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Less than 2% remaining
Grassland once extended across the Victorian Volcanic Plain all the way from the Yarra River to the South Australian border. Sadly, less than 2% of that original extent remains, and much of what does remain is heavily degraded.
Sheep and cattle grazing, the introduction of pasture grasses, the loss of Traditional Owner management of Country, and the use of superphosphate are the primary causes of this huge loss. Today, high quality grassland is found in places that escaped these pressures – including roadsides, rail reserves, settler cemeteries and stony land difficult to clear.
Now one of the biggest threats is urbanisation, with substantial patches of grassland in Melbourne’s west and north feeling the pressure as Melbourne grows.
When managed well, grasslands can be dominated by flowers rather than grasses.
A critically-endangered Gowling Grass Frog
The grasslands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain have been described as Australia’s most endangered ecosystem. This ecological community is classified as Critically Endangered under the Federal EPBC Act, and as threatened under Victoria’s Fauna and Fauna Guarantee Act.
Many individual species that make grasslands their home are also on the edge of extinction. Plants such as Spiny Riceflower (Pimelea spinescencs), Matted Flax Lily (Dianella amoena), and fauna such as the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis), Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar) and the remarkable Plains Wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) are all critically endangered.
Our work at the Grassy Plains Network focuses on grasslands in three main geographic areas: the Western Grassland Reserves, outer Melbourne’s growth corridors, and urban Melbourne.
Western Grassland Reserves
The Western Grassland Reserves (WGR) were set up in 2009 when the Victorian Government extended Melbourne’s urban growth boundary. They were created to protect large areas of grassland immediately to the west of Melbourne, and as offset compensation for the native vegetation that would be lost in development of the newly released land.
To help speed development, the Melbourne Strategic Assessment (MSA) identified 43 habitat patches that had to be preserved and gave developers permission to clear the rest. The offset fees developers pay for that vegetation removal fund the purchase of the Western Grassland Reserves.
Unfortunately, the MSA and the WGR have been a botched process, where the environment has carried all the risk and the developers have reaped the rewards. Huge areas of good quality grassland are being bulldozed for the purchase of WGR grassland that is often of questionable value.
Serrated Tussock, Artichoke Thistle and Box Thorn threaten to overwhelm the Western Grassland Reserves.
Outer Melbourne’s growth corridors
Forty-three patches of high-quality habitat have been set-aside across all the land released for development following the expansion of Melbourne’s urban growth boundary in 2009. Many of those 43 patches contain grassland or grassy eucalypt forest.
Others are set aside for specific species such as Growling Grass Frogs and Striped Legless Lizards. The newly released land has to go through the Victorian Planning Authority’s planning mechanism before development can occur, but time and time again we are seeing the VPA facilitate development that does little to give these most important reserves of high-quality habitat their best chance of survival as the city grows around them
From Brunswick to Brimbank, Altona Meadows to Melton, many grassland patches survive in various states of care or neglect, on land managed by everyone from electricity companies to Parks Victoria to local council to private owners.
The issues they face are complex. Land managers often lack the financial resources to care for them properly. Grasslands are subject to dumping, contamination, weed invasion and feral animals.
A lot more has to be done to see them adequately protected and resourced, and presented in a way that encourages local communities to care for these vital components of our urban ecosystems.