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Thursday, 18 February 2016 20:15

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Friday, 19 February 2016 17:36

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016 14:21

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Monday, 05 September 2016 23:37

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Tuesday, 06 September 2016 18:27

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Thursday, 16 February 2017 19:55

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Tuesday, 25 April 2017 15:20

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Friday, 09 June 2017 22:34

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Tuesday, 22 August 2017 05:19

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017 13:45

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Sunday, 11 February 2018 20:28

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Saturday, 12 May 2018 21:31

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Monday, 13 August 2018 18:47

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Monday, 19 November 2018 15:17

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Thursday, 07 February 2019 02:12

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Tuesday, 16 April 2019 21:54

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Monday, 06 May 2019 20:21

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Tuesday, 09 July 2019 16:17

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Sunday, 26 January 2020 03:19

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Friday, 04 February 2022 16:49

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At last we have some good news to report. The country is breathing a sigh of relief following the defeat of the Morrison government, even expressing whoops of joy.

The major areas relating to the environment where we are hoping for big new effective policy change are outline below.

Energy

The new Albanese government has been thrown in the deep end with a crisis in energy supply. Gas and petrol prices have soared because of the war in Ukraine. Electricity has been in short supply because of the failure of several coal-fired power stations, the need to use expensive gas and the rise in demand in response to the cold snap. All these factors highlight the abysmal management and policies of the Morrison government.

At last we will see some real action with rapid expansion of the transmission grid to facilitate the use of renewable energy and more support for these projects. There is more positive action proposed to support the transition to use of electric vehicles. These actions will take time to be effective but 2030 is not far away!

The emissions reduction target will be improved to a 43% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. This is still viewed as inadequate by the Climate Council and the ‘teal’ candidates. Labor is still not strong enough on closing down coal mines and stopping new projects.

A review will be held of Australia’s controversial carbon offset programs, to be conducted independently of government departments and agencies. This is vital for the effectiveness of plans to reach net zero emissions – see the previous STEP Matters.

Land clearing

Labor has promised to set a domestic target to protect 30% of land and 30% of sea areas by 2030.

Great Barrier Reef

Labor has promised to increase funding to tackle agricultural pollution, more sustainable fishing practices and research into thermal tolerant corals. But the really meaningful solution is rapid reduction in carbon emissions

Murray–Darling Basin

After years of the Nationals favouring big irrigators and undermining the Murray– Darling Basin Plan, the new government has a chance to restore more natural flows to the rivers of the Murray–Darling Basin, establish integrity and transparency for water management, and get the plan to revive our rivers back on track.

The review of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan will occur during this term of parliament, so there is the possibility of increasing water recovery targets towards what the science says is necessary for healthy rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

Biodiversity

The previous environment minister, Sussan Ley, refused to release the State of the Environment Report that was finalised last December. The new Minister for Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek has indicated that it tells an ‘alarming story’ of decline, native species extinction and cultural heritage loss. She will release the report in a speech to the National Press Club on 19 July.

Labor has promised to create a federal Environmental Protection Agency to improve environmental compliance, information and analysis. We hope this agency will be genuinely independent and have real teeth.

Furthermore, there’s been a failure to address one of the most egregious failings of our system which is to evaluate cumulative impacts of projects on the environment as opposed to a license by license approach.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022 21:09

Report card on our biodiversity

Australia is losing more biodiversity than any other developed nation. Already this year the charismatic and once abundant gang gang cockatoo has been added to our national threatened species list, the koala has been listed as endangered and the Great Barrier Reef suffered another mass bleaching event.

The Australian public consistently rates the loss of our unique plants and animals as a key concern. Indeed, in a recent poll of 10,000 readers of The Conversation, 'the environment' was identified as the second-biggest issue affecting their lives, behind climate change at number one.

The Coalition has been in government since 2013. So what has it done about the biodiversity crisis? Unfortunately, the state of Australia’s plants, animals and ecological communities suggests the answer is - not nearly enough.

In fact, as the extinction crisis has escalated, protection and recovery for threatened species has declined. Poor decisions are contributing to the problem, rather than solving it.

The sorry state of Australia’s biodiversity

Australia has formally acknowledged the extinction of 104 native species since European colonisation, but the true number is likely much higher.

Threatened bird, mammal and plant populations have, on average, halved or worse since 1985. Species recently thought to be safe – such as the bogong moth, gang gang cockatoos, and even the iconic koala – are being added to the global and national threatened species lists following drought, catastrophic fires and habitat destruction.

The federal government listed the koala as an endangered species in February this year. Shutterstock

Today, 19 ecosystems show clear signs of collapse. This includes the Great Barrier Reef, savannas, mangroves, tropical rainforests, and tall mountain ash forests. These losses have profound ramifications for clean air and water, productive agriculture, pollination, and well-being.

Biodiversity is a crucial part of Australia’s national identity and Aboriginal culture. It delivers billions of dollars in tourism revenue and underpins most sectors of our economy.

It’s important for our health, too. COVID lockdowns recently brought the critical role of nature to our well-being into sharp focus, with thriving biodiversity shown to deliver avoided costs to the healthcare system.

Ignoring key recommendations

A 2018 Senate inquiry into the extinction crisis of Australian animals (fauna) concluded that native fauna was declining. It found biodiversity protection was under-resourced and failing, and Australia urgently needs an independent environmental regulator.

In 2022, the federal Auditor-General reviewed the government’s implementation of Australia’s threatened species legislation, finding:

limited evidence that desired outcomes are being achieved, due to the department’s lack of monitoring, reporting and support for the implementation of conservation advice, recovery plans.

The national Threatened Species Strategy focuses on 100 species and a few iconic places. But more than 1,800 species and ecosystems are threatened with extinction.

And economic analyses indicate we currently spend about around 7% of the targeted A$1.6 billion per year required to halt species loss and recover nationally listed threatened species.

These findings were reinforced in 2020 by a major independent review of Australia’s environment law – Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

The review by Professor Graeme Samuel made 38 recommendations, but almost none have been implemented. They include establishing an Environment Assurance Commissioner, rigorous national environmental standards and resourcing compliance and enforcement of environmental regulations.

Failure to protect what we have

Land clearing is a key threat to Australian wildlife, yet the government has not made meaningful progress to halt it.

The hectares cleared in New South Wales over the last decade have tripled, and a staggering 2.5 million hectares have been cleared in Queensland between 2000 and 2018.

Worryingly, more than 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat have been cleared since the EPBC Act came into force (between 2000 and 2017), including 1 million hectares of koala habitat.

Invasive species – such as cats, foxes, rabbits, deer and buffel grass – continue to wreak havoc on many of our most endangered species.

Cats alone kill 1.7 billion native animals each year and threaten at least 120 species with extinction. While feral predator control has received some focus, the effort still falls well short of what’s required.

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Lack of transparency and accountability

Official reviews have consistently found the federal government’s approach to protecting biodiversity lacks transparency and accountability.

Questions have also been raised about the federal government’s delay in releasing its five-yearly State of the Environment Report ahead of the election.

And investigations have raised serious concerns about how the government handled decisions regarding grasslands illegally destroyed by a company part-owned by a government minister.

long-nosed potoroo
The long-nosed potoroo is extremely vulnerable to cats and foxes. Shutterstock

A key advisor to the government recently labelled a major scheme to promote forest restoration as carbon credits as environmental and taxpayer 'fraud'.

A federal integrity commission, if it existed, could have explored these cases.

The government also continues to back activities that cause damage to biodiversity, including the fossil fuel and forestry industries.

On agriculture, the government is pursuing a 'biodiversity stewardship' policy, to financially reward farmers for protecting wildlife.

But ongoing approval of unsustainable land management practices, particularly land clearing (of which agriculture is responsible for the lion’s share) will likely overshadow any stewardship gains.

The 26 Australian frogs at greatest risk of extinction | Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

So what’s needed to prevent future extinctions?

Labor has not yet revealed its full suite of environment policies. This week it told Guardian Australia it will release more details before the election, and has called on the government to release the State of the Environment report.

So what policies are needed to reverse the biodiversity crisis? The answer is: spend more and destroy less.

Just two days of Coalition election promises (estimated at $833 million per day) would fund recovery for Australia’s entire list of threatened species for a year.

Systems for protecting biodiversity need stronger legal mandates and less discretion for ministers to override decisions about project approvals, species listing and other matters.

Biodiversity should be integrated into key aspects of government practice. For example, it makes no sense to invest in protecting koalas while simultaneously approving koala habitat clearing.

