Victoria fails on protecting our grasslands – but we know how to turn it around

Media release, June 19, 2020

The state government’s comprehensive failure on grassland conservation has been confirmed with the release of the Victorian Auditor General’s report on Protecting Critically Endangered Grasslandsthis week. The Grassy Plains Network (GPN), a coalition of conservation professionals, volunteers and supporters from across Melbourne’s west, thinks that this can be turned around.

The state government has fallen around 90% short of their commitment to acquire a 15000 hectare Western Grassland Reserve (WGR) between Little River and Melton by 2020, using fees paid by developers when destroying areas of grassland within the urban growth boundary. The WGR, and other valuable grassland remnants in Melbourne’s west, are deteriorating due to lack of management of weed invasion, overgrazing and other processes.

“Good quality grassland remnants, even with known populations of endangered species such as the Striped Legless Lizard, are still being bulldozed for development within the urban area – with little replacement habitat secured and often not even an attempt to relocate endangered species when their habitat is destroyed. This is one of Australia’s most endangered ecosystems, and its future is not looking good right now”, said Ben Courtice, Grassy Plains Network convenor.

After extensive discussions with state and local government representatives, academics, Traditional Owners, land management professionals and other stakeholders over the last 18 months, Grassy Plains Network has identified a series of priority steps that the government could take to turn the situation around.

1. Catch-up! The government needs to ensure immediate conservation management, and prioritised public acquisition, of the areas promised protection by 2020 (WGR and urban growth zone) with transparency and accountability in their acquisition and management.

2. Honour the promise to remove the WGR Public Acquisition Overlay from the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative’s grassland property Wurdi Youang, near Little River, and support their conservation management activities

3. The GPN also is aware of several valuable remnant grasslands in the established urban area that desperately need protection. The 360 hectares of the proposed WGR previously in Wurdi Youang need to be replaced, in part by acquiring these urban area remnants, and the rest with additional areas in the current Urban Growth Zone, and/or elsewhere adjoining the WGR.

4. Urgently acquire conservation areas in the Urban Growth Zone for public management for conservation, as most are still in developers hands, subject to weed invasion and other adverse impacts.

5. Better planning of existing developments to manage impacts – such as through larger buffers around conservation areas, routing services (sewers etc) around (not through) conservation areas, and creating smaller local government or community managed conservation areas in small, good quality remnants such as along waterways.

“These five measures will go a long way to fixing the problems. But they need to be enacted now, as most of the grassland remnants in question are locked into a slow process of ecological degeneration due to their previous history. Without intervention to turn this around, the chance to save and restore precious areas of this unique ecosystem may be lost”, Mr Courtice said.

For more information and further comment, please contact Ben Courtice, GPN convenor on 0413 580 706

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