Project update – November
Over the past month, the project team has continued to develop the framework to protect the ecology and retain significant green space and environmental corridors in the landscape of a proposed future development at Ginninderra.
As part of ongoing environmental studies, Umwelt Pty Limited (Umwelt) was engaged to undertake this ecological survey for the Ginninderra Field Station to determine the extent of ecological values, including matters of national environmental significance (MNES) on the property.
In early November, we were pleased to release the Ecological Values of CSIRO Ginninderra Research Station Report.
If you have any questions about the findings, please leave a comment below or email us.
Umwelt also prepared an Ecological Management Plan to assist us to maintain the condition of matters of national environmental significance (MNES) in identified areas.
The Ecological Values Report is one of three reports that has been released to the wider public. We look forward to adding to this number as the planning process continues.
Last week, a workshop was held for the project team to further refine our aspiration to partner in creating a world-leading sustainable urban community at Ginninderra which is underpinned by science and best practice.
We examined successful international design models and developed sustainability benchmarks and targets which will be included in the tender documents to inform a joint-development partner.
We are also in the process of collating the information required for an ACT heritage nomination.
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Protecting the Little Eagle
CSIRO is keen to continue to work with government, conservation groups and raptor experts to share knowledge and build greater scientific understanding and protection of the Little Eagle.
The Little Eagle, which is native to Australia and tends to inhabit open woodland, grassland and arid regions, is listed as a vulnerable species in the ACT, NSW and Victoria.
The first sighting of a Little Eagle flying over the northern part of the Ginninderra property occurred in December 2013.
As part of the proposed future sustainable urban development at Ginninderra, CSIRO is committed to the highest standard of environmental management extending well beyond legislative requirements for protecting threatened species and ecosystems.
Our best-practice environmental management includes comprehensive ecological surveys and ongoing collaboration with local conservation groups and experts to conserve important species and ecosystems.
During ecological field surveys over the spring-summer 2014, a successful breeding event for the Little Eagle was recorded. The nesting site was located in a mature scribbly gum, in a patch of woodland dominated by this species. As a result of this finding, CSIRO sought additional specialist ornithological advice to identify management recommendations that would help to ensure viability of the breeding habitat within the nesting site and surrounding foraging areas of open woodland.
The following recommendations were implemented:
- Avoid visiting the Little Eagle nest site during incubation and nesting phases, especially if the adult birds are seen circling or perched. Human visitation on foot appears to disturb birds and could cause nesting failure.
- No removal of live or dead trees, especially large older trees which provide nesting habitat.
- No removal of logs, woody debris and other dead wood derived from native species for firewood or fire control. These areas increase habitat provisions including species which are preyed upon by the Little Eagle.
Drawing on experiences from other urban developments, CSIRO sought further advice as to what additional information was required about the pair and their requirements during the critical breeding season. This revealed it is important to determine if the nest is used regularly, or at least during the next breeding season. It is also critical to understand the extent of the foraging area during the breeding season that is required to maintain the nesting pair.
Researchers will require regular access to the site for monitoring, and regular liaison and information sharing should occur between the CSIRO, raptor experts and ACT Government Conservation Planning and Research (CPR) Group.
These recommendations were implemented and CSIRO’s project team engaged with the ACTCPR Group and raptor experts to further research the Little Eagle to determine its movements in relation to the site.
In consultation with ACT CPR Group, the CSIRO purchased two specialist satellite tracking devices from the USA with the objective of capturing the Little Eagle pair, in accordance with ethics requirements, and tracking their foraging range through GPS readings.
While the Little Eagle can return to the same nesting location in subsequent years, they often utilise a range of nesting locations within their home range in different years.
As the Little Eagle pair was not found at the Ginninderra nest site in 2015, the tracking devices were not able to be deployed.
In 2015, the ACT Government successfully captured and tracked a male Little Eagle from a nesting event in Strathnairn (West Belconnen), one of only two recorded nesting events in the ACT in 2015 (the other being at Campbell Park). CSIRO is working with the West Belconnen project to ensure a consistent approach to the active conservation management of this species.
CSIRO is also keen to continue to work closely with the ACT CPR Group and raptor experts in regard to the Little Eagle.
While the breeding pair has not been recorded at the nesting site since 2014, CSIRO is committed to providing best-practice management of identified Little Eagle habitat. This includes establishing buffer zones around the nesting site to protect and manage Little Eagle foraging habitat. Overall CSIRO has identified 19 % of the property for legislative protection of endangered species and a further 12% for additional protection and buffer zones.
As with the West Belconnen development an exclusion area will be established around the nesting site, with no development to occur in this part of the property until research on foraging habitat is completed and taken into account.
Protecting and restoring our woodlands
If you walk across the northern end of the Ginninderra Field Station in spring and spot an array of yellow and purple wildflowers with gum trees towering overhead, you have come across an area of Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands.
