba Dam threatening to spill due to severe storms, the Baird government committed…Read More
There is surprisingly little information that describes, interprets and records heathlands and its ecology in Australia. However, Nick de Jong’s…Read More
Well the July election is done and dusted and the Liberal–National Coalition just scraped in. Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s previous statements…Read More
There are many books on the environment, as you will see if you scan the shelves of bookshops like Kinokuniya, Abbeys or the Botanic Gardens. Many are well written too, vividly conveying an author's enthusiasm and love of nature though usually with guarded warnings about the future. But I stumbled on one recently that's exceptional. Written by Tony Juniper, long time campaign head and rainforest guru for Friends of the Earth and currently of WWF, it covers a vast spread of information on this precious global asset.
Juniper describes and highlights the enormous diversity of flora and fauna in rainforests both tropical and temperate, of which many people are already aware of course, but what I found compelling were the insights into the negative effects of clearing of rainforest on the mistaken philosophy that rainforest stands in the way of progress. This has effects not only on diversity but also on climate. He highlights research on the cyclical relationship of transpiration and rainfall, pointing to the enormous surface area of foliage available for evaporation – far more than if the same area were covered by water. He also, alarmingly, points to increasing drought in cleared land, and in agricultural land, savanna, and semi desert up to thousands of kilometres from retreating forests. (And yet we still allow tree clearing in this drought-ridden country?)
The diversity of course includes the traditional inhabitants, dismissed as of little consequence or an obstacle by European settlers and governments, from Theodore Roosevelt's ‘tenantless wilderness’ to our very own terra nullius. The chapter on the Amazon Basin is particularly illuminating because it highlights how the original people farmed the fertile flood plains, not by wholesale clearing but by retaining the canopy trees because they protect and enhance the soil and its moisture and fertility. Rainforest crops like cocoa and coffee grow best in protected settings. Wholesale clearing to plant oil palms and soya beans however is already having alarming consequences. (I rummaged through the pantry and fridge to see if we had anything containing palm oil to chuck; and then what about soya products?)
Tony Juniper is a veteran and very effective environmental campaigner and appears to have sufficient people skills to get opposing factions onside, despite being arrested and marched off at gunpoint in Davos. This includes both big business, politicians and land managers, including indigenous ones, and there is hope for the future beginning to dawn, but a lot more progress needs to be made, and soon!
This book is a must-read for politicians and land managers, especially many of the former! Oh, and Prince Charles gets a guernsey for his forest support – a good choice for future king I think!
Rainforest: Dispatches from Earth's most Vital Frontlines by Tony Juniper, Profile Books, London, 2018, 448 pp
John Martyn reckons this is the best environmental book he has ever read!
In November the Turnbull Government ratified Australia’s commitment to comply with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Australia has set…Read More
There has been a flurry of legislative action and announcements during the final months of the year following varying periods…Read More
Have you ever enjoyed the cool refuge that an underground cave offers from a hot summer’s day? Or perhaps you…Read More
The amount of development along Epping Road is astronomical. Sure, this development is near the Chatswood to Epping train line and bus services. What happens to people wanting to go north or south? They will add the existing logjam on Lane Cove and Ryde Roads.
More Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (STIF) will be lost How can it be possible to find an offset for the same ecological community?
Ivanhoe Estate which is located on Epping Road between Herring Road and Shrimptons Creek at Macquarie Park is up for mixed tenure high density re-development. At the moment there are 259 social housing dwellings in the locality comprising a mix of townhouse and four storey apartment buildings set around a cul-de-sac street layout amongst mature trees.
It has been that way for 25 or more years but the new proposal provides for 3,500 dwellings (with only 128 allocated to affordable rental housing), basement car parking, a private high school, child care centres, community and retail uses and maximum building heights ranging from 45 to 75 m (20 storeys). This is very clearly an overdevelopment of the site.
Of particular concern is the proposal to remove more than 800 trees from the site including remnant STIF. STIF is classified as an endangered ecological community under NSW and Commonwealth legislation. Currently only 0.5% of the original STIF community remains and every effort must be made to protect and maintain existing remnants intact.
The reason given for this removal is the footprint for the proposed basement parking and an access roadway which means that most of the site will be excavated.
The master plan for the site treats the loss of the STIF as unavoidable and proposes biodiversity offsets in accordance with the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects. These offsets are not acceptable because they do nothing to add to the total of remaining STIF. They rely on another remnant of STIF being identified that is not currently protected by zoning or legal agreement and making that site subject to such protections.
Despite the master plan relying on offsets for the loss of STIF, the Biodiversity Offset Strategy provides no information about the location of an offset site or time lines for implementing any offsets. The destruction of this important vegetation can be avoided by changing the master plan. This should be the first priority and must be done. There is ample opportunity to scale back the development and protect the STIF while providing an increase in the number of dwellings available in this increasingly developed area.
With Sydney’s population forecast to reach eight million people there will inevitably be many more similar conflicts between development and biodiversity across our city.
This information has been taken from the Ryde Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society newsletter, Wallumetta (August edition).
The geology of the Sydney Basin changes dramatically at the top of the Hawkesbury Sandstone, which is followed upwards ultimately…Read More
We recently received a message from a fellow bird enthusiast about his blog called the Ultimate Beginners Guide to Bird Watching. It has a North American focus but has lots of useful information.
The blog has been written by Jonny who has been an avid bird watcher for well over 20 years. As he says birding is ‘a hobby, I can’t recommend it highly enough, so get out there and enjoy nature at its finest’.
Following the serious power blackouts that occurred in South Australia and near misses in other states, gas-fired power stations have…Read More
Ku-ring-gai Council has commissioned a report on developing the tourism potential of the municipality. Ku-ring-gai Destination Management Plan 2017 to…Read More
In May the NSW government released regulations and codes that provide some of the detail on how the biodiversity legislation…Read More
Over the past 200 years NSW has lost almost half of its bushland through land clearing and only 9% of…Read More
Lord Howe Island is a magnificent island about 600 km off the coast of NSW. Its unique landform as an…Read More
Our economy and society ultimately depend on natural resources: land, water, material (such as metals) and energy. But some scientists…Read More
Male superb fairy-wrens change colour every year, from dull brown to bright blue. But being blue may be risky if…Read More
The Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, was asked by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to undertake an independent review…Read More
STEP’s public fund, the Environment Protection Fund, is registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) via the Register of Environmental…Read More
The NSW government thinks that raising the spillway wall of Warragamba Dam by 14 m will significantly reduce the risk…Read More
In the early days of settlement in NSW development decision-making took little heed of its impact on the environment, the…Read More
Over the past century, average land surface temperatures have risen by almost 1°C across the Australian continent. Models suggest this…Read More
Please consider sending a submission opposing Mirvac's rezoning and development proposal for land adjoining Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant…Read More
The Plan of Management of the Canoon Netball Complex was amended in 2015. It involved improvements to landscaping and changing…Read More
It seems a long time ago when the NSW public were fighting an attempt in 2013 by the Shooters and…Read More
Northern Beaches Council is currently considering a development application that has been submitted to build 95 seniors housing units, three…Read More
The Australian government has a framework of strategies and programs for the management of biodiversity. According to the Department of…Read More
In the last newsletter we highlighted the loss of tree canopy in Hornsby Shire and illustrated the abrupt decrease in…Read More
Did you know that your morning cup of coffee contributes to six million tonnes of spent coffee grounds going to…Read More
Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the mechanism by which the states are permitted to log native forest under accreditation from…Read More
Australia’s rate of species decline continues to be among the world’s highest. Government decisions to promote population growth and resource…Read More
It has been a long drawn out process to develop a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA). In…Read More
We are delighted to announce that Katie Rolls (Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University) is the winner of…Read More
The Powerful Owl is a keystone species of bushland in eastern Australia. The survival of the current population of this…Read More
Ku-ring-gai Council is currently undertaking a review of policy for managing recreation in bushland areas. This will cover the way…Read More
Just months after the hard fight to get tree protections strengthened in Hornsby, council is trying to water down those…Read More
The South Dural proposal for rezoning and development of rural land has fallen through thanks in no small part to…Read More
The NSW government has finalised the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code and Design Guide that were the subject of…Read More
With the recent introduction of the Biosecurity Act, there is now more emphasis to think about our action in terms…Read More
STEP member, Beverley Gwatkin, came up with the great idea of conducting walks for people unfamiliar with the amazing features…Read More
What if Australia were to stop farming? At approximately 3% of gross domestic product, the removal of agriculture from the…Read More
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The amount of development along Epping Road is astronomical. Sure, this development is near the Chatswood to Epping train line…Read More
We are delighted to announce that Katie Rolls (Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University) is the winner of the inaugural John Martyn Research Grant for the Conservation of Bushland. The title of Katie's PhD is Adaptive Capacity of Widespread and Threatened Acacia Species to Climate Change. Here is what Katie has to say about herself.
I have a keen interest in conservation and ecology with particular focus on environmental gradients.
I commenced my research with the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in 2015. During my undergraduate degree I explored variation in seed coats of Acacia species along a natural gradient in the Blue Mountains where temperature decreases with altitude to determine how climate of origin and warming temperatures impact dormancy break and seed bank longevity. Throughout this time I developed a love for working in the field and being able to explore natural environments, which led me to continue my research with a master of research course. I performed a reciprocal transplant experiment researching factors that influence local adaptation and species distribution limits and looked at differences in emergence, growth and survival for Acacia species with contrasting distribution ranges when transplanted to warmer or cooler sites, as well as, within or beyond their current ranges.
I plan to build on this research in a PhD study looking into the physiological tolerance of plants through drought manipulation experiments, as well as, comparing growth of populations of seedlings within my transplant sites, which have been monitored for over a year. I hope to use the findings of my research to identify species and populations vulnerable to climate change in order to assist land managers in determining which species and populations are better suited to particular environments, and provide the scientific basis for adaptive management strategies including assisted migration to build resilience in populations under pressure from anthropogenic effects.
The Powerful Owl is a keystone species of bushland in eastern Australia. The survival of the current population of this top predator is a key factor supporting the maintenance of a balance of fauna species and is an indicator of health in our ecosystems.
The Powerful Owl Project commenced in 2011 and is co-managed by BirdLife Australia’s Birds in Backyards program and the Threatened Bird Network. We reported on the activities of the Project in STEP Matters 169. Sadly, however, unless a new source of funds can be found the funding for this Project will run out on 30 June.
The Project has generated a lot of awareness of the existence of these iconic birds in Sydney’s bushland. One owl even has a Facebook page, Mikey the Owlet who lives in Byles Creek Valley Beecroft.
