Friends of Merri Creek comments on the Green Paper: Land and biodiversity at a time of climate change
The Friends of Merri Creek Incorporated is a community group that has actively worked since 1988 to restore and protect the Merri Creek, its environs and tributaries. We aim to protect and enhance the indigenous flora and fauna communities, ecological flows and the unique biological and geological landscapes, significant Indigenous cultural sites, and historical features of the Merri Creek corridor from Wallan through northern Melbourne, for the enjoyment and benefit of current and future generations. We have over 450 members. Our activities include planting and hands-on activities, major roles on the Merri Creek Management Committee, campaigning and advocacy, community education, and water quality monitoring.
Friends of Merri Creek make the following comments in response to the Green Paper on land and biodiversity.
1. We agree that the “scale of the challenge we face is immense and highlights the long-term commitment required to address it” (Green Paper p12). Clearly many organisations and sectors of society have to play a role, but the State Government is the level of government with primary responsibility for biodiversity and land health, and it should be investing at least ten times more than it currently does on the conservation of biodiversity and land and water resources. Any of the laudable policy directions in the Green Paper will be worthless unless they are backed up with real resources. Areas that need more funding include land purchase, public land management, strategic planning, ecological monitoring, applied research for adaptive management, environmental education, pest plants and animals, stewardship payments and other financial incentives to manage native vegetation and wildlife habitat on private land. We need strong leadership from the Victorian Government as well as substantial investment on both public and private land.
2. The Green Paper indicates that the Government is preparing to abandon some threatened species. This is not acceptable to us. Extinction is forever, and represents a loss of part of our priceless natural heritage. Victoria is a wealthy state in a wealthy nation; we have the capacity and the moral responsibility to prevent the extinction of native species. The State Government should re-commit to the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act principal objective, not revise it to a more “realistic” objective (p65).
The Green Paper implicitly adopts an anthropocentric paradigm, which sees value in nature only to the extent that it provides services and other benefits to humans. We would like to see in the White Paper some explicit acknowledgement of the intrinsic value of nature: that “our land and waterways and the diverse flora and fauna they are a home to are important … in their own right” (VECCI quote, p7 Green Paper).
3. We urge a high-priority, multi-faceted program to halt the destruction of native grasslands for cropping and urban development. DSE’s recent Native Vegetation Net Gain Accounting – First Approximation report estimates that the rate of clearing of grassy native vegetation in Victoria is 3,200 hectares/year. Attempts to re-create complex ecological communities like native grasslands are extremely costly, so the priority must be to protect, enhance and encourage restoration of the grasslands that remain. A suite of approaches is needed, urgently, to halt the loss of these threatened ecosystems, including:
• Acquisition of high-significance sites and addition to the conservation reserve system, or resale under a conservation covenant.
4. We support the suggested approach of the Green Paper regarding rivers, wetlands and estuaries (p48). Further, we strongly support the recommendations for riparian land protection, management and works in The Public Land Conservancy report to DSE ‘A review of the management of riparian land in Victoria’ (2008).
5. Environmental flows for regulated rivers should be not only identified, but also delivered – the environment needs a guaranteed share of water. It has already taken too much of the burden of water shortages. We need to recognise water has been over-allocated to extractive uses, and reduce extraction to a level that will maintain aquatic and riparian ecosystems in a climate with declining rainfall.
6. The Melbourne metropolitan region covers more than 8000 square kilometres, and encompasses a variety of habitats including coastal saltmarsh, basalt plains, sandy heaths and wet forests. It lies in the migration pathways for many bird species and has become a drought refuge for other. For these and other reasons the region is significant in biodiversity terms and there is much potential to enhance this significance with a supportive urban community. We nominate three priorities for biodiversity conservation in the Melbourne metropolitan region:
i) Permanent protection of areas of regional or State conservation significance, especially the volcanic plains grasslands (above).
7. The Green Paper implies that volunteers will be expected to play a major role in biodiversity conservation. To be effective and efficient at tackling the challenges facing us, we need a skilled, paid professional workforce that is supported by volunteers. In the case of revegetation works, inadequate site preparation and uninformed species selection, poor planting practices with no or inadequate follow-up weed control mean that many volunteer projects do not have successful outcomes.
An analogy can be drawn with the healthcare sector. Nurses originally were expected to work for next to nothing and go beyond duty because it was a ‘vocation’. Obviously nowadays people expect their health to be cared for professionally, and it is recognised that health management is a very technical area. This is not to say that volunteers are not still important in health management: they provide a lot of support and are appreciated, but nobody would expect, nor want them to take things into their own hands. Likewise in environmental management, we now expect land and biodiversity to be cared for professionally in recognition that, especially in a time of climate change, their management is a very complex and technical area where well-meaning intentions and mostly volunteer labour are not the best practices.
After almost twenty years of experience with joint professional-volunteer activities with the Merri Creek Management Committee and the Friends of Merri Creek, we can vouch for the benefits of a dedicated, suitably trained, resourced and adequately remunerated environmental management workforce who are there to do the planning and follow-up that makes community engagement a satisfying and worthwhile experience.
8. The vast majority of Victorians live in cities, and many have little direct contact with nature. It is little wonder that biodiversity decline is not a very ‘popular’ issue. Environmental education needs a big boost, to increase appreciation of our natural heritage and what is needed to conserve it, in the face of escalating threats. Particular targets should be landholders, government and corporate decisionmakers, and young people. Experiential learning can be a very effective approach.
9. With regard to climate change mitigation, we advocate that logging of Victoria’s native forests be rapidly phased out and all native vegetation more strongly protected and managed for its value as a massive carbon store, and as ongoing mechanism for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
10. Planning Schemes should be more effective in protecting land health and biodiversity. We support the suggested approach in section 7.4. Zones and overlays need to be revised using the latest data on native vegetation extent and condition (produced by scientists from Arthur Rylah Institute). Regional Catchment Strategies and plans should have more influence on planning schemes and on development approval processes.
11. We are concerned at the proposal for public-private partnerships to manage some areas of public land – is this franchising out public land for private profit? Public land should be managed in the public interest by public agencies. Market-based approaches are not appropriate for public land.
12. The Green Paper fails to show how to ensure that biodiversity will be considered in all decision-making in Victoria. This is rightfully nominated as a vital question for the White Paper to address in the quote from the Victoria Naturally Alliance, p3 of the Green Paper. We look forward to seeing it addressed in the White Paper.