And we need investment in every threatened species, not just a hand-picked few.

bleached coral
The Great Barrier Reef this year suffered the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016. Shutterstock

Finally, transformative policies are needed to support the substantial opportunities to enhance and restore biodiversity. This includes:

The fate of nature underpins our economy and health. Yet in the election campaign to date, there’s been a deafening silence about it. The Conversation

Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University and Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Science, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

On 10 May 2022 Chantelle Doyle gave our members a presentation on her extensive PhD work on conserving Hibbertia spanantha. Her work is also investigating threatened species conservation through the practice of translocation. Unfortunately it is inevitable that rare plants are destroyed when a development site is cleared unless they can be moved to a suitable site elsewhere.

H. spanantha was originally known from only four populations in the Sydney Basin Bioregion and is on the Threatened Species Recovery Hub Hottest 100 list of plants most at risk of extinction.

Chantelle’s talk described her analysis of:

  • What are the best methods for vegetative and seed propagation of H. spanantha?
  • What are the best soil and pre planting treatments?
  • What post planting maintenance is required?

This information together can inform the key factors to consider when implementing conservation actions and identify challenges to following best practice translocation guidelines.

The recent issue of the Friends of Lane Cove National Park newsletter, Regenavitis reports on the work of park staff and volunteers in helping with the Ryde planting near the crematorium. They will help care for the plants in the long term through weed suppression and, potentially, ecological burns to facilitate a self-sustaining population through natural recruitment.

Annual research grant

STEP has awarded our annual research grant to Chantelle to assist her with her work. Funds from STEP will enable ongoing monitoring of the three translocated populations (ex situ population at Hornsby and augmentations at Ryde and Cheltenham).

Tuesday, 28 June 2022 21:12

Ku-ring-gai – Urban Forest Strategy

Trees play an important role in defining the character of Ku-ring-gai. Council has been going through a process to develop a new strategy for managing forest over two years. The starting point was an Urban Forest Policy that is a short statement of principles and objectives.

During 2021 feedback was collected from the community and advice sought from expert consultants that have informed a draft Urban Forest Strategy which will define how council manages and improves our urban forest for current and future generations.

Council is now publicly exhibiting the draft document and gathering ideas about how the strategy can be successfully implemented. Have your say now. The closing date is 5 pm on Friday 8 July.

The strategy will cover trees and vegetation in:

  • public parks, streets and commercial areas
  • private gardens, schools and other developments
  • council managed bushland and reserves

The management of the urban forest needs to take into account the whole ecosystem that supports the trees and plants, including the soil and fauna that are essential for the health of the vegetation plus the availability of a water supply.

Ku-ring-gai Council has described the municipality as the ‘green heart’ of Sydney. This creates an attractive environment for residents. Trees also provide many other environmental benefits that are described in the strategy.

The draft Strategy includes ambitious goals to increase the tree canopy coverage. However the urban forest needs to be looked after by all residents. There are pressures that will work against the goals for improving the health and extent of the urban forest such as climate change, development and preferences changing towards very tidy easy-care gardens.

Tradescantia fluminensis, commonly known as wandering trad is one of the worst weeds in Sydney’s bushland and home gardens. This highly invasive weed rapidly takes over the ground layer in gullies and temporary watercourses, forming a thick blanket of leaves that excludes light and warmth. Trad aggressively smothers low plants and seedlings and cools the soil, preventing native plant germination and regeneration.

This plant spreads vegetatively, no seed is produced. Garden refuse dumped in bushland is a common form of spread. Stem fragments and roots readily wash down waterways or spread in mud from vehicles. Trying to remove trad is a very time-consuming process. Repeated follow up is required because a tiny stem or leaf left behind can regrow.

But now there is hope of a solution, a leaf-smut fungus called Kordyana brasiliensis. This agent was discovered on wandering trad during surveys in Brazil performed by researchers at the Universidade Federal de Viçosa. This exploratory research was part of the biocontrol program for this weed in New Zealand, led by Landcare Research.

After years of testing in Brazil, in New Zealand and in the CSIRO containment facility in Australia, researchers applied for approval to release the leaf smut fungus. They were granted approval by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources in December 2018.

Researchers first released the leaf smut fungus at ‘nursery sites’ in the Dandenong Ranges during the cooler months of 2019. Nursery sites are areas where our staff will monitor the progress of the biocontrol agent to ensure it can survive and spread in the local area and is having a damaging effect on the wandering trad.

A new project from July 2020 to June 2023, co-funded by CSIRO and the NSW government through its Environmental Trust, is facilitating stakeholders’ releases of the fungus across the range of wandering trad in NSW. The project will also monitor the impact of the fungus on the weed and flow-on indirect impact on other vegetation at several sites during that period.

Ku-ring-gai Council is participating in the project and has released infected trad plants in several sites. It has been spreading rapidly in some sites such as the Gordon Flying Fox Reserve. The very damp conditions experienced over the past few months may be a factor. In other sites the spread has been fairly slow.

How it works

The leaf smut fungus (K. brasiliensis) spreads through spores, and it needs wandering trad leaves to survive. This pathogen enters wandering trad through the leave’s air holes (stomata), and slowly uses the weed’s energy for its own fungal growth. After two to three weeks, the leaves begin to develop yellow spots, caused by a lack of chlorophyll. Eventually the fungal infection is so severe that the wandering trad leaves die. The sick plant becomes less competitive against neighbouring native plants, giving them an advantage, and the opportunity to grow.

Don't worry, it's not another cane toad. It has been carefully tested by the CSIRO and only infects trad and not its close native relative Commelina which has blue flowers. The fungus needs the leaves of the wandering trad to survive – if there is no wandering trad to infect, the fungus dies.

Benefits of biocontrol agents

Biological control is the practice of managing a weed by deliberately using one or more of its natural enemies (biocontrol agents) to suppress it.

Specialised fungi, like the leaf smut, have specific genes that enable them to successfully infect and cause disease only on single or a narrow range of plant species. Testing involved looking at plants that are related to wandering trad including native plants to make sure the fungus will only infect the weed.

CSIRO field biologist Dr Ben Gooden, who is coordinating the rollout of the biocontrol program across Australia, said highly targeted and tested biocontrol agents like the fungus were a more environmentally sustainable option than other available tools. Scientifically tested biocontrol agents like this fungus provide a longer term, environmentally sustainable way of controlling weeds like wandering trad, without harming Australian plants or animals.

Thanks to the Facebook page of the Pittwater Natural Heritage Association and CSIROscope for some of this information.

In November 2021 the NSW government announced the creation of the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area. This means this iconic area will be protected to some extent. The risk of further damage from coal mining has been averted but there is the prospect of over-reach with tourist development that could spoil the unique pagoda landscape. See our article on the history of the long campaign to protect this area.

A draft master plan and plan of management have now been released for submission.

The organisation that has been leading the campaign for the protection of this area is the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, now called Wilderness Australia. Click here for details of their many concerns about the proposals and a submission guide.

The closing date is 5 July. Send submissions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Manager, NPWS Planning and Assessment, Locked Bag 5022, Parramatta, NSW 2124.

Potential features of the reserve

The Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area should become one of the best reserves in NSW. The diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and its Aboriginal cultural heritage should be enjoyed by thousands. Lithgow could benefit from the increase in demand for accommodation and visitor facilities.

Wilderness Australia needs your help to ensure that happens, and that its values are not desecrated. Tourism needn’t cut the eyes out of the scenery with a muddle of disconnected and counterproductive proposals.

There are two separate documents under the consultation. A plan of management is statutory and cannot be changed without public consultation. The accompanying draft master plan for visitor management creates a parallel process that has no legal force and can be changed at the will of government. The two drafts do not work cohesively together.

The master plan’s list of intentions is more ambitious than the reserve’s visitor management budget can fund, so it provides no clarity on which park facilities will be built.

Major issues

The major concerns are:

  • The main focus should be on nature-focused basic facilities like campgrounds, walking tracks, carparks and lookouts built on already disturbed land and serviced by good 2WD roads that everyone can use. The area is ideal for multi-day walking tracks with basic overnight campsites.
  • There should be an emphasis on a 2WD park, with minor provision of 4WD trails where they can be managed sustainably. Instead, there is proposed exclusive 4WD vehicle access to iconic sites, such as Wolgan Falls and the Temple of Doom.
  • It is proposed to locate the adventure tourism facilities, the zipline, via ferrata and 4WD access road, in the middle of the Lost City. This will cause a visual blight at Lithgow’s best scenic asset. It should be relocated to State Mine gully and encourage visitation to the State Mine and Railway Museum.
  • The draft plan of management for the reserve is vague. Except for pest management strategies, it has few details on nature conservation action. There are no restoration management actions, apart from studies, to spend the very large biodiversity offset fund available for this work.
  • Little is said about aboriginal community involvement in reserve management, including through economic opportunities and employment.
  • There is too much emphasis on opportunities for private interests, such as private consultation with interest groups on facilities such as additional approved access routes for vehicles, horse and bike riders and up to four glamping accommodation hubs that are subject to secret lease negotiations. It seems the Wollemi Great Walk is being determined in secret by confidential contracts and leases negotiated for private ventures.

