We have conducted two introduction to bushland walks this year, one in Sheldon Forest/Rofe Park and the other along the STEP Track. They have been well received. Peter Clarke has given interesting explanations of the ecological features of our local bushland and the importance of preserving this biodiversity. We plan on running these walks every couple of months and extend them, not far away, into the Hornsby area.
Mark Diesendorf, UNSW Australia Can Australians be sustainable and enjoy endless economic growth? It’s not likely.Read More
STEP is one of a group of environmental organisations that has got together to write a position paper on the habitat needs of the Powerful Owl. This iconic bird is a keystone species for maintaining ecological balance in our bushland.
We now will be recruiting other groups to help disseminate the report to all areas where Powerful Owls live.
The speaker at STEP’s AGM on 30 October was Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biology from Macquarie University, who has been studying the impacts of climate change on ecosystems for many years. She has been a leading contributor to reports produced by several expert bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Australia’s Climate Commission. She gave a stark outline of the changes to ecosystems that have been happening and the prospects in years to come under the possible scenarios for temperature increases.
The global body assessing the issue of climate change is the IPCC. Their reports are published after rigorous analysis of thousands of scientific reports.
Early in October the IPCC released a special report commissioned at the breakthrough 2015 summit that brokered the Paris climate agreement. It sets out the key differences between the Paris agreement’s two contrasting goals: to limit the increase in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels (mid-nineteenth century) to ‘well below’ 2°C, and to ‘pursue efforts’ to limit warming to 1.5°C. The agreement also aimed to increase the capacity of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change and provide finance for measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions Reduction Commitments
The 196 countries signing the agreement made statements of commitments to reduce emissions by 2030. However the national pledges that have been made are not enough to remain within a 3°C temperature limit let alone a 2°C limit. They are not even enforceable. The only result of not meeting the commitment is to be named and shamed.
Australia’s commitment was a reduction of 26 to 28% below 2005 levels. We were making progress towards that goal when the carbon tax was introduced but we have gone backwards since 2014 with a reduction of only 11% by 2017. With current policies we haven’t a hope of meeting the goal.
What is the Expected Impact of 1.5°C of Warming?
Although the Paris agreement aims to hold global warming as close to 1.5°C as possible, that doesn’t mean it is a ‘safe’ level. In 2017 the increase in global average temperatures reached 1°C. Communities and ecosystems have already suffered significant impacts from extreme weather events and drought. If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2°C per decade, we will reach 1.5°C of warming by around 2040.
But there is a lag between the timing of carbon emissions and temperature increases. The IPCC uses the concept of a carbon budget, the projection of the quantity of emissions that can occur in order to limit warming to a certain level. At current emissions rates, within the next 10 to 14 years there is a two-thirds chance we will have used up our entire carbon budget for keeping to 1.5°C. It is inevitable that temperatures will increase by more than 1.5°C unless policies are implemented now to reduce emissions drastically as quickly as possible.
What Difference does 0.5°C Make?
Impacts on both human and natural systems would be very different at 1.5°C rather than 2°C of warming. The report tries to quantify the differences to give a tangible scale to the information. For example:
- The proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2°C. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.
- At 2°C extremely hot days such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer, would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires. Extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world's population at least once every five years at 1.5°C but that figure rises to more than a third of the planet if temperatures rise to 2°C.
- But the greatest difference would be to nature. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2°C compared with 1.5°C.
- More than 10% of corals have a chance of surviving if the lower target is reached but 99% could be lost at 2°C, a disaster for the Great Barrier Reef. It is notable that the bleaching events in the last two years have killed about 50% of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
- Sea-level rise would be 10 cm higher by 2100 with the extra 0.5°C. That doesn’t sound much but it would affect 10 million more people by 2100 and the number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt.
- Marine fisheries would lose 3 million tonnes at 2°C, twice the decline at 1.5°C.
- The Arctic has been warming two to three times faster than the world average. Sea ice-free summers would come once every 100 years at 1.5°C, but every 10 years with half a degree more of global warming leading to greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals and sea birds.
Fundamentally the message is that it is worth the effort to implement the measures necessary to keep warming below 1.5°C.
