Harcourt community calls for a thorough biodiversity audit

Members of Harcourt Valley Landcare want the council to conduct a thorough biodiversity assessment of the area as part of the council's strategic planning for the area.
Members of Harcourt Valley Landcare want the council to conduct a thorough biodiversity assessment of the area as part of the council's strategic planning for the area.

Residents of Harcourt are calling for Mount Alexander Shire Council to commit to a thorough assessment of the valley’s plants, animals and ecosystems.
Led by Harcourt Valley Landcare, the group wants to ensure any proposed developments of the area improves the wellbeing of its residents, including the threatened brush-tailed phascogale.
“While we have succeeded in our calls for a biodiversity audit to be a fundamental part of strategic planning, we are concerned the council may consider a recently completed ‘desktop review’ of existing databases and published literature as sufficient to make a decision,” HVL president Bonnie Humphrey said.
“That could hugely impact the quality of life for the Harcourt community and threaten an already struggling landscape.”
The group is now calling for Mount Alexander councillors to approve a proposed Stage 2 biodiversity assessment, in which ecologists would actively monitor/assess key locations to gain an understanding of what plants and animals are present in the valley.
The Harcourt region makes up part of the last Victorian strongholds for the endangered brush-tailed phascogale, a small native mammal that nests in hollows of old trees such as the box-ironbark forests and grassy woodlands found on Leanganook (Mount Alexander).
Central Victoria is one of the most cleared and fragmented landscapes in Australia, and as a result, 40 per cent of mammals originally in the region have become extinct. More than 150 plant and animal species in the region are currently considered threatened. Central Victorian not-for-profit Biolinks Alliance identifies a key cause of this.
“Most parks and reserves are isolated ‘islands’ surrounded by a sea of farmland, industry, roadways, and increasing urbanisation,” said Paul Foreman, Biolinks Alliance ecologist, who Harcourt Valley Landcare also commissioned to write an expert witness statement for Planning Victoria’s panel hearing as part of the amendment review.
“Many species will not travel between isolated habitat patches when the area in-between has been cleared.
“Protecting, restoring and reconnecting small patches of habitat is, therefore, crucial to stop species decline in central Victoria.”
Research shows that a minimum of 30 per cent habitat cover is the tipping point for declining woodland birds, which make their home in the grassy woodlands of Leanganook and nearby vegetation.
“HVL understands the need for growth to support housing for a growing population, however, the group wants to see it done in a way that benefits Harcourt residents and reduces the impacts on our local flora and fauna,” Ms Humphrey said.
“Research shows the links between biodiversity loss, climate change, and poor health outcomes yet this can be avoided by careful and progressive strategic planning.
“HVL calls for MASC to commit to a process in keeping with the desires and expectations of Harcourt residents, who value the beauty of the environment and the town’s natural setting.
“We don’t want to see just more ‘Melbourne suburbs in the bush’ but rather planning blueprints that appropriately respond to the local environmental and social settings. And for that, we need better informed strategic planning.”
Ms Humphrey said waterways like Barkers Creek and Picnic Gully Creek were increasingly important for the movement of wildlife in a warming climate.
“Harcourt has a natural beauty that is really different from our neighbouring towns and areas,” she said.
“The trees here are majestic, the soil is rich and the mountain keeps a lookout over our daily lives. It’s too beautiful not to protect.
“We call for concerned residents of Harcourt and our shire to call or write a letter to MASC demanding the protection of Harcourt’s biodiversity by approving a thorough biodiversity audit and to join our working group Naturally Harcourt to add your time and expertise to our campaign.”

Jade Jungwirth
Jade is the former Editor of the Tarrangower Times and has lived in the region for over 16 years.