Community biodiversity survey manual

The long-awaited Community Biodiversity Survey Manual has been completed! By the time you receive this, the manual will have been launched (in July) by the Minister for the Environment.

The manual is a tool to assist community members with collecting information about their local plants and animals. It gives detailed instructions on how to survey for plants, birds, invertebrates, mammals, frogs and reptiles. It also outlines organisational aspects of conducting a survey. Here is an account of the surveys NPA has undertaken, and more about the manual.

Claire Carlton
Biodiversity Committee'

Since 1994 NPA has conducted nine biodiversity surveys across NSW. NPA's Biodiversity Committee and I would like to take this opportunity to bring members up to date with these surveys and say a very big thank you to all team leaders, team members and helpers for all their amazing effort, without which the surveys would never have happened.

All participants at these surveys are there in a voluntary capacity, which is greatly appreciated. NPA always provides the coordination and organisation of base camp, food and survey design. Equipment is mostly borrowed with the help of participants and other organisations, such as NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW State Forests, Royal Botanic Gardens, universities and local community groups. We have had donations of equipment such as a trailer and small tents. Without this support NPA would not be able to conduct the surveys, as we have insufficient funds to purchase large camp or scientific equipment.

Most of the surveys have been conducted in areas considered suitable for dedication as conservation reserves and/or are under threat of development. The main objectives are to supplement and update existing biological data; to focus on specific locations or taxonomic groups; and to bring together scientists and volunteers interested in biodiversity conservation.

NPA ensures that the results from each survey are distributed to the appropriate organisations. The main database in NSW for information on plants and animals is the Atlas of NSW Wildlife, which is maintained by the NPWS Head Office in Hurstville, Sydney. This database complements those held by the Australian Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The information is used by a variety of government agencies and other organisations, for example with writing Environmental Impact Statements and State Forest Harvesting Plans; and with implementation of Acts such as the Threatened Species Conservation Act.

Below are descriptions of the surveys undertaken to date.

Welcome Reef

The Welcome Reef survey was conducted in November 1994 near the Mongarlowe River (near Braid-wood), and plants, birds, invertebrates, mammals, platypus, frogs and reptiles were surveyed. There were approximately 40 people who attended over three days. The data have been used to produce a report as part of the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) process for the forests east of the Great Dividing Range in NSW. The information has also been entered onto the Atlas of NSW Wildlife.


This survey was conducted in April 1995 near Windsor; plants, mammals, birds, soils, water quality, invertebrates, frogs and reptiles were surveyed. It was attended by approximately 40 people over three days. The data have been used in the Urban Bushland Bio-diversity Survey conducted by the NPWS; the CRA process; and the Wildlife Atlas.

Abercrombie River

Conducted in October 1995 near Governors Flat along the Aber-crombie River, platypus, birds, frogs, reptiles, mammals, plants, invertebrates, fish, water quality, bryophytes, bats, geology and land-use history were surveyed. This survey was attended by around 70 people over six days. NPA received a grant from the Save the Bush program, which assisted the production of a report on the whole Abercrombie River catchment - the data from the survey formed a part of that report (see NPJ February 1997). The data have also been entered onto the Atlas of NSW Wildlife.

Abercrombie River National Park was declared in 1996 and the NPA report and survey results have been applied to produce a plan of management for the park.

Kings Waterhole

In June 1996, this survey was conducted in Wollemi National Park (just off the Putty Road), with invertebrates, plants, birds, mammals, frogs, reptiles, water quality and geology being surveyed. The survey took place over three days and around 65 people participated. This was primarily a training weekend, and was used to test different data-collection methods for the production of the Community Biodiversity Survey Manual. The data have been used in the CRA process and entered onto the Wildlife Atlas.

Sunny Corner State Forest

Conducted in January 1997 in Sunny Corner (near Bathurst), this was the first survey to be coordinated with one of NPAs branches (the Central West Branch). Plants, invertebrates, mammals, birds, bats, frogs and reptiles were surveyed. It was held over three days and attended by around 60 people. The data have been entered onto the Atlas of NSW Wildlife and given to NSW State Forests.

Bargo River

This was undertaken in June 1997 near Bargo, south- west of Sydney, and water quality, plants, invertebrates, birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles were surveyed. It was held over four days and attended by around 85 people. It was hosted by the NPA Macarthur Branch, who have applied the data as a supplement to an existing report on a national-park proposal. The data have also been used in the CRA process and entered onto the Atlas of NSW Wildlife.

O'Hares Creek

This survey was conducted in September 1997 in the Dharawal State Recreation Area and Nature Reserve by the NPA Macarthur Branch (see also pp 4-5). Fish, water quality, birds, mammals, plants, frogs, reptiles and invertebrates were surveyed. It was held over three days and attended by around 50 people. The data have been used in the CRA process and entered onto the Atlas of NSW Wildlife.

Goonoo State Forest

Conducted in October 1997 in this State forest near Dubbo, birds, plants, mammals, invertebrates, frogs and reptiles were surveyed. It was attended by around 70 people and held over five days. The Dubbo Field Naturalists community group asked NPA to assist them with the survey, and they provided a huge amount of organisational support and equipment. The data from this survey have been entered onto the Atlas of NSW Wildlife. The information has also assisted the Western Project (run by NPA and World Wide Fund for Nature), as the forest is part of the areas proposed for conservation in western NSW.

