March 2019 | Sharon Webb
TASMANIA’S THREATENED species manager will inspect Westbury Common this month before further permits are issued for grass mowing there. The Common has been slashed three times over summer after no mowing for a year. Environmentalists have voiced loud concerns about the effect on the threatened Green and Gold Frog as well as on skinks and bandicoots.
A DPIPWE spokesperson said that species mapping of the Common done before Christmas was not added to the State’s Natural Values Atlas in time for the information to be taken into account when the summer mowing permit was allocated. “All observations submitted for inclusion in the atlas go through a verification process. The accuracy of records - both in terms of location and species identification - is critical to good management outcomes,” he said.
“The permit issued to Meander Valley Council was based on the verified records contained in the atlas at the time the permit was being prepared, prior to new records for the Westbury Town Common being entered into the database and verified. “DPIPWE ensured the new records were swiftly verified and they will inform any future permitting and associated management planning.” Cllr Tanya King first brought Westbury residents’ rumbling discontent to public attention in the November 2018 council meeting when she asked what measures could be reasonably adopted to promote more harmonious use of the town common? “My question was in response to ratepayer enquiries as to why the grass on the Common had been allowed to grow so long, and to the unrest building about its use,” she said.
Cllr King, who lives in Westbury and said she supports the Common’s grass being baled for animal fodder, elaborated on the cause of Westbury residents’ “unrest” by claiming “long grass at the moment reportedly makes it dangerous for dog owners to use the common. “I am told that with the grass at the current length, the grass seed heads are proving hazardous for dogs. “The people that have contacted me are all seeking to enjoy this rare off lead environment for their well-behaved dogs, whose owners like to socialise and interact in a unique setting.” Cllr King told councillors: “There also seems to be some confusion in the community about the purpose of the Common, and I understand that there has been unnecessarily aggressive behaviour exhibited by a user of the common.”
Conservationists such as citizen scientist manager Craig Broadfield and Westbury Common supporter Di Robinson are concerned about the possibility of frogs being killed in their mating season and nocturnal bandicoots having their heads lopped by slashing equipment as they sleep in the grass. Council manager Martin Gill denied animals die by slashing.
He also indicated he believes only Ms Robinson and Mr Broadfield are the only people concerned about the effect of mowing on wildlife: “We’re really only servicing two people with this process.” While DPIPWE‘s policies on endangered species demand Meander Valley Council completes a Common management plan before DPIPWE issues further slashing permits, Cllr King believes such a plan is unwarranted.
“In my opinion the Common is no different to any other public spaced owned and managed by the council,” she said.