- Mark Diesendorf, UNSW Australia Can Australians be sustainable and enjoy endless economic growth? It’s not likely.Read More
- The report on the review of the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice was released in August. The NSW Government…Read More
- Allan Dale Professor in Tropical Regional Development, The Cairns Institute James Cook Universiity. Originally published on The Conversation. Read the…Read More
- The Australian Government is reviewing the tax deductibility status of donations to environment organisations and is in the process of…Read More
- From Washington Post 29 June 2015Read More
- The Sydney Institute of Marine Science, located in a historic sandstone quarry on the Chowder Bay foreshore, has opened a…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Council has received considerable flak over a decision to close an unauthorised mountain bike track down a steep hill…Read More
- Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Stop the Chop alliance have revealed that the NSW Government ignored expert…Read More
- The efficacy of offsets depends on a strict set of rules and long-term consistency of application. The first article ponders…Read More
- Under the United Nation's climate change agreement Australia’s current greenhouse gas emissions reduction task is to reduce its emissions by…Read More
- This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.Read More
- Participants in Clean Up Australia Day once again noticed the massive extent of littering and rubbish dumping from vehicles. The…Read More
- The residents of Malton Road and the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust have been working for many months to try and…Read More
- This article was written by former president of STEP, Barry Tomkinson, who has had a close involvement with the Berowra…Read More
- The release of the 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR) by the Treasurer Joe Hockey brings nothing new to raise hopes that…Read More
- This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.Read More
- Just before Christmas, NSW Premier, Mike Baird, and the Environment Minister, Rob Stokes, announced that the Government favoured the introduction…Read More
- The NSW Government has been reforming the legislation governing the operation of local government under the catchy title of Fit…Read More
- On 4 May 2016, the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment tabled a report on its inquiry into the Register…Read More
- The NSW government has been undertaking a major review of the biodiversity legislation in response to farmers’ complaints about the…Read More
- The previous issue of STEP Matters 185 described the risks to Sydney’s water catchment in the Illawarra region from longwall…Read More
- Good news, a container deposit scheme is going to happen. The NSW Premier announced on 8 May that a scheme…Read More
- STEP welcomes new members of the committee and other members who would like to contribute to our work in some…Read More
- Two weeks before the Federal election with Warragamba Dam threatening to spill due to severe storms, the Baird government committed…Read More
- There is surprisingly little information that describes, interprets and records heathlands and its ecology in Australia. However, Nick de Jong’s…Read More
- Well the July election is done and dusted and the Liberal–National Coalition just scraped in. Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s previous statements…Read More
- In November the Turnbull Government ratified Australia’s commitment to comply with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Australia has set…Read More
- There has been a flurry of legislative action and announcements during the final months of the year following varying periods…Read More
- Have you ever enjoyed the cool refuge that an underground cave offers from a hot summer’s day? Or perhaps you…Read More
- The geology of the Sydney Basin changes dramatically at the top of the Hawkesbury Sandstone, which is followed upwards ultimately…Read More
- Following the serious power blackouts that occurred in South Australia and near misses in other states, gas-fired power stations have…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Council has commissioned a report on developing the tourism potential of the municipality. Ku-ring-gai Destination Management Plan 2017 to…Read More
- In May the NSW government released regulations and codes that provide some of the detail on how the biodiversity legislation…Read More
- Over the past 200 years NSW has lost almost half of its bushland through land clearing and only 9% of…Read More
- Lord Howe Island is a magnificent island about 600 km off the coast of NSW. Its unique landform as an…Read More
- Our economy and society ultimately depend on natural resources: land, water, material (such as metals) and energy. But some scientists…Read More
- Male superb fairy-wrens change colour every year, from dull brown to bright blue. But being blue may be risky if…Read More
- The Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, was asked by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to undertake an independent review…Read More
- STEP’s public fund, the Environment Protection Fund, is registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) via the Register of Environmental…Read More
- The NSW government thinks that raising the spillway wall of Warragamba Dam by 14 m will significantly reduce the risk…Read More
- In the early days of settlement in NSW development decision-making took little heed of its impact on the environment, the…Read More
- Over the past century, average land surface temperatures have risen by almost 1°C across the Australian continent. Models suggest this…Read More
- Please consider sending a submission opposing Mirvac's rezoning and development proposal for land adjoining Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant…Read More
- The Plan of Management of the Canoon Netball Complex was amended in 2015. It involved improvements to landscaping and changing…Read More
- It seems a long time ago when the NSW public were fighting an attempt in 2013 by the Shooters and…Read More
- Northern Beaches Council is currently considering a development application that has been submitted to build 95 seniors housing units, three…Read More
- The Australian government has a framework of strategies and programs for the management of biodiversity. According to the Department of…Read More
- In the last newsletter we highlighted the loss of tree canopy in Hornsby Shire and illustrated the abrupt decrease in…Read More
- Did you know that your morning cup of coffee contributes to six million tonnes of spent coffee grounds going to…Read More
- Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the mechanism by which the states are permitted to log native forest under accreditation from…Read More
- Australia’s rate of species decline continues to be among the world’s highest. Government decisions to promote population growth and resource…Read More
- It has been a long drawn out process to develop a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA). In…Read More
- We are delighted to announce that Katie Rolls (Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University) is the winner of…Read More
- The Powerful Owl is a keystone species of bushland in eastern Australia. The survival of the current population of this…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Council is currently undertaking a review of policy for managing recreation in bushland areas. This will cover the way…Read More
- Just months after the hard fight to get tree protections strengthened in Hornsby, council is trying to water down those…Read More
- The South Dural proposal for rezoning and development of rural land has fallen through thanks in no small part to…Read More
- The NSW government has finalised the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code and Design Guide that were the subject of…Read More
- With the recent introduction of the Biosecurity Act, there is now more emphasis to think about our action in terms…Read More
- STEP member, Beverley Gwatkin, came up with the great idea of conducting walks for people unfamiliar with the amazing features…Read More
- What if Australia were to stop farming? At approximately 3% of gross domestic product, the removal of agriculture from the…Read More
- There are many books on the environment, as you will see if you scan the shelves of bookshops like Kinokuniya,…Read More
- The amount of development along Epping Road is astronomical. Sure, this development is near the Chatswood to Epping train line…Read More
- It is estimated that there are fewer than 21,000 koalas left in NSW. The population may have reduced by more…Read More
- Australia’s total population grew by 390,000 over the year to 30 June 2018. In August 2018 Australia’s population hit the…Read More
- In Issue 198 of STEP Matters we described the latest application by the Hills Council through the Gateway Process to…Read More
- It may not look like a pristine expanse of Amazon rainforest or an African savannah, but the patch of bush…Read More
- The rainforest corridors along the gullies of northern Sydney have been called by many names as ecologists try to describe…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai has a rich environmental history. Some even consider it to be the birthplace of the Australian conservation movement because…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is part of a geographic, geologic and eucalyptus sandstone bushland arc that encircles Sydney. This 12,963 hectare…Read More
- The early European history of the area that became Lane Cove National Park could be said to stem from an…Read More
- Berowra Valley bushland stretches from south of The Lakes of Cherrybrook to the Hawkesbury River. The valley has a long…Read More
- The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee, established under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, has made a Final Determination to list…Read More
- The final deadline was set at 31 May for submissions on the Hills Council’s applications to the NSW government to…Read More
- The transport sector is Australia’s second fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions and yet we still don’t have any…Read More
- In May 2019 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its global assessment of the state…Read More
- The Office of Environment and Heritage has alerted the Hills Council to the fact that the presence of Blue Gum…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is one of the most popular national parks in NSW, with over 3 million visits each year.…Read More
- On 25 May the Friends of Lane Cove National Park put on a special celebration. They were founded in 1994…Read More
- River red gums, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, are among the most iconic of Australia’s eucalypts. They are the most widely distributed of…Read More
Members of the Lane Cove Bushland and Conservation Society and the Lane Cove community have been saddened by the death in September of Doug Stuart. Doug was a tireless advocate for the natural and built environment of Lane Cove and further afield. His first venture into bushland protection was prompted by news in 1970 that the local golf course wanted to double its size by annexing bushland, some of it at the bottom of his garden. Community anger at the potential harm to local flora and fauna prompted a public meeting and the foundation of the Lane Cove Bushland and Conservation Society in March 1971. Stuart was a founding executive member and, with his wife Norma, has been a driving force behind the society serving as president (10 years) and secretary (12 years).
In the summer of 1971 to 72, Stuart organised a large team of volunteers to survey the state of all Lane Cove’s bushland to identify sites suitable for regeneration. He drew maps of each site and collated ownership details. He gave the document to council who responded to the call to maintain and protect it. In 1998, he helped found RASAD, a community group advocating for appropriate development in the Lane Cove village. Doug’s profession as an architect enabled close analysis of development proposals.
His philosophy was that development should complement and improve the local built environment, sit easily in the natural world and provide real public benefit. RASAD spoke out against a series of inappropriate proposals, demanded change in others and refused to accept developers’ proposals that would have turned Lane Cove’s art deco village into concrete and steel.
Ku-ring-gai Council is soon to decide whether to install synthetic turf at Mimosa Oval in Turramurra.
STEP is opposed to the use of synthetic turf for a number of environmental reasons (click here for a copy of our submission to council). These are accentuated by the location of Mimosa Park being surrounded by bushland, most of which is a biobanking site. These reasons include:
- During heavy rain additional water run-off is generated because the synthetic surface does not absorb water.
- Chemicals may leach from the synthetic turf and the breakdown of the plastics and rubber may pollute surrounding areas.
- Natural grass acts as a carbon sink but requires mowing and fertilizer use. On the other hand, synthetic turf is made from petrochemical materials, so the manufacturing process involves energy use.
- Synthetic turf requires ongoing cleaning and has a limited life so will need to be disposed of and replaced after 8 to 10 years depending on the level of use.
- Synthetic turf has a significantly higher surface temperature than natural grass making it impossible to use the field in hot weather, even only as high as 30°C.
- The synthetic turf surface will lead to compaction of the soil underneath and the loss of the microorganisms and insects that normally live in grassed areas.
- Natural grass fields provide a food source for birds such as magpies, lapwings and cockatoos. The reduction in foraging areas for these birds will have impacts further up the food chain. Top predators, such as the Powerful Owl, will lose a foraging opportunity.
Apart from the environmental issues the installation of synthetic turf at Mimosa is being opposed strongly by the local community that will lose use of the oval as a general recreation area. Its current use for cricket will not be possible. Kissing Point Cricket Club will have to find another venue for its matches. If natural grass is maintained soccer can still be played in the winter as well as cricket.
Mimosa Oval is part of Rofe Park that was gifted by the Rofe family:
Upon trust for the public as a public park and reserve for the preservation of natural fauna and flora.
The proposed use solely as a soccer field will mean it will no longer be a public park.
Council originally considered installing synthetic turf at Norman Griffiths Oval. From the soccer club’s point of view this has the major advantage that the field would be right next to their clubhouse. It appears that Norman Griffiths will still be used for soccer matches as there is a shortage of suitable fields.
Norman Griffiths Oval was rejected on the grounds of difficulty and expense of the works needed to control heavy rain run-off. The Mimosa plan will save about $1 million. Council now proposes to use the money saved to upgrade Norman Griffiths as well as installing the synthetic turf at Mimosa. It is not clear if the upgrade plan includes the installation of better fencing around the Norman Griffiths Oval to prevent people shimmying down the slopes around the oval. This work is essential in any case because these areas contain a special range of plants including orchids.
To cater for the cricketers who used to play at Mimosa Oval, council is proposing to install a concrete cricket pitch at Norman Griffiths. It is not clear what effect this will have on its use as a soccer field.
In the last issue of STEP Matters we reported good news that, in April 2019, the Land and Environment Court had upheld a decision by Northern Beaches Council and the North Planning Panel to refuse a seniors housing development on Bayview Golf Course. Unfortunately the Golf Club in association with developer Waterbrook has now re-submitted plans to the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment for a similar development consisting of seven large buildings, with three storey apartments over 5 acres of historical open space land.
