Author Archives: Barb Moss

BEAM’s response to the EPBC Act Review

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is the key Federal legislation for the protection of the environment by the Federal Government. It is regularly reviewed, and the latest review is underway now (although this review may be pre-empted by the Government who want to reduce “green tape” likely to put business interests ahead of sound evidence-based conservation).

Peter Mitchell wrote on behalf of BEAM:

I am a retired ecologist still very busy working with Landcare, other environment groups and landholders in central Victoria. Many people in regional Victoria are caring for the natural environment on their land and in local reserves, using their own time and money with occasional funding from government.  Despite all the good work and intentions, we are seeing a huge decline in the natural environment.  Locally, trees are dying or culled and birds and insects are becoming less common.  In the past 50 year we have gone from The Great Extermination of the past described by Professor Jock Marshall to The Extinction Crisis announced and described in 2019.  Clearly the EPBC Act, along with other government programs, have failed us. 

Climate change has severely reduced the resilience of our natural world, with heat, droughts and bushfires over the past year pushing many species closer to extinction.  But we continue to wilfully destroy the environment.  Despite species decline and bushfires, Victoria has recently signed a 10 year modified Regional Forest Agreement with the Commonwealth;  other states have signed up for 20 years with little modification of agreements.  And, against the advice of scientists, post-fire logging is reducing the ability of our forests to recover from the severe bushfires.  Land clearing and chemical pest control for agriculture also continues, both on broad scales in Queensland and NSW, and through the extension of cropping and “death by a thousand cuts” in Victoria.  This is destroying the mosaics of farmlands with large old trees, bushlands and wetlands that have been helping to slow the “extinction debt” since the Great Extermination.  Massive urban growth around cities and regional towns is adding to the destruction. 

These are all Threatening Processes, and we need a strong EPBC Act to help reverse the current rapid decline of our biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

Gardening for Wildlife in a Time of Isolation

Hello to all BEAM members and friends,

We hope you are all keeping well and well occupied in your new lives.  We have been spending a lot of time in the garden during our lovely Autumn days.

Judging by the conversations with friends – and the sale of seedlings in the local shops – many people are also sitting outside with a cup or glass or getting down and dirty in the garden.  The time now available to many of us at home has created lots of opportunities to enjoy, enhance our gardens and record the wildlife in our backyards.   Read on…..

Creating a Garden for Wildlife

Now is a great time to working in your gardens.  We have been re-organising our vegetable garden and planting lots of vegetables.  But we have also re-designed our garden to accommodate more native plants.  We are now seeing a few more birds and a wide variety of insects, spiders and more in our backyard.  Recently we were surprised and very pleased to see a female Red-capped Robin in our yard.  Apart from the pleasure of watching native wildlife in your garden, you will be helping the survival of our local fauna and your garden will benefit from attracting all the pollinators and predators needed to create a healthy garden and a joyous place to be. 

In addition to planting a diversity of native plants for birds and insects, you can also:  set up a bird bath or 2, make and install insect hotels for native bees, set up a frog pond (I have seen clips on using PVC pipe scraps to create shelter for frogs), set up rock piles for shelter and basking areas and much more!

Here are some useful sites on providing information and ideas for helping you make a garden that is wildlife friendly. 

Gardens for Wildlifehttps://gardensforwildlifevictoria.com/.  Local Group at   http://www.apsmitchell.org.au/gardens-for-wildlife/ or @g4wmitchell on Facebook

Habitat Stepping Stoneshttp://www.habitatsteppingstones.org.au/

Sustainable Gardening Australiahttps://www.sgaonline.org.au/.  Great site for resources and advice on setting your gardens up sustainably – useful for productive and non productive gardens as well as tips for wildlife friendly gardening

Citizen science in your backyard

You can get even more involved by recording and talking about the species you see in your backyard.  Several citizen science projects are running now and they are great family activities.

