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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 19(3) December 2010 - February 2011, p 15-16

Progressing from single species recovery planning to multi-species recovery across the landscape: a case study from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales

Tricia Hogbin
Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, Newcastle, NSW. Email tricia.hogbin@environment.nsw.gov.au

Figure 1. A 2009 Hunter Valley Threatened Species Mystery Tour proved to be a great way to educate the community about their local threatened species. Here we consult with tour participants regarding the Cessnock Biodiversity Conservation Program. Photo: Phoebe Trongchittham.

Figure 2. The Biodiversity Forecasting Tool is a GIS based approach to regional conservation assessment that has been applied to a wide range of assessments and planning activities across New South Wales (DECC 2009). The tool models the conservation value of every location in a regional context (taking into account vegetation type, rarity, condition, and remnant size) and predicts conserve priorities based on predicted future habitat condition and persistence. The model also identifies restore priorities, but these were not used in our planning process.

The native vegetation of the lower Hunter Valley has been extensively cleared since European settlement, with less than 30% remaining. The remnants are subject to a range of threatening processes, including ongoing habitat loss and habitat degradation. Consequently, the area supports at least 65 threatened entities listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, including nine ecological communities, 46 animal species and 10 plant species. Seventeen entities are also listed under the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Single species recovery planning was achieving outcomes

The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (the Department) commenced the Hunter Valley Threatened Flora Recovery Program in 2005. The program applied single species recovery framework to a handful of threatened species and ecological communities, including the critically endangered Persoonia pauciflora and the threatened ecological community Kurri Sand Swamp Woodland (Hogbin 2005).

The program was supported by an active recovery team and achieved numerous outcomes, including:

  • a reliable local scale vegetation map and classification (DECC 2008);
  • an experimental threatened ecological communities restoration project;
  • a threatened species teacher resource kit;
  • various community education and awareness activities; and
  • establishment of a Crown Conservation Reserve protecting habitat for numerous threatened species and ecological communities.

Despite its success, the recovery program was addressing the conservation needs of only a few of the numerous threatened entities occurring in the region.

In late 2009, our focus expanded to developing the Cessnock Biodiversity Conservation Program, which seeks to address the conservation needs of all 65 threatened entities across an area of 70,000 ha. The area covers the valley floor region of the Cessnock Local Government Area and was defined by the DECC (2008) local scale vegetation map and classification for the area.

Cessnock Biodiversity Conservation Program

The Cessnock Biodiversity Conservation Program addresses the conservation needs of all 65 threatened entities by:

  • developing a landscape conservation plan that highlights priority areas for conservation across the landscape and also opportunities for rehabilitation and revegetation;
  • identifying ‘local focus areas’ where the landscape conservation plan may not adequately address the conservation needs of particular threatened species;
  • building upon existing threatened species recovery projects and complementing other threatened species protection mechanisms;
  • facilitating implementation of the landscape conservation plan through landscape facilitation projects; and
  • encouraging and facilitating collaboration and community involvement in threatened species recovery (Figure 1).

Developing a landscape conservation plan

The Biodiversity Forecasting Tool (Figure 2) was used to identify conserve priorities across the landscape. The tool models the potential loss to biodiversity if a particular area was to be cleared. Areas with a high conserve priority are those that, if lost, will have the greatest impact on biodiversity. They tend to be larger patches, well connected, in very good condition, and supporting rarer vegetation types.

Identifying opportunities for rehabilitation and revegetation

Five key landscape corridors were identified based on the location of priority conserve areas. These corridors provide focus areas for rehabilitation and revegetation works and support the conservation of priority conserve areas. Areas of disturbed vegetation (canopy only or regrowth) within the corridors or adjacent to priority conserve areas have been mapped as opportunities for restoration. Cleared areas within the priority conserve areas have been identified as opportunities for revegetation.

Local focus areas: filling the gaps in the landscape conservation plan

Landscape conservation planning, if implemented effectively, will address the conservation needs of many threatened entities. For example, if all priority conserve areas were protected, managed, and supported through appropriate habitat restoration, the vulnerable plant Acacia bynoeana would be adequately conserved. On the other hand, there are threatened entities for which landscape conservation will not be sufficient. For example, the critically endangered Persoonia pauciflora would likely still require additional recovery efforts to ensure its persistence.

All 65 threatened entities were assessed for whether they would likely be adequately conserved through effective implementation of the landscape conservation plan. Six of the nine threatened ecological communities, seven of the 10 threatened plant species and all 46 threatened fauna would likely be adequately conserved. Only six threatened entities are unlikely to have their conservation needs met by landscape conservation. Five local focus areas have been identified to address the conservation needs of these six threatened entities. An overall objective and broad recovery actions have been identified for each focus area.

Facilitating implementation of the Cessnock Biodiversity Conservation Program

We now have a clear plan identifying areas that need to be protected and restored, and also areas where local focus projects would be of benefit. Through identifying clear priorities and providing advice, the Department hopes to facilitate sound decision making and to encourage and facilitate the involvement of landholders, individuals, community groups, schools and other government departments in implementing threatened species recovery projects.

Given the need to engage with a diverse and extensive range of stakeholders, it was decided to present the information as a poster style plan, identifying priorities geographically across the landscape. This innovative approach has been well received by other public authorities and the community.

Conclusion

The methodology used has provided an efficient and effective approach to integrating landscape conservation and the conservation of individual threatened species. Recommendations are already being used by other stakeholders in decision making, targeting of funding for on-ground works, and in project development.

Acknowledgements

The Department’s project team members include Andrew McIntyre, Lynn Baker, Mick Roderick, Lucas Grenadier, Paul Houlder, and Katrina McKay.

References

Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) (2008). Vegetation of the Cessnock-Kurri region, survey, classification and mapping, Cessnock LGA, New South Wales. Department of Environment and Climate Change NSW, Sydney.

Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) (2009). Draft Northern Rivers Regional Biodiversity Management Plan. Department of Environment and Climate Change NSW, Sydney.

Hogbin, T. (2005) Developing a recovery program for Kurri Sand Swamp Woodland. Australasian Plant Conservation 14 (3): 6–8.

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