The objectives of the Project are:
- to engage the community to collect data to inform the conservation status of Powerful Owls in the Sydney Basin
- to identify site-specific management recommendations for all stakeholders and land managers with breeding pairs of Powerful Owls
- to inform, coordinate and support management amongst stakeholders and between land managers for conservation of Powerful Owls and other species
A major report was published in December 2014 but research has continued until now.
A conference was held on 8 June to provide a wrap up of the current data about urban Powerful Owls in the Greater Sydney Basin.
Powerful Owl Coalition
We all want to continue to give Powerful Owls a high profile. STEP and four other conservation groups from northern Sydney have got together to form a coalition with the following aims:
- to be proactive, not reactive, about their protection
- to educate and inform residents and organisations about their ecological importance
- to provide advice about habitat provision and maintenance
We have produced an information flier that will be distributed throughout local communities.
A detailed paper is being written to provide the latest understanding of the habitat conditions needed for the Powerful Owl’s survival, for breeding and foraging. Information will be tailored for all groups whose activities impact of Powerful Owls such as arborists and planners.
All groups concerned with bushland conservation are invited to join the Powerful Owl Coalition to help spread the word.
Ku-ring-gai Council is currently undertaking a review of policy for managing recreation in bushland areas. This will cover the way people use the bushland for activities such as walking, trail running, rock climbing, abseiling, bouldering, mountain biking, orienteering and trekking. The strategy aims to support a diverse and accessible range of recreation opportunities for the community in a way that protects and enhances our local environment.
A consultation process is starting firstly with representatives of interest groups. They will then seek further input via a community meeting and a public exhibition of the draft strategy including an online forum. After consulting the community, the strategy will be finalised for adoption by council. The whole process should be completed by December 2018. We will keep you updated with developments.
Just months after the hard fight to get tree protections strengthened in Hornsby, council is trying to water down those protections on development sites.
Four months ago councillors voted unanimously for new tree protection measures. Now council is trying to insert a new section in the Development Control Plan called Tree Management on Development Control Sites that would override these protections. Instead of trees being protected under the Vegetation SEPP and the Australian Standard for the Protection of Trees on Development Sites, Hornsby Shire would go back to the bad old days of the old Development Control Plan guidelines that provided carte blanche for developers.
Is this a response to recent decisions by the Regional Planning Panel and Land and Environment Court decisions enforcing the Australian Standard and going against the council recommendations? Amending the Development Control Plan will require public consultation but we hope that the council meeting on 13 June will not proceed with the proposal.
Ku-ring-gai Council’s decision to close the Warrimoo Downhill Mountain Bike Trail was taken in July 2016 (see STEP Matters 188). We all thought that this decision would be respected by the downhill bike riders given the strong reasons for its closure. We were wrong! This is not the only area that is being abused by these arrogant individuals. We recently discovered another track in Garigal National Park and have heard of many others. The details below explain why these cowboys must be stopped.
The track below Warrimoo Oval must have taken a lot of effort by several people to construct. It contains multiple jumps, ramps and curves as shown above and right. It could only be used by expert thrill-seeking riders. The independent report commissioned by council stated that the average decline is over 23% whereas the standard used for downhill trails is that they should be no more than 10%. Hence it is risky.
The major reason for closure is the ecological damage caused by the track construction and its continued use. The area contains an endangered ecological community called Coastal Upland Swamp and is also habitat for several threatened native birds, plants and animals. A STEP committee member who is a volunteer in a council-run Eastern Pygmy Possum monitoring project has observed threatened Eastern Pygmy Possums and Rosenberg’s Goanna. Under NSW and federal environmental laws, council is required to protect and conserve this ecological community and the native animals and birds that live within it.
The construction involved bush rock removal, clearing of native vegetation, removal of dead trees and wood, infection of native plants by Phytophthora cinnamomi and changes to landscape hydrology, which is adversely affecting the Coastal Upland Swamp and individual threatened species.
During a visit to the area just after the recent school holidays it was discovered that barriers and signs on the track installed by council had been shoved aside. The tyre marks along the track indicated that riders were still using the track. In 2016, council installed signs warning about video surveillance and explaining the reason for closure. These are being ignored.
This track and other downhill tracks are shown on some mountain biking websites encouraging this illegal use.
Following discussions with the local mountain bike community, council is working on options to reopen part of the trail that is south of the Coastal Upland Swamp. This involves completing an ecological feasibility study and consulting with an experienced mountain bike trail builder to see if suitable track modifications can be made with satisfactory ecological and safety outcomes. Given the steepness of the site and disturbance of the bushland reopening of the track is not guaranteed. The study will be completed by mid-2018.
Garigal National Park
We have also discovered a new mountain bike track that has been carved through high quality bushland below Cambourne Avenue in St Ives down to Middle Harbour Creek. It takes a straight line down the hill while the legal management trail zigzags across the slope.
This is another area where threatened species have been found, namely the New Holland Mouse and also the Eastern Pygmy Possum.
Again a lot of work has gone into constructing ramps and jumps – see photo.
We encountered two riders who didn’t care that they were breaking the law and possibly causing untold damage to threatened fauna as well as their habitat, the bushland with large numbers of species providing food for these animals.
The law is that mountain bikes are allowed in national parks and council land on fire trails, roads and management trails and signage is provided to confirm that cycling is permitted.
These riders think their needs are too important for them to have to wait for the proper process of downhill track construction. This involves surveying plant and animal species that will be affected by bike riding. A route needs to be chosen that will cause minimal damage to the bushland and then a track is built that will be safe, resilient to weather and usage pressures. This process takes time and is expensive.
STEP is not happy about the two tracks that were built in the Frenchs Forest part of Garigal National Park, the Gahnia and Serrata tracks, because they traverse high quality bushland and their usage is likely to lead to introduction of pathogens and weeds and changes in hydrology. However the quality of construction means that their usage over the past two years has not caused any obvious damage so far. We understand that these two tracks cost over
$1 million to build.
Certainly there is a growing demand for mountain biking facilities and we should be encouraging participation in active outdoor sport like this but there are many trails available that can be used legally.
There is also a strong demand for the adrenalin rush of steep downhill rides but this must not be at the expense of damaging quality bushland that is already under attack from urban development and climate change (drought, bushfire). It is not as if the riders could possibly appreciate the bushland as they speed down a hill paying close attention to the next obstacle on the track.
NPWS needs the resources to prevent the construction of these illegal tracks.
What can we do?
The best we can do is alert the authorities, national parks rangers and council staff about any track we see when out walking in the bush. Also alert your local MP about your concerns and the need for more policing of illegal activities.
Back in 2016 the NSW government conducted a consultation process on a Wild Horse Management Plan for Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). This was to be part of the Plan of Management for KNP. Based on the assessment of the ecological impact of the horse population its main objective was to reduce the total numbers of wild horses from the estimate of 6,000 down to 3,000 in 5 to 10 years and then to about 600 over a period of 20 years. The implementation of this plan is now impossible following the passing of the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act 2018 on 6 June.
Why are Wild Horses a Problem in Alpine Areas?
The government’s website states plainly the reasons why wild horses should be removed:
Scientists have found that feral/wild horses can damage native environments in various ways:
- increasing soil erosion, by killing vegetation, disturbing the soil and creating paths along frequently used routes
- destroying native plants, by grazing and trampling
- fouling waterholes
- collapsing wildlife burrows
- competing with native animals for food and shelter
- spreading weeds, through their dung and hair
Feral/wild horses can also pose a biosecurity risk for spread of disease, as well as pose visitor and public safety risks such as on high speed roads and highways.
Wild horses grazing on the Alpine Way
The website is also frank about the controversy and emotion associated with community attitudes to horses in the national park:
NPWS refers to the horses as 'wild horses' in an effort to maintain balance between environmental and horse advocacy stakeholder groups that regard the terms 'brumby' or 'feral' as either romanticising or being derogatory, depending on the view point.
However it is pointed out that the NPWS:
… has a legal duty to protect native habitats, fauna and flora, geological features and historic and cultural features and values within the park … and has a responsibility to minimise the impacts of introduced species, including those of wild horses.
Key Threatening Process
In April 2018 the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee made a preliminary determination proposing that Habitat Degradation and Loss by Feral Horses, Equus caballus be listed as a Key Threatening Process in Schedule 4 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. Submissions close on 22 June.
As the determination explains:
- alpine and sub-alpine plants are slow-growing, recover slowly from disturbance and often occur in restricted areas;
- soils are fragile and the trampling disturbance caused by horses has negative impacts on a range of species, such as the vulnerable anemone buttercup Ranunculus anemoneus;
- sphagnum bogs (the principal known habitat for the endangered Northern Corroboree Frog, Pseudophryne pengilleyi) have an estimated growth rate of 3.2 to 3.5 cm / 100 years and are extremely sensitive to disturbance and trampling.
Also, many fauna species are sensitive to habitat disturbance and decreased water quality or availability. For example the critically endangered stocky galaxias fish faces extinction from trampling of their habitat.
Whether this determination, when finalised, will have any effect on horse management is now doubtful.
Brief History of Plans to Manage the Wild Horse Population
Since the current 2006 Plan of Management was implemented several reviews have been made of management plans for wild horses. Previous plans of action have proved to be ineffective in making any reduction in wild horse numbers. Trapping using lures and removal – the only method employed during the life of the 2008 Horse Plan – was costly, time consuming and did not effectively reduce the wild horse population. In addition, lack of demand for suitable domesticating (‘rehoming’) opportunities was an impediment. Often the trapped horses were in bad condition and had to be destroyed. The plan provided for aerial mustering but there would have been nowhere to send the horses. Shooting was not part of the plan.
The 2016 Plan of Management provided a comprehensive analysis of different parts of the KNP and defined strategies for a number of management zones to reduce the impact of wild horses. The techniques proposed included:
- mustering, trapping and removal from park for domestication or transport to knackery or abattoir
- trapping and culling on site if transport is not possible
- ground shooting
- fertility control
For example the objective for the area south of Mt Kosciuszko towards Dead Horse Gap is to eliminate wild horses within five years while the aim for areas near the Victorian border east of the Alpine Way is to reduce the population as elimination would be impossible. There are other areas where horses are not present and the aim is to prevent them entering the area.
If the population increases there is an increased risk that they will enter more sensitive areas such as the Main Range. Plants in high altitude areas are currently recovering from sheep and cattle grazing that was stopped over 60 years ago.
