Dr Kate Auty - Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment - 30 June 2016
Photo: Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary - Predator exclusion fencing stretches into the distance
MULLIGANS FLAT WOODLAND SANCTUARY EXPANSION PROPOSAL
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary expansion proposal. The consultation seeks input on how the expanded sanctuary will be managed, including key values, research goals and interpretation opportunities.
I commend the ACT Government and its partner organisations for their strong commitment to the protection of our local environment, which is reflected in the positive biodiversity and conservation outcomes achieved in the Sanctuary to date. I note that the proposed expansion will be achieved through the addition of new environmental offset sites to the existing area, as required under the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment Biodiversity Plan, and that the primary purpose of the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary offset site is to ‘permanently protect and enhance the extent and quality of the White Box - Yellow Box - Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland community and the populations and habitat of the Striped Legless Lizard, Golden Sun Moth and Superb Parrot’. Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary also serves to deliver commitments within a number of other regional and national plans, strategies and policies. I offer my comments with the aim of further improving the Sanctuary.
This submission will:
- Indicate my support for Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary’s current vision statement and management activities
- Note where planning for Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary could be strengthened
- Explore interpretation, education and community engagement opportunities
1. Support for Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary
Regarding the issue of key values for Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, I commend the current approach detailed in the vision statement that articulates a commitment to:
- biodiversity conservation and restoration,
- biodiversity and conservation research through partnerships with research organisations, and
- advocacy for the environment, achieved through education and eco-tourism programs for visitors and the Canberra community.
The current weighting of these aims in management activities appears to be appropriate, given the MFWS primary purpose as a conservation area.
I encourage MFWS managers to further expand their education and eco-tourism programs, as these programs are likely to generate a number of benefits for both the community and conservation within the ACT. As noted by the United Nations Environment Programme, engaging the public can yield many benefits including valuable scientific data, raised awareness of environmental issues, enhanced environmental stewardship, increased engagement and participation within local communities and improved education outcomes.
2. Strengthening planning for Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary
Climate change means that the ACT’s native species are likely to experience significant environmental change in relation to habitat, meaning they will need to adapt to such changes, expand or change their range, or suffer local extinction. Species with restricted climatic ranges, small populations and limited ability to adapt or migrate, are most likely to suffer dramatic declines or local extinction as suitable habitat disappears in the ACT.
These factors are of particular relevance to native fauna species within MFWS, as they will be unable to migrate to areas with more suitable climatic conditions when environmental conditions worsen as result of climate change. The limited mobility of terrestrial fauna species will necessitate management actions in order to maintain viable habitat in this context.
There is a notable absence of management activities that explicitly address the expected climate change impacts on the MFWS in the Mulligans Flat Offset Management Plan. The only explicit mention of climate change relates to selection of climate-resilient plant species.
Given the high value of the MFWS in terms of biodiversity, research and conservation, the ACT Government should consider development of a specific site-level plan that addresses expected climate change impacts.
I note that the predator exclusion fence will be extended and that a section of this fence will be in close proximity to Horse Park Drive, an already busy thoroughfare that is expected to become increasingly so once developments such as Throsby are completed. To ensure that inhabitants of the MFWS are not impacted by light and noise pollution generated by nearby traffic and street lighting, the ACT Government should consider the application of screening structures or plantings along the affected area (see Appendix 1). Additionally, any solution for creating a wildlife corridor for fauna to travel between Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve and Kenny Broadacre should be designed to ensure the separation of fauna from vehicular traffic.
- Interpretation, education and community engagement opportunities
Given the high likelihood of increased visitor numbers once Throsby and other residential developments are completed, MFWS managers should:
- Prioritise development of educational resources for Throsby residents on the ecological values of the offset areas, and the activities that are prohibited within the nature reserve complex (as stated under Commitment 30 of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment Biodiversity Plan).
- Managers should take into consideration how to ensure non-permanent residents (i.e. renters) are aware of their obligations in regards to MFWS (e.g. Throsby as a 24 hour cat containment zone, dogs prohibited in the Sanctuary, cycling allowed on formed vehicle roads only). Prior investigations by my office have identified that poor communication with rental occupants has contributed to poor environmental management outcomes, particularly in regards to cat containment zones.
Photo: The suburb of Forde - a designated cat containment area
I note that increased visitor numbers poses its own challenges, with careful management required to minimise environmental impacts resulting from recreational activities. Tours (physical and virtual) are an effective tool to manage the potentially conflicting aims of welcoming and supporting visitors and ensuring that potential environmental impacts are actively controlled. I acknowledge the current efforts of MFWS managers, through the Bettong Buddies program, to provide such a service to the community. Current advertising of these tours could be improved by revising the Mulligans Flat page on the Visit Canberra website (www.Visitcanberra.com.au) to more effectively promote recreational opportunities on offer. This page update could include:
- Information on the variety of guided night tours available, including a direct link to the booking page (http://bettongs.org/visit-us/night-tours/).
- More engaging photos, such as those used on the Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary website (https://mulligansflat.org.au/)
- Links to the relevant social media accounts for the Sanctuary
Technology-based community engagement
The Mulligans Flat Offset Management Plan has identified the use of technology-based methods to promote the natural and cultural conservation values within MFWS and engage the community in conservation programs.
Downloadable apps can be an effective way to communicate with the public, providing interpretive and educational material, guidance on appropriate usage and prohibited activities to users. The MFWS should consider how it could use an app to deliver:
- Virtual tours that use smart phone GPS features to navigate set paths through the Sanctuary that incorporate interpretive elements. In addition to providing a high quality experience for users, such an app would have the added benefit of providing a level of control to managers in where visitors walk, potentially minimising environmental impacts of visitors on the area.
- Interpretation and other educational material on all aspects of the Sanctuary, including fauna and flora profiles or factsheets, landscape interpretation, heritage features, conservation measures, research projects etc.
- Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people. Elements of a future MFWS app could be ‘gamified’, for instance users could check off flora and fauna spotted during virtual tours as part of a survey-based in-app game.
- Such an app could be a valuable source of citizen science-driven data for use in conservation efforts, acknowledging that there are certain caveats on the academic rigour of such data
Photo: A smart phone user prepares to download an app. Photo credit: Pixabay
 United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP Year Book 2014: Emerging Issues in our Global Environment, 2014.
 Doerr V, Williams K, Drielsma M, Doerr E, Davies M, Love J, Langston A, Low Choy S, Manion G, Cawsey M, McGinness H, Jovanovic T, Crawford D, Austin M, Ferrier S 2013. Designing landscapes for biodiversity under climate change: final report, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility Gold Coast pp. 276
 ACT Government 2012. AP2 A New Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan for the Australian Capital Territory (Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate)
Appendix 1: Proposed expansion area adjacent to Horse Park Drive