Birdlife Australia:  Birding at Home activities:  https://www.networkbirdlife.org/birding-at-home.  Enjoy a cuppa with the birds – 10 min bird survey during your morning cuppa.  Site has information, video clips of birds and resources

Wild Pollinator Count – open now:  https://wildpollinatorcount.com/blog/.  This is a simple survey run twice yearly – get involved.  The site has great resources and guides on how to contribute

Happy gardening

Peter and Barbara

The fires – humanity and science

This season’s bush fires have affected most people – some directly and many indirectly through personal connections or broader concerns for people, animals and the environment.  Reading Annemaree Docking’s article on her personal experiences with fire raised some memories of my past experiences with fires.  The risk of fire is escalating with the climate crisis, and we all – personally and collectively – need to decide how to respond.  And our responses, as Annemaree says, should be based on the best available evidence in these extra-ordinary times.

Our personal responses to the direct threat of fire will depend on the circumstances.  After 2009, I visited many fire-affected properties to support the recovery efforts of the landholders.  And heard many awful and amazing stories.  Before that fire, I had not fully realised how massive and overpowering such a fire could be.  After the fire, we decided that, in similar extreme conditions of ferocious hot winds blasting across the dry landscape, we would leave that morning (or night before) based on the forecast and not the imminent threat of fire.  Even though we only lived on the edge of a town, not in the forest, we did not want to take the risk. 

The Mickleham fire in 2014 may not have been as big and ferocious as the Black Saturday fire but it was big enough to spread widely across farmlands in the district and take a huge effort by fire crews and several days to quell.  18 houses were lost and – significantly – 16,000 livestock were killed.  Annemaree stayed and successfully saved her animals.  But could all the animals have been saved?  In 1978, a hot, fast-moving grass fire near Bairnsdale killed two people who were trying to save their livestock, and  I spent the following week assisting in the shooting of hundreds of badly burnt survivors of the more than 6000 sheep and cattle killed in that fire.  It is often impossible – and very risky – to stay and try to protect or move livestock in front of a fire.  But what an awful decision to have to make.

How do we – collectively – protect people and animals and assets from fire.  This is already being hotly debated with some simplistic solutions around the reduction of fuel in the forests.  To some extent, this is a problem of our own making – more and more people are moving out of cities into forested areas – very attractive places to live but also very dangerous in summer.

So do we burn – and graze and mulch and trample – the forests to reduce fuel loads?  From my readings on this, the evidence is very confusing.  Are controlled burns effective in moderating fires and making them easier to control?  Hard to imagine in extreme crown fires in forests.  But also, how much does the regular burning of forests affects the biodiversity and ecological functions of forests and even possibly increase fire risks with the regrowth? 

The Royal Commission after the 2009 Black Saturday fires recommended that 5% of crown land be burnt every year.  This 5% rule resulted in inappropriate burns in sensitive and remote country, at least in part because it was more possible to get to 5% within the verynarrow window for controllable burns in Spring and Autumn and with the limited resources available to do the burns. 

But a real concern from ecologists was about the impact of regular burns on forest environments.  Regular fire is good in some ecosystems such as grasslands and heathlands), but is disastrous in others.  For example, three fires from 2003-2013 near Mt Feathertop has wiped out a lot of species including Alpine Ash that didn’t have time to recover between burns.  And fuel reduction burns are often very hot.  There was a lot of damage in Tallarook Flora Reserve and the Cobaws (including big loss of old trees) after “controlled” burns and it will take a long time if ever for full recovery.  In some forests, there is a period of higher fuel loads as trees and shrubs come back more densely in the first phase of recovery. 

But other scientists – and popular demand from some sectors – are saying that we need to burn even more.  So lots of different opinions from people coming from different directions and in different situations.  No one rule will work in all bushland environments.  And what is the purpose of fuel reduction burns – to reduce fire intensity and spread (but with climate change and extreme weathers, how much can we really do?) or protect people and assets with more strategic burns?

One of my favorite parts of Victoria are the alpine areas.  And alpine grazing is one of those issues that come up after fires.  Annemaree deferred to “greater minds” on this topic, but I want to state my position more strongly.  As with climate change denial, inconvenient science is easily dismissed by many people with opposing interests.  Grazing has caused a lot of damage to fragile ecosystems in the alps, particularly the wonderful bogs and waterways.  From 1939, exclusion plots on the High Plains were studied to assess the long-term impacts of grazing.  Despite the evidence, it took until after fires in 2003 and a lot of polarised debate to halt alpine grazing – and there have been efforts to reintroduce grazing since then. 