NSW Government’s New Wild Horse Heritage Act
In a total bolt from the blue on 23 May the leader of the National Party and deputy premier, John Barilaro, presented a bill to the NSW parliament with an objective:
… to recognise the heritage value of sustainable wild horse populations within parts of Kosciuszko National Park and to protect that heritage.
The bill was passed by both houses of parliament on 6 June.
The act is very short on detail. It provides for the preparation of a wild horse heritage management plan for KNP. The draft plan is:
… to identify the heritage value of sustainable wild horse populations within identified parts of the park and set out how that heritage value will be protected while ensuring other environmental values of the park are also maintained.
There is a total conflict of interest here! There is no attempt to define heritage or what a sustainable population means. Do horses have more heritage than native animals? Is it sustainable from the point of view of the horse population only or within the context of the ecology of the whole KNP? The only opportunity for expert input to the draft is from the National Parks Wildlife Advisory Panel but only after the plan has been drafted.
The act will specifically prohibit shooting of wild horses in the national park. It will also limit any other management of wild horses to ‘highly sensitive alpine areas’ and such management will be limited to relocation and rehoming.
The act provides for the establishment of a Community Advisory Panel that will work on the draft plan but it has no requirement for representation by people with scientific qualifications in areas associated with the conservation of nature, nor does it require qualifications in cultural heritage research. It will include alpine tourism and horse riding operators. This arrangement will see scientific advice all but removed from the management of wild horses in KNP.
A major concern is that the act will prevail over the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, Section 81(4), and will prevail over the 2006 Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management, a legal instrument established under that act.
Strong Reaction to the Act
The passing of the act is another example of the NSW government’s disdain for national parks. The horse population will continue to increase. Do they see another tourism opportunity of more people trekking or horse riding in KNP to see wild horses? Perhaps these tourists will be horrified by the sight of starving horses and the damage they are doing as they search for edible grass?
Public condemnation has come from many directions:
- Australian Academy of Science wrote a letter stating the act placed ‘a priority on a single invasive species over many native species and ecosystems, some of which are found nowhere else in the world’
- Scientists from the United Nations body, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature wrote a letter to the environment minister Gabrielle Upton stating that ‘damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity values of the Kosciuszko national park would be detrimental to the reputation and status of Australia and NSW’s record for nature conservation’
- David Watson, an ecology professor at Charles Sturt University, resigned his membership on the NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee citing the government’s wilful disregard for science
- RSPCA that worked on the 2016 plan as part of the expert panel said the act makes it impossible to conserve the unique environmental values of Kosciuszko as it will veto evidence based management
The only hope is for a change of government at the March 2019 election.
The South Dural proposal for rezoning and development of rural land has fallen through thanks in no small part to the 6,000 residents who wrote submissions and stood together to fight this inappropriate plan.
In 2013, developers Folkestone-Lyon lodged a planning proposal seeking the rezoning of 240 ha of rural land across South Dural, with almost 2,900 new homes to be built. About a quarter of the land to be developed contains high conservation value bushland including critically endangered Blue Gum High Forest. The plan resulted in community outrage and calls for major infrastructure upgrades before the proposal could be considered.
A peer review conducted on behalf of Hornsby Council identified technical gaps in the planning proposal, and the Planning Department recently announced that the proposal could no longer be supported, ‘due to the identified cost to government related to the provision of infrastructure’. Current road congestion is bad enough even before such a development were to be added.
The NSW government has finalised the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code and Design Guide that were the subject of consultation during 2016. This code allows one and two storey dual occupancies, manor houses and terraces to be built using the complying development approval pathway. Unless the type of development is not permitted in a residential zone under a council’s Local Environment Plan (LEP) a single dwelling can be redeveloped into 2, 3 or 4 dwellings depending on the size of the block. Design guidelines will have to be met but councils will not have control on the rate of take up of this opportunity.
The code is due to take effect in July but local concerns about congestion and over-development have become so great that the government was forced to defer implementation in four council areas. The deferral is only for a year however. This applies to Ryde, Lane Cove, Canterbury Bankstown and Northern Beaches but other councils are also asking for a deferral. Many areas of Sydney are struggling to cope with recent heavy development and infrastructure is inadequate. Is the one year deferral enough time to catch up?
Some councils, like Ku-ring-gai, already have provisions in their LEP that prevent this type of development in low density residential zones. Other councils want (and need) to be able to control the location of this infill housing option and are still working on a housing strategy that would define where this new category of development could occur. These are the councils that are asking for a deferral. They have just woken up to the potential consequences.
STEP’s submissions on this new type of complying development criticised the ad hoc nature of the application of the code and the broad implications of converting low density into higher density housing. There could be a huge rush of landowners taking up the opportunity to expand the value of their property. Councils need to able to specify areas where this type of development is not suitable, for example, because it does not fit in with the topography or character of particular areas or there is insufficient transport. At least the NSW government has recognised that councils need more control.
Design Guide Improvements
The Design Guide has been developed in partnership with the Government Architect’s Office, and aims to improve design by addressing layout, landscaping, private open space, light, natural ventilation and privacy.
The Design Guide has been improved by defining minimum standards for greenery on the blocks. The government has finally taken on board the importance of trees and gardens in reducing the heat island effect and improving local amenity. The guide specifies:
- minimum landscaped areas
- retention of trees especially along a boundary except where removal is approved by council
- planting of a tree in the front yard if the street setback is 3 m or more (mature height 5 m) and in the back yard (mature height 8 m)
- minimum soil volume to support the trees
- an ongoing maintenance plan
The ongoing question will be how that can these guidelines be enforced and the gardens kept alive. Councils will have a big responsibility perhaps?
Great cities need trees to be great places, but urban changes put pressure on the existing trees as cities develop. As a result, our rapidly growing cities are losing trees at a worrying rate. So how can we grow our cities and save our city trees?
Tree bonds have recently been proposed by Stonnington City Council as a way to stop trees being destroyed in Melbourne’s affluent southeastern suburbs.
Tree bonds are a common mechanism for protecting trees on public land, but have so far had limited use on private land. A tree bond requires a land developer to deposit a certain amount of money with the local authority during development. If the identified tree or trees are not present and healthy after the development, the funds are forfeited.
The size of the bond can be established based on estimated tree replacement costs, and/or set at a level that is likely to achieve compliance (likely to be thousands or tens of thousands of dollars).
Why are trees important in cities?
The concept of an 'urban forest' includes all the trees and plants in cities. This includes tree-lined city streets as well as parks, waterways and private gardens. The urban forest contributes substantially to the quality of life of all urban dwellers, both human and non-human, and is increasingly used to adapt cities to climate change.
There is growing research evidence for the physical, mental and social health benefits of urban trees and green spaces. Many local councils such as Brimbank and Melbourne are investing substantially in tree planting to increase these benefits.
However, despite new tree planting on public land, tree canopy on private land is declining.
What can we do to protect trees?
There are a range of existing policy and land use planning measures focused on landscaping requirements for new development. Recently, the Victorian government introduced minimum mandatory garden area requirements. Some Melbourne councils, including Brimbank and Moreland, have also included planning scheme requirements for tree planting for multi-dwelling developments.
Other mechanisms for protecting urban trees on private land include heritage and environmental overlays within local planning schemes, and listings of significant trees and heritage trees.
However, penalties, monitoring and enforcement of tree protection bylaws have not kept pace with the pressures of urban change.
If penalties are insignificant relative to development profits, developers can easily absorb the costs. If monitoring is weak and removal has a good chance of going undetected, tree protection is more likely to be ignored. And if enforcement is weak, or there is a history of successful appeal or defeat of enforcement, many trees may be at risk of removal.
Even when it is successfully pursued, after-the-fact planning enforcement action is a particularly unsatisfactory recourse for tree removal. Replacement trees may take decades to match the quality of mature trees that were removed. What is needed, then, are mechanisms that prevent tree removal in the first place.
Increasing use of tree bonds
The advantage of tree bonds is that they place the onus of proof of retention on developers, rather than the onus of proof of removal on local councils. If a tree is removed, the mechanism is already in place to monitor (the developer needs to demonstrate the tree is still there) and penalise (the financial penalty is already with the enforcing body).
However, tree bonds still do not guarantee tree protection. Some mechanisms used to impose tree bonds may be vulnerable to challenge. For example, historically in Victoria, the planning appeals body VCAT has struck out conditions imposing tree bonds, arguing that punitive planning enforcement measures should be used where trees are removed.
Even where bonds can be imposed and enforced, developers may still be able to demonstrate that trees are unsafe or causing infrastructure damage, and thus need to be removed. In these circumstances, it is often hard to prove otherwise once the tree has been removed.
Nurturing an urban forest
Ultimately, if a landowner is hostile to a tree on their land, that tree’s health and survival can be imperilled, whether through illegal removal, neglect, or applications for removal based on health and safety grounds. It is therefore important that building layout and design realistically allow space for trees to flourish and be valued by landowners.
The urban forest needs protecting and enhancing. This calls for a range of policy mechanisms that work together to retain mature trees, maintain adequate spacing around them, and encourage residents to value and protect the trees around their homes.
Tree bonds provide an attractive solution for local governments in the absence of a strong land use policy framework for protecting trees.
Joe Hurley, Senior Lecturer, Sustainability and Urban Planning, RMIT University; Dave Kendal, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management, University of Tasmania; Judy Bush, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub, University of Melbourne, and Stephen Rowley, Lecturer in Urban Planning, RMIT University
With the recent introduction of the Biosecurity Act, there is now more emphasis to think about our action in terms of weed spread and dispersal. The act specifically focuses on the shared liability relating to containment and control of weeds.
There is a significant and unresolved conflict between the retention of trees of species that are invasive and ecologically-damaging but are also recognised for their cultural, historic or aesthetic significance.
Camphor Laurel is one such species. They were planted extensively for amenity or cultural reasons but the species readily invades natural areas, impacting on biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Individual trees can generate copious progeny annually through seed production and dispersal.
Killing such trees will certainly stop seed set but this may result in community angst. There are instances where the removal of such trees is curbed by community or historic values. Protestors may only have their thoughts on a few issues, such as shade or the loss of very old picturesque trees, however we must consider that the seed from some of these invasive species may be transported long distances via birds and deposited in other areas.
Is it possible to preserve these trees whilst preventing them from producing seed?
Chemicals can be used to Modify Growth
We are all too familiar with herbicides and their primary role to kill weeds. However, there are many herbicides that have been used to modify the growth of plants without the aim of death. Other active ingredients (non-herbicides) have also been identified to alter plants growth for a desired outcome.