Benandarah State Forest

This survey took place in February 1998 north of Batemans Bay. Fish, water quality, invertebrates, plants, mammals, bats, birds, frogs and reptiles were surveyed. Local community group Friends of Durras asked NPA to assist them with the survey. Friends of Durras, with the help of the NPA Milton Branch, provided a massive amount of logistical support, equipment and time for the organisation of the survey. Around 90 people attended over four days. The data have been used in the CRA process and entered onto the Wildlife Atlas.


All of these surveys have been very valuable for the collection of data about plants and animals. NPA also considers them to be an excellent educational tool, and as an activity that can help bring local communities together to aid bio-diversity conservation.

To assist other community groups conduct similar types of surveys - so that more people have an opportunity to get involved - NPA has produced the Community Biodiversity Survey Manual.

Thank you again to everyone who has helped NPA in any way with these surveys. If you wish to find out more about past surveys, or how you can get involved in the future either as a team leader or team member, please contact Claire Carlton at NPA Head Office: Ph 02 9233 4660 Fax 02 9233 4880.

* Claire Carlton is a member of the NPA Executive and the Biodiversity Committee.

Wilderness and the conservation ethic Haydn Washington*

Wilderness ... it is a word that evokes strong feelings. Is it a tired-out white concept that supports the idea of Terra Nullius, or the embodiment of the conservation ethic that puts nature before mankind, and seeks to protect the last few wild places? Has it been replaced by the biodiversity debate, or is it still central?

Fifteen years ago I wrote an article for Habitat [published by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF)] on the value of wilderness1. Today, it seems that Habitat seemingly cant find the space to print an article on wilderness. The concept is under attack again for various reasons, and it is time to re-examine its worth and its value. Are we doomed to have to undergo the same argument every generation ... is wilderness never truly won? Given that 80% of Australians support wilderness protection, one might think that its value has been established and we can go on to fight other pressing problems. Yet I believe that this would be a serious underestimate of the flanking attack on wilderness that is coming from several directions.

Part of the question lies in whether conservation bodies (including ACF) are to continue to put the conservation of nature first or whether it is to be put on a lower scale.

What is wilderness?

In the last 200 years when looking at NSW, two-thirds of its vegetation was cleared and only 4% remained in a state where it was large enough, natural enough and re-mote at the centre where it could be called wilderness.

The word itself derives from the old English will-deor-ness - a place of wild animals1. The Bible makes extensive use of the term, though it has been argued that the biblical sense is more that of a vast uninhabited desolate wasteland. Probably many current misconceptions about wilderness can be traced to the way wilderness is described in the St James Bible.

The roots of our modern usage of the word go back to Aldo Leopold, who defined it as a con-tinuous stretch of country preserved in its natural state ... kept devoid of roads, artificial trails, cottages or other works of man. In 1976 the New England University Wilderness in Australia study defined it as a large area of land perceived to be natural, where ge-netic diversity and natural cycles remain essentially unaltered. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1988 defined the term as:

'an enduring natural area ... of sufficient size to provide the pristine natural environment ... wilderness is an area where little or no persistent evidence of human intrusion is permitted, so that natural processes will take place unaffected by human intervention.

The Wilderness Society in 1989 defined it as a:

large tract of land remote at its core from access and settlement and substantially unmodified by modern technological society, or capable of being restored to that state, and of sufficient size to make practicable the long-term protection of its natural systems.2

All these may seem rather a mouthful, but the common elements are large size, naturalness or minimal disturbance, and being remote from access at its core.

Wilderness and indigenouspeoples

Despite the fact that most definitions of wilderness (and certainly most used today) refer to the area as being largely unmodified by modern technological society (as distinct from indigenous societies), there have been some claims that wilderness disparages indigenous peoples. Certainly, the term and concept have arisen out of European cultures, with perhaps no exact parallel in Aboriginal cultures. Biologist Tim Flannery puts forward one attack on wilderness in his book The Future Eaters where he cites the IUCN definition (one of the few not to make reference to modern technological society) and then claims that the concept of 'Terra Nullius' was alive and well in the minds of those who promote wilderness, as these lands had been managed for 60,000 years by indigenous peoples3.

Yet I believe this is putting the cart before the horse. Not all areas were actively or extensively managed by Aborigines (such as South-West Tasmania, the Alps). Where they were managed, it is precisely because of past Aboriginal management practices (which did not involve wholesale clearing) that we have large natural areas that still remain today. In this re-gard I believe that wilderness is a tribute to past Aboriginal land management, not something in conflict. Interestingly, Flannery also refers to the value of taboo areas in New Guinea and Australia, where rare animals could breed up and move out to the hunting zones (part of Washpool was one such area in NSW).

In correspondence I asked Dr Flannery if wilderness was in fact nothing more than the modern equivalent of these taboo areas. He admitted in reply that I might be right.

Wilderness is not a nature reserve where people are excluded, though it does limit access to natures terms - by foot, canoe or other non-mechanised means. It would suit many opponents of conservation of our natural areas to see wilderness as not acknowledging Aboriginal culture, as they would like to kill off the term. In reality I do not believe there is a conflict. On a recent visit to Moot-wingee NP I asked my Aboriginal guide what he thought of the wil-derness zone in the park. His reply was we love it; we think the land should be left as it is so that I can show my children what it is like.

