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 known as Conservation area 9.
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 Melbourne Strategic Assessment, the deal between state and federal governments that was supposed to protect our grasslands.
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.
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 shows how hands-off the state and federal governments are when it comes to protecting the environment.
The City of Melton, DELWP, the EPA and the federal Depart,ment of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water 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.
- Email the state and federal ministers here
- Watch the ABC News report here
- Here’s our media release
- Read our letter to federal Environment Minister Tania Plibersek and her response
- Read our letter to state Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio
- 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
- New audit scathing of efforts to protect Victoria’s critically endangered grasslands, VNPA, 17 June 2020
- Protecting critically endangered grasslands, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office, 2020
Cleared of native vegetation, Conservation Area 9 is yet another example of DELWP’s failure to protect our critically endangered grasslands
You can help by emailing the federal and state Environment Ministers
The Grassy Plains Network’s host organisation, the VNPA, has set up a webpage you can email the ministers from. Tell them that promises of future preservation mean nothing if there aren’t proper protections in place – this is not a set and forget project, if we want our ancient grasslands we must act now. It is clear that the Melbourne Strategic Assessment and the protection of grasslands have failed.
Conservation and community groups are calling for immediate action by State and Federal Governments 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.