A federally funded project commenced in July 2017, courtesy of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the lead agency MidCoast Council and other collaborating agencies. The primary aim was to undertake some research in the following two years to scope a handful of chemicals to de-flower or prevent fruit from developing on African Olives and Camphor Laurels. There is potential to use this technique, if successful, on other species. However, as there is limited project time it was decided to stay focused on these species.
African Olive is a garden escape plant and has become a serious weed in bushland. It can further spread to and heavily impact upon agricultural land. More than 4,000 hectares of dense African Olive infestation has been identified across the western Sydney region alone. African Olive was listed as a key threatening process to biodiversity by the NSW Scientific Committee in 2010.
It is estimated that African Olive is having a negative impact on at least 25 endangered ecological communities as well as 13 threatened flora and 4 threatened fauna species in NSW. African Olive has further been listed in the Global Invasive Species Database. African Olive out-competes established native vegetation, casting dense shade which prevents the regeneration of native plants. Infestations can alter the floristic structure and habitat value of remnant bushland areas.
Camphor Laurel is considered a threatening weed under similar listings to African Olive. They have the ability to adapt to the disturbed environment, have prolific seed production and a rapid growth rate as well as a lack of serious predators or diseases, they also possess many specific attributes which enhance its weed status.
Camphor Laurels are ecosystem changers. They have a tendency to form single species communities and exclude most other tree species, including desirable native vegetation. They have a very dense, shallow root system which, when accompanied by the shading provided by the canopy, suppresses the regeneration of native seedlings. They have the ability to replace and suppress native vegetation and have an allelopathic effect on other species.
Interim Results from Year 1
The list of potential chemical candidates for testing was rather lengthy and after an extensive literature review the list was trimmed down to three chemicals for Camphor Laurels and two for African Olives. Growth habit of the weed plays a large role into determining the type of treatment selected and how it is applied. A species like African Olive is often multi-stemmed and would be impractical for stem injecting whereas the single stemmed Camphor Laurel trees are ideal for a range of chemical deliver systems.
A long dry period of weather from winter to spring played havoc on the flowering times and synchronicity of Camphor Laurels and African Olives. Fortunately significant rains fell in early October to rejuvenate the weeds, however flowering was still not ideal. Timing of treatments was closely linked to flowering, namely near early-mid flower bud opening stage.
Assessment of treatment impacts on flowering or fruiting capacity of the weeds was undertaken in March and May 2018, but careful consideration was made to foliage changes. An ideal treatment is one that suffers no foliar damage while completely aborting reproductive issue.
The interim results from the African Olive experiments suggest this species is rather difficult to selectively control flowering/fruiting without severely affecting foliage.
The best compromise appeared to be treatment A with two times concentration that reduced fruit setting by 90% with a foliage damage score of 3 out of 10 which equates to some very noticeable symptoms from which the plant will take some time to recover. Four times concentration reduced fruit setting by 98% but with much more severe foliage damage. There is scope to apply various rates around this two times rate in the second year of the project, to better fine tune treatment outcomes.
It appears treatment A (same treatment for African Olives) was the most suitable for temporarily sterilising Camphor Laurels. It subtly made the foliage paler whilst significantly reducing reproductive capacity. Treatment B achieved very little. Treatment C will be tested in year 2 at much lower rates due to excessive foliage damage in year 1.
The second and last year of testing will be focused on getting consistency and robustness of the likely treatments that may be considered for registration or permits. The key to success is developing a treatment that can be easily and evenly applied that doesn’t leave obvious scarring of bark while achieving near perfect seed set control and barely noticeable effects on foliage. Timing of treatments could be investigated in subsequent projects, however there is only enough time to investigate rate responses of treatment A.
Fingers crossed for a better season than 2017-18.
This is a shortened version of an article in the Autumn 2018 edition of A Good Weed, the newsletter from the NSW Weed Society. Here’s hoping this idea can be extended to many more weed species, in particular privet.
The iNaturalist website has been set up as a means for citizens and scientists worldwide to record their observations of wildlife. It includes a system for verification of species photographs by other members.
A local 15-year-old has used his initiative to raise awareness of the great biodiversity in our region by setting up a local BioBlitz group. You can post any nature sightings made around Sydney, as well as improve your knowledge of the local flora and fauna and meet like-minded nature enthusiasts near you.
He organised a BioBlitz from 14 to 15 April in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Nine people participated who recorded 185 observations of 112 species. The most notable observation by a couple of STEP members was a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater.
The perfect way to learn about the geology that underpins the landscape and diverse flora of the Sydney region
A photographic journey through the rich and varied geology, scenery and flora of the Sydney region
Rocks and Trees captures the dramatic scenery of the Greater Blue Mountains, the beauty of the coastline and the great sweep of plains west of the CBD, but its main purpose is to highlight the geology and flora and their interrelationships. The book journeys from the Illawarra along the coast to Newcastle and inland to the Greater Blue Mountains, staying within the framework created by the massive sandstones and conglomerates of the Triassic Narrabeen Group.
There has been much local angst about the idea that lights be installed on some of the Canoon Road netball courts to allow matches on one evening and practice on three other evenings. STEP made a detailed submission highlighting the potential environmental impacts. Other submissions focussed on the lack of information about traffic and noise impacts and consideration of alternative sites.
In order to progress the situation, Councillor Jeff Pettett put up a motion at the meeting on 13 March for further studies to be completed particularly to consider additional suitable court locations. It is essential that other locations are considered to reduce the burden on Canoon Road and the travel required on congested roads. We hope a satisfactory solution will be found soon.
The Nature Conservation Council with the help of the Environmental Defenders Office won the case challenging the process of implementation of the land clearing codes.
The court decision was an opportunity for Premier Berejiklian to amend the bad laws her government had implemented and make some key improvements to protect habitat.
Instead, she has chosen to stick rigidly with the same destructive laws and ignore the science that highlighted the likely destruction. By the government’s own assessment, they will lead to a spike in clearing of up to 45% and expose threaten wildlife habitat to destruction, including 99% of identified koala habitat on private land.
All members of the local botanical, bushcare and conservation communities have been deeply saddened by the sudden death of Noel Rosten on 26 February when he was knocked down by a car outside his letterbox. He was aged 85. The following details about his vibrant life have been taken from the tributes made by the Australian Plant Society (North Shore Group) and Hornsby Council.
Noel was an active member of many community groups within Hornsby Shire which included the Friends of Berowra Valley, Hornsby Conservation Society and the Australian Plant Society (APS). In the wider community, he was active with Easycare Gardening, National Tree Day and Clean Up Australia Day. He joined the Hornsby Council Bushcare program in 1992 and ended up running three bushcare groups.
Above all he loved bushwalking and growing native plants. With his wife, Rae, he joined APS North Shore Group in 1985. He and Rae developed a spectacular garden where Noel propagated native plants and orchids, many of which were donated for sale by the APS.
In the mid-1990s Noel and other members formed the Hornsby Herbarium to collect specimens of all the vascular plants in the Hornsby Shire. Once a week they went bush, listing all native plants on the track and collecting specimens for identification or scanning. These records now form the backbone of Hornsby Council’s herbarium.
Noel was a keen and talented photographer. He regularly entered the bushcare photograph competition with high quality photographs, many of which have been used in the bushcare calendar.
He was quiet, funny, gentle, always helpful, always willing to patiently share his knowledge He leaves a tremendous conservation legacy.
Members of STEP offer their condolences to Rae, their children and to Noel’s family and friends.
Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the mechanism by which the states are permitted to log native forest under accreditation from the Commonwealth. The RFAs were designed not just to exploit this public resource but to incorporate conservation and recreation. They have a number of explicit aims such as establishing a reserve system to ensure adequate protection for forest ecosystems and threatened species, an ecologically sustainable logging process and to provide long-term stability for the forestry industries.
The National Parks Association (NPA) published a report in 2016 (OF Sweeney, Regional Forest Agreements in NSW: Have they Achieved their Aims?) that was highly critical of the RFA system. It said:
… the RFAs have failed to substantially meet their goals either wholly or in part.
and recommended that the NSW government should transition away from native forest logging.
As explained in the article below, the Australian government is planning to roll over 20-year extensions of the RFAs without any review as to the current ecological status of forests or reference to new information since the RFAs were first signed 20 years ago.
During the period provided for submissions on the renewal of RFAs the NPA was attacked by the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Anne Ruston claiming deliberate dishonesty in their campaign to end public native forest logging in NSW.
CEO of the NPA, Alix Goodwin has stated that:
It’s hard to see the senator’s letter as anything but an attempt to intimidate us, because we successfully challenged the government’s efforts to rush the RFAs through with minimum scrutiny.
The following article was written by Professor David Lindenmayer from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU and was published in The Conversation on 23 March 2018.
State governments are poised to renew some of the 20-year-old Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) without reviewing any evidence gathered in the last two decades.
The agreements were first signed between the federal government and the states in the late 1990s in an attempt to balance the needs of the native forest logging industry with conservation and forest biodiversity.
It’s time to renew the agreements for another 20 years. Some, such as Tasmania’s, have just been renewed and others are about to be rolled over without substantial reassessment. Yet much of the data on which the RFAs are based are hopelessly out of date.
Concerns about the validity of the science behind the agreements is shared by some state politicians, with The Guardian reporting the NSW Labor opposition environment spokeswoman as saying 'the science underpinning the RFAs is out of date and incomplete'.
New, thorough assessments are needed
What is clearly needed are new, thorough and independent regional assessments that quantify the full range of values of native forests.
Much of the information underpinning these agreements comes largely from the mid-1990s. This was before key issues with climate change began to emerge and the value of carbon storage in native forests was identified; before massive wildfires damaged hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest in eastern Australia; and before the recognition that in some forest types logging operations elevate the risks of crown-scorching wildfires.
The agreements predate the massive droughts and changing climate that have affected the rainfall patterns and water supply systems of southwestern and southeastern Australia, including the forested catchments of Melbourne.
It’s also arguable whether the current Regional Forest Agreements accommodate some of the critical values of native forests. This is because their primary objective is pulp and timber production.
Yet it is increasingly apparent that other economic and social values of native forests are greater than pulp and wood.
To take Victoria as an example, a hectare of intact mountain ash forests produces 12 million litres more water per year than the same amount of logged forest.
The economic value of that water far outstrips the value of the timber: almost all of Melbourne’s water come from these forests. Recent analysis indicates that already more than 60% of the forest in some of Melbourne’s most important catchments has been logged.
