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Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Strategy

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Regional Catchment Strategy 2013-2019

3 Upland Slopes

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The Upland Slopes SES extends across the southern hills and valleys of the Goulburn Broken Catchment. Its landscape is typified by large old scattered trees within winding valleys, meandering between often forested hillsides. This SES includes the towns of Yea, Mansfield, Alexandra and Jamieson.

The Taungurung were the first people of the rivers, valleys and mountains in this region. Before European settlement, this SES was covered in forests in the hills and open grassy woodlands in the valleys. More recently, this area is dominated by agricultural land and has had natural events, such as drought and fire shape the landscape.

Values, products, goods and services of this system

Many waterways yield good quality water, which provides economic (agriculture and tourism), ecological (water quality and quantity) and social (lifestyle and recreational (boating, fishing)) services. The remaining native vegetation (terrestrial and riparian vegetation on both public and private land) is valued for the ecosystem services as well as economic (tourism, forestry) and social (recreation and lifestyle) values it provides. Agricultural production is valued, but the lifestyle opportunities of this SES are increasingly appreciated by full-time and occasional residents.

The resilience of the Upland Slopes is about this system’s ability to stay in a state that provides these values in the face of change. This state underpins the future aspiration for the Upland Slopes: an inspired and diverse community participating widely in sustainable agriculture and lifestyle land-use, for conservation, production and tourism outcomes.

Biodiversity

Prior to European settlement, this SES would have consisted of grassy valleys, scattered with large old trees, more heavily wooded hills, but also some grassy hills with few trees.

The current state of biodiversity is considered to be good in terms of extent, although fragmented and disconnected. Many large, old trees and native pastures occur on private land, while public land supports large forest blocks. Common vegetation types are herb-rich forest EVC, which is classified as ‘least concern’ or 'depleted' and Valley Grassy Forests which are considered vulnerable to extinction. 

Major threats to biodiversity in this SES are: the lack of linkages between forest blocks; and the continued decline in the quality and extent of  grassy woodlands and forests due to changes in land-use; and the quality of large forest blocks due to the effects of changes in fire regimes.

Terrestrial habitat: Significant terrestrial habitat assets for this SES include spring-soak wetlands and rocky outcrops of the Strathbogie Ranges and the grassy woodland steep hills that fringe the valleys to the south of the Strathbogie Ranges.

Threatened species and communities: Significant species and communities include the Legless Lizard, Golden Sun Moth, and Valley Grassy Forest ecological vegetation classes.

Land

Land-use across the Upland Slopes SES is a mixture of native forests, parks and production forestry on public land and dryland agriculture in the cleared valleys and slopes. This takes the form of grazing with some intensive agriculture such as viticulture and irrigated agriculture along waterways. Land-use in this SES is changing and traditional agricultural land is now interspersed with new production-types and lifestyle-focused properties. Soils here are shallow and finely structured with high organic matter.

The current condition of land and soils in this SES varies in relation to its use and management on private land. On public land it is considered in good condition, however, the 2006 and 2009 bushfires have impacted on soil health, in particular erosion.

Erosion is a major threat, although organic matter decline, soil acidification, contamination, compaction, salinisation and biodiversity decline are all also threats in this SES. Pest plant and animal invasion is a further threat. Major invasive species that affect the land in this SES are Rabbits, which cause erosion and prevent regeneration of native species. A major plant threat is Blackberry, which clogs waterways, overtakes agricultural land and provides harbour for Rabbits.

Water

This SES generates a large proportion of the Catchment's total water yield. Lake Eildon, which regulates the Goulburn River, is an important feature and contributes to agriculture and lifestyles in this area. The Goulburn River also delivers a regulated supply of high quality water down the Catchment. Waterways vary in their condition, with the Goulburn River considered to be in a poor state, largely due to regulation.

Major threats to water quality in this SES is from erosion run-off (bushfire impacts) and diffuse sources of pollution (not directly associated with the waterway, e.g. animal faeces, township and lifestyle development). Changes to flow and flood regimes that regulate rivers threaten native fish populations and floodplain dependent plant species. Priority waterway assets are:

Goulburn River: a Heritage River that supports threatened species. It contains important cultural heritage sites, provides water for agriculture and urban centres in and downstream of the basin, and supports recreational activities such as fishing and boating.

King Parrot Creek: supports the threatened Macquarie Perch.

Yea River: supports the threatened Macquarie Perch.

Acheron River: Environmental Site of Significance.

Delatite River: High economic values and supports the threatened Murray Cod.

Wetlands here are considered to be generally in a moderate state. Maintaining and enhancing wetland connectivity is important in the valleys. Priority wetland assets are:

Central Highlands Peatlands (DIWA listed): Five separate sphagnum moss dominated bogs located along rivers and gullies in the Central Highlands.

Yea Wetlands (Regional): Protects the nationally and internationally threatened Hemiphlebia Damselfly (living fossil) which extend for approximately 10 kilometres upstream of Yea and a further 8-10 kilometres downstream to the Yea River’s confluence with the Goulburn River.

Horseshoe Lagoon (Bioregional): A billabong on the mid-Goulburn River which is one of only a few wetlands in the region in excellent condition.