The Golf Club wants to clear the last remaining area of remnant forest left on the golf course. This will further impact significantly the already fragile ecosystem within this important wildlife corridor that is home to nine threatened fauna species. It is habitat to a family of Powerful Owls and their creek line roosting area is very close to the development site. They also want to raise the level of the flood affected portion of their land, which is a designated wetland area for many bird species.
The community is concerned that if this application is approved it will create a significant precedent for Bayview and the whole of the Northern Beaches area. If seniors three storey apartments can be built in the middle of a high priority wildlife corridor, and that is not considered 'environmentally sensitive', nor worthy of protection, then we can expect similar large-scale seniors living complexes to be built on any wildlife habitat or ecologically sensitive land across the Northern Beaches.
Click here to sign a petition organised by the Bayview residents community group and here for more information.
There is a parcel of land at the end of Chestnut Road, Mt Colah that has been privately owned for years. It is just below a playing field that was built on a former landfill site. Pollutants have been leaching out of the tip into the creek below. Nevertheless, the land has some high quality bushland and borders on Berowra Valley National Park.
The landowner submitted a subdivision plan for the land that would have created 49 housing lots on the 4.4 ha sloping site. The process has been ongoing since 2017 as Hornsby Council has requested further documentation and an EPA investigation was required of gas from the former landfill site.
Hornsby Council recommended refusal mainly on the grounds that most trees would be cleared, and major landform modifications would be required. Over 100 objections have been submitted by local residents on the grounds of site contamination, overdevelopment, traffic, parking and safety impacts, tree loss, flora and fauna impacts, acoustic impacts and unacceptable impacts on the catchment of the Berowra Valley National Park.
In October the DA went before the Local Planning Panel. It is a great relief that the Panel unanimously decided on rejection because the proposal did not comply with many principles of the urban bushland policies and the Hornsby Development Control Plan.
What happens next is not clear. Could some or all of the land be added to Berowra Valley National Park?
As this is being written in late-August, Sydney is enjoying another near cloudless day. There’s been no rain for weeks and none is forecast. Rainfall at the observatory has been 3.2 mm for the month so far.
This is not unusual for August. August 2018s total was 7.8 mm; 2017s 24.2 mm. But it can be very variable; 2014s was 215 mm. Sydney’s record daily rainfall was on 6 August 1986 – 328 mm with a total of 448 mm with the inclusion of the day before and the day after.
It has been dry and the dams are about 50% full and falling rapidly. As a result the desal plant at Kurnell is in operation to provide about 15% of Sydney’s water. Consequently our water bills are being increased from $2.11 to $2.24 per kL on 1 October.
Desal means desalination; i.e. the process of converting sea (saline) water to drinking water by the removal of salt. This is done by a process of filtration (reverse osmosis) but requires the water to be subject to massive pressure. It is very expensive in terms of energy consumption.
Brisbane (Gold Coast), Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide all got their desal plants as a result of the millennial drought in the early years of this century. They are only operated fully in drought periods – but see our update on Adelaide.
The Melbourne operation is quite marginal as the plant is located near Wonthaggi south-east of Melbourne not far from Phillip Island. It was impossible to locate it on Port Phillip Bay as water circulation in the bay is too low. So an 85 km pipeline had to be built as well and this of course gives rise to extra energy for pumping.
What about Perth you ask? This is the standout situation as this city depends on desal for about 40% of its supply year on year. Only about 10% comes from the dams in the Darling Ranges near Perth as most of this water is piped to the Eastern Goldfields (Kalgoorlie). One suspects that much of it is used by the gold mines.
The remainder is supplied by groundwater and recycling. The groundwater in future might become saline in which case it will be subject to desal too. This is also an issue in outback NSW.
The environmental impact of desal in Perth is somewhat mitigated by the use of natural gas to generate electricity.
Do Perth residents pay more than Sydney residents given that their water costs more to provide? The answer appears to be yes but it is not as simple as it might be. Perth has a sliding scale of charges. Like Sydney there is quarterly billing but the Perth charge depends on one’s annual consumption and can cost up to $4.442 per kL.
Sydney Water claims that its desal power is provided in an environmentally friendly way in that they have a contract with the 67 turbine Capital Hill Wind Farm, near Canberra.
This is a furphy. When the desal plant isn’t operating the wind farm feeds the NSW power grid. So when it is operating this feed is reduced and we have more reliance on gas and coal so increasing greenhouse gas emissions over what they otherwise would be.
A contrary view might be reasonable if we knew the pricing/contractual arrangements between Sydney Water and Infigen Energy, the owner of the Capital Hill Wind Farm. It may be that the farm would not have been developed without the desal requirement or not developed to the same extent.
Here are some excerpts from an article entitled A Water-stressed World Turns to Desalination.
The first large-scale desal plants were built in the 1960s, and there are now some 20,000 facilities globally that turn sea water into fresh. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with very little fresh water and cheap energy costs for the fossil fuels it uses in its desal plants, produces the most fresh water of any nation, a fifth of the world’s total.
Israel, too, is all in on desalination. It has five large plants in operation and plans for five more. Chronic water shortages there are now a thing of the past, as more than half of the country’s domestic needs are met with water from the Mediterranean.
Ecological impacts: It takes two gallons of sea water to make a gallon of fresh water, which means the gallon left behind is briny. It is disposed of by returning it to the ocean and - if not done properly by diffusing it over large areas – can deplete the ocean of oxygen and have negative impacts on sea life.
Another problem comes from the sucking in of sea water for processing. When a fish or other large organism gets stuck on the intake screen, it dies or is injured; in addition, fish larvae, eggs, and plankton get sucked into the system and are killed.
Contributed by Jim Wells
In another example of policy on the run like Snowy 2.0, PM Scott Morrison announced a drought relief package in early November. This includes a deal to crank up Adelaide’s desal plant in order to provide water for farmers to grow fodder for livestock.
Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia in an article in The Conversation points out that this is not such a brilliant idea.
The plan involves the federal government paying the South Australian government up to $100 million to produce more water for Adelaide using the little-used desalination plant. Adelaide has continued to mostly draw water from local reservoirs and the River Murray, which on average has supplied about half the city’s water (sometimes much more).
But with federal funding, the desal plant will be turned on full bore. This will free up 100 GL of water from the Murray River allocated to Adelaide for use by farmers upstream in the Murray Darling’s southern basin.
The federal government expects the water to be used to grow an extra 120,000 tonne of fodder for livestock. The water will be sold to farmers at a discount rate of $100 per ML. That’s 10 cents per 1,000 litre.
The production cost of desalinated water is about 95 cents per 1,000 litres, according to a cost-benefit study published by the SA Department of Environment and Water in 2016. That means the total cost for the 100 GL will be about $95 million. So the federal government is effectively paying $95 million to sell water for $10 million: a loss to taxpayers of $85 million.
The discounted water provided to individual farmers will be capped at no more than 25 ML. The farmers must agree to not sell the water to others and to use it to grow fodder for livestock.
The amount of hay that can be grown with 1 ML of irrigation water depends on many things, but 120,000 tonne with 100 GL is possible in the right conditions. In the Murray-Darling southern basin lucerne hay currently sells for $450 to $600 a tonne. That would make the market value of 120,000 tonne of lucerne $54 to $72 million.
It means, on a best-case scenario, the federal government will be spending $85 million to subsidise the production of hay worth $72 million to its producers. One question is how will the government distinguish between the fodder grown with the megalitres provided at low cost and any other fodder harvested on the same farm that has been grown from rainfall or other irrigation water? How much will it cost to monitor and enforce such arrangements?
It seems a long way from the type of national drought policy Australia needs. It’s hard to see how a policy of this kind does anything other than waste a large amount of public money and disrupt important market mechanisms in agriculture in the process.
Contributed by Jill Green
The article explains that the Snowy 2.0 project will be a financial disaster and that the project will also cause huge environmental damage. The National Parks Association has published a damning report on the project.
The federal government’s much-vaunted Snowy Hydro expansion is supposed to smooth out the bumps in electricity supply as Australia transitions to renewables. But not only is the project a bad deal for taxpayers, our analysis suggests it will deliver a fraction of the energy benefits promised.
Fossil-fuel power generators store coal or gas at the point of production. This means electricity can mostly be created on demand when homes and businesses need it. Renewable energy cannot do this. If wind or sun is not abundant, solar panels and wind turbines may not produce enough electricity to meet demand. At other times they might produce more than required.
The Snowy 2.0 project is supposed to provide a solution to this problem - storing renewable energy for when it is needed.
The project’s cost and time estimates have blown out massively. It would now be surprising if Snowy 2.0, including the transmission upgrades it relies on, comes in at less than A$10 billion or is finished before 2027.
But there is another serious problem. Our analysis has revealed that of the extra pumped hydro capacity promised by the project, less than half can be delivered. There is now overwhelming evidence the project should be put on hold.
The problems we know about: cost and time blowouts
The list of possible alternatives to Snowy 2.0 is long. Aside from other pumped hydro projects, it includes chemical batteries, encouraging demand to follow supply, gas or diesel generators, and re-orienting renewable generators to capture the wind or sun when it is less plentiful.
But despite this plethora of options, the federal government announced the Snowy 2.0 project without a market assessment, cost-benefit analysis or indeed even a feasibility study.
When former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the expansion project in March 2017 he said it would cost A$2 billion and be commissioned by 2021. This was revised upwards several times and in April this year, a A$5.1 billion contract for partial construction was awarded. This excludes the costs of transmission and other considerable expenses.
The main contractor says the project will take eight years to build - bringing us to 2027 before the full scheme is completed. We will happily wager that more delays and cost increases will be announced.
Snowy Hydro has not costed the transmission upgrades upon which the project depends. TransGrid, owner of the grid in New South Wales, has identified options including extensions to Sydney with indicative costs up to A$1.9 billion. Massive extensions south to Melbourne will also be required.
Snowy Hydro contends it should not pay for the new transmission lines because the benefits would flow to the entire grid, not just its venture. In other words Snowy Hydro argues, conveniently, that we should count the benefits but ignore the costs when thinking about their project.
The numbers simply do not add up
The Snowy 2.0 project grandly claims it could generate at its full 2,000 megawatt capacity for 175 hours - or about a week. This capacity can also be expressed as 350 gigawatt hours (GWh).
Energy Minister Angus Taylor has talked up the project’s superiority to smaller-capacity alternatives such as batteries.
But the maximum additional pumped hydro capacity Snowy 2.0 can create, in theory, is less than half this. The reasons are technical, but worth taking the time to understand.
The figure below outlines the main physical features that define Snowy 2.0. It includes four dams: Tantangara, Talbingo, Jounama and Blowering. For simplicity, we have numbered these from 1-4 in the following explanation.
When Snowy 2.0 generates electricity, water will be released from Dam 1 at the top of the system. It will flow through a long tunnel to the smaller Dam 2. The flow of water drives turbines which generate energy. When the turbines are reversed, the water is pumped back to the top to continue the cycle.
For Snowy 2.0 to produce the 350 GWh of electricity claimed, the top dam must be full and all that water released through the system. But replenishing the top dam after this event would take many months of pumping water from elsewhere in the system, and use up 40% more electricity than was originally generated. So the 350 GWh would never be achieved because it is extremely inefficient and inflexible.
In reality, the pumped hydro capacity of Snowy 2.0 is defined by the amount of water that the smaller Dam 2 can hold. If the scheme was a closed system, with no other water flowing in or out, it could produce around 230 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity.
But the system does not exist in isolation. Part of the existing Snowy Hydro scheme, known as Tumut 3, also uses Dam 2. It creates pumped hydro electricity by cycling water between that dam and the even smaller Dam 3 below it.
For Snowy 2.0 to operate at full cyclical capacity, Dam 2 must be empty to receive the water. That would entail emptying Dam 2 into the smaller Dam 3 and from there to Dam 4 at the bottom of the system. This water could not be used again to generate electricity. This “lost” water would have generated 60 GWh worth of electricity in the Tumut 3 scheme.