The current water supply problems in Cape Town in South Africa are a stark illustration of what can happen when natural assets and environmental infrastructure are not managed appropriately. In the case of the Victorian ash forests, some pundits would argue that the state’s desalination plant can offset the loss of catchment water. But desalination is hugely expensive to taxpayers and generates large amounts of greenhouse emissions.
A declining resource
Another critical issue with the existing agreements is the availability of loggable forest. Past over-harvesting means that much of the loggable forest has already been cut. Remaining sawlog resources are rapidly declining. It would be absurd to sign a 20-year RFA when the amount of sawlog resource remaining is less than 10 years.
This is partially because estimates of sustained yield in the original agreements did not take into account inevitable wood losses in wildfires – akin to a long-distance trucking company operating without accident insurance.
Comprehensive regional assessments must re-examine wood supplies and make significant reductions in pulp and timber yields accordingly.
The inevitable conclusion is that the Regional Forest Agreements and their underlying Comprehensive Regional Assessments are badly out of date. We should not renew them without taking into consideration decades of new information on the value of native forests and on threats to their preservation.
Australia’s native forests are among the nation’s most important natural assets. The Australian public has a right to expect that the most up-to-date information will be used to manage these irreplaceable assets.
Image: Current protections for native forests are hopelessly out of date. Graeme/Flickr, CC BY-NC
The Australian government proposal, first floated in 2016, to remove tax deductibility status from donations to environment groups unless they use at least 25% of their donations for on the ground works has fizzled out. But now there is a new threat with a much broader reach, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017. This so-called ‘foreign donations bill’ has been introduced in the name of protecting Australian politics from foreign influence. This poorly constructed bill would devastate the work of charities across the board if it goes ahead.
It is a great idea to limit foreign donations to political parties but this bill, as drafted, will have other much broader consequences for democracy in Australia. It could shut down the voices of community advocates, impose burdensome red tape restricting their work and it could severely limit the ability to do research and provide information to assist the general public to understand or participate in public debate.
All organisations that spent $100,000 or more on political activities in any of the previous four years would have to register as a ‘political campaigner’. Political expenditure is broadly defined and includes the expression of ‘any views on an issue that is, or is likely to be, before electors in an election’ whether it is during the campaign period or not. The cost of many charities’ advocacy on issues including homelessness, the age pension, low wages, refugees and the environment would be deemed political expenditure, forcing them to register.
The new status of ‘political campaigner’ comes with requirements to keep records to ensure donors of more than $250 pa are ‘allowable donors’ – such as Australian citizens or residents – and are not foreign entities. To comply donors would have to complete a statutory declaration and have it signed by a justice of the peace. It would be nigh impossible for groups to track individual donations and then ask for a statutory declaration. In any case many donors are likely to not bother. Other red tape requirements include the nomination of a financial controller that is liable for the charities’ disclosures, and the disclosure of the political affiliations of senior staff.
For donations from non-citizens or non-residents, charities would have to set up special accounts to keep revenue separate from other sources and ensure it was not spent on political expenditure. Breaches of these rules could trigger fines of more than $50,000.The ultimate effect for charities will be a set of complex, cumbersome and costly administrative requirements.
An example of an organisation that would be affected is the World Wildlife Fund that has over a number of years been strong advocates for Australia leading on conservation measures in the Antarctic. Their ability to advocate for that cause is only possible in large part because of funding from international donors and they will be restricted or banned from doing that.
Constitutional law experts have warned that the law is likely to be unconstitutional
There has been a strong campaign against the proposed law from charities in all spheres. On 10 April the Senate electoral committee released a bipartisan report with 15 recommendations related to the bill. Notably, they called for the Australian government to rewrite parts of its foreign donations bill, which would remove some of the contentious elements related to charities funding. If these recommendations are agreed the bill will still create new obstacles for charities speaking out for the people they represent. Charities are still calling for the bill to be totally redrafted.
Australia’s rate of species decline continues to be among the world’s highest. Government decisions to promote population growth and resource exploitation (mining and agriculture) are accelerating this trend. Often governments are able to ignore their obligations to protect and conserve threatened species because of weak national environment laws. Governments are reversing hard fought gains as evidenced by recent decisions to relax land clearing laws in NSW and the reduction in marine sanctuary protections.
Australia’s environment protection laws are not working. An alliance of environment groups has been formed to push for a total revision of the federal laws and administration systems to stem the trend of loss of biodiversity and degradation of the environment. Leadership is needed at the federal level to ensure a coordinated approach. Maybe under the current coalition governments the chances of this being achieved are low but the approach provides guidelines for a way forward.
Places You Love Alliance
This alliance, called the Places You Love, has been created by 40 national groups guided by the work of the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law. The Alliance follows the principles of collective action to achieve greater outcomes for nature than could be achieved by a single organisation.
Birdlife Australia, a member of the Alliance published a report in February 2018 called Restoring the Balance: The Case for a New Generation of Environmental Laws in Australia. In the foreword Nobel Laureate Prof Peter Doherty states:
Even when there is strong scientific evidence of actions that will cause harm, Australia’s poor record of environmental monitoring coupled with the ambiguity of key terms in legislation such as ‘significant impact’ means that science can effectively be ignored. Worse still, in some cases our Federal Minister has the power to use his or her discretion to override scientific evidence. Under exemptions, such as Regional Forest Agreements, actions that will impact on threatened species don’t even require Federal approval.
The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act was passed in 1999. It is meant to be the key piece of legislation that ties together the roles of the Australian government and the states in order to create a truly national scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation The Act focuses Australian government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance, with the states and territories having responsibility for matters of state and local significance.
The matters of national environmental significance cover international obligations such as RAMSAR wetlands, nationally threatened species and ecological communities, Commonwealth marine areas, the Great Barrier Reef and water resources in regard to coal seam gas and major coal mining developments.
There are many inherent weaknesses in the Act and its implementation, meaning many neglected threatened species are simply being left to decline. Here are some examples.
Federally listed as endangered, the Perth-Peel subpopulation of Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos has declined by more than 50% since 2010, due to the ongoing clearing of foraging and roosting habitat on the Swan Coastal Plain. With more than 70% of banksia woodland now cleared, the species has become increasingly reliant upon pine plantations north of Perth to survive. But these are allowed to be harvested and are not being replaced.
Birdlife Australia has reported several times the decline in population and quoted legal advice that the continuing removal of mature pine plantations was in breach of the EPBC Act Recovery Plan and met the requirement for a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance. The WA government has failed to take action demonstrating the inherent weakness in the legislation that relies in a large part on self-referral, opaque definitions of what constitutes a ‘significant impact’ and insufficient resources to ensure enforcement and compliance.
The Swift Parrot is critically endangered. With fewer than 1,000 pairs left in the wild, it is predicted to go extinct in the next 14 years. Loss of breeding habitat in Tasmania through logging and clearing that is allowed under RFAs is one of the greatest threats to the parrot’s survival, along with predation by introduced Sugar Gliders.
Unlike other industries whose activities may have a significant impact on nationally listed threatened species, logging and clear felling ‘in accordance with a RFA’ is exempted from national environment protection laws. In the absence of strong national leadership, recovery actions taken in one jurisdiction may be undermined by destructive practices in another.
The Regent Honeyeater is nationally critically endangered, having declined by more than 80% over the last three generations. Its decline is linked to clearance and degradation of its woodland habitat. The Lower Hunter Valley is known to be important for Regent Honeyeaters and is predicted to become even more important as climate change intensifies. Unfortunately, the woodlands and forests of the Lower Hunter are under significant threat from mining, industrial and urban developments.
In 2007 the Australian government approved development within the Tomalpin Woodlands. More recent evidence shows that this area is vital breeding habitat and there are other places where the industrial development could occur. The federal environment minister could but is not compelled to act on this new evidence.
When the EPBC Act was first passed into law, the listing of a species as nationally threatened triggered a legal requirement for the development of a national recovery plan; a document that captures current understanding of how present and past threats contributed to the species’ decline and the key actions needed to recover the species. While such plans are not directly enforceable, one would think the plan should impose measures to help protect a species, for example by identifying areas of critical habitat that must be protected. Importantly, the environment minister cannot approve an action that is inconsistent with a recovery plan.
In the five years or so following the introduction of the Act, a number of recovery plans showed clear intent to use the full powers and provisions of the Act but over time, recovery plans have become increasingly insipid as governments have sought to avoid strong prescriptions that might limit activities within a species’ range or require resources for the implementation of priority actions.
As the lists of threatened species have grown, funding for the development and implementation of plans has declined. Today, most listed species don’t have recovery plans. For those that do, recovery plans were mostly drafted long ago and have not been updated within the required five-year time frame.
Wish List of Reforms
The Alliance is calling for the reforms outlined below. However it is hard to imagine that they could be countenanced by the current government.
1. Create national environment laws that genuinely protect Australia’s natural and cultural heritage
The current system distributes responsibility across the federation, but no one jurisdiction is charged with coordinating efforts to protect our environment. A lack of nationally consistent monitoring and reporting makes evidence-based decision-making difficult for governments and increases costs for businesses attempting to comply with eight different, often-changing regulatory regimes.
The Australian government must retain responsibility for current matters of national environmental significance and protect them effectively. But national oversight currently is too limited and must be expanded to cover broader issues that impact on biodiversity and ecosystems such land clearing and water extraction.
2. Establish an independent National Sustainability Commission to set national environmental standards and undertake strategic regional planning and report on national environmental performance
The commission would also develop enforceable national, regional, threat abatement and species level conservation plans. Central to a new national environmental protection framework is the timely collection and disclosure of environmental data and the provision of independent and transparent advice on planning and approval decisions.
3. Establish an independent National Environmental Protection Authority that operates at arm’s-length from government
The authority’s role would be to conduct transparent environmental assessments and inquiries into development proposals as well as undertake monitoring, compliance and enforcement actions.
4. Guarantee community rights and participation in environmental decision making
Australian citizens have a right to be involved in decisions that will affect the use and health of our environment. Communities have been shut out or ignored by decision makers. Too often this has led to conflict between businesses and communities, and weakened community trust in government processes and institutions.
It has been a long drawn out process to develop a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA). In 1998 the commonwealth, states and Northern Territory governments committed themselves to establishing the NRSMPA by 2012. The Australian government affirmed this commitment at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.
The states are responsible for managing coastal waters out to 3 nautical miles offshore. Beyond that marine management is the Australian government’s responsibility.
