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Opportunity to protect Melbourne's grassland habitat

Native grasslands are among the most heavily cleared and endangered ecosystems in Victoria. However, new studies suggest that up to 30,000 ha of native grasslands, of varying quality, survive on Melbourne's western fringe.

Despite protection through the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and listing under federal legislation, legal and illegal clearing of grasslands continues through conversion from native pasture to more intensive agriculture, and urban development.

Melbourne@5 million, the former Brumby Government plan for the expansion of Melbourne, emphasised the importance of native grasslands, particularly in the Wyndham (Werribee) area, and committed the government to "the creation of two large grassland protected areas".

A detailed plan for the new growth areas has been released. The planning was undertaken using a previously unused provision of national environmental law a Strategic Assessment of proposed urban areas under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. This allowed the whole of the growth areas to be assessed at once instead of on a site by site basis.

Many people dispute the sustainability of further metropolitan expansion, and the western expansion of Melbourne will require clearing of potentially significant areas of native grassland and other habitat for threatened species.

Native grasslands and associated species were the key focus of this assessment, which will set conditions for the State Government (and ultimately property developers) on how they may develop areas with native vegetation.

Through these planning and assessment processes, there was a proposal to establish major grassland reserves west of Melbourne, small woodland reserves in the North and bio links for the endangered Southern Brown Bandicoots in the South East around Cranbourne. A range of other rules, assessment procedures and proposals for regional biodiversity plans were also set up with agreement of the Commonwealth for species such as the Growling Grass frog and the critically endangered golden sun moth.

But there is also a huge challenge here, and a risk that the assessment may give the green light to large-scale clearing before new reserves are created. Even with new reserves, large areas of high quality and botanically unique native grassland and other habitats will be lost to urban sprawl.

The former Baillieu Government also initiated a range of subsequent reviews of growth areas and green wedges, which further contributed a great deal of uncertainty for the grasslands and other habitats.

The VNPA aims to work to increase protection of significant biodiversity and habitat assets in all Melbourne metropolitan growth areas, with a focus on facilitating community input, sharing local ecological knowledge, raising awareness, and informing decision-making and reserve design in urban interface areas.

The Andrews Labor Government released 'Plan Melbourne' in 2014


More info

You can find out more about the strategic assessment of Melbourne's urban growth boundary from the Victorian Government.

In July 2009 the Victorian National Parks Association made a final submission to the process for expanding Melbourne's urban growth boundary. Chapter 2 of that submission covers the 'Strategic Assessment Process' and institutional issues.

Download VNPA submission, chapter 2