A revised, re-published and re-exhibited draft plan of management is required that defines the location and extent of proposed visitor facilities and access on a map, with criteria set out that ensure this work is done in a sustainable manner.

The role of the draft master plan must be to identify, through the public consultation, a set of visitor management actions to be published in a completely revised draft plan of management.

In May 2021 the NSW government announced that the Gardens of Stone will be declared a State Conservation Area. This means this iconic area will be protected to some extent. The risk of further damage from coal mining has been averted but there is the prospect of overreach with tourist development that could spoil the unique pagoda landscape. See STEP Matters, Issue 213 for the history of the long campaign to protect this area.

A draft Master Plan and Plan of Management have been released for submissions. The organisation that has been leading the campaign for the establishment of this national park is the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, now called Wilderness Australia. Click here for details of their many concerns about the proposals and a submission guide.

The closing date is 5 July. Send submissions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Manager, NPWS Planning and Assessment, Locked Bag 5022, Parramatta, NSW 2124.

Potential features of the reserve

The Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area should become one of the best reserves in NSW. The diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and its Aboriginal cultural heritage should be enjoyed by thousands. Lithgow could benefit from the increase in demand for accommodation and visitor facilities.

Wilderness Australia needs your help to ensure that happens, and that its values are not desecrated. Tourism needn’t cut the eyes out of the scenery with a muddle of disconnected and counterproductive proposals.

There are two separate documents under the consultation. A Plan of Management is statutory and cannot be changed without public consultation. The accompanying draft Master Plan for visitor management creates a parallel process that has no legal force and can be changed at the will of government. The two drafts do not work cohesively together.

The Master Plan’s list of intentions is more ambitious than the reserve’s visitor management budget can fund, so it provides no clarity on which park facilities will be built.

Major issues

The major concerns are:

  • The main focus should be on nature-focused basic facilities like campgrounds, walking tracks, carparks and lookouts built on already disturbed land and serviced by good 2WD roads that everyone can use. The area is ideal for multi-day walking tracks with basic overnight campsites.
  • There should be an emphasis on a 2WD park, with minor provision of 4WD trails where they can be managed sustainably. Instead, there is proposed exclusive 4WD vehicle access to iconic sites, such as Wolgan Falls and the Temple of Doom.
  • It is proposed to locate the adventure tourism facilities, the zipline, via ferrata and 4WD access road, in the middle of the Lost City. This will cause a visual blight at Lithgow’s best scenic asset. It should be relocated to State Mine gully and encourage visitation to the State Mine and Railway Museum.
  • The draft plan of management for the reserve is vague. Except for pest management strategies, it has few details on nature conservation action. There are no restoration management actions, apart from studies, to spend the very large biodiversity offset fund available for this work.
  • Little is said about aboriginal community involvement in reserve management, including through economic opportunities and employment.
  • There is too much emphasis on opportunities for private interests, such as private consultation with interest groups on facilities such as additional approved access routes for vehicles, horse and bike riders and up to four glamping accommodation hubs that are subject to secret lease negotiations. It seems the Wollemi Great Walk is being determined in secret by confidential contracts and leases negotiated for private ventures.

A revised, re-published and re-exhibited draft Plan of Management is required that defines the location and extent of proposed visitor facilities and access on a map, with criteria set out that ensure this work is done in a sustainable manner.

The role of the draft Master Plan must be to identify, through the public consultation, a set of visitor management actions to be published in a completely revised draft Plan of Management.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022 21:16

Good news for Byles Creek

In Issue 211 of STEP Matters we wrote about the review being undertaken by Hornsby Council of the planning controls in the Byles Creek area. Local residents have been fighting for years to have the zoning of some large undeveloped lots changed so they cannot be sub-divided into smaller lots leading to clearing of high quality bush that is a wildlife corridor and essential habitat for several threatened species.

The good news is that at the May 2022 meeting Hornsby councillors voted unanimously in favour of implementation of all of the Byles Creek Planning Study recommendations without any changes as below:

  • rezone the R2 land within the study area to E4 Environmental Living
  • increase the minimum lot size for land to be zoned E4 Environmental Living to 40 hectares
  • strengthen the wording of the objectives for minimum lot size, clause 4.1 of the Hornsby Local Environment Plan to protect and enhance existing bushland and significant vegetation
  • insert a new Local Provision Clause for Riparian Land into the Hornsby LEP 2013 and provide supporting riparian corridor mapping
  • increase community engagement programs targeting the study area

Although there will be more steps along the way with the formal planning proposal etc requiring public comments before it becomes legislation, this has ensured the process will begin.

There are still large lots that will only be protected if they are acquired and conserved. The Byles Creek Valley Union is continuing to meet with our state member, Premier Perrottet to make this happen as promised. However, implementing the study recommendations will improve the level of protection for the rest of the Byles Creek catchment.

Dr Holly Parsons and the Powerful Owl team from Birdlife Australia, with financial assistance from a Ku-ring-gai environmental levy grant, have written a fascinating Powerful Owl feather identification guide.

Here is a taste of the information in the guide.

Identifying a species by a single feather can be very challenging. This guide has been designed by the Powerful Owl Project to help you determine if you have found a Powerful Owl feather. We have also included images of other species whose feathers look similar. The guide focuses mostly on wing and tail feathers as they are most often found but we have provided examples of other feathers where available

A feather found on the ground can tell us a lot of useful information. It can pinpoint locations that are important to birds, inform us of movement patterns and can even be used for genetic testing. A simple feather can help direct important conservation efforts!

Feather anatomy

Feathers are remarkably light and strong. They are composed of keratin, which is the same protein that makes up our hair and nails, as well as the scales of reptiles. A feather consists of a central hollow shaft, called a rachis, rather like a tree trunk. The feather shaft has two vanes, flattened parts of the feather attached on either side of the rachis. The vanes are formed by barbs that branch from the rachis like the branches of a tree. These barbs bear barbules that radiate, like the smaller branches of a tree. Tiny hooks on the barbules connect the barbs together to form the flat plane of the feather vane.

When birds preen, they run the length of the feather through their bills, which engages the barbules and shapes the barbs into a vane, making the feather work as one continuous unit. This helps birds to fly, stay warm and repel water.

Collecting feathers (or rather, not)

While it is very tempting to collect feathers that you find, every state and territory in Australia actually has rules and regulations around the collection of bird feathers. In NSW it is illegal to retain a bird specimen or parts of it (including feathers) without the appropriate permission from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

There is also a very small, but real risk of infection from a number of diseases when coming into contact with wild birds, their secretions, droppings and feathers. So rather than collecting feathers (or other bird parts), simply admire it, take a photo, and leave it in place (unless you are part of a project with the appropriate scientific licence). If you do touch feathers, be sure to wash and sanitise your hands afterwards.

If you find a Powerful Owl feather, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and include a photo and other relevant information such as the date and location.

In June 2021 NSW introduced a Plastics Action Plan. The most visible action is the plan to reduce harmful plastic in the environment. Bans on single use plastics are being introduced but phased in over a longer period compared to many other states.

From 1 June single use lightweight plastic bags are banned. Then from November other single use items are banned such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, plates and bowls, cotton bud sticks and polystyrene trays.

So-called compostable plastic will also be banned. They don't biodegrade unless they're treated in an industrial composting facility. Often, they break down into useless little pieces.

South Australia has led the way in most categories of single-use plastic bans, followed closely by Queensland and the ACT, and now other states are making ground – especially Western Australia, where regulations ban the heavyweight (commonly 15 cent) plastic supermarket bags and helium balloon releases are banned. Queensland was the first to ban polystyrene food ware and plates, cups and bowls (if not enclosed with a lid) and ACT will be the first to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds (from July 2022).

At this stage it looks like the only thing where NSW may blaze a trail is banning those annoying plastic fruit stickers – if South Australia doesn’t get there first. They are thinking about it!

Another major item is takeaway coffee cups. Only WA is considering a ban at this stage.

NSW is also providing funding for research into improving the recyclability or re-usability of plastic products.

The biggest source of litter – cigarette butts

Despite the significant progress made in reducing smoking in Australia, nearly 18 billion cigarettes are smoked per year and up to half end up as litter. Cigarette butts can end up in our waterways and oceans and leach toxic materials. Butts have been found in the stomachs of birds, turtles, whales and fish, affecting their digestion and potentially leading to poisoning or starvation.

