On today's walk through Yarra Bend Park (Managed by Parks Victoria) I got hot under the collar. Once again Parks Vic is busy cutting down indigenous trees in picnic areas because they might drop a branch on unwary picnickers. Couldn't possibly direct people away from sitting under such trees... At a number of places managers do this by creating a mulched bed under such trees instead of providing inviting mowed grass. But it can also be done by fencing. And... wait a minute... why do people come to the picnic areas? Isn't it to be in nature?
They were also cutting trees in the wider park. One I saw seemed to have been a Red Gum, 11 metres from the nearest path, otherwise in the middle of nowhere. Nearby Elms, full of rot holes, above the car park servicing another picnic area were untouched. And to add to my indignation, they were dumping the cut branches and trunk segments in the nearest bit of bush. Not carefully arranging them to make habitat, just piling them on the edge. Right on top, in come cases, of planted Bursarias.
This led me to a long conversation with a Parks Vic staffer who, when I asked how much budget Parks Vic had provided for Yarra Bend Park to do ecological work told me they received zero. ZERO!
And that, I was told, was because Parks Vic had identified Yarra Bend as an urban park with little ecological value, but whose priority was to be clean and safe. This is despite the park having a number of significant biodiversity values including some sites of State biodiversity significance, and 13 threatened species.
But actually the problem goes way deeper than this. For years now most PV money goes to office workers. And a few times when an attempt has been made to rebalance this through restructures, the problem has just been made worse as it becomes an opportunity for climbing the ladder. I have observed gross wastage of money in planning parks that keeps staff busy, but in the end achieves nothing on the ground. Field staff, while willing, may have no budget to do anything ecological with. And not just ecological budgets either.
I recall being told by one Parks Vic staffer some time ago that because they didn't have the budget for signage, they were going to dig up signs from one part of the park and move them to where the Minister was visiting a few days later.
And recently an inordinate amount of money has been spent on new branding, including new uniform designs for staff, new signage etc. Very important stuff keeping the image up... But this does nothing to preserve the biodiversity assets.
Coming back to Yarra Bend Park, the tree removal, and all weeding and planting days at least this year are to be funded by grants received from Melbourne Water (and possibly other sources). This is mind boggling negligence by the Victorian Government, as the Park has a number of severe weed problems which are clearly damaging its environmental values, and this work should be funded directly by Parks Victoria.
Looking at the Statement of Obligations to Parks Victoria in 2018 by the responsible Minister (Lily D'Ambrosio) it's not surprising that biodiversity comes so low. Biodiversity isn't mentioned in the Purpose, Objects, Overall Goal or Guiding Principles of the Statement. In fact the word biodiversity appears only once, in section 8 where it is noted that "Parks Victoria must contribute to the development and/or implementation of government policies and priorities, including but not limited to the following: (a) Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037 (2017)", which is piss-weak. The words "flora" and "fauna" don't appear at all.
I worked at the Park in the late 1980's leading one of the first teams to carry out ecological restoration work there. I'm fairly familiar with the park, and upset that since Parks Vic took over from the Yarra Bend Park Trust, the ecological value of the park has been downgraded and indeed degraded.
I was so fired up I wrote to the relevant Minister, Lily D'Ambrosio pointing out:
- that the recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) provides overwhelming evidence that the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.
- that as a result we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.
And I submitted to her that her next instructions to Parks Victoria should prioritize biodiversity conservation and enhancement by explicitly including it in the Overall Goal and Guiding Principles. I cc'd the letter to the Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, David Morris.
I will update this article and attach the Minister's reply to my letter when I receive it.