Wilderness and management

There is continuing discussion on whether wilderness can be in conflict with land rights. I do not see it as a case of either/or, but of having both. Rather than ownership of land I believe we should be focusing on management. In many areas of Australia it will be desirable that national parks and wilderness (= large natural areas) be made Aboriginal land (such as at Mootwingee). I believe that it is crucial that the primary objective of management on such lands be nature con-servation, given how much land has been cleared and modified and how many species have been lost in the last 200 years.

What trends can be seen in the debate on management? For decades we in NSW have had to fight off the argument for multiple use of our natural lands. Mining, forestry and grazing in parks and wilderness have all been proposed and largely fought off. Other States have not been so lucky, such as WA where mining is allowed. At the present time we are also in a debate about whether tourism operators should gain more resort and lodge access to our national parks and more control of park management4.

The 4WD movement maintains its strong campaign against wilderness and demands access to all natural areas. This is despite the results of a Senate Standing Committee on the Environment5 and the NSW State Pollution Control Commission Inquiry on off-road vehicles6, which both determined that 4WDs destroyed wilderness values.

All the above threats to wilderness still remain, threats by those who wish to exploit it for their own gain. If the conservation movement is to step back from wilderness protection, these other interests are merely waiting in the wings to pounce on our natural areas. Many State park services are also luke-warm on wilderness, even in States where there is a Wilderness Act such as in NSW. Many object that it is just too much work declaring wilderness, and that we should trust them because they largely manage national parks along wilderness lines. Far from trusting to the conservation credentials of our bureaucracies, we should remember that the freedom of our wilderness is only gained by eternal vigilance.

It may well be that some Aboriginal communities would like to manage their lands in a natural condition but do not want the standards that apply to wilderness in terms of access or hunting. To avoid confusion of terms, I suggest that such areas be called Indigenous Wildlands to indicate their difference to wilderness but also that they are related. In much of central and northern Australia I can see that a reserve of such a name would be a useful step forward in land management. The idea of wildlands has been put forward in recent years by the World Wilderness Congress in Hawaii.

Wilderness and biodiversity

Perhaps the most perplexing of attacks on wilderness in recent years is the claim that it is somehow anti-biodiversity. As an active conservationist over the last 23 years, I am aware that in terms of the conservation movement wilderness has always been part of a spectrum of conservation. This spectrum ranged from wilderness to national parks to State forests to urban bushland and remnant vegetation. Although a wilderness advocate for many years, I never doubted that all natural lands needed to be conserved. If we focused on wilderness it was because Australia still has wilderness (many countries in the world do not), and because it was disappearing so fast and was under many threats. It has been claimed, however, that the conservation movement has had themes such as wilderness7 which we have concentrated on at the expense of other areas.

Scientists have also criticised the focus on large areas. One criticism comes from those looking at protecting biodiversity of remnant areas, as used by Margules of CSIRO and Pressey8. As a long-term advocate of biodiversity protection, I support wholeheartedly the protection of remnant and roadside vegetation, but Margules himself admits that many of these areas will not be sufficient to maintain ecological processes in the long term9. Con-servation corridors may improve the viability of such areas, but large areas still give greater long-term protection.

Ed Wilson, one of the fathers of the biodiversity movement, is also the father of the science of biogeography. This looks at the number of species an area can contain in the long term, based on studies of islands and isolated areas. The rule of thumb here is that the number of species is related to the fourth root of the land area10. This means double the land area and the number of species that can survive goes up by 10-20%.

Large natural areas also have physical advantages that minimise edge effects, for the larger the area the smaller the perimeter-to-area ratio. Thus disturbances such as repeated fire, exotic plant and feral animal or pathogen invasion are minimised.

The US Academy of Sciences has argued that protection of species in reserves may be the only approach truly practicable for many organisms11. Wilderness should thus be seen as an essential and integral part of any biodiversity strategy, rather than something in competition. It is no accident that the Wollemi pine has turned up in NSWs largest wilderness - who knows what else is still out there?

Arguments for wilderness have never suggested that biodiversity did not need to be protected on a whole range of land tenures, in-cluding private land. Now that the focus of biodiversity protection has shifted somewhat to these other tenures, it is no reason to abandon wilderness protection. Surely we can keep more than one priority for biodiversity in mind?

In regard to the cost of bio-diversity protection, Kirkpatrick in 1994 pointed out that wilderness is generally the cheapest way to manage biodiversity conservation, thus the higher proportion of biodiversity reserves that are wilderness, the cheaper is the management12,13. The fact that the edge effects are minimised in large areas clearly also simplifies management.

The conservation ethic

The conservation ethic is a philosophy that has inspired generations of environmentalists; in fact it is part of the objectives of ACFs mission statement 1983-2003. The statement quotes Sir Julian Huxley:

the conservation ethic reveres the enormous sweep and splendour of life, through three million millennia of geological time and its spread into many millions of diverse species and habitats. It is conscious that Homo sapiens is but one species, and a relative newcomer.

The statement also quotes Nigel Calder: Thus it seeks to sustain diverse and active living communities in which non-human life can resume, in comparative tranquillity, the ponderous process ofevolution which has been so dis-rupted and confused by the irruption of man. ACFs conservation ethic statement concludes with the words: conservation seeks to hold the earth in trust for future generations, both human and non-human.