Can we Limit Warming to 1.5°C
Put simply, it is not impossible that global warming could be limited to 1.5°C. But achieving this will be profoundly challenging. If we are to limit warming to 1.5°C, we must reduce carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050. Most economists say putting a price on emissions is the most efficient way to do this.
By 2050, 70 to 85% of electricity globally will need to be supplied by renewables. Lesley Hughes pointed out that 90% of current coal reserves and 85% of gas reserves will have to stay in the ground. Transport will need to convert to electric vehicles and much greater use of public transport. Sustainable agriculture is a puzzle to be solved.
Reducing commercial, manufacturing and household energy demand is an important part of the equation. Reducing food waste, improving the efficiency of food production, and choosing foods and goods with lower emissions and land use requirements will contribute significantly.
Carbon dioxide removal technology will also be needed to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But the IPCC’s report warns that relying too heavily on this technology would be a major risk as it has not been used on such a large scale before. Carbon dioxide removal is an extra step to keep warming to 1.5°C, not an excuse to keep emitting greenhouse gases.
Taking such action as soon as possible will be hugely beneficial. The earlier we start, the more time we have to reach net zero emissions. Acting early will mean a smoother transition and less net cost overall. Delay will lead to more haste, higher costs, and a harder landing.
Australia Government’s Response
Australia does not have a credible emissions reduction policy and they no longer have a body that can provide independent scientific advice on the response to climate change. Lesley Hughes was a member of the Climate Commission that was established by the Gillard government but was abolished by Tony Abbott. It was replaced by the Climate Change Authority that has been progressively stripped of scientific expertise and funding by the current government.
The government has decided to remove any emissions reduction target from the highly fraught energy policy and we still don’t have a remotely credible long term electricity policy. The other major economic sectors that need to reduce emissions, such as transport and manufacturing have been put in the too hard basket. The Emissions Reduction Fund is a farce.
Prime Minister, Scott Morrison (and the mining industry) rejected the findings of the IPCC report that coal-fired electricity must be phased out by 2050. Voters at the recent Wentworth by-election disagreed. The next election is due in 2019. We all need to tell the candidates that we want action now!
Note that there is still a body providing expert advice to the public on climate change. The crowd-funded Climate Council was established in 2013 in response to the Government’s abolition of the Climate Commission. Professor Lesley Hughes is one of this body’s councillors.
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We recently reported on the application for development on Bayview Golf Course for seniors housing units in an area that is a core wildlife corridor and habitat for several threatened species such as the Powerful Owl and microbats. The development has been strongly opposed by Northern Beaches Council and local residents.
In August the next application for approval went before the Regional Planning Panel. It was resoundingly knocked back basically because it is over-development. The built form would be incompatible with the existing and desired future character of the area. It would have substantial adverse impact on the biodiversity of the area given that it is mapped as high priority biodiversity conservation land in the Pittwater LEP. Bat ecologist Glenn Hoye stated in a submission that subdued lighting would be required and directed to walkway areas but this would be incompatible with OH&S requirement for seniors housing.
This type of development requires a Site Suitability Certificate before further formulation of a proposal can go ahead. This certificate was provided by the Planning Department back in 2017. A freedom of information application has revealed that internal advice within the department recommended against granting the certificate because the type of development proposed was not consistent with the required zoning.
However the developer is trying again by appealing to the Land and Environment Court.
Unfortunately it is too late to send a letter objecting to the development but you can sign the petition and read more about the issue.
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In recent months there have been several more bad policy decisions by the NSW government that go against scientific common sense. Under this government many environmental protections have been reversed. The election in March 2019 will be critical in turning around this adverse situation. Here is a brief summary of the major recent decisions.
1. Backflip on the Sydney Marine Park Sanctuary Zones Proposal
The only NSW coastal region that currently does not have a marine park is the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion that stretches from Newcastle to the Wollongong coastal waters. A long process of campaigning and consultation has been undertaken on the creation of a park. Finally an announcement was made on consultation on a draft marine park plan. The proposal included fully protected sanctuary (no fishing) zones that covered only 2.4% of the marine area including estuaries and other protected zones that restrict line and spear fishing.