Current efforts to minimise cigarette pollution in Australia have largely focused on solutions directed at the individual smoker, such as disposal infrastructure and education. Continuing this approach would see little or no reduction in butt litter, according to a report commissioned by WWF.

The report says a levy of $0.004 (less than half a cent) per cigarette could raise $71 million per year to fund the product stewardship scheme. Alternatively, tobacco companies could be required to directly fund the scheme. It could boost collection, recovery and reprocessing of cigarette butts, support research and development to potentially ‘design out’ plastic filters, and improve public awareness of the impacts of cigarette pollution. Most people are unaware that butts contain plastic.

The NSW government will investigate a new extended producer responsibility scheme that will make tobacco companies take responsibility for the litter impacts of their products. For example, they may set mandatory litter reduction targets that those companies must meet through a range of approved activities. This work will align with the Australian government’s recently announced taskforce on cigarette butt litter.

In great news for the circular economy, the Thornleigh Community Recycling Centre is now able to accept hard plastics! This centre is available for Ku-ring-gai residents as well as Hornsby. Unwanted plastic buckets, crates, washing baskets, bottle caps and lids, toys, DVD and CD cases, plastic plant pots and plastic storage containers are among the plastic items that are presently not accepted in your home yellow-lid recycling bin but can now be taken to the centre where they will find a new life as a bollard, post or pallet.

The plastic items have to meet certain conditions:

  • completely made from plastic and contain no metal parts, batteries or electronic components
  • less than 20 kg in weight
  • less than 1.5 m in length

The centre is at 29 Sefton Road, Thornleigh, is open Tuesday to Friday from 8.30 am to 4 pm and Saturday from 8.30 am to 12 pm.

As reported in Regenavitus (newsletter of the Friends of Lane Cove NP), the botanical name of the pesky weed known as Turkey rhubarb has changed from Acetosa sagititta to Rumex sagitittus based on DNA research. Not another name change! Actually it has returned to its original name.

It has always been a mystery as to why this weed has been called Turkey rhubarb. Has it been mixed up with Rheum species that include the edible rhubarb?

According to Wikipedia the first known species is Rheum palmatum. It originated from western China, Tibet and Mongolia. During Islamic times, it was imported along the Silk Road, reaching Europe in the 14th century through the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna, where it became known as ‘Turkish rhubarb’ and also ‘Russian rhubarb’ and ‘Indian rhubarb’.

Its leaves are large, jagged and hand-shaped, growing in width to two feet. It can grow up to 2.5 m tall. So it is nothing like our ‘Turkey rhubarb’ except the flowers a vaguely similar. They didn’t have DNA analysis back in the 14th century. The flowers may be the answer?

It is primarily used in traditional medicine, and as an ornamental subject in the garden. The root of R. palmatum is known for its purported purging effects and suppressing fever. In ancient China, rhubarb root was taken to try to cure stomach ailments and as a ‘cathartic’ (an agent used to relieve constipation) and used as a poultice for ‘fevers and edema’ (swelling caused by fluid retention in the body tissues.

Do those large rhizomes that have to be dug up in order to remove our version of Turkey rhubarb also have medicinal qualities?

The NSW and Australian governments still want a rapid increase in population This will place great pressure on new outer suburbs and areas near public transport that have been earmarked to accommodate the demand for new housing.

There was optimism that a directive issued by former Planning Minister, Rob Stokes of planning principles would have made new suburbs more pleasant places to live. They might have had more parks and street trees that would reduce the ambient heat and buildings designed with sustainability principles. They would help NSW meet the ambition of net zero by 2050 considering that buildings account for 25% of emissions.

The principles also provided that resilience and risk management from climate change be key considerations so that development in floodplains or close to bushland would be controlled. These principles would be applied throughout all NSW cities and towns. Recent events have demonstrated their importance.

The details for the implementation of the principles are set out in a draft Design and Place State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP). It has been developed by the Department of Planning in collaboration with architects, planning experts and researchers.

In a shock announcement, the new NSW Planning Minister, Anthony Roberts, has decided to bow to the developer lobby and revoke the principles and the Design and Place SEPP. What happens now is unclear.

Increase in density

The draft policy was not all good. It included an Urban Design Guide that established objectives for quality urban spaces. It was intended to advise applicants and their design teams, who prepare development proposals, on expectations and to assist in assessment of proposals (by local or state government).

There is a sting in the tail of the list of objectives. They include a blanket increase in density to 30 dwellings per hectare in areas within 5 min walk to local shops or near to public transport and 15 dwellings per hectare everywhere else. The latter equates to 666 m2 average area per dwelling including space for roads, parking, parks etc. Implementation can occur by mixing apartment buildings into low density areas.

The reasoning stated in the guide is the creation of more vibrant urban areas. That seems highly unlikely. Current LEPs would be ignored. Character and heritage would be lost in the process if the developments that have sprung up all over Sydney are anything to go by.

Push for spot rezonings

In another backward move the government has issued a discussion paper about a proposal to allow developers to request spot rezonings. Councils would have a limited time to assess these applications.

The authority of councils and community wishes determined by strategic plans would be overtaken by developers making these requests. This goes against the objective that ensures strategic planning is the foundation for all decisions about potential land-use changes. The pressure to assess applications within a fixed time frame will compromise the ability of councils to assess how a proposal fits into the area’s strategic framework and take into account other developments in the process of construction or under assessment.

The planning system is more flawed than ever. More details of these changes are described in FOKE’s March 2022 newsletter.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022 02:00

Population and climate change

This important discussion paper on population and climate change by Ian Lowe, Jane O’Sullivan and Peter Cook was published in February 2022 by Sustainable Population Australia. Here is their summary.

The relationship between population and climate change is complex. At a basic level, for a given lifestyle (consumption pattern), emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change are directly proportional to the size of the population. For example, if Australia’s recent population growth rate of about 1.5% per year were to continue, in less than 50 years we would double our demands for energy, food, water and all natural resources. All else being equal, we would double our carbon footprint also. On the other hand, in a hypothetical world where we achieve lifestyles entirely free from greenhouse gas generation, how many of us there were would make no difference to the climate. But even if this were achievable, which is questionable, we could decarbonise our lifestyles more rapidly if population growth was not constantly adding to the demand for energy and resources. Hence, the rate of population growth will make a considerable difference to the cumulative emissions generated during the transition. Furthermore, population growth greatly increases our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

The population issue has had a controversial history which has led to the development of a ‘taboo’ against talking about population as a policy-relevant factor. This paper calls for a new level of maturity in discussing the population issue. It should no longer be acceptable for unfounded accusations of racism to be used to silence respectful and thoughtful discussions about population growth. It should no longer be acceptable – at an epochal moment of existential risk for human civilisation – for climate policy prescriptions to conspicuously exclude population-related actions in the face of abundant evidence (as reported in this paper) that such measures are feasible, effective and consistent with human rights and democratic values. Ending global population growth more swiftly and at a lower peak is a necessary but not sufficient condition for overcoming the climate crisis.

Population and consumption work together

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says:

Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

But these are not independent contributors to emissions; they multiply each other. Most emissions are attributable to the richest billion people, but their economic growth since 1970 has not increased their average emissions per person. The growth in emissions has come from lifting multitudes of poor people to a modest middle-class lifestyle in places like China and India.

It is futile to ‘blame’ past emissions on either population or consumption patterns when they are the product of both. What should be of more interest to us is the extent to which the future challenges of climate change, including emissions reduction and adaptation, can be lessened by giving due attention to population growth. This paper argues that our climate change response can’t afford to ignore the potential to minimise further population growth.

Slow-response actions are no less urgent

Nobody expects addressing population growth alone to solve climate change. There is no intention to deflect attention from high- emissions consumption patterns, nor to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich. Demographic inertia means that even concerted efforts to slow population growth are unlikely to have significant impact on the timescale demanded by the climate crisis. Measures to decarbonise our energy system and reverse the loss of vegetation and biodiversity are needed urgently in this decade, if we are to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change. Measures to reduce childbirth will take decades to make an appreciable difference to greenhouse gas emissions and human demands on nature.

Nevertheless, how well we do in the second half of this century will depend more on what we do about population growth this decade than on any actions that will remain available to us in 2050. If the successful efforts to promote voluntary family planning adoption in the 1970s and ’80s had not been abandoned in the 1990s, the global population might now be on track to peak below 9 billion. Because of decisions made in the 1990s, we’re heading for 11 billion or more. But if we renew family planning efforts now, a peak below 10 billion is possible and we could end this century with fewer than 8 billion people. If we wait until 2050, 11+ billion would be locked in.

