CONSERVATION groups in central and northern Victoria say greater funding, monitoring and recovery plans are needed to stop the gradual decline in native species in the region.
One group has suggested having a minimum fixed proportion of GDP – as occurs with Defence spending – to be spent on biodiversity conservation, lifting Australia’s spend from among the world’s developing countries, to the upper end of the OECD.
The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas shows there are about 180 fauna species listed as vulnerable to critically endangered in central Victoria – from the Grampians in the west, to the edge of the Alpine areas in the east.
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Many of those – like the regent honeyeater – were once common in central Victoria and Bendigo, but are now critically endangered.
And others, such as the greater glider and yellow-bellied glider, do not have recovery plans despite the Commonwealth Environment Department conceding these plans were necessary.
But the department also described these plans as “complex” due to required “support by key stakeholders” and “high level of planning”.
The Central Victoria Biolinks Alliance detailed its concerns in a submission to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s “faunal extinction crisis”, blaming continued funding shortfalls for a lack of research and understanding of the consequences of incremental habitat loss.
Penned by board member Karen Alexander, she said funding and government support for conservation efforts were as poor as they had been in her 30 years of conservation work.
“In that time the environment has gotten worse, funding has gotten worse and climate change has gotten worse,” she said.
“For central Victoria, monitoring is, so far as we know, largely done by citizen science groups such as members of Birdlife Australia, Nature Watch or by academia.
“There does not appear to be a systematic monitoring program even of ‘indicator’ species that might tell us how well our ecological systems are travelling.”
Among the problems, according to Ms Alexander, was the further diminishing of native flora.
More than 80 species of flower, plant, tree and bush are listed as vulnerable to completely extinct in central Victoria.
The Plains-Wanderer, a genetically distinct bird, relies on grassland in a specific condition for its survival. Its status was recently changed from threatened to critically endangered, reflecting a broader loss of appropriate grassland habitat in Victoria.
Other species, particularly gliders, rely on forests with tall trees to be able to thrive.
The legacy of past human activity, from the gold rush period to mass land clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, removed native tall trees.
Biolinks Alliance chair Paul Foreman said these habitats could take decades or even centuries to replenish, demonstrating that conservation required long-term funding certainty.
“We can’t afford to wait decades and centuries before we do something. With a drying climate and more dynamic weather systems, it is only going to become more difficult in the future,” he said.
“In the last couple of decades there has been a significant reduction in the amount of spending on conservation efforts.
“There is good intent, but without the funding, they are not able to do the things that are really needed to secure the future of our native species.”
The Northern Plains Conservation Management Network was heavily critical of the “mass destruction” of native grasslands in recent years, a main reason for the change in classification for the Plains-Wanderer.
The group pointed to laws in which the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act was only triggered with large ecological losses, rather than small ones.
“The reason seems to be that each action, while illegal, was small therefore not triggering any compliance responses from federal agencies,” network president Faye Bail wrote in her submission.
“But these small land clearances were collectively highly damaging.”
The Victorian government last year released an environment and biodiversity plan for 2017 to 2037, which included $1 million grants for community groups and a doubling of grants for groups for projects to save endangered species.
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