Australasian Plant Conservation
Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 17(2) August - September 2008, pp 42-43
Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian
Volcanic Plain: a nationally threatened ecological community
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage
and the Arts, Canberra. Email:
In June 2008, the Australian Minister for the Environment,
Heritage and the Arts listed the Natural Temperate
Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain as a critically
endangered ecological community under the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC
Act). This decision was made after extensive public and
expert consultation and a detailed assessment by the
Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
The Committee's assessment recognised that this grassland
has been subject to a very severe decline in extent and a very
severe reduction in its integrity, and has a very restricted
distribution. The grassland was formerly extensive on the
volcanic plain west of Melbourne but now occurs as mostly
small, highly fragmented remnants in a landscape largely
cleared for agriculture. Less than 5% of the grassland's
original extent now remains.
The national listing recognises that the grassland's long
term survival is under threat. The listing aims to prevent
any further decline and to promote and assist recovery
through landholder and community efforts.
Recognising the Listed Grassland
A detailed description of the Natural Temperate Grassland
of the Victorian Volcanic Plain, featuring key diagnostic
characteristics and condition thresholds is found in the
listing advice and accompanying information brochure
(EPBC Act Policy Statement 3.8).
In general, the listed grassland can be recognised by a
combination of where it occurs, its vegetation structure and
the types of native grasses present.
- The Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian
Volcanic Plain is restricted to western Victoria,
primarily within the Victorian Volcanic Plain IBRA
Bioregion. Some patches extend into the adjacent
Victorian Midlands and South-east Coastal Plain
- The dominant vegetation layer is the ground layer,
which is typically dominated by native grasses. A
range of wildflowers and other herbs grow among the
tussocks, including daisies, lilies, peas and orchids.
Large shrubs and trees are absent to sparse, accounting
for no more than 5% projective foliage cover or two
mature trees per hectare.
- The ground layer is usually dominated by one or more of
the following perennial native grasses: Kangaroo Grass
(Themeda triandra), Wallaby Grasses (Austrodanthonia species), Spear Grasses (Austrostipa species) or
Tussock Grasses (Poa species). In some situations, the
native grasses may be locally or temporarily replaced
by native wildflowers.
The appearance of the ecological community can vary
greatly depending on the time of year and management
history of the site, for instance grazing and fire regimes.
The description of the ecological community includes
condition thresholds, described in the listing advice and
information brochure, that aim to identify remnants of the
grassland that are in good condition. Patches that do not
meet the condition thresholds are not considered part of the
listed ecological community and will not be affected by the
EPBC Act. However, lower quality remnants may still be
targets for funding and efforts to improve their condition.
Threatened Flora and Fauna
The Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian
Volcanic Plain provides habitat for over 20 species of
nationally threatened plants. These include the Matted
Flax-lily (Dianella amoena), Plains Rice-flower (Pimelea
spinescens subsp. spinescens) and Basalt Greenhood
Grassland remnants provide habitat for a diversity of animal
species notably skinks, snakes, birds of prey and ground-dwelling
birds. Some faunal elements have declined as the grassland itself has
disappeared. For instance,
grassland remnants now support few native mammals,
even though bandicoots and wallabies were common in
the past. Eight nationally threatened animal species occur
in the grassland to some extent, and include the Striped
Legless Lizard (Delma impar) and Growling Grass Frog
Critically Endangered Natural Temperate Grassland of the
Victorian Volcanic Plain. Photo: Tim Allen
Threats and Conservation Actions
The main threats to the Natural Temperate Grassland of
the Victorian Volcanic Plain are vegetation clearance
(e.g. rock-crushing machinery that convert previously
non-arable lands to cropping), fragmentation of remnants,
inappropriate maintenance practices for remnants on
roadside and railway verges, inappropriate grazing or fire
regimes, inappropriate herbicide use, the application of
fertilisers and weed invasion.
The listing of the grassland ecological community under
the EPBC Act is intended to enhance its protection and
future survival. National protection means any new or
intensified activities that are likely to have a significant
impact upon the listed grassland should be referred to the
Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, Heritage
and the Arts to assess the nature of any environmental
impacts and seek approval for the action. Activities likely
to require approval include, but are not restricted to;
clearing remnants of the ecological community; creating
new roads, tracks or fuel breaks; significant changes
to an existing management regime (such as converting
from mowing/slashing to herbicide use or substantially
intensifying stocking rates on the grassland); introducing
fertilisers or other chemicals to native grassland remnants
indiscriminately or where none were previously applied,
or introducing new, potentially invasive exotic pasture
species in or near to remnants.
Exemptions under the EPBC Act mean that the listing of
the Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic
Plain will not prevent land managers from continuing to
use their land in the same way as before, providing that
they do not significantly change or intensify their activities
and the activity is lawful.
A key message to landholders is that, if they retain a high
quality patch of the listed grassland on their property then
they should be congratulated for good management and be
encouraged to continue their existing management practices.
Incentives are available to help landholders manage their
land to achieve good conservation outcomes, for instance
through Australian Government funding programs such as
Caring for our Country and the Environmental Stewardship
Program, or through State Government initiatives.
Another key message is that there are benefits to
long-term protection of native biodiversity. Native
vegetation remnants, such as the listed grassland, are
naturally resilient to weeds and provide ecosystem services
across an area of Australia regularly hit hard by drought,
including retention of water and soil nutrients, reducing
erosion and salinity, and carbon storage.
The conservation advice for the listed grassland suggests
actions to encourage its recovery. A comprehensive
recovery plan has also been recommended for the region.
Considerable information is available from the website of the Department
of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts <www.environment.gov.au>.
The listing advice, conservation advice and an information brochure for
the listed grassland are available at <www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/
Information about referrals and approvals under the EPBC Act is available
Details about funding schemes are available at <www.nrm.gov.au/
Farmers also are encouraged to use the services of the Environmental
Liaison Officer at the National Farmers' Federation (contacted by phone
(02) 6273 3855 or email email@example.com).