These woodlands once covered large swathes of mid to lower slopes and landscapes across the ACT, Victoria, NSW and southern QLD. Across this region, only 10 per cent of the woodlands remain, with only about five per cent of those remaining in good condition. The picture is slightly better in the ACT, with an estimated 25 per cent of the original woodland remaining and in good condition.
The Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands have been in decline since the 1800s due to grazing from sheep and cattle. They were cleared to make way for agriculture, rural and urban developments.
Existing woodlands and grasslands are now protected under both national and state legislation, to guard against further degradation of these unique ecological systems.
The woodlands are typically made up of three layers: the overstory, which in the ACT consists of Yellow Box, Apple Box and Blakely’s Red gum trees; a patchy shrub layer; and a ground layer of native grasses and wildflowers. However, where the trees have been removed and just the ground layer remains, they are then described as ‘derived native grasslands.’
It’s this ground layer that’s critical to the ecology, according to CSIRO ecologist Jacqui Stol.
“When you look at the landscape most people only notice the trees, but the diversity is mostly in the ground layer. Typically, there can be up to 60 species of native wildflowers, orchids, lilies and a diverse range of amazing local plants at a very high quality site,” she said.
At Ginninderra, studies so far indicate there are approximately 114 hectares of Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands on the site of varying quality, including areas where trees have been cleared (derived native grassland). This includes 34 hectares of treed areas in high condition, mostly in the less-developed, northern end of the site, as well as 44 hectares of low quality grassland.
The woodlands at Ginninderra don’t exist in isolation, and are part of a broader ecological system. They link to other nearby woodland areas such as at Mulligan’s Flat, Goorooyarroo, Hall and north-west of Casey and Moncrieff.
“The way we think about how we conserve these sites is within a big landscape matrix,” said Jacqui.
“Ginninderra is part of that bigger picture, and a really important part of the landscape, and how the whole ecology functions.”
How to manage, protect and rehabilitate the patches of Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands is an important consideration in Ginninderra’s potential as a site for future sustainable urban development.
A team of CSIRO ecologists from across Australia met in November 2015 to investigate the site and discuss plans for the protection and improvement of the native ecology. They will continue to be involved in the discussions regarding Ginninderra and are well placed to apply best practice in ecological management.
The team hopes local conservation groups and future residents will be able to contribute to maintaining and improving these woodlands.
CSIRO’s significant expertise in Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands is on display in a comprehensive guide (linked below) for land managers that was recently published by Jacqui Stol and Suzanne Prober.
Measures such as reintroducing tree and shrub species where they’ve been removed could be implemented to help restore the Ginninderra woodlands.
The reintroduction of ground layer species to areas currently of low quality could return those bright purple and yellow wildflowers to more parts of the Ginninderra landscape.
If you’d like to learn more about the protection and management of the box gum grassy woodlands, download the guide:
Jewels in the Landscape: Managing very high conservation value ground-layers in Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands
By Jacqui Stol and Suzanne Prober
Click here to download the guide from the CSIRO Publications Repository
Planning for the future
Retaining green spaces and corridors and protecting Ginninderra’s ecology has already been raised by many community members during the consultations so far.
As part of the process, we are conducting environmental studies to fully understand the Ginninderra landscape and ecology. At 701 hectares, it is a large piece of land with variations across the site. While studies are still ongoing, environment and conservation are a key consideration for the site.
Based on studies so far, approximately 150 hectares of the land is unlikely to be developable due to its topography, heritage and ecological values, and will likely remain open space.
This will provide valuable recreational and conservation areas, as well as preserve some of the views of the hills and ridges currently experienced by adjoining suburbs. These open spaces will also allow for wildlife to continue traversing the property.
Alongside the farmland on the site is a diverse ecology, including protected species such as the golden sun moth and box gum woodlands along with many other plant and animal species.
A program for ongoing management to support critical ecosystem services, biodiversity, and cultural values will be developed. With the support and research of CSIRO scientists, the approach to conservation management will take into account multiple factors, as part of an overall avoidance, mitigation and offset strategy. This will include measures to restore and support conserved areas.
Offsetting measures, if required, would seek to establish compensatory areas as close to the location of the impact as possible and would follow the established Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 offset policy.
The project team working on the biodiversity assessment aspect of the project were responsible for preparation of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment and are also presently working with the Riverview Group and ACT Government (LDA) in preparation of the West Belconnen Strategic Assessment.
The team has a detailed appreciation of the broader opportunities and constraints in the wider area, providing consistency between these connected parts of the landscape.
The Ginninderra site is an important part of Canberra and we look forward to working with local residents, conservation and community groups on the future of this land.
If you have any questions or suggestions on the environmental management of Ginninderra, please contact us.