The primary goal of the NRSMPA is to establish and effectively manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of marine reserves to contribute to the long-term conservation of marine ecosystems and to protect marine biodiversity.
After extensive consultation and scientific analysis the Gillard government declared a new network of marine reserves and plans of management that took effect in November 2012. The reserves cover 36% of Commonwealth waters with various levels of protection.
At the time there were protests from fishing industries but it was estimated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences that only around 1% of the total annual value of Australia's commercial fisheries would be displaced.
The Abbott government came into power in September 2013 and in December suspended the declarations and management plans for these new reserves and instituted another review claiming that the science in the previous review was inadequate.
Draft revised plans from this review was released in 2017 and in March 2018 the final decision was announced by Environment Minister Frydenberg.
All the fears of the marine scientists that the science would be ignored have been realised. The draft proposals are to be implemented despite the protests exemplified by the statement below.
The government claims that the amended policy is a balanced and scientific evidence-based approach to ocean protection. However the marine conservation groups, such as Save Our Marine Life and WWF, have condemned the reductions in protection levels. In their view a particularly insidious form of partial protection is that of ‘habitat protection zones’ whereby only activities that affect the seabed are excluded. Such zoning ignores the important biological links between animals in the water column and the seabed. It allows commercial fishing activities within the marine parks that have already been assessed as incompatible with conservation in the government’s own risk reports. Indeed, such zoning creates the opportunity for industrial scale fishing within our marine parks by vessels such as the imported Dutch super trawler, the Geelong Star, that so many Australians rejected.
Sadly the Senate passed the new management plans on 27 March. Labor and the Greens could not marshal enough support from the independents to oppose the plans.
The following is a statement from the Ocean Science Council of Australia, an internationally recognised independent group of university-based Australian marine researchers, and signed by 1,286 researchers from 45 countries and jurisdictions, in response to the federal government’s draft marine parks plans.
We, the undersigned scientists, are deeply concerned about the future of the Australian Marine Parks Network and the apparent abandoning of science-based policy by the Australian government.
On 21 July 2017, the Australian government released draft management plans that recommend how the Marine Parks Network should be managed. These plans are deeply flawed from a science perspective.
Of particular concern to scientists is the government’s proposal to significantly reduce high-level or 'no-take' protection (Marine National Park Zone IUCN II), replacing it with partial protection (Habitat Protection Zone IUCN IV), the benefits of which are at best modest but more generally have been shown to be inadequate.
The 2012 expansion of Australia’s Marine Parks Network was a major step forward in the conservation of marine biodiversity, providing protection to habitats and ecological processes critical to marine life. However, there were flaws in the location of the parks and their planned protection levels, with barely 3% of the continental shelf, the area subject to greatest human use, afforded high-level protection status, and most of that of residual importance to biodiversity.
The government’s 2013 Review of the Australian Marine Parks Network had the potential to address these flaws and strengthen protection. However, the draft management plans have proposed severe reductions in high-level protection of almost 400,000 square kilometres – that is, 46% of the high-level protection in the marine parks established in 2012.
Commercial fishing would be allowed in 80% of the waters within the marine parks, including activities assessed by the government’s own risk assessments as incompatible with conservation. Recreational fishing would occur in 97% of Commonwealth waters up to 100km from the coast, ignoring the evidence documenting the negative impacts of recreational fishing on biodiversity outcomes.
Under the draft plans:
the Coral Sea Marine Park, which links the iconic Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to the waters of New Caledonia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (also under consideration for protection), has had its Marine National Park Zones (IUCN II) reduced in area by approximately 53% (see map below)
six of the largest marine parks have had the area of their Marine National Park Zones IUCN II reduced by between 42% and 73%
two marine parks have been entirely stripped of any high-level protection, leaving 16 of the 44 marine parks created in 2012 without any form of Marine National Park IUCN II protection
The replacement of high-level protection with partial protection is not supported by science. The government’s own economic analyses also indicate that such a reduction in protection offers little more than marginal economic benefits to a very small number of commercial fishery licence-holders.
This retrograde step by Australia’s government is a matter of both national and international significance. Australia has been a world leader in marine conservation for decades, beginning with the establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the 1970s and its expanded protection in 2004.
At a time when oceans are under increasing pressure from overexploitation, climate change, industrialisation, and plastics and other forms of pollution, building resilience through highly protected Marine National Park IUCN II Zones is well supported by decades of science. This research documents how high-level protection conserves biodiversity, enhances fisheries and assists ecosystem recovery, serving as essential reference areas against which areas that are subject to human activity can be compared to assess impact.
The establishment of a strong backbone of high-level protection within Marine National Park Zones throughout Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone would be a scientifically based contribution to the protection of intact marine ecosystems globally. Such protection is consistent with the move by many countries, including Chile, France, Kiribati, New Zealand, Russia, the UK and US to establish very large no-take marine reserves. In stark contrast, the implementation of the government’s draft management plans would see Australia become the first nation to retreat on ocean protection.
Australia’s oceans are a global asset, spanning tropical, temperate and Antarctic waters. They support six of the seven known species of marine turtles and more than half of the world’s whale and dolphin species. Australia’s oceans are home to more than 20% of the world’s fish species and are a hotspot of marine endemism. By properly protecting them, Australia will be supporting the maintenance of our global ocean heritage.
The finalisation of the Marine Parks Network remains a remarkable opportunity for the Australian government to strengthen the levels of Marine National Park Zone IUCN II protection and to do so on the back of strong evidence. In contrast, implementation of the government’s retrograde draft management plans undermines ocean resilience and would allow damaging activities to proceed in the absence of proof of impact, ignoring the fact that a lack of evidence does not mean a lack of impact. These draft plans deny the science-based evidence.
We encourage the Australian government to increase the number and area of Marine National Park IUCN II Zones, building on the large body of science that supports such decision-making. This means achieving a target of at least 30% of each marine habitat in these zones, which is supported by Australian and international marine scientists and affirmed by the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney and the IUCN Members Assembly at the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii.
We gardeners are often urged to ‘buy native’, especially nectar-producing flowering shrubs like grevilleas and banksias – they attract birds of course, even if these days mostly noisy miners and lorikeets. But a native species that's not for every garden but carries hidden gems is the Swamp Lily Crinum pedunculatum.
This is not a true lily but a member of family Amaryllidaceae, like Agapanthus and Clivea. It can be found in the wild, fringing coastal lagoons, and if you came on the Wyrrabalong walk you may have seen them scattered along the shoreline of Tuggerah Lake. They're also common at Maitland Bay in damp ground protected behind the beach dunes.
They are a large lily-like plant with a sheath of very long, broad, spear-shaped, scooped leaves around a solid, fleshy base. We've had one in the garden for about 20 years and you'd need a bobcat and a couple of big guys to transplant it. Ours usually puts up three spikes of large, faintly perfumed, purple-streaked, creamy white flowers in summer.
The scooped leaves collect pools of water at their bases that last for several days after rain and tree frogs seem to have no difficulty finding them. Two days out of three you can see one to three cute little Peron's Tree Frogs Litoria peronii snuggled into the soggy leaf pockets – we get them in all sizes and subtly varying buff-brown shades so a number of different individuals come and go; and also tiny, green Eastern Dwarf Tree Frogs Litoria fallax turn up on occasion.
Other inhabitants include crickets, huntsmen spiders and snails, and probably other creatures we don't see who come and go at night or when we're not looking. Another tree frog species, Litoria verreauxii, could also turn up, and I'm still tuning up my frog i.d. skills to pick the differences – colours can vary quite a bit.
Left: Peron's Tree Frog Litoria peronii in its temporary garden home. A noisy neighbour!
Right: Dwarf Green Tree Frog Litoria fallax on Swamp Lily leaf
Even if you don't have any Swamp Lilies in your garden you may still have suitable plants. A friend finds them in her bromeliads, though I don't know which sort. Gymea Lilies are a possibility too, as are other amaryllids – in fact almost any lily or sheath-like plant that retains water after rain is worth checking. And I imagine having more unusual natives like swamp lilies helps the survival of such moisture loving creatures through our long dry spells.
PS Swamp Lilies, like other amaryllids, are very prone to attack by Spodoptera caterpillars. Swarming with their longitudinal stripes they can eat a plant right down to the ground in a couple of weeks. It will recover via its rootstock but it doesn't look great in the meantime.
Written by John Martyn
Despite the dry weather there have been other frog encounters – the banner photo at the top of the page is a Green Stream Frog (Litoria phyllochroa) found on the Darri Track by Helen Logie.
The preparation of STEP’s history by Graeme Aplin and the committee is progressing well and will be completed by our 40th anniversary celebration on 22 July. This has given us an opportunity to reflect on the work that went into the development of our walking maps and the tremendous contribution of our volunteers. Below is an outline of the history and process of production of our maps.
There is still a regular demand for the STEP maps. Their broad coverage and detail make it possible to plan connections with public transport and interesting variations on the standard routes.
First Lane Cove Valley Map
It all started in the 1980s when a group of South Turramurra locals decided that a map was needed of the STEP Track and other local tracks. They went out checking the tracks that had been created over the years by various authorities and locals who found their own way to explore the bush. There was no national park in those days. They often met people who welcomed the idea of formal printed map. So this was the beginnings of the first Lane Cove Valley map that was printed in 1990 but it had a long gestation period of about 8 years.
The first draft was developed by geographer, Graeme Aplin and then Margaret Booth and the team of South Turramurra locals marked out the tracks which were then verified by a team of volunteers. This map covered the area upstream from De Burghs Bridge.
The final cartography and printing was done by the Central Mapping Authority in Bathurst and the Paddy Pallin Foundation provided a loan to cover printing costs.
The map was launched by Tim Moore, the State Minister for the Environment as a prelude to a bushwalk on 19 August 1990.
2000 and 2016 Lane Cove Valley Maps
In late 1997 the committee decided that a revision was needed because most copies had been sold, and changes had been caused by the 1994 bushfires and the M2 motorway. This time the map was extended to cover the whole Lane Cove River valley down to Greenwich Point. The map was launched in November 2000 by Peter Duncan, Director of the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust.
John Martyn’s experience as a geologist was vital for the creation of the base map. Many hours or work were involved in building a full-colour base map stitched together from digital files provided by the NSW Lands and Property Information, air photos, satellite images and field observations. Roads, national park boundaries, local parks, hazards, natural features and many other details were meticulously inserted. Then the tracks were added and checked by John and a team of volunteers. Some volunteers did this with GPS and for wider tracks by Google Earth and air photos, others by simple navigation.