“Alpine grazing reduces blazing” was a popular car sticker but where was the evidence?  In December 2002, I walked through mobs of cattle, cow dung and polluted streams around the Tawonga Huts on the High Plains.  One month later, it was all burnt.  Dick Williams and others looked at the wider evidence, and found that grazing did not stop blazing.  (Williams, R. J., Wahren, C., Bradstock, R. A., & Müller, W. J. (2006). Does alpine grazing reduce blazing? A landscape test of a widely-held hypothesis. Austral Ecology, 31(8), 925-936. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2006.01655.x.).  So fuel reduction (if any) from grazing had little effect, and I think the catchment and biodiversity values of the alpine areas are a far more important consideration, especially with the serious impacts predicted for climate change on alpine ecosystems and species.  I wouldn’t want to go back to that grazing debate again in this world of populist politics rather than earlier evidence-based decision making that finally excluded grazing in the alps.

One final concern.  After 2009, many areas of the central highland forests were logged before “dead” or damaged trees were no longer useful as timber.  Instead of allowing natural recovery from the surviving plants and the seed bank released after the fire, the ground was disturbed by machinery and by the removal of a significant component of the habitat – the large trees.  Work by David Lindenmayer and others have shown that there are many losses after two successive major disturbances, with increased runoff from disturbed ground, loss of soil nutrients, and impacts on the recovery of plants and animals (including some significant threatened species).  Conservation groups are trying to persuade the government to halt logging in forests burnt this season.  But on March 1st …. Logging is due to start in fire-ravaged forests this week. It’s the last thing our wildlife needs

I am very thankful that this summer has ended with a whimper, but we need to be alert and support all efforts to protect our bushland environments against hasty, ill-informed and populist policies.

Peter Mitchell

4th March 2020

2019 in Review – Climate Protests and You

2019 has been a bleak year with the worsening climate crisis and proof that we are also facing a major extinction crisis comparable with the great extinction episodes of the distant past.  And we have already begun a very frightening fire season.

“Climate change is super-charging our natural disaster risks. I wish we were wrong, but we’re not.” – former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner, Greg Mullins.

It has also been a bleak year due to the failure of politicians in Australia and around the world to even acknowledge the crisis we are in.  The federal election set the worst agenda we could have had. 

But it has also been a great year for people – particularly young people – strongly voicing their concerns about the future.  On Friday 20th September more than 100,000 people joined the Climate Strike in Melbourne and hundreds of thousands around the world. 

The wonderful thing about the Strike is that it was led by young students – with flair and enthusiasm.  Just look at the photos here. As several signs pointed out, they were too young to vote for their future (some of the kids led chants with voices that hadn’t broken).  But the decisions made by todays failing leaders will have awful consequences for them, not the lucky generations of parents and grandparents.  BEAM was there.  But, as a grandparent and after seeing all those great young people, I had mixed feelings of exhilaration and deep grief for them all.  We in Australia have been the luckiest generation there ever has been – and probably ever will be.  We owe them something – and not just spend the inheritance as we have been doing.

Photos:  Melbourne September 20 #ClimateStrike photos_credit: Julian Meehan

Since then, Extinction Rebellion has been a strong voice for action on climate, run by young people – and many older supporters – across the world  The protesters are demanding governments tell the truth about the climate and ecological crises we are now in, act now and listen to their citizens on climate and ecological justice. 

Sadly – and predictably given the current political climate among both major parties – the response to all this has been abuse and threats.  Can’t they see that they are the extremists trying to shut down democracy rather than listening to the voices of science and the voices of people around the world.  

Many people feel very strongly about this.  500 people went on hunger strikes around the world on 19th November, including Daniel Bleakley in Melbourne – see articles on ABC and The Age.  On Saturday 29th, I dropped by;  Daniel was at the doctors and not well after 11 days.  He finished his strike that day, along with 500 other hunger strikers around the world – although at least one person in USA is continuing their strike (see here).   We applaud their heroic actions – but hope their health is not affected as we need young people with their strength of purpose.  Whether they have an impact on politicians is far from certain.

