A Vision for a Nature Reserve in the Ginninderra Creek Murrumbidgee River Peninsula – a Discussion Paper

This paper has been copied in full from the Ginninderra Catchment Group website. The paper is attached below or you can click here to see this paper directly from the Ginninderra Catchment Group website.

DRAFT - 30 September 2016

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A Special Place

The Ginninderra Gorge and Murrumbidgee River Corridor area is rich in biodiversity, cultural heritage and aesthetic and intrinsic values. The area has been recognised as an important place by Aboriginal custodians for thousands of years. The value of the area was also recognised since the early years of European occupation of the area with a large reserve present over much of the area in 1837 (Figure 2). More recently much of the area has been zoned as E3 (Environmental Management) (Figure 2) in order to protect the values associated with the Ginninderra Falls, Ginninderra Gorge and Murrumbidgee Gorge areas.

Currently, it is proposed that a large area of the E3 (Environmental Management) zone in the NSW section of the Ginninderry development be rezoned to R1 (Primary Residential).

This discussion paper presents alternative conservation reserve options for the Ginninderry Development. In producing these options, Ginninderra Catchment Group took into account the many issues relating to the area at the northern end of the proposed Ginninderry development. The resulting options aim to protect the unique values of this area. The options incorporate well-established ecological reserve design principles and take into account many of the concerns raised by the community (including by local Aboriginal custodians, Ginninderra Catchment Group, Ginninderra Falls Association and the Conservation Council, ACT and Region) as well as concerns raised by many scientific experts in a variety of fields. The options also incorporate work done by Ginninderra Catchment Group in a biodiversity report co funded by GCG and the Riverview Group. The report, ‘A Preliminary Biodiversity Survey of the Ginninderra Falls Area’ provides greater detail on the key issues relating to biodiversity of the area.

Alternative Reserve Options

A range of alternative conservation reserve options are presented below. Ginninderra Catchment Group is currently consulting with a range of experts as to the likely conservation implications associated with each of the options. It is recognised that alternative funding models would need to be explored in order to purchase the additional land for reservation (see Funding Concepts heading below). This document is a working draft and has been modified slightly based on consultation.

  • Conservation-weighted Protected Area Option

The conservation-weighted protected area option (yellow line in Figure 2) is based on a number of conservation considerations. It incorporates substantial additional areas within reserve, including land outside of the existing E3 land in order to:

  • Maximise reserve size and minimise perimeter-area ratio in line with basic ecological reserve design principles to protect biodiversity including top-order predators and large home range species such as Rosenberg’s Goanna and the Spotted-tailed Quoll (Figure 1).
  • Maximise distance from urbanisation for species sensitive to urbanisation (e.g. Rosenberg’s Goanna, Scarlet Robin, Little Eagle and a range of bird species)
  • Protect the high conservation value of the area including heritage, aesthetic and biodiversity values
  • Allow for connectivity between critical habitat zones and the movement of fauna.
  • Maintain foraging areas for raptors including Little Eagle
  • Maintain additional open areas for grazing herbivores
  • Maintain grassland areas within reserve to increase habitat heterogeneity, provide forging areas for large marsupials and birds, and provide a buffer for ecotone species
  • Allow for improvement and expansion of critical habitat and ecosystems including Pink-tailed Worm Lizard habitat and Box Gum Woodland (including secondary grassland)
  • Maintain all Pink Tailed Worm Lizard (PTWL) habitat and connectivity between habitat
  • Set aside land for future rehabilitation to PTWL habitat and open Box Gum Woodland (BGW) or secondary grassland (BGW community).
  • Decrease cost and impact of boundary infrastructure and ongoing management
  • Reduce the risk of uncontrolled access and detrimental activity
  • Create a sustainable long term, high biodiversity value and financially viable community asset.
  • Reservation of E3 (Environmental Management) area.

Bringing the existing E3 (Environmental Management) area (green line in Figure 2) within reserve with some additions in key locations (e.g. near Ginninderra Falls and near the ACT/NSW border would provide a slightly lower level of protection than the conservation-weighted option but would provide more protection for the values of the area than the intermediate reserve option. Adding an extra area to the current E3 for protection of conservation in the area near the Ginninderra Falls (i.e. the property to the east of the Ginninderra Falls that is currently not zoned as E3) would significantly strengthen the conservation potential of this option.