By 2015 it was realised that the map was getting out of date again. We had a good base to work on with the previous map. However John decided to extend the map detail to the west and south-west to cover more of the Lane Cove River catchment and more opportunities for walking connections with railway stations on the northern line. It is amazing how much has changed over 15 years so this again was a major exercise. Often it is harder to check for changes than to start from scratch!
It would not be possible to produce both maps without the help of our volunteers. Their work is much appreciated. Their names are listed below but please excuse us if any names are left out as it was hard to keep track of them all:
- 2000 map – Phil Helmore, Ralph Pridmore, Jenny Schwarz, Peter and Robin Tuft, Natalie Wood, Helen Wortham.
- 2016 map – John Booth, Debbie Byers, Bob Carruthers, Jill Green, John Hungerford, Adrienne Kinna, Andrew Lumsden, Ruaridh MacDonald, Natalie Maguire, Alan McPhail, Ralph Pridmore, Jim Wells, Natalie Wood, Ted Woodley.
Middle Harbour Maps
It became evident in the early 2000s that the Middle Harbour catchment offered numerous walks over a much larger area, and also that many STEP members who are keen walkers also lived in or near that catchment. Given the experience with Lane Cove mapping it seemed an easy choice to create bushwalking maps of that area. It also followed creation of Garigal National Park which merged large council bushland areas into one entity. The map coverage included a considerable area of suburbs carrying small reserves and linking larger bushland reserves, and included popular harbourside walks too, many in Sydney Harbour National Park. The end result was two double-sided sheets extending from Mona Vale Road to Greenwich and North Head.
The base for the Middle Harbour catchment was purchased from Lands and Surveys digital database and they also carried out the printing.
Volunteers were John Balint, Therese Carew, Bill Filson, Tim Gastineau-Hills, Gerald Holder, Simon and Joy Jackson, Bill Jones, Jan Kaufman, Kate Read, Jennifer Schwarz, Peter Tuft and Natalie Wood. STEP was also supported by the late Bill Orme, Graham Spindler and Leigh Shearer-Herriot (North Sydney Volunteer Walkers Group), NPWS and the relevant councils. Map cover pictures were watercolours by artist Janet Carter of East Roseville.
STEP was a sponsor of this competition last year. Over 1,600 children entered and created some brilliant art works.
The 2018 Threatened Species Children’s Art Competition will be open for entries between 4 June and 3 August 2018. Children from 5 to 12 years old are invited to unleash their creativity while learning about our threatened species.
Each child chooses one of over 1000 threatened species, researches, and then draws or paints it, and writes a short explanation of their work. Photographs of artworks and written explanations can be submitted on-line. Fifty finalists will be chosen for an exhibition in Sydney in September, with winners announced at Parliament House Sydney on 7 September, Threatened Species Day.
FrogID is a project to help identify and survey frogs in your area. This is done via an app on your phone whereby you can record the frog call, note your location and this information is sent off and collated. This is run through the Australian Museum.
Our plans to celebrate STEP’s 40th anniversary will be announced later this year. Graeme Aplin has kindly offered to write a history of STEP from those heady days of the battles against the development of the Canoon Road netball complex and the Lane Cove Valley freeway. Graeme’s academic background in the environment and history makes him eminently qualified for the task.
The Plan of Management of the Canoon Netball Complex was amended in 2015. It involved improvements to landscaping and changing the location of some courts and car parks. A consultative committee comprising representatives from the local community, netball players and council officers was to review the operation of the complex and in particular consider the recommendation that lighting be installed to be operated on Thursday and/or Friday evenings between 5 and 7.30 pm for some matches during the winter netball season. The aim was to reduce the problems on Saturdays of traffic movements.
The contentious plan for lighting had not been progressed until in November 2017 Ku-ring-gai Council passed a motion that recommended a change to the Plan of Management so that lighting would be operated on four nights per week on nine courts from 4.30 to 8 pm.
The closing date for submissions was 1 February. Click here for STEP's submission.
STEP opposes the plan for any lighting on the grounds of environmental impact. Basically the night lighting does not conform to the objective of the Plan of Management:
… to minimise the impact of Canoon Road Recreation Area upon the adjoining bushland and the Lane Cove River catchment.
The complex is located on a high ridge so that the lighting will spill over the surrounding bushland and Lane Cove River conservation areas. No details are available of the specifications for the lights but they will need to be high and strong to be fit for purpose.
The bushland area is habitat for several threatened species, many of which are nocturnal such as the Powerful Owl. The minimum requirements for large forest owls are that lighting should be directed away from, and not interfere with, nest and breeding roost trees. Diurnal animals may extend their activity well beyond normal sunset but nocturnal animals may be particularly affected due to their eyesight, actual and feared predation, and reduced breeding success.
Apart from the environmental issues there are other reasons to oppose the plan. No comprehensive traffic study has been completed that considers the additional traffic that would impinge on the Kissing Point Road/ Comenarra intersection during the busy evening period.
We question whether netball players will want to battle with evening traffic to get to and from Canoon Road. Traffic along the Pacific Highway near Turramurra crawls every afternoon. Surely players and their parents would prefer training to be near where they live. Also it has not been proven that the removal of one age group from the Saturday matches will make a significant difference to Saturday congestion.
Netball is different from other sports in that the playing area is smaller so that there are many more players using a sporting area compared with sports like soccer or baseball. The changeover time between matches involves double the number of car movements. The submission from the Kissing Point Progress Association points out that night matches could generate about 500 car movements per hour to peak hour traffic.
Council needs to find a broader solution to the provision of netball facilities. Participation will only increase as our population grows. The concentration of the sport in the narrow isolated location is not satisfactory for such a popular sport. It is not fair to the players and their parents. An effort should be made to find alternative sites for matches and training throughout Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby.
The original plan for the North Turramurra Recreation Area included four lit netball courts but for some unknown reason this has not been implemented. There are plans to upgrade other park areas. The NSW government has plans to upgrade facilities at some schools that could include lighting of courts. Some possible sites could even be accessible by public transport! In theory there are buses that go near the Canoon Road complex but they get stuck in traffic!
At the last Clean Up Day the largest number of items collected by far was beverage containers (about 30% of items). Here’s hoping this situation will show improvement since the Return and Earn, as the Container Deposit Scheme is now called, started on 1 December.
As at 4 February, over 65 million containers have been collected. Many of these would have been previously in council collections. Containers can be returned to receive 10 cents per container or the refund can be donated to a charity. The price of drinks has gone up of course, mostly by 15 cents.
Click here to find a collection point near you and for more information about the types of containers that can be returned. Currently there is one in Ku-ring-gai and five in Hornsby.
Good insulation in a tree hollow or a well ventilated drey provides better protection than a nest box on a hot December day. Sleeping outside to stay cool is always dangerous.
The male wasn't very active and obvious through midsummer though he had up to two or more females at a time around in the spring. This is possibly his second/last chance: the season finishes soon; maybe Valentine's Day is the big day.
Mr Bowerbird perches proudly above his toy car collection (about 2 m from his bower)
Mrs is not so impressed and thinks he needs some upmarket models – maybe a toy Lamborghini?
I found it difficult to get a good description of an actual nest, either on-line or in bird books, but the WIRES site says the female alone builds and lays in a nest 10 to 15 m up in a tree, and raises the young, while the male goes on and courts other females in his bower. I'll scan the trees for a nest next time I'm out there.
I think one can be sure that this ‘female’ is truly a female, but a young male's colouring is apparently similar and it only turns satin blue-black at 5 to 7 years old, so if you see a stray ‘female’ around, as you often do, then it could easily be a young of either sex.
I'm always blown away by the violet-coloured eye, particularly against the green background of the female, though these pictures don't do it justice.
I think Mrs is tidying up while Mr wants to add even more blue plastic and make an even bigger display (mess?)
The last two issues of STEP Matters (Our National Parks Need Protection and Fifty Years of the NPWS but is Anyone Celebrating?) have described the savage treatment being applied by the NSW government by cutting national parks funding and staff restructuring. This is despite a huge increase in the popularity of parks revealed in a regular survey undertaken by the NPWS. Since 2014 the number of visits to NSW national parks by Australian residents has increased from 39.1 million to 51.8 million, a massive 32% in just two years.
The significance of the restructuring policy has been brought home by the loss of Michele Cooper who has been Lane Cove Valleys Area Manager for five years. This profile of Michele has been written by Tony Butteriss, President of the Friends of Lane Cove Valley.
Friends is very disappointed to hear that Michele Cooper has not been reappointed to her role in the restructure of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. We will miss her professionalism, advice and personality. We wish Michele the most for her future and as she said recently, ‘we have so much more to do and achieve, I want another 50 years’.
Outgoing Area Manager, Michele Cooper came from an interesting background. She arrived at Lane Cove River Area as a ranger in 2001. Her degree is in physical geography with a master in limestone cave management but she insists she gained her skills on the job. She managed the Pennant Hills additions, Dalrymple Hay Nature Reserve (her favourite spot) and the Kukundi Wildlife Shelter.
The value of Lane Cove National Park – according to Michele – is in having pockets of bushland within a massive metropolitan city. She values her staff and the volunteers that are dedicated to environmental work. Her typical workday is diverse, needing her attention across a range of tasks: a school group wanting a tour ... what spider is this … can I run an event with 3,000 people … a tree fallen over a track … where can I go camping? And of course – bush fires.
Her special achievement at NPWS was her Aboriginal Tour Guide Training Manual. It trained Aboriginal people to give tours in national parks. After she led the first training program, TAFE and NPWS ran numerous courses using the manual. Since then some land councils have used her manual to set up tour guide businesses.
Before Michele joined NPWS, she taught whale rescue skills to NPWS staff at the Quarantine Station on North Head. She got on so well with staff that they asked if she would volunteer. She joined NPWS doing fauna surveys in western NSW in the mid-1990s. Her next job was gate-collector for Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. She returned to western NSW for 10 years conducting fauna surveys off-park on lands that were viable for adding to the reserve system. In Sydney, Michele was a ranger and also regions community relations officer before becoming area manager for Lane Cove. We have just lost a manager with over 25 years of highly commendable work with NPWS.
It is with great sadness that Willoughby Environmental Protection Association (WEPA) reports the peaceful passing of long-term member, Harold Spies, in Castlecrag on 18 December at the age of 97.
Harold was a founding member of WEPA and active on its executive for over 35 years. In that time he provided inspiration and sage advice on a wide variety of WEPA policies, campaigns and projects and was always on hand to plan campaigns, write for and produce the newsletter, lead walks, work on bush regeneration projects and to man WEPA’s many stalls.
