Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Phone: 02 62.. ....
National Capital Authority
GPO Box 373
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Dear Mr Smith
Submission on discussion paper, Canberra’s Open Space System
Friends of Grasslands (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, but its membership base encompasses people from within all of south-eastern Australia. Its more than 200 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public.
FOG welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Discussion Paper. Our issues related to the National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS) are given below.
The NCOSS is unique in Australia: established to protect a nationally significant open-space framework and visual backdrop for the National Capital it has preserved the natural and cultural heritage of the ACT. NCOSS systemically links habitats across the landscape and this should be recognised, cherished and enhanced.
The potential to better conserve nationally endangered migratory woodland fauna within the mature and restored vegetation in the NCOSS is nationally important. In Canberra we are most fortunate to be able to live within the landscape of open space and bushland. In particular, due to the history of government ownership, limited agricultural use and good planning the NCOSS contains valuable habitat of species and ecological communities that are otherwise endangered in the rest of south eastern Australia. Consequently conservation of the NCOSS is not merely a question of urban amenity in the ACT, it is of national importance for biodiversity conservation and thus deserves the highest degree of protection.
Over time the values of the NCOSS bushland have been better understood, and are now known to include conservation values, including protection and conservation of many threatened species and ecological communities; landscape connectivity; provision of ecological services; passive recreation; scientific research; and landscape aesthetics. However, responsibilities, including legislative responsibilities, have also increased as a result of recognition of these values. FOG believes that resources provided to manage these areas have not kept up with those responsibilities, and are concerned that as a result the open spaces are becoming more degraded. In this context we note, following the recent release by the former ACT Government of the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainability’s Report on Canberra Nature Park (nature reserves); Molonglo River Corridor (nature reserves) and Googong Foreshores Investigation, her recommendation to increase the protection and restoration of our nature reserves by sourcing new funding (recommendation 6) and wait with anticipation for the response of the ACT Government to this recommendation.
As identified in the discussion paper, different areas of the open space system vary considerably in regards to their conservation value. We believe that areas of high conservation value (which include areas containing threatened species and communities, areas that provide important buffers to areas of high conservation value, areas with a high diversity of native flora and fauna and areas that provide important connectivity for some flora and fauna) require management focused on retaining and enhancing those values. Such an approach requires a different level and type of management to be applied. We believe that there needs to be professional bush regeneration teams employed to work across the open space system, regardless of who the land manager is. Such a team would be well trained in techniques to enhance values, and would assist current land managers and volunteers to achieve high levels of conservation management. We attach a document that we have prepared for your consideration. Note that the same document was submitted to the Commissioner for Environment and Sustainability for consideration for the Canberra Nature Park investigation.
All significant pieces of land within the open space system with very high values require the highest level of protection. Several areas in particular remain outside the reserve system and we believe this should be rectified in the short term. Areas that should be protected in Canberra Nature Park, as federal nature reserves and/or embargoed from development include:
a) Yarramundi Reach grassland (containing threatened Natural Temperate Grassland and habitat for the Striped Legless Lizard and Golden Sun Moth);
b) Stirling Park and Scrivener's Hut grassy woodlands (containing threatened Yellow Box – Red Gum Grassy woodland and habitat for the endangered Button Wrinklewort and threatened birds);
c) Grassland in Kintore St, Yarralumla (containing threatened Natural Temperate Grassland) (site CC08 in Action Plan No. 28, ACT Lowland Native Grassland Conservation Strategy (ACT Government 2005);
d) other areas of Natural Temperate Grassland within the urban open space system which have no conservation protection, including:
- Grassland on the corner of Constitution Ave and Anzac Parade (siteCC02);
- Grassland on Lake Ginninderra (site BE06);
- Grassland in the Glenlock interchange (sites BE10 and BE11);
- Grassland in North Mitchell (site GU04); and
- Grassland in Yarralumla, between Alexandrina Drive and Black St (site CC11).
e) the northern rim of Gungahlin, linking east and west ACT and NSW, and containing significant areas of Yellow Box – Red Gum Grassy Woodland and many threatened species.
FOG is aware that site-specific conservation management plans or operational plans for a number of areas exist or are in preparation. We support this move, but believe that such plans are required to guide management and allocate resources for every site with conservation values.
We trust that the Commissioner’s investigation into Canberra Nature Park will be considered as part of this review of the National Capital Open Space System.
