PARK WATCH Article December 2023 |

Ben Gill, Nature Conservation Campaigner, investigates disregard for national nature laws 

VNPA was shocked to discover the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) and Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) have been experimenting on populations of an endangered plant, the Enfield Grevillea (Grevillea bedggoodiana) in Enfield State Park, 25km south-west of Ballarat on Wadawurrung Country.

We had earlier learned that FFMV intended to conduct large-scale planned burns across a third of Enfield State Park. Concerned locals, the newly formed Friends of Native Forests Enfield (FONFE), contacted VNPA about recent fire mitigation preparation works that fundamentally affected threatened wildlife within the park. It also seems FFMV planned unorthodox burns, but not any public consultation about them.

Many nature loving Victorians frequent Enfield State Park for wonderful displays of wildflowers, birdlife and bushwalking. Proclaimed in 1995, the 4400 hectare park sits in an area heavily impacted by historical gold mining and timber extraction.

The park’s management plan details numerous rare and threatened plants, including the endemic EPBC-listed Enfield Grevillea, major populations of the Yarra Gum (Eucalyptus yarraensis) and a diverse understorey that includes more than 60 species of orchid. The plan also references animals listed under Victoria’s nature laws (the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988).

When VNPA reached out to DEECA/FFMV for further information, we were baffled to hear that the areas were subject to a departmental experiment – designed to see the impact planned burns and disturbance have on endangered species.

There is a national recovery plan for the Enfield Grevillea. The plan lists two of this native plant’s greatest threats – Phytophthora cinnamomi and fire. Given that the Enfield Grevillea has been successfully propagated at a local nursery, we’d have to argue that the ‘experiment’ could be conducted in a controlled environment, instead of only place in the world this grevillea grows naturally!

Under our national nature laws (the EPBC Act), works that could harm a listed species must be referred to the Federal Environment Minister, under National Matters of Environmental Significance guidelines. VNPA have penned a report and sent our concerns to Minister Plibersek, asking for intervention to avoid any more damage to this important forest.

Following pre-burn works this winter, locals were upset to find over 108 trees damaged by mulching and mowing that also deeply scarred several roadside trees. Further distress was caused by machine mulching and perimeter tree-felling. This has widened walking tracks within the park and exposed the forest to further disturbance from motorbikes, 4WD use, weeds and feral deer and pigs. These works have made these rare populations of Enfield Grevillea vulnerable to pathogens such as Phytophthora cinnamoni, a serious disease that requires strict controls and mitigation measures.

Upon investigation, we discovered limited records of the grevillea on the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) with the last update records dating back to 2016. The VBA captures historic records from road/track side surveys. Further VNPA and FONFE surveys reveal significant populations deeper in the forested areas that haven’t been recorded and are now under threat from FFMV’s activities. Some clusters of Enfield Grevillea have already been destroyed in ‘planned burn preparation’ activities by DEECA. VNPA established new records along the mulched path that forms the edge of the firebreak.

This situation has further highlighted the glaring lack of oversight and regulation of FFMV at a state level.  Enfield Park should not be a guinea pig in poorly thought-out experiments by our own government agencies.

The question now is, should FFMV be listed as the third greatest threat facing the Enfield Grevillea?