Many other groups are also calling on government to act now, set out emissions targets and strengthen not weaken environmental laws, and provide the resources that this crisis needs to reverse the current trajectories of two degrees plus warming and massive extinctions.  Rallies were held at Parliament House for biodiversity on 28th November with a follow-up student strike for climate action on 29th November.

What can we do?  BEAM’s mailbox is full of warnings and requests from the many groups we are directly linked to or indirectly through our shared philosophies and concern.  In the last couple of weeks, for example:  

  • Victorian National Parks Association and Environment Victoria sent us the notices of Nature for Life Rally and the Student Strike for Climate Action that happened last week (sadly we missed getting this newsletter out in time).
  • Wilderness Society is asking “Are we eating deforestation” and seeking support to put pressure on where the supermarkets obtain their meat – see here.
  • Environment Victoria is asking us to spread the word on how  Energy Australia (as owners of the very polluting Yallourn Power Station) is undermining climate action in Victoria – see here.
  • Environment Victoria is also asking for action from us to persuade the Victorian State Government to set strong climate targets.  They are due to decide on targets by March.  See here and here.
  • The Climate Council is calling for everyone to sign a petition NOW calling on the Australian Government to acknowledge the link between climate change and the catastrophic fire conditions – see here.
  • Environmental Justice Australia is asking for everyone to contact their State and Federal ministers about their actions (or inaction) on national air pollution standards – see here.
  • GetUp and the Greens also regularly seek support for their initiatives around climate and extinction – check out their websites.

If you want to help but don’t have time to act, you can still keep informed through these groups, support them financially, and add your voice to the growing swell of concerned voices across the world.

Peter Mitchell

Seymour Show and the Myths of Recycling

11th to 17th November was National Recycling Week.  You could be excused for missing this one among all the emails – thanks to Cr David Atkinson for the prompt. 

As part of the week, Planet Ark explored the myths around recycling.  It is worth reading – here – about what is and what is not recycled. 

It’s not simple, as we found at the Seymour Show:

Results from surveys of the recycling bins at Seymour Show confirmed that Seymour people do use recycling bins if they are available.

Local group BEAM Mitchell Environment Group took on the challenge for increasing recycling at the show and divert re-usable materials from landfill. 

The group worked with the A&P Society, Mitchell Shire’s Regional Waste and Resource Recovery Education Officer, Grace Davis-Williams, and Cleanaway.  Ten recycling bins and one skip were provided for the show, with recycling “caps” and signs on the bins.

Sorted rubbish in the recycling skip. Just having the skip available to stall-holders diverted a lot of waste from landfill.

To encourage show visitors to recycle their waste correctly, BEAM volunteers then very publicly sorted the contents of the recycling bins. 

Most of the waste in the bins was cans, plastic and glass bottles, and cardboard, all fine for recycling.  There was clearly confusion about what else can be recycled.  In particular, BEAM volunteers found lots of coffee cups and straws – these are not recyclable. 

Small amounts of carelessly discarded food scraps and soggy tissues were put in the waste bins – they  are good for compost worms but contaminate recycling bins and affect recycling processes.

In comparison, waste bins without a nearby recycling bin did contain a lot of recyclable material.

At the end of the day, a full skip bin of recyclables was collected – that’s a lot of waste that didn’t get sent to landfill.

Based on waste volumes generated at last year’s show, this great initiative by BEAM achieved roughly 50% diversion of waste from landfill!

BEAM had several other themes at the stall in the green shed – and has even bigger plans for the Show in 2020.

BEAM at the Seymour Show, October 2019

Seymour Show a success!

BEAM again had an impressive display at the Seymour Show this year, in the back end of the Green Shed (a point of some contention) shared with Landcare, Mitchell Shire’s Recycling unit and the Catchment Management Authority publications (nothing contentious with all of that).

The design for our display was around “the paddock tree”, and we had a couple of fairly large dead trees as a focal point. This worked well and we plan to do this again- big and bold.

Our live garden display and natives display (for sale) gave us a green edge. The Bulk Foods display turned out well (see the photo).

BEAM took our recycling message out into the public arena. This was the first Show that has had recycling bins, and we were keen to see how diligent Seymour showgoers were at recycling. So….we upended bins around the place on a blue tarp, and with a aloud hailer and some sorters….we found a lot of coffee cups (not able to be recycled because of the plastic inner film) and little contamination. Grace the Waste Management officer from MSC was impressed.

