Feburary 2019 | Sharon Webb
MEANDER VALLEY Council has used an outdated plan to slash Westbury Common three times this summer, killing endangered frogs and other wildlife, according to Tasmanian expert Craig Broadfield. General manager Martin Gill denies any wildlife was killed, saying the council followed a Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) permit for the 2018-19 summer.
“Immediately following slashing in December and January we surveyed the town common for casualties or injured animals. There were no deaths or injuries of any fauna,” he said. A DPIPWE spokeperson said the department is aware several local residents have expressed concerns regarding the mowing/slashing. “But we have not been presented with any evidence the permitted activity has resulted in the deaths of threatened species,” she said.
According to DPIPWE, a condition of the current permit is that if the council is to get further permits, DPIPWE must approve a Westbury Common management plan to protect wildlife such as frogs, bandicoots and skinks by the end of this summer.
But Mr Broadfield, a citizen scientist who manages Frogwatch Tasmania, maintains DPIPWE allowed the council to use an outdated plan which did not take into account the most recent updates on threatened species data in DPIPWE’s Natural Values Atlas. “I inspected the common immediately after the first cut and in my opinion the cut was not carried out in accordance to the DPIPWE-approved plan,” he said.
Editor of the Frog and Tadpole Study Group of NSW, Monica Wangmann, wrote to all councillors and Mr Gill in December, seeking help to save the vulnerably listed, Green and Gold Frog which inhabits the common. She told councillors protecting the frog’s habitat needs to be a priority: “I dread to see photos again this year of more Green and Gold Frogs body parts in the cut hay.” Ms Wangmann said it is nonsensical to slash in the frogs’ breeding season: “The council is thumbing its nose at community concerns and it’s mean-spirited.”
Mr Broadfield is also concerned about the timing. “The disturbance of any threatened species’ habitat at the time of year when the species is most active (breeding season, mobility, numbers) is highly irregular and goes against all normal management protocols.” Longtime Westbury Common supporter Di Robinson, who takes school groups to the common to introduce them to wildlife habitat, said the council has slashed the common three times this summer.
“Nocturnal animals such as bandicoots sleep in the long grass during the day and the machine comes through and chops their heads off,” she said. But Martin Gill maintained that while council employees do not walk ahead of the slasher to rowse animals out of the long grass, “the pattern of mowing is done in such a way as to work toward the protected areas and use the vibrations from the machinery to rouse the animals.” Mr Gill said the council determined which areas of the common were to be protected by reviewing DPIPWE’s Natural Values Atlas and had worked with the local Landcare Group, constituting Ms Robinson and council’s natural resource management officer, Stuart Brownlea.
“We have been working with the same plan for four years and make slight adjustments each year if there are changes to conditions on the ground,” he said. Mr Gill denied knowledge of slashing areas planted with skink tussock, habitat planted with funding from NRM North. “We were slashing areas identified in our permit. To the best of my knowledge this did not include areas where habitat had been planted,” he said.
Ms Robinson, who has organised Green Army, Youth Futures and Conservation Volunteers groups to thistle-weed sections of the Westbury Common, firmly maintains council has slashed habitat. “I’ve put 10 years into this area; someone needs to be a voice for the wildlife,” she said.