A group of recreational fishers protested vocally blowing the restrictions all out of proportion. The Minister for Primary Industries promptly decided to withdraw the sanctuary zones from the plan. A knee jerk reaction that threw out the window all that scientific consultation and discussion. Evidence shows that sanctuary zones are essential for preserving and restoring the marine estate for future generations.
The draft plan provided limited protections even before the backflip. In addition to the conservation areas covering only limited areas, these zones would allow taking of lobster and abalone. Lobsters are important for controlling the numbers of sea urchins that devour kelp that are a vital source of food for many species. The increase in sea temperatures from climate change is already causing a boom in sea urchin populations.
Consultation on the draft marine park plan closed at the end of September.
2. Raising Warragamba Dam Wall
In the Issue 192 of STEP Matters we described the pointlessness of the claim that raising the Warragamba Dam wall will provide flood protection for the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley. There are five other rivers below Warragamba Dam that flow into the valley. The wall-raising proposal will cause huge damage to the pristine wilderness and wild rivers of the World Heritage Blue Mountains National Park, drown several Aboriginal cultural sites and destroy threatened plants such as a significant proportion of what remains of the critically endangered Camden White Gum Forest and the habitat of the Regent Honeyeater.
An environmental impact and economic assessment has not been done but last month the government passed legislation to change the National Parks Act to allow inundation of the park, a first step to facilitate the proposal. Everybody is saying that the real reason for the plan is to reduce the risk of flooding of all the new homes that the government wants to build in the North West Growth Centre. But that cannot be 100% assured by raising the dam wall. Flood data experts argue that management of the water level in the dam and even using the idle desalination plant would be more effective and less costly.
3. Protection for Feral Horses in Koscuiszko National Park
This issue was covered in STEP Matters, Issue 196. The government is ignoring protests from people concerned about the welfare of the horses as well as the damage they are doing to the sensitive alpine vegetation. The opposition parties have vowed to repeal the legislation if elected. A walk is currently being held from Sydney to Mt Kosciuszko to raise awareness of the issue.
4. Proposal to Revoke the Murray Valley National Park Status
A National MP has presented a private member’s bill in parliament that would delist the Murray Valley National Park. This would open up the area for logging of the river red gums. Only 5.5% of Riverina bioregion is protected compared to the international target of 17% for each region. The bill is unlikely to be debated before the state election but it sets a terrible precedent.
These recent developments are on top of previous bad decisions such as removal of land clearing controls or their replacement with weak offset provisions. 99% of identified koala habitat on private land can now be cleared without restriction. There is already evidence of the predicted increase in land clearing even though the act only came into operation in August 2017. A study commissioned by the NCC and WWF of satellite images of north-western NSW covering the Moree and Collarenebri areas showed that the area cleared in 2017–18 was triple the area in 2016–17.
The NSW government has announced funding for purchasing koala habitat from private landowners and conversion of unproductive state forests to conservation but this is not considered enough to make any difference to the need for secure habitat. A Koala national park is a must.
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Issues 193 and 194 of STEP Matters give a rundown of the convoluted application process by the Hills Council through the Gateway process to change zoning and insert site specific conditions that vary the normal development control plan conditions to facilitate the development by Mirvac of the former IBM business site next to Cumberland State Forest.
There have been further iterations of the zoning plan but we cover only the latest application here. The main positive change is the recognition of the high quality bushland by providing for the possibility of an E2 zoning (Environmental Conservation) that does not permit any residential development.
The current development proposal includes construction of 600 dwellings but the zonings will allow further development of the site.
In September the Hills Shire Council has again written to the Department of Planning requesting an amendment to the current Gateway Determination.
The Forest in Danger group has sent a detailed letter to the Department of Planning objecting strongly to the latest application.
They have also requested that those concerned about the Mirvac proposals convey their objections via email.
The main points of objection to the latest proposal are as follows.
- Even though council and Mirvac have both now theoretically agreed to the forest being protected by E2 Environmental Management zoning, thanks to the outcry by supporters, there is still no formal agreement as to who will own the forest or who will pay for its upkeep. It's been over a year since E2 first appeared on plans yet Mirvac still haven't confirmed an owner for the forest. The E2 zone includes the critically endangered Blue Gum High Forest and endangered Sydney Turpentine Iron Bark Forest.