This part of the Catchment has relatively fresh, but low yielding fractured rock groundwater aquifers used mainly for domestic and stock use with some small scale agricultural production supported by groundwater. The greatest threat to these aquifer assets is climate related changes to rainfall patterns and distribution, affecting their recharge. The future availability of groundwater is also put under pressure from water demand threats, particularly pressure from development. 

People

Taungurung people still live on country today and are active in the protection and preservation of their culture and land. Farmers and lifestylers also characterise the community in this SES. Some of this area is within daily commutable distance to Melbourne but has proved highly attractive for weekenders beyond this daily commute. Over 50 percent of Mansfield ratepayers are now absentee landholders. The area provides a range of recreational and tourism opportunities. Accordingly, the service industry is a large employer.

The community has a strong connection to the land, and as one landholder put it, 'I view the river as my river and I’m looking after it'. There is, at times, disconnect between different land-users and managers.

Developing resilience of the Upland Slopes SES

Table 10 details what is needed to develop resilience in the Upland Slopes SES, building on needs best addressed at the whole-of-Catchment scale, which were listed in Chapter two.

Table 10: Adapting to drivers of change in the Upland Slopes Hills SES*

Context

Management measure

Possible specific action (examples)

Several intersecting drivers of change on top of existing land and water uses threaten to result in the crossing of water yield and quality thresholds in this SES.

Climate variability led to unprecedented bushfires in 2006 and 2009, increasing the vulnerability of soils to erosion. Nutrient laden run-off from diffuse sources, including agricultural land and emergent lifestyle developments (as land-use changes), is also significant. Although water policy reforms are considering the suite of ecosystem services provided by waterways, regulation of the waterways for multiple purposes, especially downstream supply, limits operation of the waterways in terms of water quality and ecological benefits.

Climate variability and continued demand is threatening Groundwater yield and quality in upper parts.

Although the Upland Slopes SES has large areas of native vegetation, especially on public land, agricultural practices and land-use changes, including subdivision, on private land (described above) is threatening to result in the crossing of several biodiversity habitat thresholds, especially fragmentation, connectivity and fire frequency, and riparian width thresholds (for cleaning water).

Strategic priority: Deliver water to waterways and wetlands

Plan, deliver and monitor environmental water delivery to improve the condition of priority waterways and wetlands

 

Strategic priority:  Capture opportunities from land development

Contribute to land-use planning strategies to minimise loss of biodiversity

Identify high value assets and potential biodiversity corridors in lifestyle areas and assist local government in the development of appropriate tools to include biodiversity in planning decisions

Contribute to public land management to minimise loss of biodiversity

Partner agencies to become more involved in meetings that are making land management decisions.

Strategic priority: Adapt to climate variability risks

Develop public land fire management plans that consider loss of biodiversity

Identify where the Goulburn Broken CMA and community can have influence and build partnerships with public land managers

Strategic priority: Increase biodiversity as part of agricultural land use

Create awareness and acceptance of land management practices to protect and improve terrestrial and aquatic habitat

Develop an education campaign that focuses on increasing knowledge and acceptance of the need for biodiversity conservation.

Work with landholders to protect and improve biodiversity on private land and build understanding of its contribution to the landscapes

Provide landholders with incentives to improve the condition of terrestrial, riparian and wetland habitat

The capacity of individuals and community organisations to address the legacy of the 2006 and 2009 bushfires as well future challenges is of significant concern, and populations of many native species of flora and fauna also remain vulnerable as result of the bushfires.

Strategic priority: Adapt to climate variability risks

Factor risks of climate variability and identify adaptation strategies in Goulburn Broken CMA plans

Undertake risk assessment for specific biodiversity assets to determine priorities for investment

Plan and implement flood, fire and drought response and recovery

Contribute to the Hume Regional Emergency Management Committee

Changes in the make-up of the population, including absentee landownership of near 50 percent in some local government areas, threaten connections between the people who largely manage the system.

Strategic priority: Capture opportunities from land development

Promote broader community awareness and acceptance of practices to protect and improve the condition of the natural environment

Partner Landcare in the promotion of biodiversity and incentives to act on knowledge and acceptance gained

Promote development, use and management of land that matches land capability

Work with local shire planners to develop planning overlays that consider land capability.

Short-term agricultural production objectives and long-term native biodiversity objectives on the one piece of land are usually not well aligned in this SES: if climate variability and increased food production drivers stimulate more agricultural production, such as cereal crops and fat lambs, biodiversity will be further threatened and agricultural soils will be pushed to produce more.

Strategic priority: Establish sustainable agricultural practices

Create awareness and acceptance of sustainable management practices to improve land and soil condition

Partner in invasive pest plant and animal program delivery

Promote the role of carbon to improve the resilience and productivity agricultural- based ecosystems

 

  * Notes on the table:
The table (and descriptions on the previous page) will be part of background information for consultative planning and implementation over the next few years, which will include decisions on how to keep the SES from breaching undesirable thresholds.
Significant uncertainties in setting desirable SES thresholds and measuring progress elevate the need for close collaboration between SES stakeholders when setting priorities.  Some key threshold parameters to be considered when making decisions are listed in the table (Appendix five includes a more complete list across all SESs, with some quantitative targets).