Wednesday, February 12, 2014

News on the Charles and Motee Rogers Reserve

News is hard to come by. There is no sign of the consultation with the local community, as recommended by Councillor Nancy Sommerfield.
There is, however, a new set of paint spots on the trees. They are bright fluoro pink, and mark the “compromise” path. This was apparently negotiated with the Toowoomba Regional Council’s (TRC's) conservation staff, who may feel that they have achieved the best that they realistically can, given the determination of other TRC forces to put a path through the reserve, right or wrong.
I believe that it is still not good enough.
Points that don't seem to have been properly considered are:
1. Whether any compromise that reduces the biodiversity value of an area donated and zoned as a conservation reserve is justified. There’s a perfectly good designated footpath precinct only a few metres away. The massive 3m concrete path and its associated "edge effect" * would damage the natural appeal and biodiversity value of the whole of the Reserve's frontage on Community court, to a considerable depth. The contrary argument seems to be that that building the 3m wide footpath on the footpath precinct would destroy 15 trees. Is a compromise that destroys a large slice of the reserve (except for its  big trees) any better than a compromise that would require the removal of some footpath trees? Would a compromise in the design of the footpath enable it to be built on the designated footpath precinct, damaging fewer than those 15 targeted trees?
2. It is being difficult to persuade TRC that conservation reserves are not just about saving trees. Despite having designated this reserve, on their own recent town planning scheme, as a “Conservation Area of Environmental Concern”, there seems to be little understanding by some councillors and TRC staff about their responsibilities with regard to that particular designation. By contrast, many local citizens are fully aware that conservation areas are intended to  conserve total environments - big "significant" trees, little trees, saplings, shrubs, understorey plants, grasses, sedges, herbs, mosses.... the lot! Conservation reserves are also expected to provide a complete, healthy habitat for the Reserve's full range of fauna, from mammals to insects.
3. How can citizens trust their local government, if it treats a bequest like this? This reserve was donated to the public by local citizens. They believed (as did all concerned) that the bequest would see the reserve preserved safely for future generations. How sad to see it being subjected to what Cr Bill Cahill so aptly describes as the “death of 1000 cuts”. How will this precedent be used in our other conservation reserves? Would you donate land to this council?
It should be remembered that this reserve is not owned by TRC. It is owned by the citizens of the Toowoomba Region. TRC is responsible for its appropriate management, on our behalf.

Examples of  insects appreciated by the community can be seen at 
This monkey rope vine Parsonsia straminea is the host plant for the black crow butterfly shown on the above site. It is being eliminated from the Highfields area, as land is cleared for development, but it still grows in the Charles and Motee Rogers Bushland reserve. Butterflies born and bred there are frequent visitors to local gardens, where they appreciate the flowers.
See also previous article Friday, January 17, 2014

* Edge Effect
and the Charles and Motee Rogers Bushland Reserve
Those of my readers who have some knowledge of conservation issues will be aware of the “edge effect" problem.
Edge effect degrades the quality of conserved bushland.
  • Plants near edges may not thrive and may be unable to reproduce, because of exposure to sun, wind, weed invasion, and damage to roots.
  • Fauna near edges are subject to predation because of the reduced plant cover, and become unable to find suitable food and breeding sites because of the degradation of the flora.
  • The aesthetic value of the edges is subject to degradation because of littering and vandalism. 
Severe edge effect has knock-on consequences. As the edge becomes severely degraded, so the effect moves deeper into the bushland.
Appropriate management of edge effect can be done in several ways.
One technique is to establish infill planting around edges, increasing vegetation density in this vulnerable region. In the Charles and Motee Rogers Reserve, for instance, infill planting (done when the Reserve was managed by the Crows Nest Shire Council) can be discerned around the edges.  More such planting would be appropriate.
Where increasing suburban population threatens to further degrade edges, local councils often provide fencing, limiting public access. This reduces incidental wear and tear from use by people with no interest in the reserve's particular reason for being. A single open gate allows free access to those wanting to visit the Reserve for its own sake, but eliminates use of it as a shortcut. A local example is Toowoomba Bird Habitat, where fencing and the lake protect the plantings that are used by wildlife. Many other examples of this type of fencing can be seen in Brisbane and other local government areas. TRC could show it valued the Charles and Motee Rogers Bushland Reserve by providing such fencing.
All path-making risks increasing the edge effect. The existing gravel path in the Charles and Motee Rogers Bushland Reserve is a good example of a path built according to sound conservation principles, and designed to have minimum edge effect.
The proposed 3m concrete path seems to be designed in such a way as to have the maximum possible edge effect, on both sides. The remnant of bushland to be left between the path and the road would suffer severely from edge effect intruding from both sides. It is unlikely to retain any worthwhile ecological value at all, and should be counted as a lost part of the reserve, if this plan does indeed go ahead.

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