This means that as a cyclical pumped hydro system, Snowy 2.0 does not add 230 GWh of capacity. When you subtract the 60 GWh from the 230 GWh, Snowy 2.0 adds just 170 GWh of recyclable pumped hydro. This is less than half the claimed storage capacity.
And this is the maximum cyclical capacity in theory only. Snowy 2.0 would never produce continuously for the time needed to generate and then pump 230 GWh because it would never be economically viable to run it this way.
In practice if Snowy 2.0’s lower dam is operated in future as it is now – almost always close to full – the cycling capacity of Snowy 2.0 may be as low as 40 GWh – around one tenth of the promised number.
What does all this mean?
These facts put Snowy 2.0 in a completely different light. There are many competing alternatives that can provide storage far more flexibly for a fraction of Snowy 2.0’s price tag. These alternatives would also have far fewer environmental impacts or development risks, in most cases none of the transmission costs and could be built much more quickly.
It is always difficult to press the pause button on a major project once it has begun. But the evidence for doing this is overwhelming. In pursuit of the public interest, the federal government should put the project on hold and ask a reputable investment bank to publicly advise, perhaps through the Productivity Commission, what Snowy 2.0 would be worth if built.
A credible independent valuation would establish with some confidence how deeply Snowy Hydro will have its hands in the public’s pockets. A panel of independent experts should then be asked to publicly advise whether taxpayer money is needed to meet the demands of a renewables-dominated power system, and if so, the best way it should be spent.
Lithgow coal miners want job security. Environmentalists want protection for the Gardens of Stone region’s upland swamps, endangered wildlife and the spectacular but fragile pagoda rock formations. Lithgow needs a boost to its economy. Centennial Coal has to pay millions as an ‘environmental offset’ for damage done to nationally significant and endangered upland swamps. They have identified the preferred swamp management program as reservation of the Gardens of Stone region. This is a no-brainer for a win-win situation.
The Colong Foundation, Blue Mountains Conservation Society and Lithgow Environment Group have launched a plan, called Destination Pagoda that will capitalise on this situation. The plan is to reserve the Gardens of Stone as a State Conservation Area to protect its pagodas and swamps. At the same time this designation will permit appropriate underground coal mining. New facilities will be created in the Lithgow area to develop tourism that will expand opportunities for visitors to experience the rock formations and aboriginal heritage of the area.
The plan will require a modest investment that will establish professional conservation management, improve access roads, develop visitor facilities, restore degraded areas, encourage visitors, support local enterprises and protect important values. The cost can be funded from Centennial Coal’s swamp offset funds of up to $14 million currently; mining company management of some roads and pest species, transfer of state forest expenditures to NPWS and Commonwealth and NSW government funds.
Getting the plan up has required much discussion. The process for getting a dialogue happening was facilitated by visits to Lithgow by unionists from the Combined Retired Union Members Association. Now the need is to get government support.
Events such as a bush dance in Lithgow on Saturday 23 November 2019 are being held to build the momentum of support for the plan.
Letters to the local MP for Bathurst, Paul O’Toole will help.
For more details go to www.gardensofstone.org.au.
National park land
At the Nature Conservation Council annual conference Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean was positive in his support for some of the environment objectives of the member groups. We just hope that he can have enough authority in cabinet. He wants to increase the land in national parks by 200,000 ha and has funding to do this. Already 64,000 ha has been added with most of it in north-west NSW near Broken Hill. He recently announced that Radiata Plateau will be purchased for addition to the Blue Mountains National Park. This is a major win for the Blue Mountains Conservation Society that has been lobbying for this addition for years. There has been virtually no declaration of new national park land since 2011 under the previous Liberal environment ministers.
He suggested we approach our local MPs or councils to nominate suitable pieces of land in our local areas to be added to the portfolio of protected lands. He indicated that unprotected land in Byles Creek Valley should be on the list.
Bush fires and climate change action
At the NCC conference Matt Kean stated that he wanted NSW to lead the nation in achieving the goal of zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 and he would be setting interim targets. There was no detail on the policies that would aim to achieve these targets but the time available for his speech was short. The adoption of this policy could be problematic with the current refusal by the Deputy Premier, John Barilaro to talk about climate change while the bushfires are burning. Surely this is the appropriate time.
Coal mine refusals
In a landmark decision in September the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) knocked back an application by Kepco Ltd for a new coal mine in the Bylong Valley. The IPC is the statutory agency responsible for making arm's-length decisions on state-significant development.
The IPC based its refusal on environmental impacts other than climate change, including impacts of the project on strategic agricultural land, groundwater and Aboriginal cultural heritage. However, the IPC found the project's contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions was a factor that needed to be considered in its assessment, and placed weight on Kepco’s failure to propose any offset measures.
The IPC drew its decision on the principles established by the NSW Land and Environment Court in February regarding the assessment of cumulative greenhouse gas impacts in its decision concerning the Rocky Hill project near Gloucester. This project was for a new coking coal mine. The decision must be viewed in context, with the court stating it would have refused this particular mine anyway for other reasons, such as inconsistency with other land uses, amenity impacts (noise, dust), visual intrusion and social impacts of the mine. However the decision did state that the court had regard to, not only the direct emissions of the mining activities, but also the 'scope 3' indirect emissions, being the greenhouse gas emissions associated with third-party burning of the coal (which make up the vast majority of emissions associated with the coal).
Both these decisions have given great heart to people concerned about climate change and wanting to see Australia reducing its reliance on the coal mining industry.
Now we are shocked to learn that the NSW government is undertaking a snap review of the IPC saying that the reason for the review was another decision that didn’t follow due process. Terms of reference for the review, which will be overseen by NSW Productivity Commissioner Peter Achterstraat, include ‘whether it is in the public interest to maintain an Independent Planning Commission’, and whether changes should be made to the thresholds for referring matters to the IPC. The Minerals Council has launched a campaign against the IPC.
If the IPC is scrapped these decisions would be made by the planning minister and transparency would be lost. Submissions are now closed and the Productivity Commission’s report is due by mid-December.
The right to protest is being attacked at the state and federal level.
The NSW government has passed its Right to Farm Bill and it will come into force early 2020, it will almost quadruple the penalty for ‘aggravated unlawful entry on inclosed lands’ from $5,500 to $22,000 and add a three-year prison term for people who merely ‘hinder’ a business while trespassing. The government claims this law is needed to protect farmers from ‘dangerous’ protesters but this protection already exists. The way the bill is drafted it would have ramifications for all protests on ‘inclosed lands’ such as protests against coal seam gas projects and forest destruction.
Now Scott Morrison wants to get in on the act with a ridiculous suggestion that environment activists should be outlawed from lobbying against businesses that are providing services to the mining industry such as banks and insurers. He said the government is ‘working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices’.
The idea has been roundly condemned by human rights lawyers and business among others as unlawful as well impossible to implement. It is a threat to freedom of speech.
In this time when science is our main hope for combating climate change, it was so uplifting to attend the presentation of the Young Scientist Awards by the Science Teachers' Association of NSW in early November.
From the little kindergarten girl, who had done a maths project on blueberries, to high school student Angelina Arora and her work in cancer cells, the standard and range was inspiring, and it was such a delight to see each student's pride at being acknowledged.
Nine of the year 9 to 12 winners will be travelling to Anaheim, California, to represent Australia at the International Science and Engineering Fair. Two years ago, one of the NSW prize-winners carried off the top international award.
STEP is the only community environmental group that presents an award at this ceremony and this year it went to Suzanne Jones of Redeemer Baptist School for The Call of the Wild. She surveyed the abundancy and diversity of cicadas at Lake Parramatta Reserve from October 2018 to April 2019 and found 17 different species, including the ‘undescribed’ Ticking Ambertail Yoyetta!
Observation, questioning and experimenting are all part of building an interest in our natural world and these bright youngsters may make a huge difference to our understanding and our future. It was wonderful to see these talents recognised.
Article by Isolde Martyn
From January 2019 the National Herbarium of NSW has been closed while its collection of plant specimens is relocated from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney to a new purpose-built facility at Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan. While construction for the world-class innovation hub is underway, the 1.43 million herbarium plant specimens will also be transformed into high-resolution digital images. In 2021, digital images will be available for everyone around the world to access. It will help researchers make new discoveries to advance science and conservation and it assists in protecting this valuable collection.
The NSW and federal elections in 2019 had the unfortunate result of leaving us with business as usual. No policy decisions have been made to address climate change and the abuse of the environment continues unabated. As the drought becomes more serious the consequences of decisions to exploit forests and the Murray Darling Basin water supply are becoming increasingly apparent. For STEP it has also been business as usual. This annual report gives a brief summary of our activities over the past year. More details are in the issues of our newsletter, STEP Matters and on our website.
The STEP committee has always worked cohesively with everyone willing to contribute to the smooth running of the organisation. They frequently come up with new ideas that expand or enhance our activities. I thank them all for the great contribution that they make to STEP. We welcome some new members to the committee, Peter Clarke, Beverley Gwatkin and Jan Newby. They all bring particular skills and good knowledge of our local bushland.
John Martyn’s new book, Rocks and Trees continues to sell well especially in the Blue Mountains. However there is a decline in interest in our older books. For this reason we have decided to offer bulk package where all our books can be purchased in a bundle at a substantial discount. The demand for maps is steady as the interest in bushwalking seems to be increasing. A paper map has the advantage of providing the big picture.
Our operations incurred a very small deficit over the year but we remain in a sound financial position. The main activity has been sales of Rocks and Trees where John has been very active in visiting book shops showing the book. 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 (DGR) status for donations that support STEP’s environmental objectives. We received a total of $783 in donations in the past financial year. The donation process on our website has been simplified and there has been a good response! We had a strong response of applications for the John Martyn Research Grant which supports student research in an area relating to the conservation of bushland. This year the grant was awarded to an honours student at the University of NSW researching changes in soil characteristics in association with woodland regeneration.
The new email and newsletter system is being well received. It is a time-consuming process to put together its presentation with illustrations and the links to previous and related stories to each article. Peter Clarke is now helping Helen Wortham with this task but other volunteers are welcome. Trish Lynch and John Burke continue to alert readers to current issues and events through Facebook and Twitter. Readers are attracted to the terrific range of photos that show off our beautiful bushland.
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 undertook a phenological study of the population of cicadas at Lake Parramatta. 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 have had a local focus this year covering Ku-ring-gai Council’s program supporting bushfire awareness, the Lane Cove environment, native bees and our 2018 grant recipient’s project. At our AGM we like to have a speaker who is an expert on a subject with a broader focus. In 2018 we were lucky to hear the latest on climate change science from Professor Lesley Hughes. She has a great ability to give a clear perspective on this complex issue.
Peter Clarke has led a series of local walks of up to about 5 km aimed at introducing walkers to our local bush. His entertaining walks have been well received. John Martyn led walks with the usual special features. The spring wildflower show along the Centre Trail was as spectacular. Tall trees were the feature of the walks in the Watagans and Winmalee.
Our newsletter, STEP Matters, is emailed to members as a pdf. The email also contains a list of links to the stories in the latest issue so readers can select the items they want to read. The pdf is a permanent record of the newsletters as all issues are available on our website. We reached the milestone of the 200th issue in April. We commemorated this issue by publishing some stories about the heritage, both natural and cultural, of the bushland areas of northern Sydney written by local experts. We hope that the newsletter can keep members up to date on local environmental events and issues. The newsletter email has a wide circulation including local councillors and politicians. We welcome alerts from our members of local events and developments and, of course, article contributions and feedback on articles is always welcome.
