Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Commonwealth and Territories Section
Approvals and Wildlife Division
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
Development of block 799 Gungahlin, ACT
Reference Number: 2010/5750
In considering this referral, FOG notes that, while management and environmental conditions have favoured the regeneration of native grasses in recent years, diversity of forbs has not recovered on the block so that the endangered ecological community Natural Temperate Grassland (NTG) is no longer present within the area. We also note that Action Plan No. 28 (Ref. 3) categorises this area of striped legless lizard habitat as “marginal or fragmented habitat that is considered to be not viable in the medium to long term”.
However, we understand that a current survey for the striped legless lizard has found that the species is still present in moderate numbers, despite the isolation of the site. FOG’s view is that there should be no development that impacts on vulnerable or endangered species habitat or ecosystem communities, and in principle we oppose the proposed development and the use of offsets in these circumstances.
As well, the referral states that the survey is still underway – surely drawing conclusions about the size and viability of the population before the survey is completed is premature? Nor is there information provided about other populations of the lizard in Gungahlin, so that the importance of this particular population cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy. We note that there is no environmental impact assessment been done, and the referral lacks strong evidence to support the argument that the proposed development will result in no net loss to this vulnerable species.
Another concern FOG has with the referral is the implication that reserves set aside fifteen years ago constitute some sort of offset for this proposed development. In our view, those reserves were offsets for urban developments happening at that time, and cannot continue to be offsets for an ongoing stream of developments in perpetuity. Offsets must be supplementary and not substituting for already existing commitments, e.g. they should not replace existing reserves or government funding to maintain such reserves.
The referral states that “With several large conservation reserves in the ACT supporting the striped legless lizard, there are numerous opportunities for implementing offsets on this basis, although the details require further consideration on a strategic basis to determine the optimum approach for such offsets. Such details are beyond the scope of the present referral and need to be addressed in a wider context.” We agree that a strategic approach to enhance the protection of the striped legless lizard is needed, but think that such an approach should be determined (and discussed with the community) before any development that might impact on this vulnerable species is considered. We are also concerned about the vagueness of this statement and the possibility that the suggested vague offsets will be deferred and, in reality, never happen. Offsets should be in place before the development commences, e.g. land should be purchased, conservation covenants entered into, and funds put aside, before any work on the development starts. We believe that Government should take advice from or refer offset proposals to an independent expert body to assist in determining the offset’s suitability (in the event that the decision is made to ignore the needs of a vulnerable species). The result should be “net gain” (i.e. increase population sizes and improve breeding status for the striped legless lizard), not maintenance of the status quo or an overall loss.
We have discussed this with the ACT Herpetological Association executive and they share FOG’s concerns on the impact of the proposed development on the striped legless lizard.
The National Capital Authority (NCA) recently put a Draft Development Control Plan (DCP) (No. 10/07) relating to block 799 out for public comment. As FOG noted in its comments on the draft DCP, there are some issues relating to the Natural Temperate Grassland (NTG) site adjoining block 799 that are not addressed adequately in the current referral (other than a vague statement that “It may be feasible in designing the development to maintain a landscape buffer along the Wells Station Road frontage, where the grassland habitat quality is highest”).
NTG is listed as an endangered ecological community in the ACT. While this site is very small (and half lies on the other side of Wells Station Road), it is an NTG site in conservation category 3. The Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment (the CSE) noted in her Report on ACT Lowland Native Grassland Investigation that the site (GU07 in her report) has deteriorated and is threatened by weeds. However, that is no reason to downplay or completely ignore the conservation values of the site.
In the DCP, FOG noted that there would be no vehicle access to the block from the Federal Highway, and that access to the block will be from Wells Station Road only. In other words, access will be through the NTG site. In addition, any development activity on the site will inevitably have a significant impact on the remaining NTG on the nature strip during the construction phase.
To date the site appears to have been allowed to deteriorate due to a lack of management (the CSE reports that there is no management plan for the site), to the point where its conservation values are at risk. Now it is being completely ignored (again), both in the NCA’s DCP and in the current referral. FOG’s view is that the potential impact of any development in this area on the NTG site needs to be included in the development proposal, and a conscious decision about the site’s long term viability and future be made.
If a decision is made to develop this area (with consequential destruction of the NTG site GU07), then this needs to be acknowledged and suitable environmental offsets need to be provided elsewhere in the Gungahlin/Belconnen area. Again, such offsets should be in place before any development of block 799 commences.
FOG is a community group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south-eastern Australia. FOG advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FOG is based in Canberra and its more than 200 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public.
9 December 2010