By Terry Tovey - Warrandyte Community Association President
GWMP Biodiversity backgrounder. Use this excellent article for background in your submission
Biodiversity and the Green Wedge Management Plan
Home to nearly 1,400 indigenous plant and animal species, Nillumbik is incredibly rich in biodiversity. Nillumbik identifies itself as "The Green Wedge Shire" and is the most intact of our city’s 12 green wedges, which together form "The Lungs of Melbourne". Nillumbik was established in 1994 as a conservation shire, with its Green Wedge as the strategic focus.
• Biodiversity – the web of all life - is in decline everywhere, including Nillumbik
• Arresting the decline of biodiversity is possible, and essential for our survival
• Biodiversity and bushfire mitigation do not necessarily require conflicting approaches
• Restoring Australia’s biodiverse systems requires a sensitive approach when living and thriving in a land shaped by fire
• GWMPs make an important contribution to safe guarding and restoring biodiversity
• The way we think and therefore speak about our connection to our environment shapes our decisions and actions. The GWMP is important to shaping Nillumbik’s future.
The importance of biodiversity
‘Life forms that make up biodiversity have intrinsic value and warrant our respect’, State Government Victoria1
Biodiversity collectively describes the vast array of approximately 9 million unique living organisms (including Homo sapiens) that inhabit the earth, together with the interactions amongst them. The concept includes every species of bacteria, virus, plant, fungi, and animal, as well as the diversity of genetic material within each species. It also encompasses the diverse ecosystems the species make up and the ongoing evolutionary processes that keep them functioning and adapting.
All of us need to breathe, drink and eat. These are all benefits that are fundamentally provided by biodiversity. Without these organisms, ecosystems and ecological processes, human societies could not exist. They supply us with oxygen and clean water. They cycle carbon and fix nutrients. They enable plants to grow and therefore to feed us, keep pest species and diseases in check and help protect against flooding and regulate the climate.2
Biodiversity is in decline everywhere including Nillumbik
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is the international body which assesses the state of biodiversity and the innumerable benefits it provides. Launching the most recent report at the IPBES meeting in April/May this year, Chair, Sir Robert Watson summarised the findings:
“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
1 DEWLP Biodiversity 2037 https://www.environment.vic.gov.au/biodiversity/biodiversity-plan accessed 12.6.19
2 Adapted from an article in The Conversation www.theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-biodiversity-and-why-does-it-m... accessed 12.6.19
The 2018 State of the Environment report for Victoria 3 identified that 26% of Biodiversity indicators are in poor condition and will remain so without intervention. These included the prevalence of invasive terrestrial plants, distribution and abundance of frogs, distribution and abundance of fish, and net gain in extent and condition of native vegetation. Today, between one quarter and one third of all of Victoria’s terrestrial plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, along with numerous invertebrates and ecological communities, are considered THREATENED WITH EXTINCTION. 4
Nillumbik is not immune to this effect. Recent correspondence with Associate Professor Randall Robinson – Deputy Director of the Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities, Victoria University Research, Victoria University Melbourne confirms that biodiversity is “in decline in Nillumbik with a wide range of evidence that cannot be ignored”. He points to:
• out of control proliferation of noxious weeds such as Chilean Needle Grass, Serrated Tussock, Boneseed, Bridal Creeper and Sweet Pittosporum
• prevalence of introduced pests, including weeds, directly impacting on many of our native species.
• Decline of native insect species
• The decline in nectar-producing plants in the Shire, leading to a decline in small, nectar-feeding birds
• Decline in stream flows and creek biota because of upstream water harvesting into legal and illegal dams;
• The general drying of the climate which has led to shifts in most plant and animal communities throughout Australia, including in Nillumbik, with sharp declines in some notable groups of species including Orchids.
These concerns are reflected in Nillumbik’s 2014 State of the Environment Report, which states that the pressure of incremental loss of vegetation is significant, and that Council’s reserves are under constant threat from a range of processes such as weed invasion, predation by and competition with pest animals, pressure from residential development, altered fire regimes and habitat destruction.
At the launch of the IBPES report Sir Robert Watson also stated that “it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global”. What we do everywhere at every level has never been more important. The direction provided in the next Nillumbik Green Wedge Management plan needs to make a significant and positive contribution to the international effort to arrest the decline of biodiversity.
Biodiversity and fire
We all need to accept that fire is crucial to maintaining Australia’s biodiversity. Plants and animals have long evolved in conjunction with fire. Protection of human life and assets from the risks posed by bushfire is commonly identified as a reason for increasing land clearing and to justify the consequent destruction of flora and habitat. However, the Bushfire Royal Commission [BRC] recommended that development does not occur in areas in which either the bushfire risk or the environmental cost of making people safe is too high.
3 Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Victoria https://www.ces.vic.gov.au/reports/state-environment-2018 accessed 12.6.19
4 DEWLP Biodiversity 2037 https://www.environment.vic.gov.au/biodiversity/biodiversity-plan accessed 12.6.19
The report describes the need for ongoing review of local government approaches to ensuring development does not occur in inappropriate areas, and states that more prescriptive controls will need to be introduced should this fail.
The uncontrollable and intense fires we experience in Australia today devastate and change our communities as well as biodiversity. Maintaining strong vegetation cover has the potential to contribute to a reduction in fire risk through cooling the land and increasing local rainfall. University of Queensland research has identified that: ‘The “bulldozer solution” of clearing large tracts of bush to reduce the risk of bushfires will only compound the problem – by clearing the land, you get a hotter land surface, so bushfires will be more severe,’ Rather, we need to restore and actively manage native forests and woodlands for the multiple ecosystem services they can provide.’ Dr Clive McALpine5
A Green Wedge Management Plan that promotes vegetation protection and enhancement is not at odds with bushfire risk mitigation.
GWMPs make an important contribution to biodiversity protection
Since their inception in the late 1960s Green Wedges have been an integral part of Melbourne’s urban planning. They are described as the non-urban areas of metropolitan Melbourne that lie outside the Urban Growth Boundary. They are a crucial limitation on uncontrolled urban sprawl. In 1971 the Government stated that the basic attributes and resources contained within the areas shall be preserved to a maximum degree, and that environment management policies shall be specifically oriented towards this objective. They are a vital part of keeping Melbourne liveable.6
Across Melbourne there are 12 Green Wedges, located within 17 Local Government Areas. Local Councils are required by the Victorian Government to develop a management plan for their Green Wedge area.
Nillumbik Council is currently in the process of reviewing and updating the Nillumbik Green Wedge Management plan. The new draft plan will be released for community consultation at the end of June, and submissions from the public can be made from 1st July -11th August. This website will give you relevant details and you can sign up to receive important updates.
In coming weeks you will receive further information and concise key points that may support your submission writing. In the meantime, the references listed in this document may help deepen our understanding.
5 Linking land clearing to drought and climate change, Travis Taylor, 2009
6 Warrandyte Community Association 2018 How Come We Have a Nillumbik Green Wedge and why should you care? www.greenwedge.warrandyte.org.au/resources accessed 12.6.19