Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 987
Civic Square ACT 2608
Phone: 02 62.. ....
Independent review of the National Capital Authority
Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government
GPO Box 803
CANBERRA ACT 2601
To whom it may concern,
Management of grassy ecosystems on national lands managed by the NCA
We write regarding the Federal Government’s response to the report on the independent review into the role and responsibilities of the National Capital Authority (NCA), “Canberra a Capital Place: Report of the Independent Review of the National Capital Authority” (October 2011).
We ask you to act to strengthen the NCA’s capacities to fulfil its obligations to conserve “the naturally occurring plant and animal communities and species of the ACT” (National Capital Plan, 11.3(d), pg. 67). The NCA has primary management responsibility for national lands in central Canberra, including 23 hectares at Yarramundi Reach in Acton and 52 hectares of Stirling “Park” in Yarralumla.
The NCA’s management of these national lands has not featured in recent reviews of the organisation. We appreciate acknowledgement of our submission to Dr Hawke in his report but believe that management of this significant area of land in central Canberra by the NCA deserves Federal Government action now to reserve these sites as Commonwealth nature reserves and allocate resources to manage them adequately.
Friends of Grasslands
Friends of Grasslands (FOG) is a community organisation that promotes conservation of indigenous grassy ecosystems in the Capital region through education, research, management and advocacy. In the case of the high conservation value grasslands and grassy woodlands on national lands, we established a partnership with the National Capital Authority (NCA) in 2009 and have undertaken 13 conservation work parties between April 2009 and December 2010 involving 177 volunteers who contributed 1,042 volunteer hours of work (with financial support from the NCA).
Grassy ecosystems on national lands
The grassy woodlands on national lands in Yarralumla and Acton are at the highest level of national biodiversity conservation significance. The cessation of agriculture on these lands following the establishment of Canberra and subsequent land use for public purposes has preserved biodiversity that has been lost to grazing, cropping and farm chemicals over vast areas of south-eastern Australia. Both sites contain nationally endangered flora and fauna listed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act (1999). Stirling Park is a substantial remnant of Yellow Box – Blakely’s Red Gum grassy woodland and the second largest remaining population of the Button Wrinklewort (plant). Yarramundi Reach is a remnant of natural temperate grasslands and habitat for a number of threatened species. The grassy ecosystems on national lands are severely threatened by weed invasion, a consequence of neglectful management, and are also at risk from changes in land use, posing problems for the Federal Government.
Despite their national conservation significance, none of these grassy ecosystems on national lands are reserved for environmental purposes. For instance, they are not zoned as Nature Conservation Areas, as are areas such as Jerrabomberra wetlands. Stirling Park and Yarramundi Reach are both tagged in the National Capital Plan for other purposes (e.g. a new Lodge and a National Museum), even though the subsequent Commonwealth EPBC Act (1999) and other changes make development approvals on these sites exceedingly unlikely and such proposals would be subject to legal challenges.
A key issue for the NCA’s estate management is that, to maintain their values, these grassy ecosystems require different management compared to cultural landscapes. The lawns of the parliamentary triangle can easily be maintained through lawn mowing contractors. However management of a grassy ecosystem requires expert ecological knowledge, consistent effort, and the capacity to intervene seasonally and on a weekly basis as conditions change, for example, to control key weeds. The NCA does not currently have this capacity, suggesting that its budget either needs to be increased or responsibility for managing these lands needs to be transferred to an authority that has, such as Parks Australia.
We estimate that good management would require two dedicated staff and a budget of around $500,000 per year. FOG believes that the NCA estate management staff are committed to conserving the natural heritage values of national lands by implementing the NCA’s 2009 grassy ecosystem management plan, and are working as hard as possible to achieve better land management outcomes. We are particularly appreciative of the NCA’s recent fuel reduction burning activities and some weed control. However, high quality management is very challenging in a small agency such as the NCA with a small number of dedicated estate management staff and no dedicated budget for grassy ecosystem management. This is reflected in a long history of government reports recommending greater investment in conservation and collaboration between the NCA and ACT agencies, including most recently the ACT Commissioner for the Environment’s grasslands report (2009) and the NCA’s grassy ecosystem management plan by Sharp (2009).
It is important that the Federal Government demonstrate to the nation how threatened species and ecological communities are to be conserved by better managing its land under the EPBC Act in the heart of the national capital. The deplorable condition of this significant, federally-owned habitat sets a bad example to other land managers.
It is clear that the Federal Government is not currently investing the modest resources required to manage these lands through the NCA to achieve the objectives of the National Capital Plan and the EPBC Act. We ask the Federal Government in its response to the Hawke Review to ensure that the NCA can adequately conserve matters of national environmental significance on its national lands.
Institutional management options
We ask you to consider recommendations to:
1. Improve the conservation tenure of these lands by reserving Stirling Park and Yarramundi Reach as nature reserves or extensions of the Australian National Botanic Gardens; and
2. Allocate adequate resources for management of Stirling Park and Yarramundi Reach.
FOG considers that the lands concerned have such high national heritage values that they should be managed by the Federal Government. We ask the Federal Government allocate adequate funds to maintain grassy ecosystems on national lands. We also ask for rezoning of national lands with significant grasslands and grassy woodlands under the National Capital Plan 2002 to “Nature Conservation Area”, as Jerrabomberra wetlands is currently designated.
We believe that the lands could be managed by Parks Australia, part of the federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. We note that in the United States, the National Parks Service manages national lands in Washington DC (eg. Rock Creek Park, the Mall). Stirling Park and Yarramundi Reach could be reserved as federal nature reserves managed under the EPBC Act 1999. Alternatively, these sites could become annexes of the Australian National Botanical Gardens for ex situ conservation of threatened grassy ecosystems. In the case of Yarramundi Reach, protection and management of the grassland could be combined with the Lindsay Pryor National Arboretum as part of a broader Federal and ACT government botanical precinct.
We look forward to the government’s consideration of these recommendations.
John Fitz Gerald
16 November 2011