Conservation Area 9

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Illegal clearing, government failure

Up to 40 ha of critically endangered grassland has been recently illegally cleared by a Melbourne landowner. A huge planning blunder by the Department of Land, Water, Environment and Planning (DELWP) may have facilitated the destruction of this irreplaceable natural asset.

The clearing 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.

The privately-owned land, known as Conservation Area 9, was earmarked for conservation in 2013 as part of the State Government’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.

This is yet another example of the State Government’s 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.

In 2020, the Victorian Auditor-General released a scathing report on the failures of the Melbourne Strategic Assessment and its Biodiversity Conservation Strategy to deliver the environmental protections it promised as recompense for the expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary and the release of 60,000 hectares of land for development.

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.

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 has no Environmental Significance Overlay and no Public Acquisition Overlay. This massive planning blunder shows how hands-off the government is when it comes to protecting the environment.

The City of Melton, DELWP 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 be in the order of $2M, but cannot replace the loss of this rare, high-quality patch of critically endangered grassland.

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.

Mismanagement goes beyond just a lack of weed control. Feral animals are allowed to proliferate. In some instances, the grasslands are heavily grazed, destroying the precious flora. Lack of burning or other means of reducing biomass means the thick grass thatch smothers the biodiversity in the inter-tussock spaces of the grassland. Some of these Conservation Areas are even being cropped.

Most have yet to be purchased. Instead of negotiating interim management agreements to protect the grassland before it is purchased by 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.

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Cleared of native vegetation, Conservation Area 9 is yet another example of DELWP’s failure to protect our critically endangered grasslands