A slow fruition does not make population action any less urgent. As the proverb says, ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.’ So it is with addressing global population. The climate crisis is largely a product of the short- sightedness of political responses decades ago. Those who say that reducing birth rates is too slow to be relevant to the climate change response are suffering the same short-sightedness that created the problem they seek to fix.

In rich countries, fewer people means lower emissions and fewer vulnerabilities

Any increase of population in the more affluent countries will add to those countries’ use of resources and their greenhouse gas emissions. In a rich country, having fewer children does more to slow climate change than any of the other actions often advocated, such as eating less meat, avoiding air travel or using only renewable energy. If immigration is high enough to cause population growth, it also increases a country’s emissions, but some people argue that it makes no difference globally. This is untrue: the average migrant to Australia increases their carbon footprint fourfold by adopting Australian lifestyles. While Australians have recently reduced their per capita emissions a little, Australia’s total emissions from energy have risen 49% since 1990 due entirely to population growth of 8.3 million people.

Australia is not only one of the world’s largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, it is also among the countries likely to be most affected, in terms of negative impacts on agriculture, water supply, bushfire threat and extreme weather events. All these threats are intensified by the threat-multiplier of population growth.

The current Australian government policy of encouraging high levels of migration could see the 2060 population approaching 40 million and continuing to grow rapidly. That scale of increase would significantly magnify the task of producing enough clean energy to meet our material needs within a responsible carbon budget. Australian agriculture is unlikely to feed that number during increasingly frequent and severe droughts, and water security will depend on costly and energy-intensive desalination or recycling. These serious vulnerabilities are entirely avoidable if we choose population stabilisation.

In poor countries, smaller families are essential for adaptation

Population growth heightens vulnerability to climate change to a much greater extent in poor, high-fertility countries. For most of these countries, population growth itself is a greater threat to security and wellbeing than climate change is. Saying this does not in any way diminish the serious impacts of climate change. However, if a projected 11–25% reduction in crop yields this century due to climate change is considered a crisis, it is absurd to claim, as many people do, that population growth in high-fertility countries is not important when it will diminish the available water and agricultural land per person by a factor of three or more, while ensuring high levels of unemployment and poor infrastructure provision. While family size should be considered part of emissions reduction efforts in rich countries, it should be integral to adaptation efforts in poor countries. Nevertheless, the emissions caused by growing numbers of the poor are not insignificant. Deforestation is particularly vulnerable to population pressure.

Currently, family planning services are badly underfunded, denying many women access to safe and reliable contraception. As a result, the fall in birth rates has been much slower than was anticipated a generation ago, unemployment is rampant and hunger is once more on the rise.

Many of the beneficial impacts of lower birth rates are enjoyed much more rapidly than their effect on carbon emissions. These benefits include greater autonomy of women, health of infants, food security of families, protection of biodiversity, employment prospects for youth and economic development of nations. If climate adaptation is dominating the agenda for international aid, it makes sense that family planning should be included as an adaptation measure.

Climate change will affect world population

The other side of the coin is the impact climate change is projected to have on population, through greater loss of life. The frequency of extreme heat events, floods and crop-destroying droughts is projected to increase substantially. Some Pacific islands and low-lying coastal areas will become uninhabitable, causing either loss of life or relocation of whole populations. Mass migrations could possibly in turn lead to conflict between the displaced people and those whose traditional lands they enter. However, responses to climate change can have some beneficial health impacts. Urban air pollution and indoor smoke exposure are both major causes of premature deaths, and might be substantially reduced by electrification of energy systems. It is difficult to anticipate the net effect on population trends.

Only low-population scenarios can keep warming below 2°C

The most compelling reason to include population in the climate change response is that climate mitigation models are only able to achieve sufficient emissions reduction if their scenarios assume a rapid peak and decline in global population. These assumptions are not readily visible: they are hidden under the labelling of scenarios such as ‘SSP1’ or ‘SSP2’. Without making these assumptions explicit, and discussing the actions that could help achieve the required birth reductions in a way that elevates people’s rights and freedoms, these scenarios can’t become reality.

Addressing population growth alone can’t solve climate change, but not addressing it will ensure we fail.

The EPA released the three-yearly State of the Environment Report (SoE) in February. There are some pluses but mostly it paints a sorry picture. It boils down to the human impact from climate change and population growth.

The Australian SoE was sent to the Minister for the Environment, Susan Ley, in December. But it is has not been made public yet. The minister is required to table the report in parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving it. Parliament has sat only briefly this year so the government is not legally required to release it until the next parliament forms. What is she trying to hide?

For a change the NSW report does acknowledge the significance of population growth ‘population growth is the main driver of environmental issues’.

Yet, the NSW government’s top bureaucrats have urged the premier, Dominic Perrottet, to take a national leadership position and advocate a temporary five-year doubling of the pre-pandemic migration rate, which would increase the NSW population by about 2 million in 5 years. The argument is that this would rebuild the economy and address labour shortages.

The economy seems to be doing all right, thank you! Labour shortages seem to be a perpetual issue despite high immigration for most of this century. Perhaps it is more to do with wages being too low in the affected sectors of the economy. In 2018, Gladys Berejiklian, called for a pause to enable the state’s infrastructure to catch up. This still hasn’t happened.

Some pluses in this SoE report include:

  • Air and urban water quality are generally good but the state’s major inland river systems continue to be affected by water extraction, altered river flows, loss of connectivity and catchment changes such as altered land use and vegetation clearing.
  • Greenhouse gases are declining having fallen by 17% since 2005. Renewable energy sources have grown but they are still only 19% of electricity power in 2020. But, unlike the federal government, there is actually a plan to get to net zero by 2050.
  • About 9.6% of NSW is conserved in the public reserve system. The rate of new reservations has increased markedly, with around 305,000 ha being added to reserves since 2018.

What about biodiversity?

The story on biodiversity is very different. Much loss can be attributed to the Black Summer bushfires but the downward trend has accelerated due to climate change and land clearing.

Improvements have been made through the Saving our Species program. $175 million has been allocated to the program for the 10 years to 2026, and $240 million has been allocated over five years to support a greater commitment to long-term conservation of biodiversity on private land.

Land clearing is the greatest threat to biodiversity. Land clearing and logging of native forests continue at record levels (54,500 hectares in 2019). Unrealistic logging contracts are driving the rates of tree felling which is crazy when several reports have shown that the government is losing money on logging operations. Land clearing is now so bad that in February the koala was declared an endangered species under the Commonwealth EPBC Act.

Money is going into saving species but the amount of land clearing is likely to be creating more threatened species. Invasive species are also a major threat. The regulatory framework under the Biodiversity Conservation Act is failing as was predicted by environment groups and the EDO.

The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is a voluntary scheme, administered by the Australian government’s Clean Energy Regulator. It aims to provide options or incentives for a range of organisations and individuals to adopt schemes to reduce their emissions. These schemes can earn Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) for emissions reductions. One ACCU is earned for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2-e) stored or avoided by a project. ACCUs can be sold to generate income to the government through a carbon abatement contract.

The market was extended recently when the government changed the rules so that holders of ACCUs may sell them in the secondary market. Strong demand has increased their value markedly. The government no longer needs to pay for these ACCUs. The 2022 budget reveals that the commitment has reduced by $2 billion.

There is a plethora of potential emission reduction projects (currently 38) supported by the scheme such as upgrading building lighting to LEDs, landfill gas capture, sequestration through growing trees or soil carbon improvement. The government’s website shows how very complicated the scheme is. Each type of project has supporting documents outlining the ACCU calculation methods and reporting requirements. ACCUs are not earned up front.

Successive government budgets since 2014 have included allocations to the ERF that now totals $4.4 billion. Payments are made as the emission reduction is deemed to have been achieved in accordance with the contract that has a fixed time frame of 5 to 10 years depending on the type of project. For a project based on growing trees the ACCUs accrue over 15 years but the forest has to be maintained for 25 or 100 years. The calculation of carbon stored includes a big range of adjustment factors that are too detailed to go into here.

Standards for effective offsets

STEP Matters 188 reported on the standards that the scheme needs to follow in order to actually achieve carbon emission reductions:

  • additionality – the scheme should only identify new emission reduction projects, not ones that would have occurred anyway
  • permanence – this is an issue with forestry projects where the carbon stored may be lost through fire or disease
  • accountability – it is reasonably easy to measure the emission reductions and administer the project

Increasing reliance on offsets

The current government’s plan for net zero by 2050 claims that emissions can be reduced by 10 to 20% of 2005 levels using permanent offsets such as storing carbon in soils and vegetation and projects in Asian-Pacific neighbours. The overseas projects would come under the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism that is part of the Kyoto Protocol.