- There is a Powerful Owl nesting site near to the proposed high density residential area (zone R4) but the required ecological assessment has still not be provided. The current documents also do not make it clear that bushfire APZ will be clear of the Owl’s roosting and nesting areas.
- The medium and high density zoned areas have been extended into areas that include a major tributary of Darling Mills Creek that flows into the Parramatta River and the natural forest regrowth area to the north of the site. The maps do not show any dwellings on these areas currently. What is the reason for the extension of these zones if they are not going to be used for development? The E2 zoning should continue to apply to provide a buffer with the Cumberland State Forest.
- It is proposed that the playing fields be covered with synthetic turf but no ecological assessment has been provided on the impact of runoff into the forest and waterways and any risk in the case of bushfire.
- Previous statements were made that Mirvac would provide a community facility in association with the area of open space but this is no longer part of the proposals. A facility will be badly needed for a large development like this that is touted.
- The previous Gateway Determination required a contribution be made towards state public infrastructure because of the extra population from the development being added to the Cherrybrook Planning Precinct. No commitment has been made.
- The department has refused to allow site-specific provisions for this site yet council is asking again to allow lot sizes of only 86 m2. These sites will be only 4 m wide to house a three bedroom home. This will create an undesirable precedent. No urban design analysis has been provided to demonstrate that medium density units within a lot size of only 86 m2 will fulfil the standards of amenity through adequate setbacks, landscaping, solar access and private outdoor space.
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The NSW government wants to bulldoze a large tract of community land around Flat Rock Drive to construct the Northern Beaches tunnel. Another tunnel for private vehicles, but not trains, is crazy. Haven’t they learnt the lesson that the traffic will rapidly expand to clog the new road? We have to get more people into public transport!
Just like West Connex, the construction and operation will come at great environmental cost. They are proposing to use either the baseball diamond area in Bicentennial Reserve on Flat Rock Drive or the Flat Rock Gully bushland on the other side of the Drive.
Both are important open spaces used by many groups in the community. Here are just a few of the known negative impacts of the tunnel construction.
- Around 6 acres of well-used community space will be taken over by tunnel construction.
- Flat Rock Gully is a critical wildlife corridor and is recognised for its biodiversity and as one of the last refuges for our fast disappearing small native bird population. It also provides a habitat for foraging Powerful Owls, Swamp Wallabies, lyrebirds and many other native animals.
- Willoughby City Council and many dedicated volunteers have worked for 25 years to remediate this bushland.
- There is no guarantee that the Flat Rock Gully site will be returned to bushland. The RMS has offered to leave buildings and cleared areas to be used for other purposes.
- The RMS has advised that there will be over 70 truck movements an hour carrying contaminated spoil through already congested local roads and near local schools.
- The tunnel will be dug through toxic fill from the old tip site. The ground is unstable and the tip is known to contain asbestos and other toxic material.
- There will be risks of air, land, noise and water pollution from the tunnel activities to nearby homes and schools and more broadly to the Willoughby district and surrounding areas including Middle Harbour.
See the fact sheet for environmentalists. This site explains how you can act to oppose the proposal. However the consultation period has now closed.
This information comes courtesy of WEPA (Willoughby Environment Protection Association)
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Such a simple title for such a comprehensive book – the subtitle ‘A photographic journey through the rich and varied geology, scenery and flora of the Sydney region’ elaborates on the topic of this lavishly illustrated volume.
More precisely, the work focuses on the Triassic sedimentary rocks of the Sydney Basin and younger volcanic and sedimentary deposits (including Jurassic diatremes and intrusions, Paleogene and Neogene basalt flows, and Cenozoic unconsolidated sediments) and the diverse flora these lithologies support.
Not since the compilation by Herbert and Helby (1980) – now out of print – has such a useful guide to the rocks of the entire Sydney Basin been published. The two publications are entirely complementary, with only the stratigraphic nomenclature for the Triassic succession and the geology of the younger rocks being common to both. In wanting to keep his book to a manageable size, Rocks and Trees barely touches on the underlying Sydney Basin Permian rocks that are covered in detail by Herbert and Helby (1980), whereas the geobotanical aspects explored in Rocks and Trees were never considered in the earlier publication.
