Site tour leads the conservation conversation
The conservation conversation was front and centre as members and experts from ACT environmental groups visited CSIRO’s Ginninderra Property on 6 June.
The question of: “How can we conserve and restore important environmental features within and beyond the boundaries of a proposed future urban development?” was top of mind as the group visited nine key sites across the property.
CSIRO researchers and expert consultants explained the findings of ecological surveys and their interpretation of key environmental features on the site, while also seeking initial advice and ideas from participants who included members from the Conservation Council ACT Region and its Biodiversity Working Group, Friends of Grasslands and the Ginninderra Catchment Group.
Throughout the tour, participants studied maps of the Ginninderra property showing CSIRO’s initial assessment of developable land (360.8 ha or 51% of the site), potential developable areas under review (129.4 ha, 18%), areas primarily protected by current legislation (130.9 ha, 19%) as well as additional areas CSIRO has set aside to protect conservation and heritage values (80.5 ha, 12%).
Some of the key features for mandatory protection are:
- high value Box Gum Grassy Woodlands and Derived Native Grasslands on the north of the site
- areas of Derived Native Grasslands where studies have recorded the presence of Golden Sun Moth and Striped Legless Lizard
- a Box Gum Grassy Woodland and Scribbly Gum Woodland area surrounding a nesting site of the Little Eagle
- an area of Box Gum Grassy Woodland adjacent to Owen Dixon Drive
- regulated trees and cultural heritage features
Other areas or features earmarked by CSIRO for protection include:
- the corridor (riparian zone) along Halls Creek and drainage lines
- areas of Scribbly Gum Woodland and Box Gum Grassy Woodlands that contribute important environmental values but are not technically protected under legislation
- important buffer zones and areas that add habitat and wildlife connectivity to protected areas, both on the site and in adjacent areas
Some important questions raised on the site visit included the need to define the boundaries for conservation areas and clarify the buffer and transition zones between areas under development and those under conservation. Road access within and to the site will also be an important factor in realising conservation goals.
Establishing sound principles for conservation and development from the outset was seen to be an essential ingredient for success.
So, coming back to the question: “How can such conservation and even restoration be successful in close proximity to an urban development?’” Based on early advice from conservation experts – it won’t happen by accident – but rather through diligent assessments, and applying clear principles and careful planning and implementation.
CSIRO is keen to do exactly that and to develop principles and plans with experts and the broader community through a participatory planning process.
The next steps are to further develop these conservation principles with the same groups through a workshop in late June and to follow that up with some broader community engagement in July.
The environmental principles and plans will then form part of the briefs for the eventual joint venture development partners selected by CSIRO.
Project update – June
After some key announcements in early May, over the past month we have been working with community conservation groups and taking the first steps towards finding a joint venture development partner.
Following the decision regarding Amendment 86, we commenced an Expressions of Interest process where we asked for responses from suitably qualified development partners to work with us to deliver a new benchmark in sustainable urban development at Ginninderra.
Expressions of Interest to join CSIRO as a Joint Venture Partner closed on May 23 and we are currently undertaking an evaluation process before shortlisting ahead of a formal tender process.
As part of CSIRO’s commitment to the conservation and restoration of natural values on the Ginninderra property, we have been working actively with the Ginninderra Catchment Group’s grasslands restoration project.
Recently we joined the Ginninderra Catchment Group, Landcare groups, the Rural Fire Service, community experts and volunteers to conduct autumn burning of five experimental sites across the Ginninderra property.
The findings of this community-driven project will provide the scientific evidence base to inform best-practice future management of native grasslands at Ginninderra.
As part of our ongoing engagement activities, CSIRO hosted a site visit with member groups of the Conservation Council last week. This was attended by representatives from the Friends of Grasslands, Ginninderra Catchment Group, and Conservation Council’s Biodiversity Working Group.
CSIRO remains committed to working with all key stakeholders and an event is being organised to update the community and to continue our conversations in the second half of July. More details on this will be made available in the coming weeks.
Bold green vision for Ginninderra future
Over the past few years a vision has been emerging for what a sustainable urban development backed by science and innovation could be like.
Our vision is to restore and improve our natural environment while setting a new benchmark for sustainable urban development.
The terms ‘benchmark and sustainable’ apply to the extent to which we can maximise and maintain the stream of future environmental, social and economic benefits, that flow from the development and its surrounding natural values.
The aspirations for Ginninderra are closely aligned with many of Australia’s key policy settings and targets namely in areas of national innovation, infrastructure, cities and built environment, energy and climate, water and the economy.
CSIRO is well placed to significantly address these important issues because of our coverage of relevant research areas and our capacity to draw on all of these and engage the right collaborators and partners.
We are looking to provide multiple benefits through combining a diversity of housing, community and recreational facilities together with some retail and commercial opportunities, all integrated with the restoration, conservation and management of the landscape and its important natural and heritage values such as the endangered Box Gum Grassy Woodlands.
We are absolutely committed to the management and restoration at Ginninderra of areas of threatened vegetation types and species that are protected by ACT or Commonwealth legislation.
Protection of trees regulated and administered by the Tree Protection Act 2005 is an essential component and CSIRO is developing guidelines that extend beyond its regulatory obligations to ensure their preservation.
This commitment has extended to comprehensive environmental studies that sees approximately 130ha of the site largely protected by legislation and a further 80ha that CSIRO has identified should be managed to protect ecological and heritage values.