However there is already an increasing demand for offsets:

  • Large emitters are required to keep their emissions below defined levels under the Safety Mechanism. They need to buy ACCUs if their emissions are too difficult or expensive to prevent by other means.
  • Other companies have sustainability objectives to reduce emissions but some of these are being met by buying offsets.
  • Banks are also requiring the big polluters to effectively have offsets as insurance against future carbon liabilities before operations can be refinanced.

Apart from the ERF there are many private carbon offset providers such as Greenfleet – they sell carbon credits to companies or individuals. They are matched with tree planting to offset a company’s emissions or from one-off events such as aeroplane flights.

Question marks about the integrity of some of the fund’s projects

There has been much media publicity recently questioning the integrity of some aspects of the ERF. It is contended that billions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted on projects that are not actually achieving meaningful emission reductions.

The details of the shortcomings of the scheme have been exposed by Professor Andrew Macintosh. From 2013 to 2020 he was chair of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee that was set up to advise on the integrity standards for the ERF. He was principal author of the review into the scheme in 2019. The review discovered loopholes in the standards. The government has resisted fixing the problems.

There are three main schemes where the accounting for emissions is of concern.

  1. Avoided deforestation
    Landowners of large areas of western NSW were granted rights to clear their land prior to 2010 but many of the permits have not been acted upon. Now it is actually more lucrative for them to allow the trees to continue to grow instead of the implied intended use of growing crops or grazing because they will be entitled to receive payments for ‘avoided deforestation’. The argument about the legitimacy of this scheme is that the land was never going to be cleared based on historical data of actual clearing rates. This scheme makes up 20% of accrued liabilities.
  2. ‘Human induced regeneration’ or planting of forests on land previously used for cropping or grazing
    It is claimed that many of these projects are in areas like western NSW where a permanent forest will not be possible because of low rainfall. The ultimate forest growth level achieved has to be 20% canopy cover and a height of at least 2 m. The Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee considered that much of the land to which the scheme was being applied was not suitable for this expected growth to occur.
  3. Operating electricity generators that harvest methane from landfill sites
    These projects would have been implemented anyway because they are financially profitable. Some were operating before the ERF was established.

Advice to the government from the integrity committee was that these projects should not receive any more carbon credits. The response from Minister Angus Taylor was to allow them to get another five years’ worth of credits.

2022 Budget

The Coalition government’s mantra for addressing climate change is with technology not taxes but it is failing to support technology in a meaningful way. It is still fixated with the use of fossil fuels. The effective solution to climate change is to invest in roll out of renewable energy sources and storage. Instead, the Coalition government is increasing funding towards gas production with the idea that unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) will help reduce emissions. Much of this gas is intended to support the production of hydrogen for export to our Asian neighbours.

There have been more announcements of funding ($1.3 billion) for CCS technology that, in theory, will be used to produce low-emissions steel and hydrogen fuel. Australia’s only operating CCS project at the Gorgon gas field of WA has been a failure so far. If successful, CCS may reduce emissions but it uses a lot of energy in the process and is expensive. Many other countries are advancing hydrogen production technologies. It may become a very competitive market.

The budget papers have revealed the impact of a decision by the Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, Angus Taylor, to allow holder of ACCUs to sell their entitlements to payments from the ERF on to the more lucrative private voluntary market. This will contribute to a $2 billion improvement in the budget bottom line over the next four years.

The Budget estimates $5 billion will be needed over the next two years for support measures for flood affected communities, as well as clean up, mental health and temporary accommodation measures. This will be funded equally by the federal and state governments. The cost of extreme weather events over the past two years have demonstrated that we need to plan for adaptation and well as reducing emissions. There is still no concrete plan and funding from the government.

Offsets are not a panacea for reaching net zero by 2050

Carbon offsets can provide false assurance that we need not change the way we live but the demand will ultimately be impossible to meet.

A report by Oxfam, Tightening the Net, published in August 2021, provides a global perspective on the unrealistic expectations of companies and countries for carbon offsets to solve their net zero ambitions.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly-listed corporations now have ‘net-zero’ goals that are dependent upon land-based carbon sinks.

There is simply not enough land on Earth to soak up corporate greenhouse gas emissions. Oxfam estimates that the land required to meet carbon removal plans by businesses could amount to five times the size of India – more than the entire area of farmland on the planet. And much of it rightfully belongs to indigenous and other local people, who in many cases have not given their consent. This process has a name: carbon colonialism.

Wednesday, 13 April 2022 02:11

Eucalypt of the year

Eucalypt Australia holds a competition every year asking people to vote for their favourite out of a short list of selected species. And this year the winner is … the Mountain Ash, E. regnans, the tallest flowering plant in the world.

It grows as tall open forests in high rainfall areas of southern Victoria and north-eastern and southern Tasmania. These Mountain Ash forests are important homes to threatened species like the Leadbeaters (Fairy) Possum and Greater Glider.

The tallest regnans lives in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. Named Centurion, it towers at 100.5 m high. Another notable tree, named Gandalf’s Staff, could be 500 years old and is found in the Styx Valley.

E. regnans is one of an estimated 80 species of eucalypt that are killed by fire, and can only regenerate from seed. They take at least 20 years to mature and produce seed. The increasing fire frequency and severity is threatening their survival.

Second place went to the splendid and widely beloved Red Flowering Gum, Corymbia ficifolia. Its restricted endemic range is in southwestern WA but it now commonplace along streets and in gardens across southern Australia in a hybridised form.

Rounding out the top three is the statuesque Sydney Red Gum, Angophora costata. Also known as the Smooth-barked Apple, this species has been in the top three eucs almost every year since the competition started in 2018!

Eucalypt Australia is the operating name of a Trust, established in 2007 following a bequest from Bjarne Klaus Dahl.

Norwegian-born Bjarne Klaus Dahl spent his working life among the eucalypt forests of Victoria. He developed an affinity with the Australian bush and a high regard for the silvertop ash, E. sieberi.

Bjarne Dahl linked his well-being and financial prosperity to eucalypts, so much so that he left his entire estate to the Forests Commission of Victoria. The Trust’s objectives are the establishment, promotion, cultivation and conservation of eucalypts, and education of the public about them.

There are nearly 20,000 introduced plant species in Australia – roughly the same number as our native species – and while some were brought in for horticultural purposes, the vast majority were introduced as ornamental garden plants. Some of these have become problem invaders.

One such plant is lantana that was introduced as an ornamental species in the mid-1800s and has since spread across 4 million hectares. Birds spread its seeds, helping lantana invade native forests from their disturbed edges and forming dense thickets that dominate ecosystems. It costs graziers more than $100 million pa in lost production.

Another serious problem is privet, originally from Asia, which was enthusiastically adopted by the English as a hedging plant. It is too cold for them to fruit in the UK. They produce masses of fruit here that are widely dispersed into native bushland across the east coast by birds.

Thousands of seemingly harmless species we currently buy from nurseries, chain stores and markets, could also damage nearby ecosystems if they escape our gardens.

Garden Responsibly

Macquarie University’s School of Natural Sciences has recently launched another initiative in their program for Smart Green Cities. The program is called Garden Responsibly. The full website will be launched in September 2022.

The team that developed the website is led by Distinguished Professor, Michelle Leishman, a former president of STEP.

The data underlying the program comes from the Plant Sure scheme, a collaborative project between the Nursery and Gardening Industry Association of NSW and ACT, the Australian Institute of Horticulture and the NSW government. The scheme is designed primarily for use by industry specialists and checks international species databases to flag plants known to be invasive in other countries.

Plant Sure will help gardeners and plant sellers choose ornamental garden plants that will reduce the risk of future weed invasions. Gardening businesses that are certified under the Plant Sure scheme will receive stickers to identify and promote plants as 'gardening responsibly' participants.

Smart Green Cities

The Smart Green Cities program is a collaborative hub connecting industry, government, researchers and community to create liveable urban environments by inspiring change through evidence-based problem solving.

There are now many projects being undertaken investigating ways of making our cities more liveable in the face of climate change.

When we attached tiny, backpack-like tracking devices to five Australian magpies for a pilot study, we didn’t expect to discover an entirely new social behaviour rarely seen in birds.

Our goal was to learn more about the movement and social dynamics of these highly intelligent birds, and to test these new, durable and reusable devices. Instead, the birds outsmarted us.

As our new research paper explains, the magpies began showing evidence of cooperative “rescue” behaviour to help each other remove the tracker.

While we’re familiar with magpies being intelligent and social creatures, this was the first instance we knew of that showed this type of seemingly altruistic behaviour: helping another member of the group without getting an immediate, tangible reward.