WE think recycling has some distance to travel, but it was a good start. And we had some fun into the bargain.

Sustainable House Day – Seymour walking tour

10am – Sunday 15th September 2019

Bookings via Eventbrite here

Come and join us for a fantastic morning learning first hand how several houses in the Seymour area have retrofitted their properties to make them more comfortable and more sustainable.

This a casual walk around Seymour looking at 4 older Houses and various energy efficient upgrade options explored.

Start at 10.00am    at 20 Heywood Crescent Seymour.   Allow a 3 hour walk in all.

House 1.

A 3 bedroom timber dwelling with poor orientation, but a good opportunity. The Living Room was re-located to gain winter solar access, and a Trombe Wall added for a passive boost. The existing roof, walls and part of the floor were insulated. Water tank, solar water heating, and a rooftop PV was added.

20 Heywood Crescent at the front gate

 

House 2.

A 2 bedroom timber dwelling with the back facing north. A north-facing Living Room on a mass floor was added, with provision for underfloor solar air heating. Water tanks, good low water native garden with intermixed vegetables.

House 3.

No work has commenced on this newly purchased timber dwelling with some orientation challenges. This property invites an on-the-spot design workshop…what is possible?

House 4.

12 months on from last year when only a rooftop PV system with battery storage was installed. A Victorian timber cottage with recent Upgrade works to the Kitchen + Dining + Bathroom have since been completed.  

 

We will be invited for soup and toast after House 4 inspection and discussion.

Hand-out summary notes will be provided.

BEAM continues its opposition to the Seymour Flood Levee

The location of the levee on Robert Street

Since the Council decision to go ahead with the Levee in 2010, there has been very little public discussion or consultation about the levee.  We raised concerns in our submission to the Council’s budget in 2015 and continued to express concerns during the period set aside for public information sessions a few years ago.  Although they did not ask for it, they would have received unsolicited feedback anyhow.  At that time, BEAM sent a  letter to Council with our concerns and background information.  Many others in the community have also raised concerns over that past few years.  So the decision by the current Council to consult with the community before going ahead – and committing $20million to the project – is very welcome.

In 2015, the budget papers indicated funding for “Stage 2 of the project which involves strategic planning for the acquisition of land and construction of the Levee.  What was not clear was the total cost of the levee.  It was at least $6 million in one report in 2009 (Preliminary Design Report 2009) but, in this report, the cost- benefit analysis only compared flood damage to property and infrastructure against the costs associated with construction of the levee.  It omitted many of the environmental, social and financial costs as well as benefits of the levee – and it also omitted any mention of the costs and benefits of any alternatives to the levee.

We have several concerns about the Flood Levee, and these have become stronger during the development of the Seymour Structure Plan (including release of Whiteheads Creek flood maps) and meetings of the Seymour Revitalisation Working Group.  Our specific concerns are: 

1. Hydrology:  The proposed levee will become a significant choke on the river during a major flood, and will increase and focus the force of a flood.  What will be the impact upstream and downstream?  With the current trajectory of the river, a flood is likely to remove the end of Robert Street and take out the private land and Hanna Street downstream.  Yet this is where the levee will be sitting.  And how far downstream – and upstream – will be affected by this increased velocity?  One of the strategies for floodplains (24.01-2) in the Local Planning Policy Framework of the Mitchell Shire Plan states:  Discourage raised earthworks that reduce natural flood storage, obstruct and/or redistribute flood flows, and increase flow velocities and levels.

2. Natural values:  as well as being an intrinsic part of Seymour’s heritage, these trees and the remnants of riverine forest along New Crossing Place Park (including Lions and Apex Parks) have very high conservation values and are covered by environmental overlays in the Planning Scheme  In particular, the big old Red Gums in New Crossing Place Park Old are an important resource for a wide diversity of wildlife including possums and gliders.  Tthe gradual loss of the trees in the region is pushing many animals to the point of extinction.  Construction of the levee will cause disturbance of the parks and bushlands. Several of the old Red Gums on the floodplain (particularly along Tierney Street) will be removed.

Seymour waterfront, with large Red Gums which are home to many wildlife.

