How threatened species listing is failing to protect endangered plants.
In 2021 the Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) was employed to undertake an audit (count) of the endangered Grevillea masonii on a powerline easement adjacent to the Summerland Way, and Pringles Way northwest of Lawrence. Grevillea masonii is a rare shrub with a very restricted range stretching from the Dilkoon area on the Summerland Way to a little north of Whiporie, and east to Pringles way and Tullymorgan.
It is estimated there are less than 500 plants in total, the low numbers and restricted range being the reason why it is listed as endangered at both state (Biodiversity Conservation Act) and federal level (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act).
The power line easement is huge, with 3 lines side by side, at least 100m wide. Unfortunately, despite the endangered species listing, there is no requirement for landowners to protect them, with cattle and horses allowed to trample or even browse the plants.
These populations are well known with, I understand, Transgrid, Origin, and Clarence Valley Council powerline and roadside managers aware of the plants’ occurrence at those sites.
However, on a site visit with the Saving or Species’ manager of the Grevillea masonii management program, we were dismayed to discover that an entire sub-population of the endangered plants had recently received herbicide spray drift and are unlikely to survive. This spraying of regrowth was undertaken despite the sub-population being fenced off, and a warning sign, picturing the Grevillea, standing less than 20m away.
I believe that destruction occurred on the section of powerline for which Origin Energy is responsible, and of no concern to Council. However, worse was to follow. Upon inspecting the Pringles Way population which, because of plantation development north and south of the road, is now largely confined to the road reserve, we were horrified to find that almost 2km of road reserve had been slashed/mulched (see below).
The destruction is along the southern side of the Pringles Way, and begins about 2.5km west of the Tullymorgan Road turnoff. The work has almost certainly been done by the pine plantation owners, presumably to allow travellers a better view of their ‘neat’ plantation.
However, we know from the previous year’s audit that that southern section of roadway supported at least 6 groups of the endangered plants (see map), but, unfortunately, all but one specimen, which we spotted still alive (see below), have now likely been killed.
In this instance, it was clear that the perpetrators were aware of some regulation, such as the extent of allowable clearing because, in areas where the road reserve exceeded a certain distance, red paint had been daubed on trees to show where vegetation needed to be left. This has seen some narrow strips of vegetation left standing.
All of this begs the question – did the perpetrators seek permission to clear the road verge, and told how much they could clear, and if so, by whom? The Biodiversity Advisory Committee has been told that road verges are essentially council land, and permission must be sought before any activity can be undertaken
In this instance, the landowners know there are endangered species in the area. They have a large sign on their gate saying just that.
So, with both the landowner, and Council being aware of the Grevillea population, how can we get to the bottom of how this occurred? Why are endangered ecological communities, threatened species, and their habitat being destroyed, and who is responsible?
We really need to get our act together, or this species will soon become extinct.
Report by John Edwards
Clarence Environment Centre and Biodiversity Advisory Committee member