  • Intermediate Protected Area Option

The intermediate protected area option (blue line in Figure 2) would address a number of the issues related to the currently proposed conservation boundary. However, the Ginninderra Catchment Group is currently in consultation with experts as to the extent to which this option would protect biodiversity in the area. The boundary of this option has been altered slightly in the south-eastern part of the area in response to feedback. Preliminary analysis of expert advice suggests that this option will still risk the potential decline of a significant number of threatened species.

Alternative Reserve Options (3).pngFigure 1: Corrected perimeter – area ratio for proposed Ginninderry Reserve, current E3 (Environmental Management) boundary and alternative Conservation Reserve options. Mt Ainslie Nature Reserve is included for reference as it is the only other urban reserve in the ACT where Rosenberg’s Goanna is still known to exist

Infrastructure and Visitor Access
In addition to the reserve options, there are three key aspects of infrastructure and reserve use:
  1. High-use visitor access and entrance facilities
  2. Cultural Heritage
  3. Ecologically sensitive areas.

High-use visitor access and entrance facilities

In order to have a sustainably-managed high conservation value reserve, control of visitor access and a careful assessment of the types of activities permitted within the reserve will be critical. The Ginninderra Falls area provides a variety of access options that, if managed properly, would protect the area and provide substantial ongoing funding to ensure the reserve’s sustainability.

The single entry point and access road allows for a relatively simple method of controlling access. This configuration funnels visitors to a central point, resulting in better management of those visitors. As the current road access terminates at the old entrance to Ginninderra Falls and is close to the highly disturbed quarry area, there is an opportunity to limit disturbance caused by infrastructure by confining the proposed visitor centre, car parking and other key buildings to the quarry site. The appropriateness of locating these facilities in this location would need to be subject to careful assessment of ecological and cultural impacts by relevant experts and Aboriginal custodians.

The main attraction for most visitors will be the Ginninderra Falls themselves and the best place to view them is from the existing lookouts. This proposal recommends that infrastructure put in place to provide access to the falls be confined to the existing footprint of tracks. It is acknowledged that substantial upgrading of tracks (if appropriate) would be required to cater for a range of access requirements; however, limiting this to key areas would be the best way to protect valuable sensitive areas. The extent to which accessibility could be accommodated would need to be determined in close consultation with relevant experts on ecology and Aboriginal custodians.

The high-use visitor area would ideally incorporate a visitor information centre, café and easy access viewing of the Ginninderra Falls. It is anticipated that this section of the reserve would cater for the vast majority of visitors and that this part of reserve would provide the highest revenue.

Additional access would be more restricted and managed through a guided ranger program. An indigenous ranger program and biodiversity program would provide valuable education opportunities and would be potential revenue sources. Additional low impact activities such as rafting on the Murrumbidgee could also be linked to guided ranger program to further enhance funding opportunities.

Cultural Heritage

The Ginninderra Falls area has high cultural heritage values that needs to be acknowledged and managed effectively. If done well, there are also significant opportunities for this area to be utilised for cultural education. An indigenous ranger program based at the Visitor’s Centre would provide valuable training and job opportunities as well as providing a valuable community education resource that contributes to the broader regional pathways story.

Funding concepts

To fully recognise the value of the Ginninderra Falls area and sustainably manage these values, alternative models of funding need to be explored. The traditional development approach, that was originally followed for the planning of the Ginninderry development, is based on maximising the developable area on each of the landowners’ properties, with financial returns being linked to amount of land rezoned to urban on each of the landowner’s properties. Such an approach puts high conservation areas at risk as financial returns are directly linked to the amount of area that may be developed on each landholder’s property. As a result, an alternative model of funding is being considered for the area whereby landholders’ properties would be purchased based on the amount of developable land on their properties. If extra areas were set aside for conservation, landholders would receive the value of the developable land on their property less the proportion reduction in land to be rezoned to urban across the whole area that is proposed for rezoning. There is still potential for this model to deliver an outcome that does not adequately protect biodiversity values. Therefore, alternative methods of purchasing the land (such as those outlined below as well as others that are generated through discussion) should be explored. In addition, a way for landholders to receive fair compensation for their land even if no land is rezoned to R1 (Primary Residential) should be explored. This would allow for the significance of their land in protecting environmental values to be appropriately valued and acknowledged.