A further obvious distinguishing feature is the prolific use of colour throughout Rocks and Trees, in which almost every page carries at least one colour image, be it of rocks, trees, flowers or even a butterfly. All photographs bear informative captions relating the landforms to the stratigraphy or intrusive unit, or the flora to the lithology. With the floral communities and the rocks they grow on being so extensively depicted in photographs taken by the author over 14 years, Rocks and Trees has definite appeal to anyone interested in geology or botany, or just keen on bushwalking.
John Martyn is a trained geologist, with 40 years fieldwork experience around the world. His observation of the wildflowers in Western Australia in full bloom sharpened his initial interest in the relationship between botany and geology. After moving to Sydney his love of bushwalking developed an appreciation of the differences in distribution of flora depending on their geological substrates.
There is clearly a need for such a book; as the author points out in the Introduction (p 7), botanists (particularly those investigating the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, which was nominated for World Heritage status on the basis of its botany, not – surprisingly – its geology and geomorphology) have identified and formally named floral communities such as Blue Mountains Shale Cap Forest and Shale Sandstone Transition Forest, recognising their links to the geological substrate (but not the precise geological formation). John also mentions the unfortunate misuse (not only by botanists) of informal terms such as ‘Wianamatta Shale’ that has crept into the literature in some popular guidebooks.
Dr Martyn opens his account of the geology of the Sydney Basin by firstly considering the geomorphology in a chapter on Landscapes and Panoramas. Several panoramic images are annotated with the names of prominent geographic features to help orientate the reader, and the location and viewing direction of many of these scenes are plotted on a simplified geological map of the Sydney Basin (p 27). Then follows a Geological Overview, including a brief discourse on the tectonic and structural history of the basin, before the main section (amounting to roughly half of the book) which progresses up-section through the Narrabeen Group, Hawkesbury Sandstone and Wianamatta Group.
The chapter on Jurassic igneous intrusions and diatremes follows, covering dykes, sills, laccoliths and various alkaline intrusions such as Mt Gibraltar, before documenting several of the better known diatremes. New distribution maps, adapted from the Sydney Basin 1:500,000 Geological Map compiled and published by the Geological Survey of NSW more than 50 years ago, accompany each of these chapters. Cenozoic volcanic activity at Mt Tomah and Mt Banks, Mt Wilson and Mt Hay, Nullo Mountain and Robertson Nature Reserve is dealt with in the subsequent chapter.
The next section focuses on the Lapstone Structural Complex and its geomorphological expression, and illustrates how the monoclinal warping and associated faulting has caused the development of lakes and swamps that support their own distinctive vegetation. Then follows a chapter (covering 40 pages) looking in some detail at Cenozoic sands, clays, gravels and laterites in the area of the Cumberland Plain (bounded by the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment to the west and north) and extending to coastal dunes on the central coast, laterites at Long Reef and the Royal National Park south of Sydney.
And if by this stage the reader craves still more examples of the close bonds between rocks and plants, the illustrated part of the book concludes with a chapter on Rock-loving plants, featuring some exquisite rock orchids.
A Glossary of geological terms, listing of References and an Index provide the finishing touches.
I can thoroughly recommend this book. The text is engaging to those well-versed in geology and botany, but will also be readily understood by readers with only a rudimentary knowledge of rocks and trees. Though I have lived in the Sydney Basin for most of my life, and thought that I was reasonably well acquainted with the geology of the region, I was definitely impressed by the amount of new information that I gained in reading this volume, especially from the many photos of outcrops in places that I have not visited. Identifications of the trees, native shrubs and their flowers are an added bonus.
Although the A4 page size of the volume and its weight means that it is not the sort of book that can be readily carried around in a backpack or pocket, it can certainly be taken in the car to the field. Rocks and Trees is not a coffee table showpiece but rather a practical guide to understanding the relationship of flora to geology. It should certainly occupy a place on the bookshelf of any geologist (or botanist for that matter) living in the Sydney Basin or who visits the area regularly or occasionally.
John Martyn is an accomplished photographer and experienced author, having self-published several books previously (including Sydney’s Natural World, Field Guide to the Bushland of the Lane Cove Valley, and Understanding the Weather) through STEP Inc., a local community-based group concerned with (amongst other things) environmental education and the preservation of the natural habitat of Sydney’s upper North Shore. All his books are meticulously edited (by fellow members of STEP) and beautifully produced on high quality paper, and Rocks and Trees is no exception.
