Modern Australian

These historic grasslands are becoming a weed-choked waste. It could be one of the world's great parks

  • Written by Adrian Marshall, Academic, Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology, University of Melbourne

Volcanic plains stretching from Melbourne’s west to the South Australian border were once home to native grasslands strewn with wildflowers and a vast diversity of animals. Today, this grassland ecosystem is critically endangered.

To protect the last remaining large-scale patch, the Victorian government proposed the “Western Grassland Reserve”. But in June, a damning Auditor General’s report revealed this plan has fallen flat.

Read more: EcoCheck: Victoria's flower-strewn western plains could be swamped by development

With weeds choking the native grasses and many animals now locally extinct, the deteriorating reserve represents a failure of imagination.

Debate has raged about funding, timelines and bureaucratic processes. But what the debate is missing is a new vision, with funding and management models, for the Western Grassland Reserve, that recognises its deep culture and history, and its potential to be one of the great parks of the world.

Failing our flora and fauna

The Victorian government’s plan was to acquire 15,000 hectares of mostly farmland beyond Melbourne’s outer limit between 2010 and 2020. The money is coming from offsets, where developers are, in effect, charged a fee to be allowed to destroy federally protected remnant grassland within the urban growth boundary.

Hundreds of daisies grow among the grasses. The rare Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans) shown here restored en masse by the NGO Greening Australia. Paul Gibson-Roy CC4.0, Author provided (No reuse)

But the Auditor General’s report found a scant 10% of Western Grassland Reserve land has been purchased, with little offset money remaining for further purchases.

In addition, delays in purchasing land are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars because of rising land prices. A predicted substantial downturn in development further exposes the flaws of a funding model inadequate to its conservation task.

Read more: Can we offset biodiversity losses?

We urgently need to investigate new funding and management models that embrace the reserve as a cultural landscape for people.

A quintessential Australian experience

As a patchwork of farms overlaid on traditional Wathaurong land, the Western Grassland Reserve could be shaped into one of the greatest large parks of the world – a cultural landscape capturing a quintessential Australian experience, speaking of Indigenous culture, our colonial past, and who we are today.

A well-designed reserve could show us the history of grassland pastoralism that gave rise to the saying “Australia rides on the sheep’s back”. It could immerse us in Dorothea MacKellar’s “land of sweeping plains”. It can give us back the immense flowered landscape that so stunned the explorer Thomas Mitchell, he coined the phrase “Australia Felix”, which means “happy Australia”.

And it could show us something of the profound knowledge Indigenous people hold. Few know this, but the Wurdi Youang stone circle near Little River – though as yet undated – may well be one of the oldest known astronomical structures in the world, far predating Stonehenge or the pyramids.

Dark boulders on grasslands represent the Wurdi Youang stone circle Part of the Wurdi Youang stone circle, that may be one of the oldest astronomical structures in the world. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Imagine its potential

Imagine a picnic under a spreading gum beside an old farm dam. There’s a bluestone dairy repurposed to fine dining, a grand farmhouse for overnight stays, bike trails, and a series of regional playgrounds emphasising natureplay and adventure for all abilities.

With the right conservation, ephemeral wetlands and creeklines could be bursting with birdlife and ready to explore, and even working farms retained for school visits.

Nearby, at Mount Rothwell, a fenced conservation area contains almost extinct small marsupials – bandicoots, potoroos and apex predator quolls. These were once commonplace, and still a night visit is an unforgettable experience, yet one few Melburnians have enjoyed.

A small brown bird with a spotted neck walks on the ground The critically endangered plains wanderer, the world’s most unique bird, once lived in these grasslands. Shutterstock

Innovation in management

Part of a bigger picture for the Western Grassland Reserve is a new management model beyond a poorly-funded Parks Victoria asset being managed solely for environmental values.

Options abound for innovation and leadership here. We can create a well-coordinated network of different management approaches and protection levels with traditional publicly owned national parks, conservation reserves, private land covenants, private protected areas and Indigenous protected areas.

Funding for management also needs rethinking. Market-driven models can ensure performance-based outcomes. For example, farmers can be paid to graze sustainably. And a new model leveraging resources and expertise could encourage the involvement of NGOs, traditional owners and community groups, species-specific teams, the Royal Botanic Gardens, with research input by universities.