John Fitz Gerald
24 October 2011
ACT Bushland Management Team
A proposal supported by Friends of Grasslands Inc.
Prepared February 2010
Canberra’s nature park system is an invaluable asset to the city. These parks provide habitat to scores of native plants and animals, protect threatened ecological communities and species, work as a functional wildlife corridor within and between the city and surrounding natural areas, assist in protecting catchments, preserve the natural feel of the city and its setting and act as a valuable recreational outlet for the citizens of the city.
However, conservation management across the nature parks could best be described as under-resourced and inconsistent, even ad-hoc. This is due to many factors, most notably historical circumstances, poor resourcing, a lack of clear direction and inadequate knowledge of the natural values of the nature park system.
Many of the nature parks were originally set aside not for conservation purposes, but because they formed the hills, ridges and buffers in and between regional centres and suburbs. Several of these became the location for infrastructure such as water towers, electricity transmission lines, telecommuication towers and access tracks. Those added more recently to the system have usually been established for conservation purposes. As a consequence, these parks receive the bulk of management attention and resourcing.
In older nature parks, the Territory’s parks service has largely limited conservation management to one-off tasks such as specific weed species controls, planting programs and fuel reduction burns (which usually are about asset protection rather than for any ecological purposes). Community groups under the ‘Park Care’ banner have been an invaluable resource in many of these nature parks, as have activities organised by Greening Australia. However, while there have been some outstanding achievements by certain community groups (most notably at Red Hill, Aranda Bushland, Mount Majura and Mount Painter), the fact remains that natural areas can’t be successfully maintained on the basis of one-off activities or a few working bees each year undertaken by a community group.
The Canberra Nature Park Management Plan has been produced but its focus is broad and general and fails to deal with any operational priorities and actions for specific sites and their specific issues. The consequence is a lack of specific direction, funds and co-ordination required to achieve the broad aims and outcomes identified in the plan. There are no operational management plans for most reserves, some reserves receive minimal management, infrastructure such as fencing is often poorly maintained, many weed controls are ‘one-off’ and lacking integrated management, while feral pest animals and several serious environmental weeds are being left untouched in numerous reserves.
TAMS park rangers are unquestionably dedicated but the service has a general lack of the highly skilled ‘hands-on’ practical experience required to undertake ecological and bushland management, allied to a general lack of funding. This fundamentally undermines the ability of TAMS to effectively manage the nature reserve system in a long-term, sustainable manner.
We propose a fundamental shift in the management of the nature park system of Canberra towards the principles and practices of integrated ‘bushland management’, together with suitable resourcing (both physical and financial), as happens in every other major regional and capital city in south-east Australia. This proposal, we believe, will result in the development of a highly skilled team of land managers, contractors and volunteers who will work in a strategic, coordinated and cost efficient way to achieve measurable and defined outcomes in the reserve system. We envisage that any bushland management program would sit within the broader TAMS model and operate as an equivalent unit to the general parks and gardens management team, ranger service or arboriculture unit.
Bushland management in south-east Australia
‘Bushland management’ is a generic term applied to the on-ground management of any stand of remnant native vegetation. In this context, ‘bushland’ can mean any area of native vegetation, be it grassland, grassy woodland, forest, riparian corridor and the like.
Except for Canberra, every major capital and regional city in south-east Australia manages its natural urban and peri-urban parks and reserves through co-ordinated bushland management programs. Activities include environmental weed control, native flora and fauna protection, seed collection, feral animal controls, plant 'rescues', restoration plantings, ecological monitoring and evaluation, track and trail maintenance and rehabilitation and ecological burns.
As an example, almost all local government authorities in Melbourne and Sydney employ staff and / or professional contractors to undertake management activities in natural areas. Several regional cities similar in size and values to Canberra including Wollongong, Newcastle, Hobart, Launceston, Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat are committed in the same way, running programs and employing professional bushland crews to manage their natural areas.
In addition, most councils and authorities in south-east Australia with responsibility for urban and peri-urban bushland ensure that management programs are developed in a systematic and sustainable manner. This is usually done through the development of site-specific operational management plans, designed to highlight management issues and priorities and set practical on-ground actions.