As a councillor today as well as at the time the mission statement came into being in 1983, I still find these words an inspiration. Rode-rick Nash has since written a book The Rights of Nature which was published by The Wilderness Society14, and which builds on this theme.

At the current time, when land rights are a dominant theme in conservation discussion, I beg that the conservation ethic not be dropped from view, that the rights of nature be respected, that we recognise that humans are but one species on Earth. Do we own the land or does the land own itself, while we are just stewards? At a time when there are many attacks on wilderness, and parts of the environment movement itself are questioning wilderness, I ask, Who speaks for Earth? Who speaks for the plants and animals of our wilderness?

If not the conservation movement, then who else is there? Wilderness remains as relevant, as important, and as threatened today as it has ever been.


* Haydn Washington is a NPA member and a NSW councillor for ACF.


  1. Washington H (1983) Australian wilderness: why do we need it? Habitat 11(6):26-27
  2. Washington H (1991) Ecosolutions: solving environmental problems for the world and Australia. Boobook publications, pp. 115-122
  3. Flannery T (1994) The Future Eaters. Reed Books. pp. 378-379
  4. NPWS (1998) Draft NSW Tourism Strategy. National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW
  5. Conclusion 14 of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservations report on Off-Road Vehicles Impact on the Australian Environment (1977) states that vehicular use should be restricted and if necessary prohibited in areas with high nature conservation or wilderness value
  6. State Pollution Control Commission NSW (1979) Inquiry into Off-Road Vehicles. SPCC
  7. Whitehouse J (1990) Conserving what? The basis for nature conservation reserves in NSW 1967-1989. Aust. Zool. 26:11-21
  8. Pressey R and Nicholls A (1989) Efficiency in conservation evaluation: scoring versus iterative approaches. Biol. Cons. 50:199-218
  9. Margules C and Nicholls A (1994) Where should nature reserves be located? In Moritz and Kikkawa (Eds) Conservation Biology in Australia and Oceania. Surrey Beatty and Sons, Chipping Norton, pp. 339-346
  10. Wilson E O (1989) The current state of biological diversity. In Wilson (Ed) Biodiversity. Nat. Acad. Press, pp. 4-13
  11. US Nat. Academy Sciences (1980) Research priorities in tropical biology. US NAS. pp. 33, 43-47, 56
  12. Kirkpatrick J (1994) Wilderness biodiversity conservation and science. In Barton W (Ed) Wilderness - the future. Envirobook, Sydney
  13. Kirkpatrick J (1995) Wilderness - wild and woolly agendas. Speech in Wild Agendas Conference Proceedings. The Wilderness Society
  14. Nash R (1990) The rights of nature. Primavera Press/The Wilderness Society


Reptiles & Frogs of the Australian Capital Territory
Ross Bennett

National Parks Association of the ACT Inc
86pp $14.95

The National Parks Association of the Australian Capital Territory is to be congratulated on publishing this attractive addition to its series on the fauna and flora of the ACT. A generous donation by a Life Member, Alastair Morrison, has contributed to the high-quality colour and materials, and to the original design.

Frogs already have a good press and arouse interest and sympathy in the general public, but reptiles have only recently begun to attract similar, positive attention. Ross Bennetts labour of love in producing this authoritative account of the ACTs diverse reptiles (and frogs) will surely encourage a greater appreciation of them and their role in the environment.

The book opens with a table of contents and introduction. The environment of the ACT is described, with a brief history of the capitals development, which highlights the (often adverse) effects on the fauna. This leads into a summary of conservation measures by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service. A brief introduction to reptiles and frogs is followed by a comprehensive account of every species found within the borders of the ACT.

Each account has a close-up colour photo of the reptile or frog, highlighting diagnostic characters. The book concludes with a selected bibliography, list of photo credits (including locality data for specimens, which is far too often omitted in such books) and a comprehensive index.

In the species accounts the text (in rather a small font) wraps around the portrait centrepiece and there are no sub-headings to facilitate direct comparisons between the descriptions of similar species. In this sense, the book is not an ideal field guide. Also, in contrast to typical field guides, it contains a wealth of detail on behaviour, reproduction and local distribution. The language is evocative and the style fluid. For these reasons, I recommend that you read the book at your leisure and become familiar with the content before you take it into the field.

Elizabeth Cameron

Sydney Branch member

The publication is available from NPA of the ACT; ph 02 6282 5813, or write to PO Box 1940, Woden 2606

The following article is based on a talk given to an Environmental Defender's Office workshop, Caring For the Land: How Will the New Native Vegetation Laws Work", on 1 May 1998.

Fire and vegetation by John Benson


The introduction of State Environmental Planning Policy 46(SEPP) in 1995 in NSW and its replacement, the Native Vegetation Conservation Act ,1998, stimulated debate about the management of native vegetation. Some of this debate centres on what pre-European vegetation looked like, its species composition and how the Aborigines managed it with fire.