The price is another pleasant surprise: $60 plus postage. STEP members save 30%, reducing the cost to just $42. I understand the print run is not very large (certainly not in normal commercial quantities) so it would be worthwhile investing in this book now before it sells out. Order your copy now!
Herbert, C. and Helby, R. (eds) 1980. A Guide to the Sydney Basin. Geological Survey of New South Wales Bulletin 26, 603 pp.
Reviewed by Ian Percival (Pymble, NSW)
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This is not a recent issue. The process of approval of this mine application by Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO) started three years ago but now it is coming to the crunch decision time.
The development application and environmental impact statement were placed on public exhibition in 2015 and received 364 submissions, of which 336 opposed the project. It was referred to the then Planning Assessment Commission for a merit review, which raised concerns about the mine's heritage impacts on Tarwyn Park – a farm internationally recognised as the site where natural sequence farming methodologies were developed. The property was developed by environmental pioneer, Peter Andrews, but KEPCO purchased this property and many others along with the school, general store. The review also found uncertainty and incomplete information about the risks and benefits of the project.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has now completed its final assessment report of the current plans and said the development is approvable, subject to stringent conditions. Following advice from the state's Heritage Council, the department said it placed appropriate conditions on the development to protect the heritage of Tarwyn Park, including a prohibition on open-cut mining on the property. But the mine will go right up to the boundary of the property! Who will want to live there and look after the land?
The matter has been referred to the Independent Planning Commission which will hold a public hearing this month before making its final determination. As the former Planning Assessment Commission has already held a public hearing in relation to the project, merit appeal rights in relation to any future determination by the renamed Independent Planning Commission have been extinguished.
This mine should not proceed because:
- The entire landscape of the Bylong Valley has state heritage significance, as identified by the expert heritage report by Hector Abrahams Architects.
- The mine will irreparably damage these values, and also have broader heritage impacts because it adjoins the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
- This mine will directly open cut strategic agricultural land which cannot be replaced. All such land should be off-limits to coal mining.
- The mine will destroy areas that have been mapped as part of the Critical Industry Cluster for the equine industry.
- This mine will devastate the Bylong River and its alluvial aquifer. Government experts warned internally the river could ‘run dry’ if the mine goes ahead.
In any case there should be no new coal mines. As explained in another article, the IPCC has released new warnings that global warming needs to be limited to 1.5°C and fossil fuels should be phased out quickly to avoid catastrophic change.
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The names of many of our native trees were taken from perceived resemblances of their timbers to those of traditional Northern Hemisphere species like oak, and tropical hardwoods such as mahogany, something for which we can no doubt thank early settlers. On many occasions the common names mean little botanically but reflect species from unrelated plant families or with no close relatives among Australian flora. Let's take a classic example.
Red Cedar Toona ciliata is named after North American Western Red Cedar, or more correctly ‘Redcedar’ Thuja plicata of innumerable window frames and architraves. Our native version isn't even a conifer let alone a member of family Cupressaceae. T. ciliata, surprisingly, is actually in the Mahogany family Meliaceae and of course it's a hardwood.
From here we could move the article on to the various trees Australians call mahogany, with many examples, but what about our various ‘oaks’ such as Tasmanian ‘Tassie’ Oak, Silky Oak, Northern Silky Oak and the various ‘sheoaks’ ‘she oaks’ and ‘bull oaks’.
The term ‘Tassie oak’ generally embraces three species of Eucalyptus – E. regnans, E. obliqua and E. delegatensis all of which have hard, light coloured timbers in shades within oak's range, though they rarely show the classic feature of true Northern Hemisphere oak of the genus Quercus – that of medullary rays.
If you are unsure what a medullary ray is have a look at any oak furniture you may have. Or failing that, next time you are on a bushwalk and a Black Sheoak or Forest Oak has been blown down across a trail (a common event) and sawn up, look closely at the cut ends. The picture below is of just such a tree and you can clearly see striking, curvilinear radial streaks that cut across the concentric growth ring pattern. For the living tree these carried out a function of conducting water across the grain, but they also mature to an attractive and sought after feature of polished timber in cabinet making and wood turning.