The critical area of concern for the Ginninderry development is the Ginninderra falls, Ginninderra Creek gorge and the surrounding forest, woodland and agricultural land that form a large peninsula in the northern end of the Ginninderry Project area. This area has been protected from the pressures associated with intensive agricultural activities and development activity as a result of the E3 zoning and includes large areas of high conservation value remnant habitat as well as cultural and scenic values.

The Ginninderra Falls area has been adequately protected under the E3 zoning to date (though strengthening of zoning to E1 or E2 for parts of the area is likely to be appropriate in future) Urban development represents a significant change to land management and a significant risk to the biodiversity values of the area.

It is acknowledged that the current landowners require an additional incentive above the current market value of their properties in order to support changes to the proposed rezoning and development in the area. It is also acknowledged that the current landowners have a strong connection to this area, having cared for it for many years.

In order to avoid degrading and undoing the conscientious work of landowners in maintaining and improving native biodiversity in parts of the E3 area, some new funding options need to be explored. In order to provide access to the area for the future community members, whilst ensuring that the ecological, cultural heritage and aesthetic values of the area are retained, an approach that truly represent best practice in reserve design and management is required.

With respect to planning and funding a development that is more sensitive to the values of the area, some of the ideas that have been suggested during the consultation process, or that have been tried in other projects, include:

  • Increasing the trust levy to 2% (currently 1%) and using the additional revenue to compensate landowners and reserve large additional areas of the existing E3 land within a reserve to protect the values and species within the area
  • Assessing the whole developable area as a combined unit and profit-sharing to compensate for protected land that is important for conservation
  • Developing a unified vision to garner the support of all groups who can advocate for government co-contribution (e.g. Developer $X, Community $X and Government matching funding $X)
  • Exploring crowd funding, philanthropic or corporate contribution models and;
  • Upfront purchase of property with nominal lease structure to continue living on site within the reserve.

Conclusion

Due to the community concerns and the multitude of values that are present in the area of land subject to rezoning from E3 to urban, a frank assessment of the current model of conservation planning in that area should occur as a matter of priority. The resulting planning decisions should ensure that key biodiversity and cultural heritage values are protected in perpetuity. It is likely that innovative solutions will need to be explored in order to achieve a sustainable outcome in the area.

Alternative Reserve Options (4).pngFigure 2

Conservation weighted protected area option*

  • Larger reserve incorporating significant additional areas within reserve that ensure high conservation areas are well away from the urban edge.

  • Improved protection for large home range species and species sensitive to urbanisation

  • Improved fire protection eliminating the need for fuel reduction in fire sensitive communities.

  • Improved connectivity for key species including PTWL

  • Improved protection for species that use the ecotone (those that use open grassland and woodland areas)

  • Opportunity to increase the area of Box Gum Woodland (secondary grassland and open woodland and to enhance PTWL habitat

  • Very high level of control over access

  • Much greater separation of reserve and urban areas (minimises edge effects e.g. weed invasion, predation, noise and light pollution on biodiversity); more natural experience for visitors

  • Incorporates all PTWL records and identified potential habitat.

* Other options would provide a lesser degree of protection than conservation – weighted option. Consultation with experts is underway to determine the predicted implications for each of the options for a range of threatened species.
  1. Infrastructure confined to the quarry site and key high flow areas*

*Subject to further discussions about appropriateness of buildings in quarry site. Alternative would be to place buildings in urban area and restore quarry site with native vegetation.
  • Visitor/Education centre promoting sustainable low impact reserve management and development

  • Removes the need for a road further into the river corridor that threatens to impact on significant species and Aboriginal cultural heritage

  • Reuse and upgrade existing lookouts and paths

  • Better visitor control resulting in low impact tourism

  • High visitor numbers restricted to approved visitor zones

  • Specialised tours including Aboriginal Heritage and Biodiversity (diversifying funding)

  • Indigenous ranger program

  1.  Indigenous values protected

  • Protecting areas of high significance and controlling access to sensitive areas

  • Recognising the significance of indigenous heritage in the broader landscape including pathways and connectivity between sites in the region

  • Providing educational opportunities and training facilities.

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