Local authorities in Victoria utilise a combination of sources to fund the management of their nature parks and reserves. Rates are the main means, but contributions also come from state authorities and developers, the latter as offset costs for subdivision and native vegetation clearing. This process is enshrined within the Victorian Government’s ‘Habitat Hectares’ legislation. A similar system known as ‘Biobanking’ has just commenced in NSW. A number of local authorities in NSW and Queensland favour using specific environmental levies from rate payers to pay for environmental programs, including bushland management services. Examples include Manly City Council, Brisbane City Council, Wollongong City Council and Ku-ring-gai Shire Council.
Community involvement in urban bushland restoration is widespread across the country, but rarely is it the main means of management: the vast bulk of such activities are usually anchored within broader bushland management programs run by local government and other authorities. The community’s work is recognised for its intrinsic social and environmental values but activities are usually supplemented by professional in-house works crews or contractors to ensure outcomes are met and community actions aren’t undermined and wasted.
Examples of bushland management programs in south-east Australia
There are numerous examples of how local and regional authorities in south-east Australia manage natural areas utilising both professionals and the community. Here we present examples from the City of Hume, near Melbourne, and Hobart City Council.
City of Hume (Victoria)
The City of Hume is on the north-western, urban-rural fringe of Melbourne and is just over 500 square kilometres in size. It had a population of more than 150,000 in 2006 with a predicted increase to over 230,000 by 2031.
The City of Hume has direct responsibility for managing more than eighty nature parks and reserves including grasslands, grassy woodlands and riparian areas. Council sets a specific budget of over $600,000 to manage these areas, and this is supplemented by capital works budgets, one-off grants from authorities such as Melbourne Water and development offset levies through Victorian ‘Habitat Hectare’ legislative requirements. These supplementary amounts can take the specific yearly budget for on-ground management in the municipality’s natural areas to over $1 million annually. This figure does not include amenity and asset management and development. These are managed under separate programs.
The City of Hume employs a bushland management team of seven staff in the Parks Department. Additional bushland management is carried out by a range of professional contractors. Supplementing this, Council’s Environment Department runs the ‘Greening Program’, a community revegetation program employing several other staff.
The City of Hume is not the sole body conducting management within natural areas in the municipality. Other bodies such as the Merri Creek Management Committee, Moonee Ponds Creek Management Committee and Parks Victoria also undertake restoration and management activities at several sites that they have responsibility for within the City of Hume.
Hobart City Council (Tasmania)
Hobart City Council serves a population of approximately 50,000. It covers an area of 77 square kilometres (7,700 hectares) with council-managed bushland occupying just under 30 square kilometres (2,966 hectares). Hobart City Council also manages a further 1,623 hectares of bushland outside the city boundaries.
Hobart City Council employs seventeen staff and four contractors directly on bushland management programs. These are divided into four ‘units’: bushland restoration, fire management, track and trail maintenance and asset management. Staff resources are rotated through the four unit activities, depending on seasonal factors, work schedules and budgetary priorities.
Council also employs a further seven staff to work with the community on various bushland activities and to develop bushland reserve management plans and other strategic and operational documents. Funding for the entire bushland management program comes from rates, capital works budgets and one-off grants from state authorities.
Development of site-specific management plans across the Canberra Nature Park System
As discussed above, many councils and authorities in south-east Australia develop site-specific operational management plans for their natural parks and reserves. Such plans are a widely recognised management tool, designed to highlight issues, integrate management, set priorities and direct on-ground works and actions.
Management plans take many forms. The most valuable avoid generic approaches, instead focusing on the specific issues affecting an individual site and the actions required to sustain its conservation values. Such plans usually include maps and species’ inventories, identify features such as tracks, trails, buildings and infrastructure, determine fire risks and fire management at sites, identify weed impacts and priorities for weed control, provide guidance for rare flora and fauna management, assess edge management and land use impacts and propose on-ground management programs (of varying lengths but often of 3-5 years duration).
Only seven (less than a quarter) of Canberra’s nature parks have site-specific management plans. In nature parks without a plan, ad-hoc management is common, a situation that potentially leads to conservation values and ecological integrity being undermined. For example, at several nature parks without plans, significant damage has occurred due to uncoordinated actions, a situation that may have been avoided if plans were in place and followed. Examples of this include:
- A poorly-timed fuel reduction burn at Mount Painter in 2007 during severe drought conditions resulted in significant native tree and shrub death.
- Tracks in one of the few structurally intact sections at The Pinnacle were widened significantly for access purposes in 2007, resulting in considerable destruction of native groundflora.