WEPA was formed in 1982 by a group of local residents concerned about the quality and management of the environment. WEPA works for the protection and improvement of Willoughby’s environment through effective planning, management and maintenance, both locally and beyond. Their activities include regular talks, bush restoration projects, making submissions and holding plant stores.
It seems a long time ago when the NSW public were fighting an attempt in 2013 by the Shooters and Fishers Party, supported by the NSW government, to allow amateur hunters into national parks. Hunting has been permitted in state forests since 2002 but there was much more at stake with national parks. There was strong opposition on many grounds particularly its effectiveness in removing feral animals.
Ultimately the government decided to scale back the proposal and do some proper research on ground shooting as a method of controlling feral animal populations. In 2014 it instituted a trial of hunting in six park areas mostly in central and western NSW that contained threatened species and ecological communities. The trials were to be scheduled and managed by the NPWS.
The final report by the Natural Resources Commission into the trial of the so-called Supplementary Pest Control (SPC) was released in February 2017.
The SPC trial has shown that using appropriately trained and capable volunteer ground shooters can deliver positive pest management outcomes and social benefits, such as improved relationships and communication between NPWS and their neighbours. The trial has also demonstrated that volunteer ground shooting can be done safely and humanely when sufficient risk management, supervision and planning are undertaken. The Commission has concluded that volunteer ground shooting has the potential to be an effective supplementary pest control technique in the state’s national parks and other reserves, if used as part of an integrated pest management program under controlled conditions.
The Commission recommended that the SPC program be continued with it being strategically applied where it can provide most benefit as part of an integrated pest management program. The Commission also recommended that additional funding be allocated separate from NPWS core pest management budget. A happy ending to a sorry saga.
Northern Beaches Council is currently considering a development application that has been submitted to build 95 seniors housing units, three to four storeys high in seven buildings on open space land at Bayview Golf Course. Construction will lead to the chopping down of more than 100 trees that are the core of a High Priority Coastal and Wildlife Corridor.
The corridor allows wildlife movement between the coast at Winnererremy Bay, Mona Vale and major habitat areas around Katandra Bushland Sanctuary and Nangana Road, Bayview. It is habitat for threatened and vulnerable species including a pair of Powerful Owls, glossy black cockatoos and a colonies of microbats and the Bent Wing Bat.
Under the Planning Policy for senior’s housing development a site compatibility certificate (SCC) is required to be issued by the Department of Planning before the development application can proceed. It confirms that the development is broadly compatible with the surrounding environment and locality. The department must consider a series of criteria covering environmental, resources, servicing and infrastructure and local impacts before making a decision.
A previous SCC application made in January 2015 was knocked back by the department on the grounds that:
- the height and scale are out of character with surrounding residential character
- the site is flood prone land and no evidence has been provided that the development will not adversely affect surrounding land uses
- there are significant environmental implications for existing flora and fauna including threatened species and adjacent wildlife corridor.
The same SCC application was submitted in April 2017 and this time it was approved.
A report on restoring habitat for threatened species has recently been completed. The report found that vegetation patch area and wildlife corridors have the strongest positive effects on biodiversity when complemented by vegetation structure. Large sites greater than 30 ha are necessary to prevent a rapid loss of area-sensitive species.
STEP Matters issue 193 provided detail on the application by Mirvac to build 600 apartments in the former IBM business site next to Cumberland State Forest. In addition to the IBM site Mirvac owns a large land area that currently contains high quality bushland.
Hills Shire Council applied to the Department of Planning for a Gateway Determination to allow rezoning of the bushland part of the 28 ha site for R4, high density. The department issued the Gateway Determination on 31 October telling the council to do more homework and amend the zoning plan to provide protection of the high value vegetation.
Lo and behold, Hills Council then wrote a letter to the department on 12 December 2017 requesting an amendment to the Gateway Determination to permit zoning of the high quality bushland as E3, Environmental Management. This would allow the area to be subdivided into 2 ha lots with the associated need to bushfire protection zones, roads, water supply, etc all leading to the destruction of endangered ecological community and threatened species habitat.
Mirvac has advised in writing that they want the area zoned as E2, Environment Conservation, and they are not seeking to impose the cost of this protection on the council. So all the community groups opposed to the development are at a loss to understand why council applied for E3.
Council has also applied for special conditions in the DCP for just this site that are different from the rest of the Hills Council LEP. It also requests the removal of the 2.5 ha recreation zone, saying it could create public open space. Why not commit to providing open space that will be essential for the new residents?
They have requested approval for site specific provisions which would enable a single developer, Mirvac, to build a completely ‘new type of housing’ which has been built nowhere else in the Hills Shire, on 86 m2 blocks, in a zoning which provides for 700 m2 lots.
We await the next decision by the department. Go to www.forestindanger.org.au for the latest news and how to make a submission to council or the Department of Planning.
The Australian government has a framework of strategies and programs for the management of biodiversity. According to the Department of Environment and Energy, Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030 guides how governments, the community, industry and scientists manage and protect Australia's plants, animals and ecosystems.
The recent review of the strategy is puzzling. A well-defined program seems to have been thrown out the window in its implementation but some parts of it are working well such as the Threatened Species Action program.
The Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia recently released their joint submission on the 2018–19 budget. This revealed that the Australian government has slashed environment spending by one-third since 2013. This cut in spending is one of the reasons for the sorry record in maintaining biodiversity.
State of the Environment reports document the extent of the problem. For example, between 2011 and 2015, there was a 66% increase in the number of critically endangered animals (from 38 in 2011 to 63 in 2015) and a 28% increase in critically endangered plants (112 in 2011; 143 in 2015). By critically endangered, we mean that extinction is a real possibility in the short term for these species. Immediate action is needed if we are to avoid terminating millions of years of independent evolution, as these biological lineages die out.
2010 Biodiversity Strategy
The Australian government first developed a biodiversity strategy in 1996. An update was made in 2010. It is intended to provide a guiding framework for all levels of government to conserve our national biodiversity over the next 20 years.
The document is comprehensive, comprising 100 pages. It provides an overview of the state of Australia’s biodiversity and outlines collective priorities for conservation. The vision of this strategy is that Australia’s biodiversity is healthy and resilient to threats, and valued both in its own right and for its essential contribution to our existence.
The strategy identifies three national priorities for action to help stop the decline in Australia's biodiversity:
- engaging all Australians in biodiversity conservation
- building ecosystem resilience in a changing climate
- getting measurable results
The strategy contains 10 interim quantified national targets for the first five years.
Five Year Review of the Strategy
A review of the first five years of the strategy was released in 2016.
The review report is very critical of the strategy but to my mind the main reason is that not enough effort has gone into its implementation. For example it is criticised for being long and technical but also for providing inadequate guidance for decision makers to determine how best to direct investment for biodiversity conservation. That detail would have made the document much longer and even more technical. There is confusion in the review between the roles of the strategy and the programs to implement action.
New Strategy – How can they be Serious?
On 25 November 2016, Australian, state and territory environment ministers agreed to revise the 2010 strategy taking into account the findings of the five year review.
Called Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2018–2030: Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Inventory, the draft revised strategy is open for public comment until 16 March 2018. Click here to make a submission.
In response to the review the government has thrown out the baby with the bath water. The Department of Environment and Energy’s website states:
The strategy has been revised to improve its ability to drive change in biodiversity management priorities, and its alignment with Australia's international biodiversity commitments.
How can that be? The 100 page document has been replaced by one with 17 pages. There is a complete absence of actions, only statements about what could be done.
The vision of the new draft is that:
Australia’s nature, now and into the future, is healthy and resilient to threats, and valued both in its own right and for its essential contribution to our health, wellbeing, prosperity and quality of life.
Basically unchanged from the previous strategy.
How much information can be contained in a 17 page document that uses up lots of pages in preambles and background?
The goals are simplistic to say the least; that is:
- to connect people with nature
- to care for nature
- to build and share knowledge
The priorities in meeting these goals as described are all text book stuff. They could be applied to any country. There is nothing specific to Australia’s characteristics and biodiversity situation. As usual with the current governments there is no mention of climate change.
Here are three quotes to give an idea of the lack of specifics:
Objective 3. Increase understanding of the value of nature
Australians understanding of the value of nature, and its role in health and wellbeing can be improved through increasing children’s learning about nature, encouraging organisations and businesses to report their performance against environmental measures, or using environmental accounts to more clearly demonstrate the value of nature.
Objective 8. Use and develop natural resources in an ecologically sustainable way
… Sustainable use and management of natural resources can be achieved through strategic planning and trade-offs between use and protection …
Objective 10. Increase knowledge about nature to make better decisions
There are opportunities to target research to reduce gaps in knowledge and improve management strategies, to support development and implementation of innovative tools and techniques, and to build connections between the environmental disciplines and social sciences …
Is there any Action Guidance?
The draft strategy devotes one whole page to the proposed actions but there is no proposed action. The proposal is for governments to develop an ‘action inventory’, a giant database that will illustrate efforts that ‘contribute to the strategy’s goal and objectives’. The content of this one page then goes on to suggest what information might be included and who might find the inventory useful:
It is a concept for testing and discussion. The online capabilities, content and timelines for an action inventory are yet to be finalised and will be informed by this consultation process.
Threatened Species Action
The biodiversity document is puzzling when there are examples of successful action. In 2015 the government launched a threatened species strategy and promised to make it a priority. The year one report card showed that 21 of the 26 objectives in that report were achieved. The targets and actions were clearly defined and included tackling feral cats and fox-baiting programs. Certain species were identified for action to improve their population numbers and habitat. This contrasts with the overall biodiversity strategy that should be focused on actions that reduce the risks of more species becoming threatened such as land clearing and increasing the reserve system.
The government doesn’t seem to know what to do about our loss of biodiversity or are they just totally disinterested?
In the previous issue of STEP Matters we reported on the major loss of trees in Hornsby Shire in recent years and the commissioning of a report by council outlining options to strengthen tree protection measures to re-establish Hornsby’s tree canopy.
In December council put forward a draft amendment to the tree preservation provisions of the Development Control Plan. The amendment, if enacted, would make the tree preservation order similar to the rules that apply in Ku-ring-gai. Council approval would be required for the removal or significant pruning of all trees except listed weed species.
This a major turnaround from the current situation where trees can be removed except if they are on the list of local indigenous species or in a heritage area.
Submissions closed on 26 January. We hope the amendment will be adopted promptly.