Issue: Conserving biodiversity
What does the shire have?
Young Shire has a low recorded biodiversity—only six different vegetation types (all of conservation significance) have been mapped there, and approximately 230 plant species (native and introduced), 123 bird species, one fish species, 18 mammal species, 19 reptile species and 10 amphibian species have been recorded.
Male Freckled Duck
This reduced biodiversity reflects the high level of land clearance —91% of the shire is under agriculture with the majority of native vegetation having been removed. Despite this, large areas of native bushland occur in the east of the shire (about 8% of the shire area). These act as refugia for biodiversity. The majority of these areas are protected under conservation zoning or conservation reserves (4% of the shire area). In addition, two state forests occur in the shire which have retained native forest (about 1% of the shire area). The remainder of these large areas occur on steep terrain unsuitable for agriculture. In the west of the shire, small scattered fragments of native bushland occur along creek banks, roadside verges and farm paddocks.
The shire contains occurrences of two endangered ecological communities, and populations of one plant and 16 animal species that are vulnerable or endangered nationally or in New South Wales. An additional five plant species and 37 animal species listed as vulnerable or endangered are also predicted to occur in the shire.
What has changed?
Insufficient data were available to assess many aspects of the shire's biodiversity during the reporting period. The major data gaps included knowledge of fish and aquatic macroinvertebrates, changes in the numbers of other species, changes in species populations and abundance, and the extent and condition of extant native terrestrial and riparian ecosystems. There were no comprehensive records for extent to which recovery plan actions have been carried out and their effectiveness, and little documented information on specific impacts of habitat disturbance, fragmentation or other threatening factors.
The number of ecological communities and species present in the shire that are listed as vulnerable or endangered increased. Although this will assist council further in focusing conservation efforts in the future, it demonstrates the continued pressure the natural environment is under within the region.
Disturbances such as continued land clearance, farming practices, fragmentation of native vegetation remnants, drought and weed invasion were the major contributors to degradation and/or loss of ecological communities and habitat of native plant and animal species. Population increase within the shire may also have placed pressure on native species and communities through the demand for urban development.
Council, individuals and community groups undertook a variety of programs and projects to enhance and protect biodiversity within the shire.
More threatened species and communities
During the current reporting period:
- one ecological community with occurrences in the shire was listed as endangered
- six animal species that occur in the shire were listed as vulnerable.
The 'pressure points'
- Drought conditions that were prevalent during much of the reporting period would have affected many native species and ecosystems in the shire, although quantitative data were not available to determine the extent of impact.
- Land clearing and habitat fragmentation of remnant native vegetation continued to pose the major threat to native species and ecosystems.
- Prolonged drought conditions and a falling water table adversely affected riparian ecosystems in the shire.
- Four pest animal species and seven pest plant (weed) species were a priority during the reporting period.
Protecting and enhancing biodiversity
The natural environment maintains many essential functions that form the foundation of a healthy and sustainable environment. These are often called 'ecosystem services' and include air and water purification, waste detoxification and decomposition, crop and natural vegetation pollination, dispersal of seeds and nutrients and regulation of climate. Local councils are in a prime position to take a leading role in maintaining these vital ecosystem services (see The Biodiversity Toolbox for Local Government).
A range of activities in the shire during the reporting period were aimed at improving the condition of native ecosystems and the habitat of native species or reducing the pressures on them.
- The area of land managed specifically for conservation increased by approximately 200 hectares, partially due to bushland being dedicated to nature reserve. Additions were also made to one conservation reserve. The dedication of the new reserve and additions, further ensured the conservation of biodiversity in an area already zoned as environmental protection by Council.
- Recovery plans were completed for one threatened species and being prepared for another two species.
- A shire-wide bushfire management plan was developed.
- Progress was made in controlling weed species in the shire, at least in part through control measures. Rabbit populations were reduced due to the introduction of the calicivirus, and an extensive fox control program was carried out (although fox abundance appeared to remain unchanged).
- Council and community groups undertook various ecological restoration projects to help enhance biodiversity within the shire.
The future—what does this mean for Council?
The continued lack of data to allow a full assessment of the shire's biodiversity status carries with it the risk that present or ongoing practices as well any change (possibly including approved development proposals) will have adverse impacts.
Lack of monitoring of native species, populations and communities within the shire may also hamper conservation efforts, as impacts from rural development and other pressures (e.g. vegetation clearance and fragmentation and drought) cannot be determined and remediation measures cannot be planned. Monitoring is also essential to determine whether environmental plans and strategies and on-ground management projects are achieving the desired biodiversity outcomes.
Council needs to maintain appropriate effort and resources in the following areas of its environmental management.
- Maintain close liaison with NSW State Government agencies to encourage programs of data collection, especially for remnant native vegetation on private land, aquatic and riparian species and ecosystems, and to help ensure council has up-to-date knowledge about the shire's biodiversity and associated management issues relevant to it.
- Maintain collaborative arrangements with other land management agencies and private landholders within the region to ensure ongoing success with pest animal and plant control and fire management, and to develop awareness of new land management principles, innovations or approaches.
- Work closely with the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority to help ensure consistency in approach to biodiversity conservation and complementary actions to achieve this.
- Continue to ensure biodiversity impacts are adequately taken into account in landuse zoning, assessment of development applications, road management and construction activities, hazard control burning and weed control activities. The regulation of these activities needs to be in accordance with legislative requirements and also include as a minimum consideration of terrestrial and aquatic native species and ecosystems generally, in addition to specific consideration of endangered ecological communities and vulnerable or endangered plant and animal species known or predicted to occur in the shire.
- Continue to support and encourage community involvement in biodiversity conservation and monitoring.