Testing exciting new devices

As academic scientists, we’re accustomed to experiments going awry in one way or another. Expired substances, failing equipment, contaminated samples, an unplanned power outage – these can all set back months (or even years) of carefully planned research.

For those of us who study animals, and especially behaviour, unpredictability is part of the job description. This is the reason we often require pilot studies.

Our pilot study was one of the first of its kind – most trackers are too big to fit on medium to small birds, and those that do tend to have very limited capacity for data storage or battery life. They also tend to be single-use only.

A novel aspect of our research was the design of the harness that held the tracker. We devised a method that didn’t require birds to be caught again to download precious data or reuse the small devices.

One of the trackers we attached to five magpies, which weighs less than one gram. Dominique Potvin, Author provided

We trained a group of local magpies to come to an outdoor, ground feeding “station” that could either wirelessly charge the battery of the tracker, download data, or release the tracker and harness by using a magnet.

The harness was tough, with only one weak point where the magnet could function. To remove the harness, one needed that magnet, or some really good scissors. We were excited by the design, as it opened up many possibilities for efficiency and enabled a lot of data to be collected.

We wanted to see if the new design would work as planned, and discover what kind of data we could gather. How far did magpies go? Did they have patterns or schedules throughout the day in terms of movement, and socialising? How did age, sex or dominance rank affect their activities?

All this could be uncovered using the tiny trackers – weighing less than one gram – we successfully fitted five of the magpies with. All we had to do was wait, and watch, and then lure the birds back to the station to gather the valuable data.

This magpie wasn’t sure what to think of its new accessory. Dominique Potvin, Author provided

It was not to be

Many animals that live in societies cooperate with one another to ensure the health, safety and survival of the group. In fact, cognitive ability and social cooperation has been found to correlate. Animals living in larger groups tend to have an increased capacity for problem solving, such as hyenas, spotted wrasse, and house sparrows.

Australian magpies are no exception. As a generalist species that excels in problem solving, it has adapted well to the extreme changes to their habitat from humans.

Australian magpies generally live in social groups of between two and 12 individuals, cooperatively occupying and defending their territory through song choruses and aggressive behaviours (such as swooping). These birds also breed cooperatively, with older siblings helping to raise young.

Magpies playing together.

During our pilot study, we found out how quickly magpies team up to solve a group problem. Within ten minutes of fitting the final tracker, we witnessed an adult female without a tracker working with her bill to try and remove the harness off of a younger bird.

Within hours, most of the other trackers had been removed. By day 3, even the dominant male of the group had its tracker successfully dismantled.

We don’t know if it was the same individual helping each other or if they shared duties, but we had never read about any other bird cooperating in this way to remove tracking devices.

The birds needed to problem solve, possibly testing at pulling and snipping at different sections of the harness with their bill. They also needed to willingly help other individuals, and accept help.

Our new tracker design was innovative, allowing a magnet to release the harness. Dominique Potvin, Author provided

The only other similar example of this type of behaviour we could find in the literature was that of Seychelles warblers helping release others in their social group from sticky Pisonia seed clusters. This is a very rare behaviour termed 'rescuing'.

Saving magpies

So far, most bird species that have been tracked haven’t necessarily been very social or considered to be cognitive problem solvers, such as waterfowl and raptors. We never considered the magpies may perceive the tracker as some kind of parasite that requires removal.

Tracking magpies is crucial for conservation efforts, as these birds are vulnerable to the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves under climate change.

Magpie with straw in its beak
Tracking magpies is crucial for conservation efforts. Shutterstock

In a study published this week, Perth researchers showed the survival rate of magpie chicks in heatwaves can be as low as 10%.

Importantly, they also found that higher temperatures resulted in lower cognitive performance for tasks such as foraging. This might mean cooperative behaviours become even more important in a continuously warming climate.

Just like magpies, we scientists are always learning to problem solve. Now we need to go back to the drawing board to find ways of collecting more vital behavioural data to help magpies survive in a changing world. The Conversation

Dominique Potvin, Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Richard Flanagan provides a depressing description of the Tasmanian salmon farming industry in 189 pages.

This review looks at environmental problems associated with salmon farming but the author delves into regulatory capture, unbelievable cooperation of the Tasmanian government with salmon farmers, bullying and intimidation, and the ineffectiveness of residents’ complaints. He has done a fine job of alerting us to the unseen, loosely regulated salmon ‘farming’ industry currently degrading Tasmanian waters.

Despite there being no index, table of contents, chapter headings nor map, there are 270 mercifully consecutive references.

Flanagan has publicised his findings on radio, TV and in print; maybe you have heard his arguments.

After you read Toxic I believe you will not purchase Tasmanian farmed Atlantic salmon.

The beginnings

In 1985 the Robin Gray government established Saltas (Salmon Enterprises of Tasmania) with the government as majority owner. Norwegian advisors noted that, apart from one or two experimental pens, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel was too shallow and its flow too weak to disperse the tonnes of sludge produced.

By 2005 Tassal had the ear of the minister and the regulators were captured. More and more salmon farming operations have been permitted with the latest in 2018.

In 2002 from his home on the west side of North Bruny Island, Flanagan detected a small salmon farm. He has seen the gradual degrading of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. Impacts have been:

  • a decline in fish, abalone and other species
  • green algal blooms that threaten internationally significant seagrass beds
  • TasWater has had to upgrade water filtration systems
  • increased risk that algal blooms that cause hypoxia could draw toxic heavy metals into the marine ecosystem

Location of salmon farms

map

Environmental harm from feed production

Tassal has said that 1.73 kg of wild fish are needed to produce 1 kg of salmon; one-quarter of wild fish caught are estimated to feed farmed fish. Wild fish are reduced to fishmeal in order to feed farmed fish!

Most of the high-protein plant material in salmon feed is grown in Australia, but not soy. Soy cultivation is driving deforestation in the Amazon and in the Cerrado in Brazil.

Harm to humans

The argument that we must farm salmon in order to feed the hungry world falters if you remember that when whole grains fit for humans are fed to animals, and then animal parts fed to fish, less than 10% of the energy in the grains may be converted into edible protein. Never mind questionable health effects of consuming antibiotics fed to fish, nor synthetic astaxanthin, derived from petrochemicals, used to pinken salmon flesh.

Cruelty to animals

Fish farms are in reality gigantic floating feedlots. Chapter 4 details the cruelty involved –  majestic creatures reduced to circling in crowded cages of poo and ammonia.

Tasmania’s fur seals like to eat salmon. The salmon industry seeks to get rid of this protected species, by trapping or firing ‘beanbags’ full of lead pellets at them or releasing loud noise bombs.

Pollution and jellyfish

Flanagan correlates the transformation from a diverse healthy ecosystem to the polluted, sick monoculture left by fish farms with a proliferation of jellyfish. Jellyfish kill native fish species and harm oysters, mussels, scallop, clam, sponges and polyps.

Plastic pollution

Salmon pens are made of rigid plastic pipe scaffolding, netting, pulleys, stanchions, handrails, walkways; and kilometres of nylon rope. This loose plastic is difficult to see, floating on the surface where it causes collisions with boats. Plastic pollution litters once-pristine beaches and coastlines.

Toxic: The rotting underbelly of the Tasmanian salmon industry by Richard Flanagan, Penguin books
Reviewed by Margery Street

'What’s in a name?', asked Juliet of Romeo. 'That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'

But, as with the Montagues and Capulets, names mean a lot, and can cause a great deal of heartache.

My colleagues and I are taxonomists, which means we name living things. While we’ve never named a rose, we do discover and name new Australian species of plants and animals – and there are a lot of them!

For each new species we discover, we create and publish a Latin scientific name, following a set of international rules and conventions. The name has two parts: the first part is the genus name (such as Eucalyptus), which describes the group of species to which the new species belongs, and the second part is a species name (such as globulus, thereby making the name Eucalyptus globulus) particular to the new species itself. New species are either added to an existing genus, or occasionally, if they’re sufficiently novel, are given their own new genus.

Some scientific names are widely known – arguably none more so than our own, Homo sapiens. And gardeners or nature enthusiasts will be familiar with genus names such as Acacia, Callistemon or Banksia.

This all sounds pretty uncontroversial. But as with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, history and tradition sometimes present problems.

What’s in a name?

Take the genus Hibbertia, the Australian guineaflowers. This is one of the largest genera of plants in Australia, and the one we study.

There are many new and yet-unnamed species of Hibbertia, which means new species names are regularly added to this genus.

Many scientific names are derived from a feature of the species or genus being named, such as Eucalyptus, from the Greek for 'well-covered' (a reference to the operculum or bud-cap that covers unopened eucalypt flowers).