Ginninderra residents and other water and energy users will draw benefits from the efficient and sensitive management and use of water and the leading-edge energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities that we are exploring for the site.
We want to contribute to the evolution of urban areas from being ‘consumer and polluter’ to being ‘energy and water efficient’ and ‘environment protectors’.
We want to help solve the issue of affordable housing, particularly for those in the lower 40 per cent of incomes.
Encouraged by the ideas and feedback generated at our recent gathering of experts – The Affordable Housing Think Tank – we are firmly committed to providing real and lasting affordable housing options, among the property mix at Ginninderra. This will extend well beyond the asking price for moving into the neighbourhood, to various other aspects that affect the cost of living including energy, water and transport.
These topics and others including urban food growing, waste minimisation, recycling and reuse have regularly been raised in our community conversations and we will continue to explore these in future planning together with our joint venture partner.
We are aspiring to urban planning and design that can promote such features, encourage social interactions and connections and maintain an accessible open space network.
CSIRO is committed to keep building this vision with the community and to plan the development with and for the community. There are many steps and stages in front of us before any development occurs and we want to work with the community throughout.
We see community innovation and opportunities for ‘citizen science’ as fundamental components in the creation and future success of this venture.
Citizen science and community activity is already underway and helping to deliver our environmental commitments at five sites across our Ginninderra property, led by the Ginninderra Catchment Group, Landcare member groups and some of its 500 volunteers. This group is extending its work with autumn burning to recover and restore native grasslands in the Ginninderra catchment.
This and other community-driven work will provide valuable insights on how best to restore and conserve areas of the endangered White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland located on the site.
CSIRO is committed to remaining involved and achieving the exemplar in sustainable urban development.
The reason we are seeking a joint venture development partner is because we want to be closely involved with Ginninderra – firstly, to ensure that we can achieve these conservation, sustainability, liveability and affordability goals. Beyond that we want to realise knowledge and innovation from this development that can be applied more broadly for benefit in the ACT, Australia and beyond.
Firing up grassland restoration at Ginninderra
TV images of towering flames and fast moving fire fronts from major bushfires across Australia have left deep impressions of the destructive and sometimes unstoppable force of summer blazes.
With such coverage, it’s harder to appreciate the positive and regenerative effect that fire has on our native vegetation when used in certain ways and at certain times.
Finding out how fire and other management methods can be used to recover native grasslands is the focus of community-led research in ACT’s Ginninderra catchment, according to Ginninderra Catchment Group Coordinator Karissa Preuss. A great part of this work is on CSIRO’s Ginninderra Field Station, and in support of CSIRO’s nature conservation and restoration commitments at the site.
“We are into the second stage of a community driven project to find out the best management regimes for supporting restoration of the threatened Natural Temperate Grassland,” Karissa said.
Natural Temperate Grassland (NTG) of the Southern Tablelands is the most threatened ecosystem in Australia. Through past grazing, farming and city development, the ACT has less than five per cent of the NTG that existed prior to 1750.
Ken Hodgkinson, a Research Fellow with CSIRO Land and Water and a member of the North Belconnen Landcare Group (within the Ginninderra Catchment Group), has been a key part of the community effort.
“At our Evatt trial site, we tested five different treatments for managing the grasslands including: a low mow, a high mow, four spring burns at two year intervals, four autumn burns at two year intervals, and a control strip where we did nothing.
“To our surprise, the autumn burn was the best and most spectacular because we saw 10 native plant species that did not appear in the other treatments.
“After these fires it might look like utter destruction, but the smoke and the heat is bringing new life by stimulating seeds to germinate and compete strongly against the exotic species.”
Following the success of the first project, the second project is expanding the research to more sites and grasslands of varying qualities in the Ginninderra catchment. That’s where CSIRO’s field station comes in.
“The CSIRO Ginninderra station is critical to this project because five of the 15 sites across the catchment are on the property and they include everything from very weedy grasslands to medium and high quality native grasslands,” said Karissa.
The four treatments at each site will include mowing six times a year (common practice in ACT), an autumn burn treatment every two to three years, a second autumn treatment every four to six years, and a control.
“We want to find out if less frequent fire is just as effective as frequent fires because burning has a cost and we want to get the ‘best bang for the buck’ in terms of the ecological response,” said Ken.
This research aims to help catchment managers determine the most cost-effective methods for restoring and managing various qualities of native grassland. It will provide a basis for best-practice future management of grasslands on CSIRO Ginninderra property including how CSIRO can successfully meet its conservation commitments with a nearby urban setting.
The project will also aim to bring in Indigenous fire management knowledge from within the local community.
“We are working with Aboriginal elders and the Mullanggang Traditional Aboriginal Landcare Group with the aim of sharing and bringing together indigenous ecological knowledge and western science,” said Karissa.
The community effort of Ginninderra Catchment Group and associated Landcare and member groups has been backed by various ACT Government agencies including the ACT Environment and Planning Directorate (particularly Conservation and Planning), ACT Parks and Conservation Service (particularly the Fire Unit) and ACT Rural Fire Service. Support from land managers has also been critical, including the ACT Territory and Municipal Services, rural landholders and CSIRO.
“So many community groups and volunteers have helped to make this happen – the Landcare Groups who identified the sites, community experts doing the baseline monitoring of grasses, the volunteers who established the plots and staked them out, and all of Rural Fire Service volunteers conducting the burning,” said Karissa.
“It’s incredibly inspiring to be part of this group of people who are dedicating their personal time to restoring the grasslands in the Ginninderra Catchment.”
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