As expected, the MRSC Draft Environment Strategy is a high level document that defines Council’s objectives for four environmental themes, in order to give direction to Council’s plans and programs, in particular the Council Plan, which is a key driver of actual Council investment. It also makes policy commitments that will be binding on the action of all Council departments. At the end of each of its four themes, it spells out current and prospective actions, their relative priority and relative costs.
Given that past Strategies have been ham-strung by lack of funding, this all seems like necessary groundwork, though I’d be interested to hear from old hands whether the same kind of groundwork has been done before, and still failed to influence Council spending.
The four themes are climate change, biodiversity, catchment management and resource efficiency. There’s much said by way of objectives and policy commitments that is easy to agree with, and I thought the Strategy and its Background Paper has done a good job of describing the legislative and governance context of each of the themes.
Then I had a close look at the priority ratings for the themes of biodiversity and catchment management.
For Biodiversity priorities, many in Landcare will be pleased that a roadside management plan rates as not too expensive and for immediate action. There’s a swag of work indicated for development of a Biodiversity Strategy (see page 24), including a connectivity plan. Personally I’m wary of Council getting caught up in detailed planning and building monitoring processes when areas of bush are being degraded now and action is needed to protect these.
A triage assessment might get the obvious priority geographic areas clear, and allow Council (with community groups) to build up planning and action focused on these areas. “Reviewing the application and effectiveness of local policy and controls for biodiversity in the Macedon Ranges Planning Scheme” will I hope be covered by the current Ministerial Review, and I can’t see how assessing Shire-owned open space adds to biodiversity conservation, except as an element in connectivity in landscapes.
“Continue to implement the Weed and Pest Animal Strategy, reviewing and updating the document as needed” led me to search for the document on the Council website, but I couldn’t find it. Weeds is an area where Council is already cooperating with Landcare groups (through funding them to work on weeds) and some joint thinking about priorities would guide each party in what we do about weeds and ferals.
For Catchment Management priorities (p 30), an assessment of which of the various strategies will contribute most to better land and water quality would be useful, including assessing the adequacy of action already underway (since many items are part of on-going operations). Then discussion with community groups about best ways to implement could be had. Until that happens, they likely will remain sceptical of the sincerity of Council intentions.
Take for example an item like “Promote and facilitate the application of existing best practice guidelines and codes of practice for different land uses.” Yes, there are guidelines to hand to people, but how will Council, other agencies and community groups work together to get adoption of these practices? Development Applications require a Farm/Land Management Plan, but how closely are these monitored and enforced? What size holdings and what types of land use are contributing most to land and water degradation, and what can we do to target these to improve land management practices? We need targeted action, where community group and Council action fits together.
So it’s all in the detail, and the detail isn’t here yet.
In Riddells Creek Landcare’s discussion with Council in preparation for this draft, we asked for collaboration in design of specific programs of action. I relation to this, we have a distinction (p 35) between communication (to raise awareness), engagement (to facilitate action) and partnership (for collaborative planning and action), with an indication of the kind of involvement that will be sought with various stakeholders.
For “Landcare and Friends Groups working on public land”, “Engagement / Partnerships” is proposed. That seems to me a step towards talking with Landcare groups when making specific plans, to tap their understanding of their local biodiversity and what will best protect it.
For “Landholders / Landcare groups working on private land”, “Communication/Engagement” is the level indicated. Hong on, surely Landcare groups, being made up of private landholders, often people experienced in good land management, are in a good position to contribute to decisions about how to improve management of private land, and warrant a level of collaboration for joint planning of at least some action within the Shire? For example, to decide the mix of actions that might best “Promote and facilitate the application of existing best practice guidelines and codes of practice for different land uses”.
There’s a short survey beside the draft Strategy. After you’ve had a look at the Strategy, I recommend you give your opinion, and if there are specific matters that are underdone or heading in what you consider the wrong direction, that you write to Sylvana Predebon SPredebon@mrsc.vic.gov.au at MRSC.