As well as in members of family Casuarinaceae, medullary rays are typically also found in Proteaceae species, notably of course Silky Oak Grevillea robusta and Northern Silky Oak Cardwellia sublimis. We are perhaps lucky that the numerous beautiful plants of this family do not generally grow to timber size except to provide an occasional rare source for specialist ornate inlays and veneers.
You may own items of true oak furniture, or you may visit a pub, restaurant or antique shop or watch Antiques Roadshow, featuring traditional-style oak furniture, and see the rays expressed as graceful, wavy, lenticular patterns. But our very own silky oaks and sheoaks show these beautifully and have also been widely used historically, turning up in such settings as traditional church pews and well-crafted furniture and inlays. And although darker than real oak, you'll spot them immediately from their medullary flecks and patterns.
Alternative insight into the naming of tree species by John Martyn
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STEP has been giving a Young Scientist prize at the annual awards every year since 2001. During this period the event has grown and grown, now with prizes totaling more than $30,000.00. All school years are covered, from K to year 12, and it was delightful to see some of the younger winners bouncing up onto the stage, and to learn how serious their projects were.
One highlight for us was the ongoing success of past two-times STEP winner Jade Moxey, now a Young Scientist ‘insider’ and a member of the stage party this year. She's also now a first year science student at Canberra Uni.
STEP gets to judge a selection of the order of six to eight entries picked by the board from the environmental side of the science projects. These usually cover a range of topics, but plastic bags and plastic pollution figured prominently this year. There were also bushland related ones, which for the past two years have featured Lake Parramatta Reserve, that precious little surviving enclave of sandstone flora that just happens to have several schools nearby. This year these schools generated a project on cicadas and another based on Powerful Owl sightings.
While STEP naturally welcomes the bushland projects, neither of this year's entries was a leader and our judgment favoured a neat little one on microplastic pollution of beach sand by a year 6 student. She is Beatrix Farley, from Castle Cove Public School, and the systematic nature of her collecting and observations, taken from beaches south of Sydney to as far north as Cape York Peninsula, plus her excellent presentation, won the day. Her results were to some degree counterintuitive too, the most polluted sands being collected from remote Cape York beaches, in her view related to the impact on that coastline of the South Equatorial Current. Her entry won her three other prizes and she was featured on stage as one of a small group of ‘primary scientists’.
There were, I feel, some minor downsides affecting our entries. Some written presentations were below par in being too long-winded, convoluted and slow to get to the point. One of the bushland related entries was peppered with spelling mistakes that could have easily been corrected by any spell checker. Such flaws will naturally cast a shadow over an otherwise well thought out project.
Following the serious power blackouts that occurred in South Australia and near misses in other states, gas-fired power stations have…Read More
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This year 2749 children participated in the Children’s Threatened Species Art Competition. There were 2397 entries and over 100 schools and programs got involved. The organisers were delighted by the quality of the children's work, their concern for our threatened species, and their desire to make a difference.
The student's challenge is to research and create an artwork on one of the over 1000 threatened species in NSW and the ACT. The finalists’ works can be viewed on Facebook.
The image above expresses the encroaching development on the natural world says it so well for the regent honeyeater. Oscar 11 says:
I was inspired to paint the Regent Honeyeater because I like its bright yellow colours. I have painted it on the last tree in the city. The Regent Honeyeater has been badly affected by land-clearing and is endangered in NSW. At my school we have planted trees for habitat for native small birds.
I noticed that many schools are taking steps like this one to protect habitat for native species. Well done brilliant children and their teachers!
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In 2018 STEP celebrated our 40th year of activity with a party at Lane Cove National Park and the publication of a history book written by Graeme Aplin. It was a delightful occasion catching up with several longstanding members such as past presidents Helen Petersen, Yvonne Langshaw, John Burke, Bruno Krockenberger and Barry Tomkinson.
At last year’s AGM an updated version of our constitution was approved. Basically our objectives remain unchanged but have been broadened to acknowledge that we cover more that the Ku-ring-gai area. In brief our objectives are to work for the conservation and proper management of bushland in northern Sydney, to promote participation of members via walks and talks and to promote environmental education.
This annual report gives a brief summary of our activities over the past year.