- Thirty infrastructure developments have occurred at Red Hill in the last twenty years and resulted in the loss of several hectares of endangered woodlands and the removal of hundreds of trees and shrubs.
Management plans on their own don’t guarantee that such actions won’t occur again unless there is good communication and new staff are adequately briefed on areas under their control. For example, at Justice Robert Hope Park in 2006 poorly briefed spray contractors destroyed native groundflora planted by the community despite the park having a management plan in place and clear indications of where boom spraying was not permitted. However, with the right understanding and commitment in place between managers, stakeholders and the community, management plans have great potential to elevate the values of individual reserves and of the nature park system as a whole, particularly when integrated within an overall bushland management ethos.
Managing Canberra’s natural areas beyond the nature parks
While this investigation does not have the scope to look at management in all natural areas of Canberra, we feel it is worthwhile highlighting how this issue is dealt with in other jurisdictions, as it shows that integrated management of natural areas occurs throughout urban and peri-urban areas of south-east Australia.
In the ACT various Territory and Commonwealth departments, as well as various leaseholders, have stands of remnant native vegetation on land they own or are responsible for. However, in general not a great deal of conservation-orientated management on these lands occurs. (Notable exceptions include the Australian National University (ANU), Friends of Grasslands (FOG) and National Capital Authority (NCA), who have undertaken or supported bushland restoration on land they control or have a direct interest in. Greening Australia has also worked with various rural leaseholders to develop revegetation and habitat protection works, and Ginninderra Catchment Group and Molonglo Catchment Committee have done significant work in their respective catchments).
This situation stands in contrast to other jurisdictions in south-east Australia where the principle of active management of natural areas is accepted as part and parcel of land ownership and stewardship by various public and private organisations. In Melbourne for example, Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water devote significant financial and physical resources to actively managing natural areas they have responsibility for. Similarly, the Merri Creek Management Committee (operating in the northern suburbs of Melbourne) employs more than fifteen staff on riparian and grassland restoration, as well as community education and planting projects. At La Trobe University, the La Trobe University Wildlife Sanctuary provides the expertise to manage large areas of remnant and recreated habitat through the university grounds.
Without a more proactive approach, it is almost certain that the conservation values of natural areas under the ownership / management of various Territory and Commonwealth departments and leaseholders, will decline because of factors such as weed invasion, feral animal impacts and ad-hoc actions by land managers. We believe that the development of a bushland management program for the Canberra Nature Parks system would greatly help to highlight the need to professionally manage all natural areas in the ACT in ways that genuinely sustain conservation values.
The City of Hume and Hobart City Council have significantly smaller populations than Canberra yet both have made a strong commitment to develop sustainable and resilient natural landscapes within urban and peri-urban settings. This is similar to all other regional and urban authorities in South-east Australia, bar Canberra. They clearly illustrate a pathway for Canberra to move towards, where natural parklands and reserves as a whole are managed with a genuine commitment to preserving biodiversity and ecological functionality.
If Canberra is to truly live up to its ‘bush capital’ image, then it must develop and promote a bushland management ethos and culture for all its natural areas. The Territory government can foster this process by developing a professional bushland management program to operate throughout the Canberra Nature Parks system.
Recommendations to the Territory Government
- Undertake a study of bushland management principles, practices, scope, costings and sources of funding in south-east Australia, with particular reference to regional cities of comparable size and values such as Hobart, Launceston, Newcastle, Wollongong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong.
- Investigate recurrent funding options for bushland management programs in Canberra, with particular reference to community ‘environment’ levies and levies on developers like the Victorian ‘Habitat Hectares’ scheme.
- Commit to the development of site specific, operational management plans in each of Canberra’s Nature Parks, identifying values, issues and practical on-ground management works programs.
- Establish a professional team with a high level of skills in ecological restoration and management, who would work with existing government managers and staff, non-government and community groups, to train and undertake work in sites across jurisdictions.
- Establish a Canberra Nature Park consultative body / panel with expertise in ecological restoration and bushland management to work with the ACT government to develop a cost-effective, proactive and on-going bushland management program for the nature reserve system of the city.
- Investigate options for on-ground management of valuable natural assets beyond the Canberra Nature Reserve system (including riparian areas, wetlands, grasslands and grassy woodlands) in partnership with leaseholders, relevant authorities and management bodies such as the National Capital Authority, Department of Defence, ACTPLA and urban-edge rural leaseholders.