3. Heritage values:  the proposed levee will have a major impact on the New Crossing Place and Old Town Historic Precinct listed as heritage sites in the Planning Scheme – including the backdrop provided by the big old Red Gums on the floodplain.  .  The levee will place a visual as well as physical barrier between the town and the river bank – it will be an eyesore.

The view from the Seymour Old Town Heritage Precinct including the Royal Hotel looking towards the river.  The levee will be a wall across this view.

4. Economic issues:  One of the visions for Seymour is for the town – and tourism and hospitality businesses in particular – to engage more with the river as a real drawcard for Seymour.  It is a great asset and more and more people are using the river bank and the great walking trails through the natural and historical areas along New Crossing Place Park.  For more tourism, we need to promote the river and the park, and have businesses turning to look at the river rather than Emily Street.  The barrier caused by a levee will be a big setback to these ideas.

5. Whiteheads Creek:  The proposed levee does not address one of the major threats to the town caused by the floods in Whiteheads Creek.  Whiteheads Creek has a small steep catchment and – as shown in 1973 – heavy rain can cause serious flash flooding.  Climate change modelling suggests that such local intense storms may become more likely.  This has been exacerbated by the choking of Whitehead’s Creek at the railway and Oak Street bridges and embankments.  These floods far more dangerous to lives than the Goulburn flood that arrive slowly enough for everyone to be warned and actions taken to protect people and assets. The levee will not resolve all the flood issues in Seymour. In fact, there is cause for concern that a Whiteheads Creek flood could get into the areas of town enclosed by the levee via subways and cause a much worse situation.  These are very big concerns among people we have spoken to.

6. Flood warnings:  The need for the levee is less than it was ten years ago.  We recognise that a major flood will cause economic distress to many businesses in Seymour.  But we also point out that we have had plenty of warnings over the past 180 years of European settlement.  

7. Alternatives to the levee:  Many business places and residences have heeded these warnings and built to minimise the impact of flooding to a few days of inconvenience caused by flooded roads.  Many of the older buildings have been replaced by buildings on pads or stilts above flood level – including fast food outlets in Emily Street, Aldi, TAFE College, accountants offices – and possible the Seymour Club.  Some newer businesses have built on stilts that allow shaded parking underneath – a good response in a hot climate and one that could be copied by the retailers in town.  The lack of a levee is clearly not deterring businesses in Seymour.  

8. Be prepared:  People and businesses could be provided with information and support to be prepared physically, financially and emotionally for floods.  In other words, prepare for floods as we prepare for fires. In particular, we through the Council should  ensure that vulnerable people in the flood zone are assisted to prepare and withstand the impacts of the floods from the Goulburn River or Whiteheads Creek.

9. Cost of the levee:  The cost of the levee is very high but the benefits of the levee will only affect a small section of the town.  A Goulburn flood would be only a minor inconvenience to most people in Seymour.  Other people in the flood zone are prepared to take the risk – or, as mentioned earlier, are already prepared to minimise the impact of a flood.  Council is asking beneficiaries of the levy about payment through some form of levy, but there are many people and businesses in the flood zones that have already taken action and would not want to pay for the levee.

10.  Catchment management:  Whitehead’s Creek catchment has many steep hills and bare slopes that allow fast runoff of rainwater.  And Whitehead’s Creek is an incised gully that encourages fast drainage rather than allowing water to spread across floodplains.  There is a lot of work needed to rehabilitate the catchment to moderate flows and encourage seepage into the groundwater aquifers.  This will have benefits for farmlands and bushlands.  It will encourage wildlife habitat and provide a sink for carbon sink.

11.  Other ways to spend $20 million?  Floods are not frequent – it is a long time since the last flood came into the town in 1974 .  Another flood is inevitable – we just don’t know when. But $20 million is a big investment for the Shire – plus the continuing cost of maintenance of all the barriers and pumps levee.  That money could be better used for all the other projects that will make life better in Mitchell Shire – the Council and community have plenty of plans ready to go

So we call on the Council to reverse that decision made in 2010 – to abandon plans for the levee and look at the alternatives that will make Seymour flood-ready and a great place to live.

We would like your feedback on these points and any additional points you would like to make – please add them below.