Media Release 11 August 2022 |
Up to 40 hectares of critically endangered grassland has been recently illegally destroyed by a Melbourne landowner. A huge blunder by the Department of Land, Water, Environment and Planning (DELWP) may have facilitated the destruction of this irreplaceable natural asset.
The destruction at 643–707 Mt Atkinson Road Truganina VIC 3029 took place around December 2021 – January 2022 according to aerial imagery, but only came to the notice of authorities in April this year. Thousands of tonnes of fill have been dumped across the site, burying the native vegetation, with rock-crushing having also been undertaken.
The still privately-owned land, known as Conservation Area 9, was earmarked for conservation in 2013 as part of the State Government’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Melbourne’s Growth Corridors, but it has now been dramatically damaged.
This is yet another example of the State and Federal Governments’ inability to protect our critically endangered grasslands.
Less than two per cent remain of the vast grassy plains that spread from the Yarra River to the South Australia border.
The Melbourne Strategic Assessment
The Melbourne Strategic Assessment is a joint Federal, State Government approval program which was set up in 2010 to fast-track urban growth when over 60,000 hectares of land was released for new development. As part of that, the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy mandated the protection of 36 biodiversity hotspots in the urban growth corridors, along with setting up the Western Grassland Reserves just outside Melbourne’s expanded urban edge.
But the Melbourne Strategic Assessment has been plagued by ongoing serious mismanagement. In 2020, the Victorian Auditor-General released a scathing report on the failures of the Department of the Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), which runs the Melbourne Strategic Assessment, to deliver the promised environmental protections. (link)
Conservation Area 9 was one of those promised 36 biodiversity hotspots. It was a precious old-growth grassland remnant, one of the very few places in Victoria that remained almost completely untouched by grazing, unploughed, a Kangaroo Grass dominated grassland, one of the rarest of the rare.
Yet, despite its importance, Conservation Area 9 had none of the usual protections in place for future conservation reserves. It was zoned Urban Growth Zone when it should have been zoned Rural Conservation Zone. It had no Environmental Significance Overlay and no Public Acquisition Overlay.
These Conservation Areas are ultimately planned to be protected areas, parks or similar, for the preservation of nature and for the enjoyment of future residents as Melbourne grows.
No one is getting Conservation Area 9 now. The residents of Melbourne are the poorer for its destruction. We are all poorer for the loss of this rarest of critically endangered grassland.
This massive blunder shows how hands-off the government is when it comes to protecting the environment and it requires action from all levels of government to fix this mess of their own making.
The City of Melton, DELWP, the EPA and Federal authorities are currently investigating and refuse to release any additional information.
Fines imposed by the Federal authorities for breach of the EPBC Act could easily be upwards of $2M, but cannot replace the loss of this rare, high-quality patch of critically endangered grassland.
Grasslands are very difficult and expensive to restore and rehabilitate and, given the extent of the destruction, it may be impossible to rectify the damage.
Conservation and community groups are calling for immediate action by all levels of government to:
- Assess the current state of the Conservation Area 9 and identify opportunities for rehabilitation and restoration
- Identify and secure an alternative site of the same size and ecological value in the metro area
- Ensure all 35 other conservation areas have the appropriate legal protections and are being properly managed
- Require that the Federal Government undertake an urgent independent ecological audit of the Melbourne Strategic Assessment to ensure its approvals are being properly implemented.
More Conservation Areas under threat
All is not well across the other 35 Conservation Areas either. A “set and forget” attitude by DELWP has meant the biodiversity values of these Conservation Areas are being rapidly eroded by weed encroachment.
But mismanagement goes beyond just a lack of weed control. Feral animals are allowed to proliferate. In some instances, the grasslands are heavily grazed as native pasture, destroying the precious flora. In other cases, lack of burning or other means of reducing biomass means the thick grass thatch is smothering the biodiversity present in the inter-tussock spaces of the grassland. Other Conservation Areas are even being cropped.
There aren’t even any plans to purchase most of these Conservation Areas. Instead, they are going to be left to developers to manage, with possible future handover to Councils or other authorities on a case-by-case basis.
Instead of negotiating interim management agreements to protect the grassland before it is handed over to the State, DELWP have done nothing. In the meantime, developers are reaping their profits.
All this is occurring despite DELWP’s so-called “commitments” to protecting our priceless environmental heritage.
Drone footage and images can be downloaded here.
For more information on the 36 Conservation Areas, and their relationship with the Western Grassland Reserves and the Melbourne Strategic Assessment, see The broken, promised grasslands of Melbourne, Park Watch, March 2022
See also our page on the Western Grassland Reserves
‘Madness’: How governments failed Victoria’s endangered grasslands, The Age, 24 July 2020
Broken promises turn fragile grasslands into unprotected ‘basket case’, The Age, 18 June 2020
Victorian government found to have failed to protect critically endangered grasslands, The Guardian, 17 June 2020
Protecting critically endangered grasslands, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, 2020
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