Collaboration with other local groups
We are increasingly working with other local environment groups to research and make submissions on local developments that will have a detrimental effect on the environment. This applies to major issues like the Mirvac development next to the Cumberland State Forest, the threats to Sydney’s national parks from development within and bordering on the parks and the perennial issue of degradation and clearing of urban bushland. The cumulative impact of these developments is rarely assessed by government. We may be sharing information but collaboration does not extend as far as sending submissions. We know that governments and assessment authorities count a submission from one person almost equally with one from a group representing a large number of people. However they do pay attention to submissions that have individual content and detailed arguments. STEP is a member of the Powerful Owl Coalition that is now supported by about seven local environment groups in northern Sydney as well as the Powerful Owl Project run by Birdlife Australia. We have been sending copies of the detailed position paper to local governments and organisations whose work influences the owl’s habitat. We would like to cover more than just northern Sydney as we know they are out there in other bushland areas of Sydney.
Once again there has been plenty of local issues to attract our attention. The Mirvac development proposals have had to be modified but it is still not clear how the large area of bushland, including Blue Gum High Forest, will be managed. Byles Creek Valley continues to be unprotected from subdivision and massive clearing. The push for use of synthetic turf on playing fields has become a controversial issue. At the state level the government there is hope that the new Environment and Energy Minister, Member for Hornsby, Matt Kean will be able to declare new national park land acquisitions.
You may be wondering what happened on 12 November, the evening of STEP’s AGM.
Owing to temperatures in the 30s, low humidity and high winds the government declared a catastrophic fire risk, a first time for Sydney. Late in the afternoon a fire broke out near Canoon Road.
After much discussion and viewing of live coverage on TV we decided to proceed with the AGM. However our speaker Culum Brown was told by police to stay at home. In the end the fire was out but only seven people turned up. It was a quorum so the meeting was completed.
Hornsby Shire Climate Action has set up an online petition calling on Hornsby Council to declare a climate emergency. Declaring a climate emergency is a vital step in building support for the very large changes required to restore a safe climate.
Once declared, the council must enforce policies that will reduce emissions as much as possible. They must also educate the public about the state of emergency. Click here to sign the petition.
From July the management of the Streamwatch program was taken over by the Greater Sydney Landcare Network. This is a great relief. As previously reported there was a risk that this valuable program would be discontinued because NSW government annual funding of a measly $100,000 was uncertain. Streamwatch, with almost 300 volunteers, plus 30 years of data has to have a paid coordinator.
Data will be migrated to the SEED platform – an open government repository of environmental information hosted by the environmental cluster within the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. The Landcare Network is delaying taking on new volunteers until the new testing system is finalised.
This is a great citizen science project that has given school, children community groups and individuals a meaningful way of getting out into the environment.
NSW Forestry Corp has lodged a proposal to sell off parts of the Cumberland State Forest for housing subdivision. More critically endangered forest would be cleared. Not just Mirvac but now NSW Forestry Corp want to decimate some of these forests in West Pennant Hills.
Documents have been lodged with the Hills Council applying for the rezoning of two areas that would then be the subdivided for low density housing. They claim the land is surplus to their needs but what about the needs of the people of Sydney to keep existing green space?
An on-site meeting was held with Greens MP David Shoebridge on 11 August.
For updates on the campaign go to www.facebook.com/pg/ForestinDanger.
The Office of Environment and Heritage has alerted the Hills Council to the fact that the presence of Blue Gum High Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest, both critically endangered ecological communities are listed as potential ecological communities that meet the principles and criteria for serious and irreversible impact as defined under the Biodiversity Conservation Act. Under this act development consent cannot be granted to proposals that impact on serious and irreversible impact entities.
The Office of Environment and Heritage and an independent ecologist have identified large areas of Blue Gum High Forest within the proposed development footprint and the bushfire asset protection zones.
The Forest in Danger group does not believe that the planning proposal 1/2018/PLP can be approved in its current format. The draft development control plan, the planning proposal and the voluntary planning agreement would have to be re-exhibited.
For more details see previous issue of STEP Matters or the Forest in Danger Facebook page.
Good news! The Land and Environment Court has upheld the decision by the Northern Beaches Council and Sydney North Planning Panel to refuse the seniors housing development application on part of the Bayview Golf Course land. The site compatibility certificate had been granted by the Department of Planning to allow a development, but the council still had to approve the details of the development approval. Council knocked back the application on the grounds that its size was excessive and its impact on local biodiversity.
The developer wanted to amend the site compatibility certificate so that the council would not have grounds for refusal. The site compatibility certificate has now expired. The developer will have to start from scratch if they want to try again.
Hornsby Council is undertaking a four-month review at a cost of $70,000 into potential rezoning and acquisition of land in Byles Creek Valley that is currently unprotected. Council has come to this conclusion in all reviews and reports in the past.
In 2014 Hornsby Council made a very comprehensive submission to the NSW government pushing for acquisition of Byles Creek Valley land in 2014. In this document council’s expert environmental team stated that:
The Byles Creek catchment has been identified as environmentally significant due to the unique environmental values of the area … The preservation of these lands provides connectivity between the significant vegetation corridor along Byles Creek and Lane Cove National Park. The connectivity of this corridor ensures the ability for species to disperse between reserves and the national park and for the transferral of genetic material. The conservation value of this corridor is further emphasised by its inclusion as a core area in the NSW Biodiversity Investment Opportunities Map as part of the NSW government’s Green Corridors Program.
The valley is noted for the high quality of the water in the Creek that flows into the Lane Cove River. It is used as a reference standard for water quality in the shire.
As a member of the Powerful Owl Coalition, STEP strongly supports the protection of the valley as it links with breeding habitat for the Powerful Owl.
Our thanks to the Byles Creek Valley Union for this information.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is one of the most popular national parks in NSW, with over 3 million visits each year. The existing plan of management for the park was written in 2002. Since that time there has been a steady increase in visitors coming to the park, new recreational uses have become popular, information about the values of the park has improved and new approaches to managing fire and pests and weeds have been developed. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is preparing a new plan of management for the park and island nature reserves.
As part of preparing the new plan of management NPWS has released five discussion papers exploring some of the key management themes that will be included in the new plan:
- aboriginal cultural values
- natural, visitor experience and shared heritage values
- recreational activities
- visitor destinations
- leases licences and consent
NPWS is keen to hear what the community has to say about future management of the park.
Comments close on 15 September 2019. Click here to contribute your ideas and comment.
There will be other opportunities to provide input to the plan of management when the draft plan is exhibited for public comment.
On 25 May the Friends of Lane Cove National Park put on a special celebration. They were founded in 1994 after major bushfires burnt out large areas of the park and exposed the bushland to weed invasion. They have been working for 25 years to restore the bushland of Lane Cove National Park together with the NPWS staff.
The occasion was also the official opening of Jenkins Kitchen after its restoration using a NSW government Heritage Near Me grant and resources from the Friends, their time and money, to restore the interior and set up displays of historical and wildlife items. The building built in 1855 is believed to be the oldest in Ku-ring-gai.
Since the re-election of the Berejiklian government there has been a mixed bag of news in relation to the environment. Here are some brief points.
New Environment Minister
We welcome the appointment of Hornsby MP Matt Kean as Minister for Energy and Environment. He has made promising statements emphasising the importance of national parks and the need for new action on climate change and threatened species. However his power over the short-sighted members of cabinet is uncertain.
Changes to the Office of Environment and Heritage
The Office of Environment and Heritage is no longer a separate entity - it now comes under the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. The level of influence that staff from the former Office of Environment and Heritage will have in the future is uncertain.
More National Park Funding Cuts
The abolition of the Office of Environment and Heritage makes it difficult to assess the level of funding for national parks under the budget relative to previous years. The ABC has reported that, in the latest budget, $80 million is being cut from NPWS.
In a statement to the ABC, the government said those cuts would come through more efficient work practices in the department. How can the department be made more efficient after the $121 million cut in the 2016–17 budget that lead to about 100 ranger positions being lost? We believe there is more restructuring of front-line staff to come.
Local Green Spaces Funding
The budget included $9 million to improve open space in Frenchs Forest with new green connections, walking tracks and bike paths linking the local community to nearby bushland corridors. This is a development to watch out for. Will there be more mountain bike tracks?
The Audit Office released its assessment of the administration of the land clearing laws in June. The media release included this statement:
The processes supporting the regulatory framework are weak and there is no evidence-based assurance that clearing of native vegetation is carried out in accordance with approvals.
Maps of vegetation that landowners need to operate under the new legislation are still not available.
It was announced recently that the government will not be pursuing prosecutions of landowners who have cleared land illegally under the Native Vegetation Act that applied prior to the Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2018. This new act provides for a lot more self-assessment so the past clearing may have been legal under the new law.
Data show massive increases in land clearing over recent years. The data are often disputed on the basis that some clearing is of woody weeds or regrowth. Is that a reasonable excuse? There is no big picture data to help determine whether the regrowth should be encouraged, not cleared.
There are also severe concerns with the renewed Regional Forestry Agreements and the attitude to logging in native forests, particularly koala habitat. Detail about these issues is covered by the Nature Conservation Council.
No matter what data are revealed the area of native vegetation needs to be increased significantly, not decreased, to halt the trend of land degradation and species extinction.
Feral Horses in Kosciuszko National Park
A statewide campaign to protect Kosciuszko National Park from destructive feral horses has forced the government to debate its controversial Wild Horse Heritage Act. This will occur on 22 August.
Meanwhile the number of horses is increasing and the damage to the fragile mountain ecology worsens as the government has suspended the removal program.
Raising Warragamba Dam Wall
The proposal to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 m may have hit a couple of stumbling blocks:
- a UNESCO world heritage committee says that the proposal could threaten the listing of the Blue Mountains as a World Heritage area
- modelling of the reduction in flood risk shows the higher wall will have very little benefit
The government is currently preparing an environmental impact statement. Some of the work so far was leaked. It revealed that about 1,300 ha of the world heritage area would be permanently damaged including significant aboriginal cultural sites. The UNESCO committee has asked the government to consult with them before making the final decision. Federal government approval is also required because of the world heritage listing.
It has been stated that the objective of the proposal is to reduce the impact of flooding of the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain by holding back water after heavy rainfall for longer. However some of the charts from modelling the effects of the wall raising prepared for the EIS were leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald.
As Figure 1 shows there is very little change in the water outflows during a likely flood event.
In the case of a major flood such as the 1867 flood that is the highest recorded, the picture is similar. This level is believed to be equivalent to a one-in-500 year event (see Figure 2).
The reason for the small reduction in flooding is that there are major rivers that flow into the Hawkesbury-Nepean system below Warragamba Dam such as the Nepean, Grose and Colo. This compounded by the flow downstream being held back at a number of pinch points where the river valley narrows.
River red gums, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, are among the most iconic of Australia’s eucalypts. They are the most widely distributed of all the eucalypts. They grow along rivers, creeks, waterways and flood plains where many Australians like to picnic, so most of us get to know and love them.
Formerly known as Eucalyptus rostrata, the species was one of the first eucalypts encountered in parts of Australia by European settlers. Curiously, the name camaldulensis comes from the Italian monastery of Camaldoli near Naples, where a specimen grown from seed in a private garden was given the name Eucalyptus camaldulensis in 1832. No one knows how the seed got to be there!
River red gums can be very large spreading trees with huge trunks more than 5 m around. In parts of Australia, such as along the Murray River, they can be very erect trees reaching more than 45 m tall.
Most specimens have smooth bark with a mottling of multiple colours ranging from creams to orange and red, but there may be a skirt of fibrous grey bark for the first few metres of the base. They are called river red gums because they grow along rivers and their wood when freshly exposed is a bright red; almost blood-coloured.
River red gums have been used by Indigenous people for canoes, bowls, shields, and other utensils. The wood is red is because it contains very high levels of chemicals such as polyphenols, which are a natural antibiotic when combined with air.
These chemicals not only protect the living tree from disease and some pest attacks, but make the timber very durable. These chemicals meant river red gums were used for medicinal purposes by Indigenous people. The wood has been widely used for railway sleepers, fence posts, and piers and wharfs where durability and water resistance are desirable. They have been widely planted overseas and in some countries pose a serious weed problem.