Some authors, such as Ryan et al. (1995) and Flannery (1994), suggest that, prior to European settlement, south-eastern Australia was covered with grassland or grassy woodland with widely spaced trees and that this vegetation was burnt annually by Aborigines. Indeed Flannery postulates that there was prolific regrowth after the extinction of the mega-fauna 30 000 years ago which led to regular burning by Aborigines to prevent intense fires, and that this led to the development of an open grassy vegetation.

Publications such as Ryan et al. and Flannery have been used to argue that clearing is restoring the landscape and therefore clearing control laws are unnecessary. They have also been used by those wishing to see bushland frequently burnt, including in state forests and national parks. Benson and Redpath (1997) have refuted these views. This has been done by reviewing the scientific literature on vegetation change and fire regimes in south-eastern Australia, and by examining the historical descriptions in explorers' journals.

In summary Benson and Redpath conclude:

Fire regime

The substantial volume of research on fire ecology does not support the thesis that most of the landscape was burnt every year or so before European settlement.

Many Australian plant species have adapted to increased aridity, low-nutrient soils and increased fire over the last 15 million years. No species is adapted to fire per se. Each species may be adapted to a range of fire regimes. For many species, these regimes do not include repeated high-frequency fires. While fire frequency may have decreased in some places since European settlement, to the detriment of some species (such as species in grasslands and grassy woodlands), elsewhere the early settlers and modern farmers may have increased fire frequency to the detriment of other species.

Fire frequency may also have increased in some forests due to modern control-burning practices, and this may now be threatening a wide range of species in temperate forests of southern Australia.

In light of a paucity of data on pre-European burning and the fragmented nature of the natural southern Australian landscape today, modern fire management should be based on scientific understanding of species and their habitats (Williams and Gill 1995), rather than on selective interpretations of some of the early explorers observations. The omission of references to much scientific evidence about fire regimes, renders texts such as Ryan et al. and Flannery as being highly deficient in their discussion of the fire-regime topic, and their views have not gained currency in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Forest land and regrowth

Over 50% of the woodlands and forests of NSW have been cleared or thinned, including most of the original grassy woodland (Graetz et al. 1995). Vegetation varies from site to site in response to a range of factors, as Croft et al. (1997) demonstrate for the central western region of New South Wales.

Texts such as Ryan et al. ignore the plethora of references by the early explorers and settlers to dense scrub and forest. The per-ceptions of Ryan et al. that large areas of pre-European woodlands were composed of trees many crown widths apart are not supported by either the historical rec-ord or modern measurements of little-disturbed forest on the coast and tablelands of south-eastern Australia. South-eastern Australia was not completely covered with well-spaced trees or treeless grasslands 200 years ago.

Even in the more open woodlands of the coastal valleys and tablelands, there would have been approximately 30 mature trees to the hectare (Benson and Redpath 1997), with canopies of between one-half and two crown widths apart. Rainforest and dense euca-lypt forest would have occurred in wetter climes on high-nutrient soils, and shrubby dense forest would have occurred on poorer soils such as on Sydney sandstone.

Native plants have evolved in response to adaptation to particular soils, climates and disturbance patterns over millions of years. Our understanding of vegetation change from studies of pollen cores, combined with the results of research on the population dynamics of plant species in the Sydney sandstone region, suggest that the current shrub-dominated vegetation is not an artefact of post-European fire history.

Since 1788 the structure and floristic composition of the vegetation has changed little in less dis-turbed sites, but in places affected by European land use -including clearing, thinning, logging, changed fire regimes and weed invasion - change has occurred. Dense regrowth is occurring in some areas as a consequence of clearing, logging or flooding.

Changed fire regime may contribute to this but it is only one factor. The main causes of change to Australias vegetation since European settlement have been large-scale clearing and cultivation of land (Benson 1991).

In discussing land use it is more important to focus on the cumulative impact of 200 years of clearing than on annual rates of clearing. For instance, over 70% of the na-tive vegetation has been removed from the Central Division. During the 1980s, on average, it is estimated that 50 000 ha per year of forests and woodland were being cleared in NSW and 520 000 in Australia (these figures exclude clearing of grasslands and open woodland) (D Graetz CSIRO pers. comm.). In the mid 1980s, clearing peaked to over 150 000 ha pa, in response to high commodity prices for crops (Sivertsen 1996).

Currently, clearing is mainly occurring in the cropping areas, with hotspots in the Moree-Walgett and Riverina regions. It still occurs elsewhere, for example for urban development on the coast and for tree plantations on the south-western slopes. Since the inception of SEPP 46, clearing of coolabah-black box woodland in the Moree-Walgett region has increased several fold (DLWC pers. comm.).

Clearing is just one of a number of threatening processes that im-pact on native vegetation. Other factors include overgrazing of remnant vegetation by stock and feral animals; loss of native herbivores and vertebrate and invertebrate pollinators or seed dispersers; invasion of weed species in both agricultural and naturally vegetated areas; and changed fire regimes in some areas of forests, woodlands and grasslands. These factors have resulted in a reduction in native species diversity and biomass in the agricultural zones of the continent (with the exception of places with woody native regrowth).


Some solutions to native vegetation conservation are simple. For example, the Rural Lands Protection Board manages 3% of NSW. Some of the most significant vege-tation remnants in NSW occur in travelling stock routes and TS reserves. Under present policy the RLPB has to raise funds (over $1 million/pa) by leasing TSRs for grazing. This impacts on nature conservation because continuous grazing leads to loss of ground species. If the biodiversity values of TSRs were acknowledged as being equal to stock grazing and the RLPB were compensated for this, then the TSRs could return to their original purpose - places for stock travel - and native vegetation would also be a winner.

