TWO Bendigo-based conservation groups have urged Victoria's parliament to stop a "significant and widespread" ecosystem decline in central Victoria.
They delivered a bleak warning that new state parks are urgently needed, along with new funding to protect species and the forests they call home.
The Bendigo and District Environmental Council has joined the local branch of the Australian Conservation Foundation to call for bolstered environmental safeguards and prepare native vegetation to cover up to 35 percent of Victoria.
They have submitted their calls to the parliament's inquiry into ecosystem decline, along with personal stories that corroborate scientists' evidence dating back more than a decade.
The groups' members are "angry and distressed" about the declines they have witnessed, submission authors wrote.
"They worry about the future for their children and grandchildren because they realise that biodiversity decline heralds our species decline," they wrote.
The submission is one of 310 published by the parliamentary inquiry so far, nearly all of which reflect deep concerns about changes to ecosystems in living memory.
The Bendigo groups' submission welcomes recent changes to Victorian guarantees for wildlife protections, but says they have not been properly used or funded in the past" and could be considered to have facilitated biodiversity decline rather than halt it"
It argues a lot of legislation designed to protect ecosystems only kick in once species or areas are officially declared endangered or threatened.
"It does not address the continuing decline of local biodiversity not considered significant enough to be 'listed'," the submission read.
It details significant problems within central Victorian ecosystems, underfunded programs to save species.
For example, the Bendigo Phascogale Nest Box Program has raised $3000 in 25 years through grants from various levels of government.
The group has raised the rest of its funds to build and maintain more than 400 nest boxes for the threatened species from its members.
Programs that do get funding often lack ongoing financial backing because governments are too shortsighted about the plans they back, the submission states.
And yet, the environmental crisis keeps intensifying.
Nielborough's John and Pam land have kept bird-sighting records at their property for 30 years and have noticed a decline in numbers of yellow robins, spotted and striated pardalotes, as well as a number of species of honey eaters.
"The Gilbert's whistlers that we knew of in the Whipstick and Kamarooka areas have gone," the couple wrote.
"Much of our understorey has gone over the last ten years or so, which has made nesting for some species unsatisfactory. Many have not raised young for several years."
The Lands blame the area's decline on recent dry years, an excessive number of kangaroos, increasing numbers of neighbours who have brought domestic cats, roaming goats and foxes.
Golden Square's Barbara Lomas lives in an average size garden within city limits and has noticed a spike in the number of pests including Indian myna birds known to force out native species.
"Over time the number of Indian mynah birds increased from one or two to a flock of about 30. By then we realised that most of the other birds had disappeared," she said.
Other central Victorian residents used the submission to raise concerns for the future of everything from brush-tailed phascogales to insects and plants.
Stanislaw and Barbara Pelczynska have spent 20 years watching a gradual declines and even "local extinction" of some plants and animals around Junortoun including phasogales, swamp wallabies and McIvor spider orchids.
They blame feral animals, population growth and people's attitude towards the environment, citing how they had introduced and weeds through the area.
The submission echoes calls from another group that has written to the inquiry, the Victorian National Parks Association.
It has called for the government to stop delaying and respond to a 2019 Victorian Environment Assessment Council recommendation to create three new national parks including at the Wellsford Forest, near Bendigo.
The parks association said central Victoria was one of three parts of the state which did not have enough protection despite high natural values.
"The last decade has been a low point in the creation of parks, with few areas being formally added to the park estate by either side of politics. The progress of creating new national parks on public lands in Victoria is now at its slowest pace in the past 60 years, the association wrote in their submission.
"The current Andrews Government has struggled to make a decision about proposals for 60,000 ha of new national parks in Victoria's central west, in the Wombat, Wellsford, Mt Cole and Pyrenees State Forests.
"After four years of government sponsored investigation and consultation, the government missed its statutory deadline to make a decision in late February 2020."
The Victorian government has blamed the delayed response on both last summer's catastrophic bushfires and then the coronavirus pandemic.
It is saying it will make progress on its response soon.
"The government will advise on timing for finalising its response to VEAC's report shortly," a spokesperson said.
The ecosystem decline inquiry is yet to announce a date for any public hearings but has begun accepting submissions from government departments.