The trees can have very long lives, and may reach 1,000 years of age. They grow very rapidly when conditions are favourable and so become large trees quite quickly. But as they get older it is very difficult to age them without damaging the tree and putting it at risk of disease and decay. So their ages are estimated, as no one wants to be responsible for killing a grand old tree just to confirm its age!
Older specimens almost always develop large hollows, which can take centuries to form. The hollows provide refuges for birds, mammals and reptiles. The nesting sites are often raucously defended by brightly coloured parrots. The trees and the nectar from their small white flowers are also very important for honey production – a large tree in full flower over the warmer months can attract so many bees that the whole tree can be heard humming from many metres away; it’s a wonder the tree doesn’t take off.
At certain times of the year, often during summer, river reds can be very heavily grazed by insects to the point where their leaves are skeletonised. The trees look as though they are about to die, but they are very resilient and a few months later most are back to a full and healthy canopy. Another insect, the psyllid, also feeds on and skeletonises the leaves. It has a sweet, waxy covering called a lerp that protects the vulnerable insect nymphs beneath. Some Indigenous groups scrape off the lerps, roll them into a ball, and eat them like a lolly.
Surviving Floods and Driving Rain
Any tree that can live for a millennium must be adaptable, so like some other eucalypt species, river red gums can shed up to two-thirds of their foliage when soils dry out during a drought, which reduces water demand and prevents the trees from wilting. This shedding often causes people to complain about the trees when they grow in towns and cities, but when the rains come a few months later they rapidly produce new leaves and are soon once again in full canopy.
River red gums can tolerate immersion in flood waters for up to nine months. They do this by having extensive roots, some of which contain a spongy, air-filled tissue called aerenchyma that allows for the accumulation and transport of much-needed oxygen in waterlogged soils. This adaptation to stressed soils also means river red gums can do quite well in disturbed urban soils when the urban sprawl impinges on their natural domain.
River red gums readily seed after flooding events and great numbers of young trees may germinate. However, relatively few survive to maturity due to competition from other red gums, other trees, and weeds. They may also struggle to survive in some places due to a lack of water.
Because river reds occur in some of the driest and harshest parts of the Australian mainland, you might think they are very efficient users of water. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The trees can have very deep, spreading and searching root systems, which tap into subterranean water, even if the water is many metres from the trunk. They are luxury water users with very little capacity for water use control. If water becomes really limiting, they simply wilt.
E. camaldulensis produces a water-soluble chemical that is washed from its leaves by rain. These chemicals inhibit the growth of other plants, including river red gum seedlings, under the canopy. This phenomenon is called allelopathy, and along with a dense canopy inhibits plant growth under the trees. These chemicals are washed from the soil by flood water, which makes way for the germination of seedlings after floods. This is a wonderful mechanism that ensures seedlings do not germinate when conditions are dry and where they would compete with the parent tree for limited water, but germination is facilitated when there is plenty of water and soils are wet.
Some people think river red gums are dangerous because they shed large limbs without warning on calm, still, summer days. There is no doubt this does happen, but there is no clear evidence they shed limbs more often than other species.
The problem is complex, because they tend to grow everywhere people want to go. They provide shade along waterways on a hot, dry continent. In going to places where the trees grow, people tend to compact the soil with their vehicles and footpaths, which can be causes of limb shedding. The compaction of the soil affects soil moisture and aeration, which can lead to limb shedding.
In other contexts such as farms where limbs are shed, many old river red gums are growing in highly disturbed or changed ecosystems. Furthermore, many of these remnant specimens are often stressed and getting older and so more prone to shedding.
River red gums trace the watercourses of mainland Australia, and are easily seen from aeroplanes as you cross the continent. They connect the continental fringes with its arid heart. Their lives can span many human generations and it is nice to think that the majestic old trees that pull at our heartstrings have done the same to previous generations and, if we and they are lucky, will continue to do so for generations of Australians yet to come.
This article appeared in The Conversation on 12 July. It is written by Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany at Melbourne University.
Here’s some more information about the importance of river red gum in maintaining healthy landscapes and controlling salinity:
Stands of river red gum are associated with the surface flooding regime of watercourses and related ground water flow. The species is a profligate and opportunistic water user, and this is a contributing factor to the maintenance of water tables at depth. Even without large amounts of empirical data it is clear that loss of large tracts of the species in the Murray River corridor would have a major impact on the hydrology of the system, as well as on vegetation communities and associated biodiversity.
There is lots of research demonstrating the benefits of trees in urban areas. Not only do they camouflage the grey asphalt and concrete of roads and footpaths, they can reduce temperatures and the need for air conditioning in buildings. They also improve the microclimate by retaining moisture in the air and soil and they encourage residents to get out into the community and enjoy beautiful shaded areas.
Tree planting is an effective and efficient way to adapt to climate change. However as climate change leads to higher temperatures and more variable and lower rainfall we need to consider how the popular trees used in urban areas will respond to the changes.
Different species have different levels of tolerance of heat, lack of water and other threats posed by climate change.
Research teams from Macquarie University (including former STEP president Prof Michelle Leishman) and Western Sydney University, have embarked on a project called Which Plant Where. The project is supported by Hort Innovation Australia, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the Australian government. Their mission is to find the best plant species for urban landscapes that will be resilient to climate change.
The project works with the nursery industry to gather evidence on species’ resilience to extreme heat and drought by testing plants to their limits in research glasshouses. This work will inform plant growers and nurseries on how to adapt their business, by identifying the new challenges posed by climate change, as well as selecting diverse ranges of climate-ready species. They advise landscape architects, designers and urban planners about not only the best planting choices, but also how to increase the biodiversity of our cities.
We need to know how our current tree canopy will be affected as well as plan new plantings.
The research team recently published a study (Burley et al) that investigated likely climate change impacts on 176 of the most common tree species planted across Australian cities. The analysis showed more than 70% of these species will experience harsher climatic conditions across Australian cities by 2070.
Some of the most commonly planted trees are unlikely to survive. Conversely, in some cooler climate areas, such as Orange, the number of suitable species may increase. These impacts will progressively worsen as climate change intensifies. A proactive approach is needed to identify new climate-ready species and plantings. Tree species growing in warmer cities are more likely to be affected than those in cooler cities. Some species, such as the golden wattle (Acacia longifolia) or the prickly paperbark (Melaleuca styphelioides) might not make it in northern cities unless we invest precious resources – such as water – to maintain these civic assets. Other species, such as the native frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum) or the tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anacardioides) will likely become more suitable for planting in southern cities.
Australian cities are blessed with a higher diversity of tree species compared to other cities globally. However, the 30 most commonly planted species make up more than half of Australia’s urban forests. This poses a great risk for our cities. If we were to lose one or two of these common species, the impact on our urban tree cover would be immense. Trees are a long-term investment that will be affected by the very factors that they are meant to mitigate. Consequently, our best insurance is to increase the diversity of our trees.
The study highlights the need for more research:
- which species experience a reduction in growth or, even mortality, during extreme weather events and the duration of any growth reduction
- variation of impacts in different climate zones, for example subtropical areas are likely to experience greater declines in growth than temperate areas
- whether it is feasible with some species to mitigate impacts by providing more irrigation, selective pruning or planting in a more sheltered position
- investigate new choices of species suitable for the urban environment from the huge range of Australian native species
The NSW government announced a plan in February to plant five million trees in Greater Sydney by 2030. They are counting trees planted in streets, parks, backyards, neighbourhoods and schools with an objective of increasing the tree canopy from 16.8% to 40%. Councils can apply for grants for tree planting projects. Individuals can register the trees they plant.
Hugh Burley, Linda J. Beaumont, Alessandro Ossola, John B. Baumgartner, Rachael Gallagher, Shawn Laffan, Manuel Esperon-Rodriguez, Anthony Manea, Michelle R. Leishman (2019) Substantial declines in urban tree habitat predicted under climate change, Science of the Total Environment 685, 451–462
CSIRO Futures released a report in June on Australia’s future in the next 40 years, called Australian National Outlook 2019 (ANO 2019).
The report is the outcome of a collaborative project that took two years involving more than 50 leaders from over 20 organisations across industry, non-profit and university sectors, including the National Australia Bank, Shell, Australian Red Cross, Monash University, the Grattan Institute and the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. ANO 2019 uses CSIRO’s integrated modelling framework to project economic, environmental and social outcomes to 2060 under two scenarios in the context of responses to six identified future challenges. The challenges are:
- risks and opportunities from the rise of Asia
- technology development and implementation skills
- climate change and environmental degradation – our response and that of the rest of the world
- population aging
- trust in government and business
- social cohesion
The report concludes that if we resist the changes needed to meet the challenges, essentially business as usual, the outcome is described as the Slow Decline. The alternative scenario of bold action is called Outlook Vision.
In brief some of the environmental outcomes of the two scenarios are summarised in Table 1.
Here is some context to the projections in the assumptions that have been made.
The report had to model a lot of information but the major factor has been taken as a given. They have assumed that population growth will continue on the current high path. Population will be 41 million by 2060 with Sydney and Melbourne growing to 8 or 9 million people and Brisbane and Perth growing to 4 or 5 million. That is an extra 16 million people in 40 years. Our population in 1980 was about 14.5 million. So by comparison the increase in the past 40 years was about 11 million. CSIRO expects this growth to be accommodated within our finite land and ecosystems.
It is very sad that no mainstream organisation is willing to publicly countenance a reduction in population growth and demonstrate the implications this will have for our future.
Very little detail is provided about the costs of maintaining an adequate urban water supply for the burgeoning population. It seems the assumption is made that sufficient desalination can be installed. The cost of this is incorporated in the infrastructure costs of catering for the growth in population.
Climate Change Scenarios
This is what they say about the implications of climate change under the two scenarios (from https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018EF000922).
The most reliable estimates aligned to the scenarios indicate that 4°C global warming without adaptation could lead to a global per annum GDP loss of 7.2% and an Australian per annum GDP loss of 1.6% by 2100. If mitigation can limit the global warming to 2°C by 2100, the global per annum GDP loss would be reduced to 0.5–1.6% by 2050–60 and to 1.8% by 2100, and the Australian per annum GDP loss would be reduced to 0.6% by 2100. The GDP loss would be further reduced by adaptation.
There is a lot of detail in the modelling of the implications of climate change in the two scenarios. The quotation above gives a scale to the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Land Use and Biodiversity
Taking into account climate change and the need to maintain agricultural exports and feed our own population very radical change is envisaged under the Outlook Vision scenario. There is a strong message about the necessity to end the trend of rural land degradation and to restore ecosystems. Productivity improvements through plant genomics and digital agricultural mapping technology will not be enough. The statements about ecosystem health are significant in the context of the current federal and state governments’ attitudes towards exploiting the environment. Here are a few quotes from the report:
… the high agricultural productivity rates necessary for the Outlook Vision outcomes will not be possible without sustaining broader ecosystem health, particularly in the face of effects associated with a changing climate.
… agriculture not only affects the environment but is also highly dependent on the quality of natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide for its productivity and profitability.
The report highlights the negative trajectory of soil health that has resulted from intensive agriculture on fragile soils. Several aspects of current soil health will limit productivity, particularly long-term erosion, acidification, low carbon levels, soil compaction and soil nutrient decline. The risk of erosion increases with an increasing frequency of droughts and lower groundcover. Ecosystem and land management practices must turn around the deterioration of soil health.
Agriculture is also dependant on access to a reliable supply of clean water, pollination services and shade and shelter provided through native vegetation. Land degradation needs to be halted and, where possible, remediated to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture.
New forms of investment that provide financial support for carbon farming are recommended as a means of providing a return to landowners for the benefits of improving ecosystem services.
Emissions Reduction through Carbon Sequestration
Under Outlook Vision carbon sequestration will play an essential part. By 2060, up to 30 million hectares – or roughly half of Australia’s marginal land within more intensively farmed areas – could be profitably transitioned to carbon plantings, which would increase returns to landholders and offset emissions from other sectors. The success of this scenario depends on increases in productivity so that less land is needed to produce the required food. Table 2 shows the potential sources of change from the current annual emissions of greenhouse gases of 532 million tonnes under the Outlook Vision scenario.
