Feedback from Brunswick Communities for Nature
26 June 2020
Brunswick Communities for Nature appreciates the recognition of its work since 2013. However, sufficient policy context already exists to justify our continued work. We wholeheartedly support continuation and extension of Council’s work to maintain and grow Moreland’s biodiversity. However, standalone efforts without sufficient integration with the rest of Council’s operations can easily result in frustration and burnout. While keeping many “plates spinning” can be a good risk management strategy, equally lack of focus can result in too many activities with minimal impact. Activities must be ruthlessly prioritised against their potential impact. Low value, “business as usual” activities should be done for the lowest cost to allow for higher impact, potentially riskier but higher return activities to occur. Structural blockers, such as the lack of aligned delivery across Council operations should be called out so they can be addressed.
Moreland Nature Plan
Part 1 Background and Technical Report
Royal Park is present in the Moreland Nature Map but should be more explicitly referenced due to its crucial importance especially its role in providing large trees which directly result in, for example, Black Cockatoos in Brunswick, or major waterbirds coming from the Trin Warren Tam-Boore Bellbird Waterhole.
Fantastic and valuable survey of key sites in the municipality along with easy to use (and very popular) map.
Greening the south and central parts of Moreland is a critical mitigator for the Urban Heat Island Effect which is aligned with, but also separate from, climate change.
Human/ social services
Thunderstorm asthma can be a life-threatening event. Reduced exotic plants in the environment ameliorates this risk. Indigenous, low allergy plants present less risk to human health.
While placing economic value on environmental services provides a useful insight into benefits, it should also consider the distributive economic effects, i.e. who pays and who benefits? Allocation of resources should be evaluated especially in consideration of Moreland’s diverse economic profile. The affluent south had more ready access to accessible sites at Royal Park, Moonee Ponds and Merri Creeks while the less affluent north has access to sites with far fewer public amenities and access. Economic services such as bike riding benefits only accrue to the south and for those whose work is in the city or inner city, which generally precludes northern residents.
Natural Resource Management in Moreland today
Whilst this is a useful list of important programs and notable achievements of many people, they are not all created equal from a Nature point of view. A more rigorous assessment of the whole of Council’s actions against contribution to Nature goals is required. The most obvious example is that for all the plants planted, there have also been large numbers poisoned and slashed. At the same intersection, new indigenous plantings are established and a kerb return on the other side of the road is concreted over. Council’s actions continue to be riddled with contradictions at the implementation level.
- Industrial pollution – the Creek Friends groups are vigilant in reporting the regular episodes of industrial pollution.
- State government and agencies continued disposal of “surplus” public land along waterways, road reserves, rail reserves. Victrak, Melbourne Water and other state government agencies persist in disposing of “surplus” land to maximise their economic value without regard for the local loss of amenity this causes. This is especially impactful in Activity Centres and other Neighbourhood Growth zones where there is significant upward pressure on land values due to this zoning.
- Diverse cultural attitudes to landscape. It must be acknowledged that there are large parts of Moreland that experience tree vandalism, and the vast majority of residents cannot differentiate between an environmental weed and an indigenous plant. While food growing enjoys widespread community support, there are only a handful of people in the municipality that see the environmental and aesthetic benefits of street plantings of indigenous grasses. The vast majority would see a naturalised, novel nature strip and wonder when Council is going to mow it. Widespread fear of gum trees persists.
Part 2 Action Plan
Goal 1 – Protect and enhance biodiversity on Council managed land
Urban Forest Strategy should be cross-referenced against Nature goals.
Must integrate with Maintenance and Infrastructure to ensure that kerb works, park maintenance and other routine Council activities include, or at the very least do not preclude, increasing plant cover. For example, extending kerbs that leave the centre open (not concreted over) for future planting. Ensuring sensitive maintenance plans for the whole municipality but especially those east-west streets already identified as biodiversity corridors.
Parks with designated “traditional” landscaping act as a substantial break to biodiversity infill planting. Prioritisation of elms, oaks and plane trees limit the potential for habitat values of larger trees when street and even private property options are so limited.
Goal 2 – Private realm contribution to biodiversity
There are already initiatives and requirements in the Planning Scheme that should be referenced, such as BESS https://www.moreland.vic.gov.au/planning-building/environmentally-sustainable-design/sustainable-design-assessment-planning-process/ . These should be cross-checked against Nature goals. BESS gives points for food planting but not habitat planting.
See previous submissions on potential solutions for Gardens for Wildlife that address volunteer exhaustion and the existing active Friends groups.
There is already a vast amount of produced literature on Sustainable Gardening, etc. and the goal should be to minimise the cost required to re-purpose this as it is all still fit for purpose.
A current snapshot of Brunswick Communities for Nature’s activities and key learnings:
- We are confident that our recommended preparation, planting and maintenance advice is achievable for a homeowner with some gardening experience.
- Verge transformation is not recommended for renters or novice gardeners.
- Plant propagation and distribution by BC4N is self-sustaining and reduces the cost of plants from $4-5 to $1-2 making transformation and maintenance more affordable for individuals as otherwise cost is a significant hurdle.
- Our plants and advice are adapted to groups such as communal areas in apartment blocks, kerb returns & nature strips, and/or guerilla planting in parks.
- We have a potted plant mix solution for balconies.
- Many homeowners do not wish to invest in the time and effort to convert their nature strips, and worry about the disapproval of their neighbours.
- The 2020, the majority of our plants are going into homeowners, and some renters’, gardens.
- Frequently those who convert nature strips use a mixture of exotics which they happen to have on hand and these can comprise environmental weeds.
To progress our work, we need Council to partner with us to take a portion of one of our existing streets, either Union or Edward Streets, and conduct a combined preparation, planting and maintenance program over 12 months. Private action is futile without Council actions being aligned.
Goal 3 – Connect people to nature
Educational programs are potentially expensive and may not contribute to the built and planted fabric of the municipality. Commenting on schools and educational experiences is outside the scope of this response, but we suggest getting more targeted feedback on this is prudent.
Friends and/ or reference groups should be established for parks to better guide the capital planning, maintenance, planting and use of our outdoor lounge rooms.
Goal 4 – Improve governance
The governance risks are the large number of existing Council policies that either align, but only partially align, or policies that openly conflict with the Nature Plan goals. The complexity of the policy “matrix” and the siloing of Council operations means opportunities to meet multiple overarching strategic goals are routinely missed.
Greater investment in ecology training for Council staff is required.
Appendix 1 Vegetation Types
Whilst these Types are crucially relevant for remnant vegetation, new descriptions are needed for the “novel” nature of “Linear corridors and stepping stone habitats”. These habitat types inform the recommended plants for nature strips, train lines, kerb returns, gardens and parks, but these novel vegetation mixes are created to meet biodiversity goals but for the benefit and convenience of people.
On behalf of David Grist, Lisa de Kleyn, Philip Taylor
Brunswick Communities for Nature