With so much development happening in Sydney and other threats to the environment throughout the state of NSW it has been another busy year for the committee in preparing submissions. We have also been very active in our other fields such as education and local walks with some other initiatives described in this report.
I pay tribute to the work of STEP’s committee members who are always willing to take the time to respond to issues as they arise and to implement new ideas.
I also thank some other individuals who have helped with our work, in particular Beverley Gwatkin for her organisation and communication skills, Peter Clarke for leading walks and Gaye Braiding for helping judge the Young Scientist Award.
Individuals who can offer their expertise and time to help with some aspect of our work are very welcome to let us know by contacting a member of the committee.
This year John Martyn has completed another book, called Rocks and Trees. It is beautiful photographic journey through the rich and varied geology, scenery and flora of the Sydney region. It has been well received in all areas where John has had the opportunity to demonstrate the book.
Our other publications continue to sell well.
Our operations incurred a small deficit over the year but we remain in a sound financial position. Membership has remained steady.
We appreciate the pro bono work done by Allan Donald, Chartered Accountant, who completed the audit of STEP’s financial statements.
Environment Protection Fund
We have maintained the Environment Protection Fund which provides deductible gift recipient status for donations that support STEP’s environmental objectives. We received a total of $65 in donations in the past financial year.
We decided this year to direct some of the fund’s assets towards an annual grant to support student research in an area relating to the conservation of bushland. The inaugural John Martyn Research Grant was awarded to a PhD student studying the adaptive capacity of various acacia species to climate change.
Helen Wortham has continued her brilliant job of keeping the website up-to-date and functioning as well as managing the email system by sending regular updates to members and compilation of the newsletter email and web page. The newsletter is now in an attractive and easy to use format so that individual stories can be selected or the whole newsletter can be downloaded.
Trish Lynch and John Burke continue to alert readers to current issues and events through Facebook and Twitter.
We support the Young Scientist Awards run by the NSW Science Teachers’ Association with a prize in the environmental sustainability category. The winner of the STEP prize this year studied the levels of microplastics on Australian beaches.
We also supported the Children’s Threatened Species Art Competition. The primary school children produced some fabulous paintings that can be seen on the competition’s Facebook page.
Our talks covered a wide range of topics in terms of the subjects and time scale. They included topics of Sydney’s urban ecology, threatened species in Ku-ring-gai, and the Great Extinction event 252 million years ago. Teresa James helped launch John Martyn’s book with a talk on the plant communities of the Sydney Basin.
Several of our walks also had a geological focus at Long Reef and Munmorah plus we explored the wildflowers in local national parks and organised a guided Aboriginal Heritage walk.
We also started a series of local walks to be held every couple of months aimed at introducing the public to the experience our local bushland. We thank John Martyn and Peter Clarke for organising and leading walks this past year. If you have a request for a walk please let us know.
Our newsletter, STEP Matters, is our main means of communicating events, our activities and current issues. We also include other articles with an environmental angle that will be of interest to members. The newsletter is also sent to local councillors and politicians. We welcome alerts from our members of local events and developments and, of course, feedback on articles is always welcome.
Powerful Owl Coalition
In response to the continuing adverse impacts on our native wildlife and their habitat STEP has joined with other local groups to establish the Powerful Owl Coalition. We have produced a brochure for the general public and a detailed position paper aimed at educating various professions and agencies whose work and policies impact on Powerful Owl habitat on how to enhance this habitat. Of course the preservation of this habitat happens to be a core objective of STEP’s work. We hope to expand the coalition to include community groups in all areas where the owls live.
The main local issues of concern that have occupied our attention have been the night lighting of the Canoon Road netball courts, illegal mountain bike activity and the Mirvac development proposals next to Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills.
At the state level the government continues their poor environment record with more decisions such as protection of feral horses in Koscuiszko National Park and potential flooding of the World Heritage Blue Mountains by raising the Warragamba Dam wall. This is on top of the habitat loss from the relaxation of land clearing laws that is now starting to become apparent.
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The Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, was asked by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to undertake an independent review…Read More
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In the early days of settlement in NSW development decision-making took little heed of its impact on the environment, the…Read More
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It has been a long drawn out process to develop a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA). In…Read More
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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. Click here for more information and to register.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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’.
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.