In theory there could be an excess of carbon sequestration that could be sold on the international carbon market. However it would be more prudent to keep this stored carbon as a buffer against bushfire and other risks.
Out of the 30 million hectares 11–20 Mha is defined as environmental plantings rather than direct carbon forestry (i.e. native–endemic mixed environmental plantings that provide the most suitable habitat for biodiversity). This will build resilience against future climate change. This translates to between 12 and 24% of intensive agricultural land (or between 32 and 42% of the total land area used for carbon forestry). The overall transition of land use is shown in Figure 1.
The wide range of returns to landowners of $42 to 84 billion in Table 1 is indicative of the complex interplay between the impacts of climate on modelled agricultural production and tree growth, among other factors. The modelling results show that additional income from other land use change can more than offset any reductions in agricultural production due, in part, to the fact that agricultural production will be concentrated on more productive land, with less productive land transitioned to other uses. However the returns to landowners are affected by carbon prices that will be dependent of the level of global cooperation in reducing emissions.
Carbon and environmental plantings on this scale are a significant land use shift, and so require careful planning, consultation and engagement with the community, particularly regional communities. Such considerations will include protecting prime agricultural land for food and fibre production and avoiding adverse effects on water supplies.
CSIRO has produced several of these big picture reports before:
- Future Dilemmas: Options to 2050 for Australia's Population, Technology, Resources and Environment in 2002
- Balancing Act: A Triple Bottom Line Analysis of the Australian Economy in 2005
Where are they now?
The Morrison government has been re-elected despite having a very limited set of policies for change. We need a government with a long-term vision and a willingness to explain convincingly the reasons for change. We should be able to reach a consensus despite there being some losers as well as winners.
This is a great opportunity to do some Christmas shopping. We have decided to reduce the price of our books if they are purchased in a bundle.
Postage costs about $11 but it is free to pick up from South Turramurra.
Book bundle 1 = $25 ($17.50 for members)
- Field Guide to the Bushland of the Lane Cove Valley +
- Sydney's Natural World +
- Understanding the Weather
This is a saving of $45 (or $31.50 for members)!
Book bundle 2 = $80 ($56 for members)
- Book bundle 1 +
- Rocks and Trees
This is a saving of $50 (or $35 for members)!
STEP is supporting the screening of the film 2040 at Roseville Cinema. Booking is essential. We need a minimum of 68 bookings before the screening can go ahead. Your payment will be refunded if this number is not reached.
The previous screening organised by Ku-ring-gai Council in July was booked out.
2040 is a hybrid feature documentary that looks to the future, but is vitally important NOW! Award-winning director Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film) embarks on journey to explore what the future could look like by the year 2040 if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us to improve our planet and shifted them rapidly into the mainstream.
Structured as a visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter, Damon blends traditional documentary with dramatised sequences and high-end visual effects to create a vision board of how these solutions could regenerate the world for future generations.
Western Sydney University and the University of New England have set up a Citizen Science Project called the Dead Tree Detective.
The aim of the project is to collect observations of dead or dying trees around Australia. It sounds a bit grim, but knowing where and when trees have died will help us to work out what the cause is, identify trees that are vulnerable, and take steps to protect them.
This project will allow people Australia-wide to report observations of tree death. In the past, there have been many occurrences of large-scale tree death that were initially identified by concerned members of the public such as farmers, bushwalkers, bird watchers and landholders. Collecting these observations is an important way to monitor the health of trees and ecosystems.
The leader of the project, Prof Belinda Medlyn wants to get better data about how trees respond to drought.
How our native plants cope with these changes will affect (among other things) biodiversity, water supplies, fire risk and carbon storage. Unfortunately, how climate change is likely to affect Australian vegetation is a complex problem, and one we don’t yet have a good handle on.
STEP has supported the Threatened Species Children’s Art Competition since 2017. The competition has been a great success and has now expanded to Victoria, and other states are expressing interest.
Administration has now been taken over by the Humane Society International – the largest worldwide charity caring for animals.
Children choose a threatened native species, then create a drawing or painting of it with an accompanying short explanation of their work. Entries close on 2 August 2019.
Seventy NSW finalists will be chosen for a two-week exhibition in Sydney, with winners announced at Parliament House Sydney on 6 September 2019.
The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee, established under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, has made a Final Determination to list Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest (STIF) in the Sydney Basin Bioregion as a critically endangered ecological community. This classification already applies under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The highest threat category is now applied because STIF has experienced large:
- reductions in geographic distribution
- degrees of environmental degradation
- disruptions of biotic processes and interactions
There is an estimated 2,940 ha of STIF remaining, or less than 10% of the estimated original distribution.
Remnants of STIF are poorly represented in the formal reserve network, and unreserved areas are subject to the threat of vegetation clearing. The total area under reservation is estimated to be 570 ha, equivalent to less than 2% of the estimated pre-1750 distribution or 20% of the remaining extent.
Remnants of STIF have historically been subjected to a range of anthropogenic disturbances including logging, grazing by domesticated livestock and burning at varying intensities.
Remnants are typically small and fragmented and are susceptible to continuing attrition through clearing for routine land management practices due to the majority of remnants being located in close proximity to rural land or urban interfaces.
Applications to the NSW Land and Environment Court demonstrate that there is ongoing pressure to clear STIF in the course of developing private properties or for the establishment of asset protection zones.
STIF is subject to ongoing invasion by an extensive range of naturalised plant species. Weed invasion is exacerbated by the proximity of remnants to areas of rural and urban development and the associated influx of both weed propagules from gardens and nutrients contained in stormwater runoff, dumped garden waste and animal droppings.
We are very pleased to announce that the John Martyn Research Grant for 2019 has been awarded to Gabriella Hoban. Gabriella’s research project is entitled Soil Characteristics as Indicators of Restoration Trajectories in Urban Woodlands. This subject is highly relevant to STEPs aims to restore degraded ecological communities.
She has provided us with this description of her project.
Hi! I’m Gabby. I am an honours student at the University of New South Wales. I love ecology, ecological restoration and conservation and have a slight obsession with plants.
For my honours project I will be studying the effect of soil characteristics on restoration trajectories in urban woodlands. My research will be based in western Sydney within the Cumberland Plain Woodland, a critically endangered vegetation community. In this region, a concentration of threatened species and ecological communities overlap with intense development pressure.
Through my project I aim to quantify the relationship between the abundance of exotic and native plant species in relation to soil constituents in bushland reserves with agricultural land use legacies. Soil samples will be collected and the effect of soil properties on restoration trajectories will be determined.
My research will build on existing data from long-term study sites established in 1989. This research provides an exciting opportunity to examine long term trends in regenerating bushland.
I hope this research can inform conservation efforts not only at this site, but also similar grassy reserves recovering from legacies of former agricultural land use that span a large area across south-eastern Australia.
Thank you to STEP and its members for the opportunity.
The final deadline was set at 31 May for submissions on the Hills Council’s applications to the NSW government to change the zonings in their local environment plan and insert some special provisions in the development control plan. These changes will facilitate development on the land owned by Mirvac that currently contains the old IBM corporate headquarters on the corner of Coonara Road and Castle Hill Road in West Pennant Hills next to the Cumberland State Forest.
The basic framework of the proposals is unchanged from earlier plans described in STEP Matters (Issue 198). The main purpose of the council application at this stage is to facilitate the development of 600 dwellings. Ancillary aspects are that, if the housing development proceeds, Mirvac will sign a voluntary agreement to allow the existing playing field on the land to become public open space and pay for the development of a soccer field with synthetic turf and the necessary public access road.
The design of the housing development will be subject to further scrutiny at the development application stage but if these current plans are approved, the basic framework will be set in concrete (lots of it!).
Even though part of the site is currently developed as a corporate park, these buildings are surrounded by mature tree plantings. The majority of the site is classified as Blue Gum High Forest or Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest, both critically endangered. This is a unique opportunity to preserve one of the few remaining areas of high quality vegetation and its associated fauna habitat in north-western Sydney. Its proximity to Cumberland State Forest adds to the value of this preservation through its connectivity and boosting of resilience of the vegetation.
Hence STEP is opposed to the whole development proposal.
Future of the forested area
The future management of the large forested area that is to be zoned E2 (environmental conservation) which contains critically endangered ecological communities and fauna, is completely unknown. The development control plan amendment relating to the site refers to the residents as being responsible for the cost of maintenance of the 'significant vegetation'. This is totally unrealistic.
It is essential that a stewardship or conservation agreement be established defining responsibilities and funding of management together with a vegetation management plan. This should be in place before any dwellings are occupied.
As the E2 land will be for the benefit of the whole local community, not just the residents of the Mirvac developments, it is appropriate that the Hills Council be responsible for its management.
Synthetic playing field
The proposal for the synthetic playing field should not go ahead until the environmental impact of the use of this surface is thoroughly assessed. A detailed analysis is required of the impact on the bushland below the field of:
- stormwater runoff from the hard surface
- runoff of degraded synthetic grass and substrate pieces
- the loss of soil biota under the artificial surface
- the risk from a fire in the surrounding bushland spreading to the field
- conversely, the surface itself is mostly made of rubber and will be much hotter than in the surrounding vegetated areas, so what impact will this have on the bushland and wildlife?
Of course no floodlighting should be allowed so close to bushland that is home to several nocturnal species such as the Powerful Owl and several species of bats.
The image at the top of the page shows the proposed layout of the development. The medium density housing area (200 dwellings) is along the edges of the site while the high density zone (flats up to six stories) is lower down next to the forested areas.
The main argument from Mirvac in favour of the development is its proximity to the new Cherrybrook Metro Station. Residents will however have to walk up a steep hill and cross Castle Hill Road to get to the station. The shortest possible walk is 800 m. The other side of Castle Hill Road which is in the Hornsby Council area is currently zoned low-density residential that will no doubt be planned for higher density development in the future as the station is now operating.
The major reason for objections to the proposals is the level of development. The residents of West Pennant Hills have rallied strongly against the proposals. Over 4,000 objections have been received by the Hills Council. They are concerned about the increase in traffic on already congested roads as well as the environmental impact of the development.
The main point is that the existing IBM corporate park is a valuable asset. The buildings should not be knocked down. With a bit of imagination alternative uses could be found that will not lead to destruction of the mature native vegetation that surrounds the buildings and the car park.
In any case the council and Mirvac have not demonstrated that there is a need for this huge housing area. We note that the Department of Planning document Cherrybrook Structure Plan: Vision for Cherrybrook Station Surrounds (September 2013) does not envisage any residential development on the site. Increases in housing are planned for neighbouring areas north and further west of Castle Hill Road with a total number of new dwellings planned of 3,200 by 2036.
The plan is an example of the notorious spot re-zonings that have plagued development in Sydney. A developer comes up with a plan that is outside the planning guidelines. The local council knocks it back so the developer is able to go directly to the Department of Planning to gain approval via the Gateway Process. The new planning minister, Rob Stokes, has stated that this system will not continue but we will have to see how that can come about.
As Hornsby Council says in their submission:
Any decision for this site should be deferred until a precinct-wide structure plan or strategy is adopted for all the land parcels surrounding the Cherrybrook Metro Station.
The proposal by Mirvac to redevelop the subject property for residential purposes is likely to trigger further owner/developer-led spot rezoning applications in the area. This would lead to an ad hoc approach to land use planning for the Metro Station precinct. The process would undermine the planning framework for both councils and lead to poor outcomes for the Cherrybrook community.
Housing plan is overdeveloped
The documents indicating the layout of the medium-density housing precinct show houses that are crammed together, some on blocks as small as 86 m2 that are only 4 m wide. Even with some of the wider lots most of the street will be taken up by driveway access.
There will be little space for street trees. The front and back yards will also be too small for trees to grow with a beneficial canopy.
The design of the subdivision needs to take account of the need for liveability of streets in the face of current heat in summer and expected increases with climate change.