On the other hand some solutions are complicated. For example, the invasion of environmental weeds can be difficult and expensive to counter. Biological control may eventually work on many weed species, but this requires detailed research on the biology and ecology of the species and lengthy experiments on possible control agents.

Another complicated threat is inappropriate fire regimes. This factor affects vegetation across the landscape including that in national parks. Appropriate fire regimes are possibly the most important management tool in biodiversity conservation in eucalypt and shrubland ecosystems in eastern NSW.


We should be objective when making decisions about the protection and management of native vegetation. Ryan et al. and Flannery largely ignore the scientific literature on native vegetation. They have selectively quoted passages from historical journals to support their pre-conceived notions about the nature of vegetation prior to European settlement. Their writings could have a negative impact on biodiversity conservation. Benson and Redpath (1995) have countered these views by providing a creditable and peer-reviewed synthesis of what is known about native vegetation in south-eastern Australia.

There are many threats to native vegetation. With the passing of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act it is hoped that the major threat of clearing will be brought under control, and that an era of revegetation will ensue in the over-cleared regions of NSW. In his 1948 essay The Land Ethic, Aldo Leopold wrote: "Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

* John Benson is Ecology Coordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Footnote: Offprints of Benson and Redpath (1997) are available for $5 from the Royal Botanic Gardens shop - ph 02 9231 8125.


  1. Benson, J.S. (1991) The effect of 200 years of European settlement on the vegetation and flora of New South Wales. Cunninghamia 2: 343-370.
  2. Benson, J.S. & Redpath, P.A. (1997) The nature of pre-European native vegetation in south-eastern Australia: a critique of Ryan, D.G., Ryan, J.R. and Starr, B.J. (1995) The Australian landscape - observations of explorers and early settlers. Cunninghamia 5(2): 285-328.
  3. Croft, M., Goldney, D. & Cardale, S. (1997) Forest and woodland cover in the Central Western Region of New South Wales prior to European settlement. Pp 394-406 in Hale, P. & Lamb, D. (eds.) Conservation outside nature reserves (Centre for Conservation Biology: University of Queensland).
  4. Flannery, T. (1994) The future eaters (Reed Books: Melbourne).
  5. Graetz, R.D., Wilson, M.A. & Campbell, S.K. (1995) Landcover disturbance over the Australian continent: a contemporary assessment. Biodiversity Series, Paper 7 (Environment Australia).
  6. Ryan, D.G., Ryan, J.R. & Starr, B.J. (1995) The Australian landscape - observations of explorers and early settlers (Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Committee: Wagga Wagga NSW).
  7. Sivertsen, D. (1996) The state of clearing in NSW. Paper presented to Community Conservation Strategies (Remnant Vegetation) for Park Managers Conference, Blackheath (Unpublished, NSW NPWS).
  8. Williams, J.E. & Gill, A.M. (1995) The impact of fire regimes on native forests in eastern New South Wales. Environmental Heritage Monograph Series No. 2 (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Hurstville).

photo gallery: Brazil beckons&127;


Is now available!

National Parks Association of NSW (with substantial support from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service) has produced a tool to assist community involvement in the collection of data about plants and animals in their local environment. That tool is the Community Biodiversity Survey Manual, which has been designed to ensure that data collected by community groups are suitable for integration into environmental decision-making processes at a range of levels.

The Community Biodiversity Survey Manual deals with two types of surveys. There is a simple style of survey for people who have never had any experience, and a detailed version for those with experience and access to scientific support. The Manual gives detailed instructions on how to survey for plants, birds, invertebrates, mammals, frogs and reptiles. It also outlines all the organisational and coordination aspects to conducting a survey, whether it is for one or a few days.

For more information about where to obtain a copy, or to find out if it is something you could use, contact:

Claire Carlton

National Parks Association
PO Box A96
Sydney South 1235

Ph 02 9233 4660
Fax 02 9233 4880

Mammal team laying a drift fence, Sunny Corner Photo: Nicholas Carlile

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Readers are welcome to respond by letter or e-mail to other letters or articles in the National Parks Journal, or to write in about any topic you choose. Preference will be given to short, concise letters. Other letters may be edited or not included, depending on space limits. Please be aware of libel and defamation laws! All views expressed are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by NPA.

Fiery response

In response to the letter by R Jamieson in the June Journal, I would like to advocate a more informed approach. Firstly, we do not know what the fire regimes were prior to European settlement. A recent edition of Cunninghamia (5 (2) 1997) addressed this, and noted that there was much misrepresentation regarding Aboriginal fire regimes and the openness of the bush. The suggestion that fire bombs dropped from helicopters would produce a pre-European fire regime is absurd. On the contrary, large areas ignited over a short period of time by fire bombs from helicopters creates a very unnatural fire regime.

In an article titled Fire Facts (NPWS, 1998): Service areas accounted for only 3.47 per cent of the 5,446 fires that occurred between April 1995 to March 1996 across the State on all land in NSW. Given that the NPWS controls around 5% of land in NSW, this would suggest that their fire-management strategies are better than average.

