Last year, Bendigo snake catcher Chris Page went out to a job near a new White Hills housing development.
As the season went on, he went out again. Multiple times.
“There were a couple of spots where I was ending up but they were in the same neighbourhood,” Mr Page said.
As Bendigo’s city limits expand wildlife is being pushed away from more of its traditional stomping, or slithering, ground.
The area needs an extra 830 new houses every year to accommodate a growing population, according to a 2014 City of Greater Bendigo report, with much of recent growth on city limits in areas like Jackass Flat and Strathfieldsaye, as well as further out in Marong, Elmore, Heathcote and Axedale and rural areas.
As new estates go up Mr Page says snakes are not necessarily heading for the bush.
Wildlife rescuer Vicki Fox said kangaroos were also heading into urban areas, looking for grass on lawns and sporting ovals. Possums and parrots were looking buildings for nesting hollows because older trees were gone and many birds were losing their wetlands.
In these animals’ topsy-turvy world, some new housing cut them off from water. Others supply it.
“You look at the creation of dams in housing estates or on farms and that encourages kangaroos to stay all year,” Mrs Fox said.
That means they are more likely to be attacked by dogs, hit by cars or targeted by people.
“Fences are big problems. Barbed wire is still being used, which affects all wildlife. Kangaroos can get gridlocked because younger joeys can’t get through it,” she said.
“They can get stuck in the top two strands.”
Epsom in 2007, and in 2017 (slide the bar left and right to see Epsom before and after):
In some ways snakes and kangaroos are the winners. Not all species are able to easily move out of a habitat if housing stretches into or near areas, conservationist Stuart Fraser said.
It can be hard for lizards to move on if urban sprawl or climate change alters their ranges, especially when the landscape is already so heavily fractured.
“Basically, those species that are mobile and can move have an advantage over those that are stuck in these patches,” Mr Fraser said.
That is one challenge that authorities need to manage with the pink-tailed worm lizard, a reclusive, legless and endangered reptile known to live on private and public land around One Tree Hill and in the ACT.
It is unknown how many lizards live in the area because they essentially live underground, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s acting regional manager Jill Fleming said.
She said the greatest threat to pink-tailed lizards is subdivisions. Removing and levelling soil to build houses, driveways and footpaths makes it harder for lizards to get by.
That is one reason DELWP provided advice and programs to mitigate impacts of habitat loss in the area.
Then, there are threats from people removing rocks for garden beds, invasion by weeds, dumping of garden waste.
Those are issues other species face too, even in the forests and parks that ringed the city and provided a barrier to housing development.
One problem Mr Fraser is concerned about is the unofficial tracks and recreation activities that took place in wildlife habitats.
“I’m quite sure people value what they have. Walking in the park and riding on main roads is OK, but it is when we tear into forests like there is no tomorrow, and make new paths and tracks for bikes and whatever, that we cause enormous problems,” he said.
“It (the forest) is very slow growing. It responds very slowly because it is such tough country.”
He said more areas needed to be linked, though he said many groups were working towards that.
“Always they need more funding. The most important thing we can do across this fractured landscape is link it up so that species have a chance to move, because over the next 50 or 100 years the climate will change,” he said.
“Certain species will need to move or die where they are.”
Recent research by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub has raised concerns about nation-wide responses to protecting biodiversity.
The University of Queensland’s James Watson said Australia is effectively sleepwalking into an extinction crisis.
“There’s a lot of protected areas that are small – too small to contain good populations of threatened species,” he said.
In Victoria, species like the swift parrot, regent honey eater and Mallee emu wren have been decimated as habitats have been logged, land clearing, habitat destroyed of fires ripped through.
Mr Watson would like to see more resources pumped into “whole-of-landscape” approaches in which landholders are rewarded for restoring vegetation.
However, that would take a coordinated response from multiple levels of government across Australia, which he said is not currently happening.
He would also like to see better resourcing of the nation’s protected areas.
“Australia has 10,000 protected areas covering 17 per cent of the continent. I’d argue 9500 of them are almost worthless because they are not resourced properly,” he said.
“So yes, more protected areas, absolutely, but it’s not the only response. In fact, I’d much rather see a more coordinated response.”
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