There are also several other concerns about the details of the development and how it will impact on the surrounding forest. These relate to clearing of riparian zones and impingement of asset protection zones into the E2 area and Cumberland State Forest.
We have covered several of these concerns in previous comments on this proposal. They are very concerning but basically STEP is opposed to the development in its entirety.
Mirvac’s website reveals the company’s Biodiversity Policy. The policy states:
At Mirvac, we aim to be an overall positive contributor to environmental sustainability. We firmly believe that responsibly managing our biodiversity impacts will enable us to strategically assess biodiversity-related risks and opportunities and anticipate and respond proactively to emerging regulations and societal expectations.
Mirvac’s plans for the IBM site are clearly not compatible with their Biodiversity Policy.
The transport sector is Australia’s second fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions and yet we still don’t have any standards which apply to new vehicle fuel efficiency.
Road transport contributed 16% to total CO2 emissions in 2000 and this grew to 18% in 2010 and 21% in 2016.
We are the only OECD country with no minimum fuel standard while more than 80% of the global vehicle market has adopted fuel standards. We have had standards for many years relating to other vehicle emissions such as nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and particulates.
Standards in other countries
The EU applied mandatory standards from 2009 requiring a light vehicle fleet average of 130 g CO2/km by 2015 and 95 g/km by 2020–21.
These standards have been further developed requiring a reduction by 15% by 2025 and 37.5% by 2030 relative to 2020–21. Standards will also be applied to heavy vehicles.
The USA has had voluntary standards since 1975 that have not been effective. In 2012 standards were introduced including a reduction by 3% each year after 2012 applied to each manufacturer. They are enforced with the potential of the loss of licence to sell vehicles. The effective standard is slightly higher than applies to the EU. However President Trump is now threatening to loosen the standards.
Testing methods are problematic
The sources used for this article comment on ongoing issues with the testing methods being used to monitor vehicle fuel use.
The standard methods used in Europe were developed in the 1970s. They are called the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC) and they have been found to be unrealistic because they assume that the car is being driven at a constant speed with mild acceleration. Actual consumption that has been tested in real conditions show the gap is getting worse and is now believed to be about 40%.
The sources don’t explain why the gap is getting worse apart from the legal methods of manipulating the tests, e.g. by using low-resistance tyres. The latest EU standards will require cars to have on-board monitoring systems in future.
Clearly there is a need for proper testing of on-road vehicle emissions. One wonders about the accuracy of the greenhouse gas reporting for Australia’s transport emissions. The same applies to reporting by other countries.
The standards are applied on a fleet wide basis but then manufacturers have to apply the standard to their individual range of vehicles. The projection of future emission levels requires an estimate of the nature of the vehicle fleet that is a combination of several cohorts of ages of vehicles plus the average distances travelled by each type of vehicle.
The current situation is that in 2017 Australia’s light passenger average CO2 emissions were 172 g/km compared with 118.5 g/km in the EU. In the case of light commercial vehicles Australia’s average was 222 g/km compared with 164 g/km in the EU.
In addition to the lack of efficiency standards, according to a report from Transport Energy/ Emissions Research  several other factors contribute to Australia’s higher vehicle emissions:
- Use of heavier and greater engine capacity cars such as SUVs (even in comparison with the USA). It is reported that in 2017 the average fuel use in Australia was 20% higher than in the USA. This trend is getting worse.
- Use of automatic transmissions that are reported to be less fuel efficient.
- Greater distances travelled. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that total travel by passenger vehicles in Australia was 142 billion kilometres in 2000. This has been growing to 176 billion kilometres in 2016, an increase of 24%.
- The most fuel efficient model choices in Australia are not as efficient as in Europe leading to the suggestion that manufacturers are taking advantage of our lack of mandatory standards.
- Our vehicle fleet is older than in other countries and turnover is slower so it takes longer for the benefit of newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles to flow through to the fleet as a whole. Conversely driving a vehicle for a longer period could produce lower emissions when allowance is also made for the emissions during manufacture.
It is also suggested that Australians are paying paying about 30% more for fuel than they should (provided better fuel efficiency doesn’t encourage more driving).
Australia’s attempts to introduce standards
Australia has had voluntary efficiency standards since 1978 that were equivalent to 195 g CO2/km (2000) and 161 g CO2/km (2010) but these have not been achieved.
In 2010, the ALP government decided that mandatory CO2 emissions standards would apply to new light vehicles from 2015, i.e. a national fleet wide average of 190 g/km in 2015 and 155 g/km in 2024. However, the change in government in 2013 meant the standards would not see the light of day.
Several reports have been written analysing the options for introducing standards.
The Climate Change Authority produced a report in December 2016 that proposed that the first phase of mandatory standards be introduced with effect from 2018, by which time local manufacture of automobiles was expected to have ceased.
The standards would progressively reduce CO2 emissions from new light vehicles to 105 g/km in 2025, almost half the then current level of 192 g/km. This 2025 standard would broadly bring Australia into line with the USA and still trail the tighter EU targets by several years.
A Ministerial Regulation Impact Statement found that the introduction of a standard of 105 g/km phased in over 2020–25 would cost $16.2 billion compared with no standards but would lead to:
- national fuel savings of $27.5 billion
- reduce greenhouse gas emission by 65 Mt by 2030
- create an overall net benefit to the economy of $13.9 billion
This calculation allowed for a cost of carbon emissions of about $50/tonne.
The Automotive Association has lobbied against the proposal on the grounds that cars will be more expensive. Implementation of a standard to reduce CO2 emissions to 105 g/km is estimated to increase the average cost of a new car in 2025 by about $1500. This, however, would be offset several times by fuel savings of about $8500 over the life of the vehicle, leaving motorists better off.
How about electric vehicles?
The rollout of electric vehicles in Australia is being held back by their cost and lack of recharging stations. Labor’s election proposal to require that 50% of new passenger vehicles sold be electric vehicles by 2030 was hysterically dismissed by Scott Morrison. He claimed the policy would make life impossible for tradies as the ute would be uneconomic and it would spell the end of the weekend trip away in the SUV.
Of course this was all nonsense as the cost of electric vehicles is coming down rapidly and is expected to be similar to internal combustion engines by 2025. We might even revive the local manufacturing industry? In any case perhaps it would be a good idea to hire a large SUV for a weekend trip rather than driving these large vehicles around to drop the kids off at school or commute to work.
One question about the use of electric vehicles is the carbon emissions if they are being recharged using electricity from the current high use of coal-fired generation. The data I have found indicates that electricity consumption to run an electric vehicle could be 6–10 Kw h per 100 km. Currently Australia’s emissions from electricity generation is 800 g/Kw h. So that equates to carbon emissions from electric vehicles of 48–80 g/km.
The available evidence suggests that legislative action regarding vehicle CO2 emissions is long overdue. The federal government must take action to ensure total CO2 emissions from road transport are reduced by introducing emission standards and by taking several additional measures such as increasing public transport and reducing distances driven.
Introducing these new regulations quickly is a priority because it takes years for them to actually work their way through the market to the new vehicle fleet.
 Transport Energy/Emission Research Pty Ltd Vehicle CO2 Emissions Legislation in Australia – A Brief History in an International Context
The costly problem of ash dieback has been highlighted in New Scientist.
This fungal disease caused by Hymenoscyphus fraxineus was first detected in Britain in 2012 having crept across Europe from the east. Its origin is Asia and it affects the common ash Fraxinus excelsior. It's predicted to destroy more than 90% of the many million ash trees, killing saplings within a year of infection. Coming on top of Dutch elm disease and various infections of both English oak species, it's a concern in a country that has, through millennia, lost most of its native forests.
When the USA became serious about WWII they brought about an amazing mobilisation of their entrepreneurial industrial potential. That is surely the way in which the fight against global warming will be conducted when we eventually wake up to the urgency. In the meantime most of the world’s leaders and most of the populace seems content enough to drift along ignoring that elephant in the room.
Part of that mobilisation will surely be the recognition that population growth is a major cause of ongoing warming. Halve the population and we roughly halve much of the pollution causing warming as well as other pollution such as plastics.
That brings us to what’s happening in Australia.
With an average of about 12.5 million people over the past 220 years we have degraded our major river systems, caused a terrible list of plant and animal extinctions, degraded our topsoils and more and are now busily overpopulating our major cities - with consequent physical and social consequences.
Our current annual rate of population growth of 1.7% will lead to doubling every 42.5 years. That means 50 million in 2061, 100 million in 2104 and 200 million in 2146 and so on.
You would think that those numbers would be enough to promote some discussion of where we are heading and where we want to head and how to go about it. But no, the Coalition, Labor and the Greens, along with our major environmental groups such as the ACF and NCC, all seem intent on ignoring the elephant and ensuring further degradation and destruction of the Australian natural world.
Why is this thus? We think there are a few reasons.
Firstly there is huge ignorance around the maths of exponential growth. It’s amazing to find so many educated, even scientifically educated, people who have not a clue about the consequences of 1.7% growth.
Secondly, the mainstream media and political world has insisted in conflating population growth with protecting the borders and racism. You talk about less population and so many assume that you are dog-whistling and really mean that we don’t want those refugees. The ABC has a terrible record in this regard.
Thirdly, the big end of town, those whose lobbyists haunt the corridors of our parliaments, cheque books in hand, has convinced many that without economic growth we shall all become destitute. That is simply self-serving rubbish that suits their economic interests. More people mean more housing, more furnishings, and more of most things. It’s not the environment they worry about – it’s their never-ending need for more economic activity and more profit.
Australia’s fertility is now about 1.83 which will eventually produce a declining population because it is below the replacement level of 2.1. In addition, some 50,000 people leave Australia permanently every year. This means that we can accept 70,000 immigrants per year and eventually stabilise our population. We should do so. There is plenty of room there for refugees.
STEP has never dog-whistled!
It’s hard, however, to know how we shall ever start to manage the situation so long as none of the elites are prepared to discuss it and so long as the environmental organisations don’t have the guts to confront it.
We have been writing about population for over thirty years and much more detail can be gleaned from our Position Paper on Population.
By John Burke, former president of STEP and chief author of STEP’s Position Paper on Population, has written this update on the population issue.
Visiting Tasmania at leatherwood flowering time in February was a nice experience apart from the weather. It has a perfumed flower likened to a four-petalled version of the five-petalled English wild dogrose. Tasmanian Leatherwood Eucryphia lucida, of honey fame, is a high rainfall, temperate rainforest species often found close to rivers (see the two pictures below taken at Pencil Pine Creek, Cradle Mountain). Driving along the Lyell Highway from Queenstown to Derwent Bridge we saw several beehive ‘mini cities’ in valleys, clearly exploiting the setting of the plant.
Australia has five species of Eucryphia, one of the commoner ones, E. moorei (see the picture at the top of the page and below) liking wet highland environments from the Illawarra to north-east Victoria.
The easiest place to see it locally in late summer is across the road from the Robertson Pie Shop where a windbreak hedge of small trees to 5 metres follows a fence line. We also saw it in flower at Fitzroy Falls, several specimens being scattered through the rainforest apron of the valley, though you wouldn't spot them without their flowers.
The latter setting is more typical for the tree and it seems to also like rocky sites – we located another tiny colony in Hawkesbury Sandstone on rocky Bundanoon Creek in Meryla State Forest south of Moss Vale.
All Australian species grow in high rainfall, cool to warm temperate settings ranging from E. moorei of the Illawarra to E. wilkiei of the mountain cloud forests of North Queensland. But globally the picture of Eucryphia is bigger.
There are a further two species, E. cordifolia and E. glutinosa, from cool temperate rainforests of South America. And it turns out that there are striking similarities in the flavour of honeys from the Chilean E. glutinosa, known there as Ulmo, and that of Tasmanian Leatherwood. This is particularly extraordinary since the two continents severed their link via Antarctica more than 60 million years ago.