In addition, NPWS are doing plenty of prescribed burning: Since January 1994, a total of 124,032 hectares have been treated in planned prescribed burnings with priority being given towards protecting community assets. The size of areas that undergo prescribed burns varies ... It is important to note, however, that size does not equate with the effectiveness of a burn-off.

Volunteer brigades and the community are being fed misinformation about bushfire management, national parks and conservation. Organisations such as NPA need to take every opportunity to ensure that the facts are published and not ill-informed opinions.

John Asquith
Bateau Bay

18 July 1998

(See also the article by John Benson in this Journal on pp 16-17.)

What's in a name?

In future when talking about forests, whenever you see the word logging", reach for your red pen.

Logging can mean selected trees being felled singly, as was done for more than a hundred years after white settlement with little change to biodiversity. The over-mature with many hollows, the non-commercial species which added to the charm of the forests and are essential for wildlife, were left. The post-war clearfelling, also known as clear-cutting, is as much a disaster on land as dredging is to the complex life of the seabed in the ocean. From an economists point of view clearfelling is Good!

Perhaps it is not the fault of the editor. Conservationists have not fought clearfelling as they should have done since it was first brought in by the demands of economists in the postwar period. I did speak strongly against it at a forestry conference some twenty or so years ago.

My request, a modest one, is to state how important are words when trying to convey a message. Clarity and exact meanings are vital.

Vincent Serventy
President, Wild Life Preservation Society of Australia

2 June 1998

Comment: All logging changes the original ecological base of the forest, and a core reserve system must be maintained free of logging, mining and other exploitation. As for clearfelling and intensive mechanised industrial logging of native forests, this is no more than strip-mining of the forests and shames any nation that permits it.

Noel Plumb
Executive Officer

Toyota off the track

I would like to register my alarm and disgust at the new television commercial for Toyota 4WD vehicles, King off the road. This ad shows a great many 4WDs lined up abreast and tearing across an area of Australian desert country, flattening everything in their path.

This is irresponsibility in the extreme, sends all the wrong messages to existing and potential 4WD drivers, and only serves to reinforce the worst image of 4WD drivers as thoughtless abusers of wilderness areas.

Its only desert, you might say. Firstly, there are no true Australian deserts, Sahara-style. That terrain torn up by those vehicles is covered with vegetation struggling to exist in an extremely dry and fragile environment. It provides food and shelter for a host of animals which also struggle to exist. This is a very sensitive environment that will not tolerate disturbance of the sort shown in this advertisement.

The selection of this terrain to show vehicles going off road, and the completely over-the-top nature of the event, makes us wonder about the thinking behind such a commercial. Why encourage 4WDers to literally go off road at all? There is already enough legitimate 4WD experience to be had on outback roads. Would a company show 4WD vehicles bush bashing through a heathland or forest? If not, why are they shown doing it in an arid land environment, the most fragile of them all?

In conclusion I am extremely angry and disappointed that Toyota would try to market their vehicles in this insensitive way. It is thoughtless, unnecessary and irresponsible.

Julie Sheppard


A similar letter has been sent to Toyota. Others might like to use this letter, or a paraphrased version, which can be sent to: Toyota Customer Relations Department, PO Box 187, Caringbah NSW 2229



Climate change is being hotly debated at the moment, from the decisions

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As the Journal goes to press, an early double dissolution election for the Federal Government looks to have been avoided by the negotiated compromise on the Wik legislation. However an early Federal election is still a distinct possibility and it is timely to look at the track record of the Howard Government on the environment.

Woodchips and forests

Exports from native forests have increased by nearly 2 million tonnes and now exceed 7 million tonnes per year.

Regional forest agreements, designed to let the Federal Government avoid con-troversy over annual export woodchip licences, have been conservation disasters in East Gippsland and Tasmania - old growth and wilderness forests have been consigned to clearfelling oblivion for wood-chips. Conservationists anticipate further appalling agreements with conservative State governments in Western Australia and Tasmania, compounded by new Federal legislation guaranteeing the woodchip companies enormous compensation if any future government attempts to correct this environmental rape.

World Heritage

In NSW a positive, though long-awaited, move has been the nomination of the Blue Mountains national parks for World Heritage listing (see also page 8).

In Queensland the Hinchinbrook Channel resort development has been approved and has set a precedent for greedy unsympathetic exploitation of World Heritage. It has also significantly in-creased the risk that we will lose the most significant dugong population on the east coast of Australia and that dugongs will move an alarming step closer to extinction.

In the Northern Territory conservationists and Aborigines confront miners and police over the scarring of the Kakadu NP and World Heritage Area for uranium mining. Radioactive waste will threaten the Kakadu wetlands for thousands of years.

Greenhouse gases and renewable energy

Australia distinguished itself at the Kyoto climate conference by being one of the small band of selfish and wealthy nations who not only refused to make meaningful cuts in greenhouse emissions, but demanded, and obtained, the right to increase their pollution of the globe.

At the same time, the Howard Government has cut most funding for the research and development of sustainable energy sources.

Natural Heritage Trust

After segregating mainstream environmental funding from core budget expenditure through the deliberately divisive funding from the sale of Telstra, there is increasing concern that the much-mooted $1 billion fund will not be a significant increase in real terms over the programs already set up by the former Government. There is also increasing concern that excessive funds are being directed for land repair to farmers. Although essential, this funding may be effected at the expense of critical nature conservation programs, including threatened species, World Heritage man-agement, forest protection and a comprehensive reserve system.