A purple flower grows in the foreground of lush grasslands We must rethink management to fulfill the grassland’s potential. Paul Gibson-Roy CC 4.0, Author provided (No reuse)

Built-in commercial seed production, which is fundamental to restoring degraded areas, can kick-start the native seed industry in a win–win for commerce and the environment.

These sorts of alternative management and funding have been achieved in the south of France, within the Carmague and the stony plains of Le Crau. There, 10,000 hectares of grassland and wetland complexes are managed by broad alliance of NGOs and conservation agencies across defence land, national parks and private protected areas.

And in the USA, the largest tallgrass prairie in the country is managed by Kansas State University and the Nature Conservancy, with federal and philanthropic input. It also has an educational program that brings in more than 100 school and public events a year.

So what are we waiting for? The Great Ocean Road was built during the Great Depression, let the Western Grassland Reserve be a visionary project for these difficult times under COVID-19.

Authors: Adrian Marshall, Academic, Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology, University of Melbourne

Read more https://theconversation.com/these-historic-grasslands-are-becoming-a-weed-choked-waste-it-could-be-one-of-the-worlds-great-parks-144208

NEWS

Each budget used to have a gender impact statement. We need it back, especially now

Jeremy Dorrough/UpshotCOVID-19 has left women, more than men, economically disadvantaged through unemployment, underemployment, lowered incomes, less secure work, greater household and family demands, and increased risk of domestic violence.But you’re...

The budget must address aged care — here are 3 key priorities

Australia’s aged care system has produced a litany of failures: unpalatable food, poor care, neglect, abuse and, most recently, the tragedies of the pandemic.This should not come as a surprise...

Have our governments become too powerful during COVID-19?

Dean Lewins/AAPIn the fight against the coronavirus, the Australian government has enacted a series of measures that have expanded executive powers. These include the use of smartphone contact-tracing technology, mandatory...

a love letter to our iconic flowers

ShutterstockSpring has arrived, and all over the country the hills and riversides are burnished with the green and gold of Australian wattles, all belonging to the genus Acacia. It’s a...

New tricks? When COVID forces a bridge club online, what becomes of their community?

ShutterstockPhysical distancing measures during the first COVID-19 outbreak led to the closure of libraries, theatres, gyms, cafes and community centres across Australia. Venues like these are known as “third places”...

the Persian polymath who shaped modern science, medicine and philosophy

A miniature of Avicenna.Wikimedia CommonsOver a thousand years ago, Nuh ibn Mansur, the reigning prince of the medieval city of Bukhara, fell badly ill. The doctors, unable to do anything...

5 ways school libraries support student well-being

ShutterstockStudents in Australia and around the world have experienced significant challenges this year, including the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters. Globally, as many as one in five young people may...

Australia's biggest corporate fine isn't the end of it for Westpac

Paying a record A$1.3 billion fine for breaches of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act is one thing, making sure it couldn’t happen again is another.The fine agreed to...

could our entire reality be part of a simulation created by some other beings?

Unsplash, CC BY-SAIs it possible the whole observable universe is just a thing kept in a container, in a room where there are some other extraterrestrial beings much bigger than...

are consumers willing to pay more for climate-friendly products?

Shutterstock/Alliance ImagesCC BY-NDClimate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.If you have a question you’d...

Wellington’s older houses don’t deserve blanket protection — but 6-storey buildings aren’t always the answer

www.shutterstock.comThe proposed blueprint for how Wellington will develop over the next 30 years puts its finger straight on one of the key issues affecting urban growth and change: residential character...

Faster public health response might have saved some aged care residents' lives: Brendan Murphy

Federal Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy has admitted some COVID deaths in aged care might have been prevented if there had been a quicker public health response.Murphy, Chief Medical Officer...



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

6 Stunning Ways to Spruce Up Your HouseHome renovations in hot climatesThree of the best detective games for mystery loversAuto Wrecker in NewcastleExperience the Excitement of a Day at the Races How Do You Know If You Need A Hearing Aid?Fitness Tips: 3 Ways to Stay in Shape At HomeWear a Mask and protect yourself in StyleWellness expert:  Cutting up your fruit cuts the goodness out of themRegain Your Natural Smile Getting Porcelain Crowns in MelbourneIs Photography Still Important In 2020?Thinking of Hiring a Boat? Check these Facts FirstDo You Know that Certain Serious Athletic Injuries Can Turn into Medical Malpractice?Most In-Demand Suburbs for Property Buyers in Australia Post Covid-19What Is Selective High School?