Eucryphia species have been cultivated in Australia, Europe and elsewhere, and include pink-flowered forms and hybrids. While the variety of rugged and inaccessible settings of common species like E. moorei may mean they are fairly safe, the northern species, E. jinksii and E. wilkiei are both local and endemic to their settings and are listed as threatened. E. wilkiei of Mt Bartle Frere cloud forests is especially vulnerable to climate change – horrendous heat records were set there this summer.
Of further concern, Tasmania was beset by wildfires this summer, particularly in the Huon Valley region south-west of Hobart. This, and the drought that amplified it, had a variety of negative effects on Leatherwood. There were multiple tree losses and flowering was weak: trees that did flower produced very little nectar. The suspected link to climate change is a cause for concern and Leatherwood may yet be another canary in the coal mine. Anyway, if you're looking to buy Leatherwood honey this year it won't easy or cheap.
Blog: The Nature of Robertson
By John Martyn
In May 2019 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its global assessment of the state of the earth’s biodiversity and its prospects for change up to 2050. This is the first such report since the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment published in 2005. The IPBES Assessment is the outcome of negotiations by 134 governments using data provided by 500 biodiversity experts from over 50 countries.
The aim of the IPBES Assessment is explained by its chair, Sir Robert Watson:
The loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity is already a global and generational threat to human well-being. Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. Policies, efforts and actions – at every level – will only succeed, however, when based on the best knowledge and evidence. This is what the IPBES Global Assessment provides.
It examines causes of biodiversity and ecosystem change, the implications for people, policy options and likely future pathways over the next three decades if current trends continue, and other scenarios.
My question is how did IPBES work out the number of species existing and at risk of extinction?
How many species are there?
Several different approaches have been used to estimate the actual total number of species on earth. Frankly it is impossible to know the number with any reasonable level of precision. The various methods give a very wide range of answers – from 3 million to over 100 million. Most of the more recent estimates based on thoughtful approaches are in range of 5 to 20 million.
The main point is to understand the relative level of extinction that could take place. We are finding new species all the time. There are frequent reports of excursions into rainforest finding lots of new beetles or other insect species. New species are even being found in our local area, viz Julian’s Hibbertia.
The report uses the results of a study published in 2011 . The study uses data of past records showing how the knowledge of the number of phyla, classes, families, genii and species for each taxa have increased over time. For each level of the description hierarchy (phyla, class, etc) if fewer and fewer new types are being found then it is assumed that we are getting close to finding the final actual number. The method fits a regression line to the asymptotic graph of the known number over time to estimate the point where the line would reach the limit of increases. Then the phyla build into the number of classes and so on.
One argument in favour of this method is that species that are yet to be identified are living in small numbers or in niche areas so they are of less significance in terms of total life on the planet.
This approach was validated against well-known taxa such as mammals. When applied to all eukaryote kingdoms the approach predicted:
- ∼7.77 million species of animals
- ∼298,000 species of plants
- ∼611,000 species of fungi
- ∼36,400 species of protozoa
- ∼27,500 species of chromists
In total the approach predicted that ∼8.74 million species of eukaryotes exist on earth. Restricting this approach to marine taxa resulted in a prediction of 2.21 million eukaryote species in the world's oceans.
In spite of 250 years of taxonomic classification and over 1.2 million species already catalogued in a central database, the study’s results suggest that some 86% of existing species on earth and 91% of species in the ocean still await description.
How did IPBES derive the million at risk figure?
Species are defined as being at risk of extinction if their numbers are declining to the extent that the population may no longer be viable. They may not become totally extinct for a long time. For example, plants may live for many years but may not be reproducing.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species’ definitions of vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered are used to encompass the overall concept of being at risk of extinction.
The IUCN Red List is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It uses a set of quantitative criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species. These criteria are relevant to most species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, the IUCN Red List is recognised as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity.
Currently the IUCN Red List status is that 36% of the 47,677 species assessed are threatened with extinction, which represents:
- 21% of mammals
- 30% of amphibians
- 12% of birds
- 28% of reptiles
- 37% of freshwater fishes
- 70% of plants
- 35% of invertebrates
that have been assessed.
Averaged across all the taxonomic groups of animals and plants that have had IUCN Red List assessments, about 25% of species are threatened. But the sparse data for insects so far suggest it might be lower – estimates range from 10 to 15% – so IPBES used a figure of 10% that might turn out to be conservative. If insects are three-quarters of animal and plant species, there are 5.5 million of them, of which 10% are threatened (so, more than half a million insect species are threatened). If 25% of the other 2.6 million species are threatened, that’s more than half a million non-insect species threatened. Hence the rounded total figure is about 1 million species at risk of extinction.
Are the headlines about loss of species meaningful?
Some very broad assumptions have been used in coming up with the figure of 1 million species at risk of extinction over the next few decades. One wonders if this is a meaningful exercise.
Are people going to take more notice of this announcement?
Is there a better way of illustrating the significance of the threat of massive biodiversity loss over the next few decades?
Maybe the percentages quoted earlier mean more, such as 70% of plants and 21% of mammals?
Another factor that may be more significant is the loss of biomass of plants and animals. Recent studies have pointed to the significant decline in biomass of insects. Dr Sanchez-Bayo from Sydney University pointed this out in a recent paper to the journal Biological Conservation .
Besides all the important functions that insects play in our ecosystems - such as pollination, or recycling nutrients - they are also an essential element in the food chain that supports life on our planet. When the insects go, the frogs, birds and mammals don't have food.
The IPBES Assessment is mostly devoted to describing the reasons for species decline and what should be done about it. The reasons are not hard to find: exploitation, land clearing, weed and pathogen invasion, climate change.
Currently biodiversity law and policy is inadequate to redress the situation. If we are to halt the continued loss of nature, then the world’s legal, institutional and economic systems must be reformed entirely. And this change needs to happen immediately.
 Mora, C; Tittensor, DP; Adl, S; Simpson, AGB; Worm, B (2011) How Many Species are there on Earth and in the Ocean? PLOS Biol 9(8): e1001127
 Sánchez-Bayo, F and Wyckhuys, KAG (2019) Worldwide Decline of the Entomofauna: A Review of its Drivers. Biological Conservation 232, 8–27
Our walk in Fox Valley on 14 April revealed some surprises. A Powerful Owl was spotted and there were several unusual examples of fungi as identified by John Martyn.
Calocera or Dead Man’s fingers
We welcome Peter Clarke as a new member of the committee. He is well known for his work with Ku-ring-gai Council developing new programs such as the native bee hive rollout (how about coming to the talk he's giving about native bees) and pool to pond. He is a familiar face on the educational videos on EnviroTube.
Peter’s great knowledge of the Ku-ring-gai bushland and his education skills will be a great asset to STEP.
The rainforest corridors along the gullies of northern Sydney have been called by many names as ecologists try to describe them and place them into a broader classification system, for example Temperate Rainforest (1), Sandstone Gully Rainforest (2), Coachwood Rainforest (3), Northern Warm Temperate Rainforest (4) and now more recently Coastal Sandstone Gallery Rainforest (5).
While this rainforest forms a highly recognisable ecological community, the history and evolution of the individual plant species are all quite different.
Mosses and liverworts, not the extant species, were the first land plants and appeared around 470 million years ago (Ma) in the Ordovician. It has been speculated that their impact on the earth caused an ice age because of plummeting carbon dioxide (6).
Jumping forward to the mid Devonian (383–393 Ma) and a new group of plants is present, the ferns. Most of the earliest ferns are now extinct and most of our extant ferns date from only the last 70 million years, the late Cretaceous (7). Ferns of the Coastal Sandstone Gallery Rainforest include Common Maidenhair (Adiantum aethiopicum), False Bracken (Calochlaena dubia), Umbrella Fern (Sticherus flabellatus) and tree-ferns (Cyathea species). The origin of the Cyathea tree-ferns goes back to the Jurassic (201–145 Ma) (8) but the diversity in this tree fern family is unlikely to be older than the Palaeocene (younger than 66 million years).
The Umbrella Fern and Coral Fern (Gleichenia species) are considered an ancient fern family and date from at least the early Cretaceous (9) (approx 145 Ma).
Ancestry from millions of years ago: mosses from 470 Ma, Umbrella Fern from approx 145 Ma and Coachwoods from approx 34–28 Ma (photo Robin Buchanan)
The trees that dominate the Coastal Sandstone Gallery Rainforest are all flowering plants. The earliest fossil records of a flowering plant date from early Jurassic (10), more than 174 Ma but the diversification and dominance of flowering plants occurred from the Cretaceous (145–66 Ma) to more recent times (11). The main tree families of the rainforest include Myrtaceae, Cunoniaceae and Pittosporaceae.
Myrtaceae is an enormous family that has 1646 species in Australia and 3000 in the world (12). It is also very diverse with dry fruited plants typical of dry sclerophyll, such as Eucalyptus, and fleshy fruited plants typical of rainforests. It is primarily a southern hemisphere family with considerable northern extension. Crown Myrtaceae seem to date from only 95–84 Ma (13) (mid to upper Cretaceous). Species common in the Gallery Rainforest include Narrow-leaf Myrtle Austromyrtus tenuifolia, Grey Myrtle Backhousia myrtifolia, Water Gum Tristaniopsis laurina and Lilly Pilly Acmena smithii.
The Cunoniaceae is a small family with a Gondwanan origin and seems to date back to late Cretaceous. This family includes the trees Coachwood Ceratopetalum apetalum and Black Wattle Callicoma serratifolia. Ceratopetalum and Callicoma had evolved by the early Oligocene (34–28 Ma) or earlier (14).
Pittopsporaceae, containing Mock Orange Pittosporum undulatum, seems to have originated in Australasia in the early Cretaceous (approx 117 Ma) (15).
Australia’s rainforests are a mere remnant of their former glory in the early Miocene (c23–16 Ma) when they were wide spread. By the late Miocene (10.5–5 Ma) the drying out of Australia had resulted in forests and woodlands across Australia and the remnants of the rainforests were confined to the wetter coastal areas of Australia (16).
In the northern suburbs there are also smaller stands of Coastal Warm Temperate Rainforest, Coastal Escarpment Littoral Rainforest and Coastal Headland Littoral Rainforest (5) but the Coastal Sandstone Gallery Rainforest is far the most common.
- Robinson, L (1991) Field Guide to the Native Plants of Sydney, Kangaroo Press
- Martyn, J (2010) Field Guide to the Bushland of the Lane Cove Valley, STEP
- Smith Ecological Consultants (2008) Native Vegetation Communities of Hornsby Shire
- Keith, D (2004) Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes, NSW NPWS
- Office of Environment and Heritage (2016) The Native Vegetation of the Sydney Metropolitan Area. Vol 2: Vegetation Community Profiles, ver 3
- Marshall, M (2012) First plants plunge earth into ice age New Scientist
- Pinson, J About Ferns American Fern Society
- Bystriakova, N et al (2011) Evolution of the climatic niche in scaly tree ferns (Cyatheaceae, Polypodiopsida) Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 165(1), 1–19
- Gonzales, J and Kessler, M (2011) A synopsis of the Neoptropical species of Sticherus (Gleicheniaceae), with descriptions of nine new species Phytotaxa 31, 1–54
- eLife (2018) Fossils suggest flowers originated 50 million years earlier than thought ScienceDaily
- Foster, C (2016) The evolutionary history of flowering plants Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 149(1&2) 65–82
- Centre for Biodiversity Research (2002) Australian Flora and Vegetation Statistics
- Stevens, PF (2001 onwards) Angiosperm Phylogeny Website, ver 14, July 2017 (and more or less continuously updated since)
- Barnes, R (1999) Palaeobiogeography, extinctions and evolutionary trends in the Cunoniaceae: A synthesis of the fossil record PhD thesis, University of Tasmania
- Nicolas, N and Plunkett, G (2014) Diversification times and biogeographic patterns in Apiales Botanical Review 80(1) 30–58
- Australian Museum (2018) Evolving Landscapes
Photo at the top of the page: dense foliage of Coachwoods and Black Wattle in the rainforest lining the creek between eucalyptus dominated slopes (photo Robin Buchanan)