Sydneys second airport

The Federal Government is determined to expand Mascot and to proceed with Badgerys Creek, despite the appalling impacts on the quality of life for Sydney people; and the noise and chemical pollution of the Sydney Basin, its water catchments and the Blue Mountains.

Commonwealth environmental role

It has been clear that the Howard Government wishes to return responsibility for national environmental concerns to the State governments, which are often conservative or parochial. It has now introduced amended Commonwealth environmental legislation which greatly weakens the Commonwealths powers to initiate environmental reform and intervene in the worst situations (see also pages 11-12).

We will save no more Franklin Rivers or Wet Tropics Forests if this legislation is passed.

The alternatives?

Regrettably, we have an ALP Opposition which has largely gone to sleep on the environment or fiddles around the edges, such as pursuing minor amendments to regional forest agreement legislation. We can expect continued support and hard work by the Australian Democrats and the Australian Greens to change all these appalling positions. Meanwhile the How-ard Government effectively undoes the significant environmental advances of the Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke governments since 1972 - back to the sixties with a vengeance!

Noel Plumb

Executive Officer

Please post the form/s (or a copy), with payment, to:

National Parks Association of NSW Inc., PO Box A96, Sydney South 1235

OR for credit card payments ring Kristi at the NPA Office on 02 9233 4660


Upper Georges Creek, Deua (within designated wilderness) Photo: Rob Jung

Perisher Inquiry by Peter Prineas*

NPA has led a consortium of environmental organisations in objecting to the development of a new village centre on the Perisher Range in Kosciuszko National Park. The proposal, set out in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by the NPWS, comprises mainly multi-level apartment buildings at Perisher Valley with a lesser development at Smiggin Holes. About 6000 square metres of commercial space are also included in the development.

The proposals are being assessed by a Commission of Inquiry under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. I have been pleased to represent the environment organisations at the Inquiry.

The Inquiry will report to Planning Minister Knowles, whose approval is required before the EIS can be determined by the Director-General of the NPWS.

The developments would add 987 beds to the existing accommodation within Kosciuszko NP resorts, which currently amounts to some 8000 beds. This would not be the last such development, as the company Perisher Blue, a likely bidder for the project rights, has already said it wants the project enlarged to over 3000 beds.

Some might see ski developments at Kosciuszko as having little bearing on other national parks because of the special nature of the industry and the park. That is a mistake.

The Perisher development is not really a skiing development. It is a real estate and commercial development. There is no reason to suppose that national parks without snow, but which might commercially support apartments and related development (like Warrumbungle, Myall Lakes and Blue Mountains), would not be considered as potential sites.

The Perisher Range resorts are well served by the mass-transit system Skitube, making it feasible to manage them largely as day-skiing operations with a limited amount of overnight accommodation. The Perisher Blue resort operates on this basis now and is successful; it is the premier ski resort in Australia, with 39% of the business, more than all the Victorian resorts put together.

It is possible to expand the capacity of Skitube by adding more carriages and altering the mode of operation. The NPWS has not looked seriously at such pro-posals, and instead has recently co-operated with the RTA in a $4 million upgrade (without benefit of an EIS) of the Kosciuszko Road. A further $6 million is slated to be spent on the road.

The Perisher proposals throw into question the public nature of national parks and their appropriate use. Development rights for strata-title apartments, with 45 year leases, are to be sold by the NPWS mainly so that it can gain revenue. The Perisher development is a village centre essentially urban in character.

It is important to distinguish the case of an historic site or a heritage precinct within a national park, such as the Quarantine Station. Leasing historic buildings according to heritage principles helps to conserve the values that led these places to be protected. The structures are important; they are already there; and, if the leasing is done properly, there should be an absolute minimum of new construction. In contrast, the result of the leasing proposals at Kosciuszko NP would be to promote much new construction and thus erosion of the values for which it was protected.

In its EIS, the NPWS has justified the sale of apartment development rights at Perisher so that it can gain substantial revenue. The NPWS says it needs the revenue to catch up with the considerable infrastructure and environmental debt it has accumulated over the years as a result of existing resort developments. The NPWS, in effect, wants more development to help it pay for past development. This suggests that the ski resorts on the Perisher Range have not been meeting the costs of their operations, and that the Service has not met its responsibility to care for Kosciuszko NP.

An additional public-policy aspect emerges from this issue. This concerns the role of national parks in helping to maintain regional and local economies. Considerable disquiet has been expressed about the Perisher Range developments in the Snowy River Shire community who live and work around the park. A socio-economic study obtained by the NPWS suggests that the Pe-risher development will impact adversely on the town of Jindabyne. There seems little doubt that the development cuts across re-gional planning principles for the Snowy area, as those principles aim to reinforce the economic base of existing towns.

National parks have always been sold to local communities on the basis of the economic benefits they bring to those communities. The NPWS had better think again if its strategy is to direct the economic benefits of national parks to itself, together with those few favoured concessionaries who enjoy commercial access to the parks under head leases and similar arrangements.

* Peter Prineas is a long-standing NPA member, and Vice-Chairperson of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW.

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