Others honour significant people, either living or dead. Hibbertia is named after a wealthy 19th-century English patron of botany, George Hibbert.

George Hibbert by Thomas Lawrence
George Hibbert: big fan of flowers and slavery. Thomas Lawrence/Stephen C. Dickson/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

And here’s where things stop being straightforward, because Hibbert’s wealth came almost entirely from the transatlantic slave trade. He profited from taking slaves from Africa to the New World, selling some and using others on his family’s extensive plantations, then transporting slave-produced sugar and cotton back to England.

Hibbert was also a prominent member of the British parliament and a staunch opponent of abolition. He and his ilk argued that slavery was economically necessary for England, and even that slaves were better off on the plantations than in their homelands.

Even at the time, his views were considered abhorrent by many critics. But despite this, he was handsomely recompensed for his 'losses' when Britain finally abolished slavery in 1807.

So, should Hibbert be honoured with the name of a genus of plants, to which new species are still being added today – effectively meaning he is honoured afresh with each new publication?

We don’t believe so. Just like statues, buildings, and street or suburb names, we think a reckoning is due for scientific species names that honour people who held views or acted in ways that are deeply dishonourable, highly problematic or truly egregious by modern standards.

Anophthalmus hitleri
This beetle doesn’t deserve to be named after the most reviled figure of the 20th century. Michael Munich/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Just as Western Australia’s King Leopold Range was recently renamed to remove the link to the atrocious Leopold II of Belgium, we would like Hibbertia to bear a more appropriate and less troubling name.

The same goes for the Great Barrier Reef coral Catalaphyllia jardinei, named after Frank Jardine, a brutal dispossessor of Aboriginal people in North Queensland. And, perhaps most astoundingly, the rare Slovenian cave beetle Anophthalmus hitleri, which was named in 1933 in honour of Adolf Hitler.

This name is unfortunate for several reasons: despite being a small, somewhat nondescript, blind beetle, in recent years it has been reportedly pushed to the brink of extinction by Nazi memorabilia enthusiasts. Specimens are even being stolen from museum collections for sale into this lucrative market.

Aye, there’s the rub

Unfortunately, the official rules don’t allow us to rename Hibbertia or any other species that has a troubling or inappropriate name.

To solve this, we propose a change to the international rules for naming species. Our proposal, if adopted, would establish an international expert committee to decide what do about scientific names that honour inappropriate people or are based on culturally offensive words.

An example of the latter is the many names of plants based on the Latin caffra, the origin of which is a word so offensive to Black Africans that its use is banned in South Africa.

Some may argue the scholarly naming of species should remain aloof from social change, and that Hibbert’s views on slavery are irrelevant to the classification of Australian flowers. We counter that, just like toppling statues in Bristol Harbour or removing Cecil Rhodes’ name from public buildings, renaming things is important and necessary if we are to right history’s wrongs.

We believe that science, including taxonomy, must be socially responsible and responsive. Science is embedded in culture rather than housed in ivory towers, and scientists should work for the common good rather than blindly follow tradition. Deeply problematic names pervade science just as they pervade our streets, cities and landscapes.

Hibbertia may be just a name, but we believe a different name for this lovely genus of Australian flowers would smell much sweeter.


This article was co-authored by Tim Hammer, a postdoctoral research fellow at the State Herbarium of South Australia.The Conversation

Kevin Thiele, Adjunct Assoc. Professor, The University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There have been several items of news that are making the Warragamba Dam project look increasingly less likely to proceed. Nevertheless, Stuart Ayres, the Minister for Western Sydney, is still determined to go ahead. He has dismissed the objections about the impacts on biodiversity and cultural heritage as unimportant. He argues that the flood mitigation that the wall raising is meant to achieve is vital.

The project is not the panacea that he promotes. The dam does not hold back flood waters from the several rivers below the dam that can flood the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley.

The insurance industry has suggested that houses on land that ‘should have never been developed’ below the 1 in 100 year flood level could be resumed. The cheaper mitigation option is to improve the roads and other infrastructure so it will be easier to escape a flood.

Several NSW government agencies have attacked the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) prepared by WaterNSW that was released in September, for example:

  • the Environment, Energy and Science division of the Department of Planning noted that WaterNSW’s evaluation of the project’s impact on World Heritage values is based on ‘incorrect assumptions’
  • the assessment of aquatic ecology had failed to identify that raising the dam wall would result in inundation of about 284 km of rivers and streams during floods
  • the EIS' conclusion that the project would have minimal impact on threatened species was ‘not supported by the data or evidence’
  • Heritage NSW's response to the EIS indicates that the assessment underestimated the area’s cultural significance, saying the impact to Aboriginal cultural heritage values would be ‘significant’

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reported this month that the Greater Blue Mountains would be likely to lose their World Heritage status if it went ahead. They wrote to the federal government last month expressing their concerns about the EIS.

The assessment process is in the hands of the NSW government under the bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth, an arrangement that has been a cause for concern. Over 2000 submissions were received during the consultation period of which only 45 were in favour of the project.

Now the NSW government will have to do more work on the EIS, a process that will cost a lot more taxpayers’ money.

As one drives north along the M1 towards Gosford and cross the Hawkesbury River Bridge one has magnificent views of the river and the dense bushland on the surrounding hillsides.

Heading south there is a spectacular view of the sandstone cliffs created by the river and the cuttings that were made to build the freeway that now allows easy access from the Central Coast to the metropolis of Sydney.

To the east there are two islands, Long and Spectacle. The natural values of the whole area are preserved as all these lands are national parks or nature reserves. The only development is low key with some houses clinging to the water’s edge or on available flat land such as in Brooklyn, Mooney Mooney and Dangar Island.

There is one area of development that has stood untouched for many years on Peat Island. This island originally housed a centre for treatment of alcoholics that was opened in 1910. It was later a general psychiatric hospital and a residential care centre for people with intellectual disabilities. It was closed in 2010 in line with the government policy to close down large institutional care centres. There are many historic buildings on Peat Island plus a chapel on the east side of the M1.

The nearby lands are the only flat areas available on the Lower Hawkesbury for community use. They provide access and views for the Lower Hawkesbury. In addition, the area contains many sites of cultural, heritage and spiritual significance to Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

The NSW government has been trying to sell off the land on Peat Island and on the narrow peninsula adjoining it near the M1 and Pacific Highway. In 2014 they proposed the development of 450 houses, mostly medium density building plus retail, tourism and community facilities. Fortunately it was knocked it back. It was totally inappropriate to have so much development in an area with no public transport or employment opportunities. The dwellings could end up being mostly holiday houses and make no contribution to housing needs.

The Central Coast Council is currently considering a new concept plan proposal from the Department of Planning. This still has a significant amount of residential development on the land alongside the M1 with 105 houses and townhouses and medium density buildings with up to three stories with 162 apartments.

Peat Island would be transformed into a tourism and accommodation precinct, with supporting cafes, restaurants and the like to be accommodated in retained historic buildings and the addition of new buildings.

The chapel on the eastern side of the M1 has pedestrian access to Peat Island via an underpass. The precinct includes several historic cottages. The plan is to adaptively repurpose these buildings for community use plus the possibility of a community centre. However the whole area would be surrounded by some of the new housing.

There is also a possibility of a marina that Hornsby Council’s submission explains would cause several environmental issues such a damaging the estuarine mangrove environment and disturbing sediment contamination including asbestos.

These issues are apart from the fact that it would be totally out of keeping with the scenic landscape of the Lower Hawkesbury.

Hornsby Council’s submission also points out this level of development in an isolated area will exacerbate existing inadequate water and sewage management and parking facilities and cause traffic congestion.

The local groups opposing the plans are the Central Environment Network and Dyrarubbin Peat Island Association. Their view is that the concept plan lacks the vision and depth expected for an iconic site of regional, state and national significance. Dyarubbin is the First Nations Darug people’s name for the Hawkesbury River.

STEP believes the land should be developed for a world class park as the natural, cultural, heritage, aesthetic, social and recreational values of the site far outweigh the value as a residential area. This park should link the historic buildings and landscape of Peat Island to the broad sweeping landscape west of the M1 and to the intimate space of the chapel precinct. The historic buildings of Peat Island can be sensitively repurposed for cafes, cultural centres, museums, and a marine/ estuarine research centre. The proposed housing in the chapel precinct should be deleted as it severely impacts the curtilage of this building.

Submissions closed just prior to Christmas. We hope that common sense prevails. The NSW government has created some outstanding public parks such as Bicentennial Park at Homebush Bay. This Peat Island Park could be another example.

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