Grasslands once covered almost a million hectares and spread from Melbourne’s west to Portland. But scientists believe that since European settlement, 90-95% of these grasslands have been destroyed, and as little as 1% remains as high-quality habitat.

Grasslands and associated ecosystems, such as grassy woodlands, are both listed as ‘critically endangered’ under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and are home to 25 fauna species and 32 flora species listed as endangered or threatened.

The grasslands around Melbourne contain abundant native plants and animals – in many ways they are like an ecological Noah’s Ark.

These include the critically endangered golden sun moth, the plains wanderer, growling grass frog (pictured) and striped legless lizard, plus numerous important native plants such as the critically endangered plains rice-flower and matted flax-lily.

Often called wildflower meadows by enthusiasts, native grasslands are a uniquely Victorian part of our natural heritage. But Melbourne’s urban sprawl is now threatening what’s left.

Growing pains for Melbourne’s nature

Melbourne is currently experiencing huge pressures to expand its urban growth boundary.

This means that some of the last remaining intact native grasslands that provide habitats for numerous threatened creatures may be lost.

In the south east of Melbourne there are no grasslands but at least one significant population of southern brown bandicoots exists around the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens.

Over the last decade there has been an integrated approval process undertaken between state and federal governments. This complex process is called the Melbourne Strategic Assessment, which will take up to 50 years to deliver.

VNPA worked with 20 local and regional conservation groups across Melbourne’s growth areas to provide detailed input and were disappointed at the overall results. There are still many on-going implementation issues.

Some of the key outcomes include:

  • a Victorian Government commitment to establish two large grassland reserves on Melbourne’s western fringe (15,000 ha) if it can clear around 4000-5000 ha within urban growth areas. Purchase is dependent on fees from clearing related to property development and only small areas have been purchased to date
  • over 40 smaller conservation reserves retained within urban growth areas, but some have had boundary changes
  • specific areas set aside to protect growling grass frogs habitats along waterways and funding allocated to develop artificial frog ponds, though it is not clear that these will work
  • a bandicoot protection strategy developed for the south east, which may include habitat corridors.

The Victorian National Parks Association, with support from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, has developed design guidelines to support native grasslands in urban areas. The guidelines are targeted at planners, urban designers and bush crews, to better plan to protect grasslands in urban context.