Catchment Management in an urban area - case studies of watercourse rehabilitation

Alfred Bernhard
Bushland Manager

Willoughby City Council, Sydney Australia

Clean water is the basis of life. The contrast between water quality in the Sydney area two hundred years ago and today is extreme. Urban development along the ridges has created major degradation of waterways in downstream areas.  Urban runoff, as distinct from sewage pollution, contains the oil, rubber and heavy metals from roads as well as the detergents, fertilizers and rubbish which is washed into our creeks and harbour by the rain.  In this way urban and natural areas are directly linked. These impacts need to be minimized and managed.  It is vital to treat the problem at the source rather than at the endpoint.

Education programs, which increase community awareness of how and why the problem is created and how it can be improved, have been jointly funded by State and Local Government and facilitated by programs such as ‘The Stormwater Trust’.

Approximately A$20 million has been spent each year for the past 4 years to implement projects identified in regional Stormwater Management Plans.  These plans have sought to bring local Councils together in Catchment groupings, such as Middle Harbour, an area of approximately 100km2. Components of the plans aim to improve water quality through both structural and non-structural means.

Water quality monitoring can assist in evaluating this work.  Monitoring creeks using biological indicators has been carried out using a survey of macro invertebrates, which has allowed a ‘snapshot’ of the overall health of the waterways.  The larger the range, especially of sensitive species, the better the water quality.

Physical improvements to watercourses in Middle Harbour have included the restoration of concrete channels or eroding creek embankments.  Stabilisation using sandstone, and revegetation using locally indigenous species, have helped to restore natural stream flow patterns and conditions. The improvement of habitat has resulted in the return of some wildlife to these areas.

On a smaller scale this concept has been applied to treat piped stormwater outlets to bushland areas. Similar work has been carried out on some coastal watercourses and lagoons, where the concentration of pollutants in some cases has been very serious. As an example we could cite the chemicals from a Golf Course that recently killed thousands of fish in Manly Lagoon. Siltation and lack of ocean flushing has also caused major changes to lagoon quality.

Education of the community is a prerequisite for any improvement. Drain stenciling and school programs are slowly increasing awareness of the impact of stormwater problems.

Organisations such as the Sydney Coastal Councils Group, the Sydney Harbour Catchment Management Board and volunteer focused groups such as Coastcare are working with local government to increase direct community involvement with practical projects.

Cleaner water in all our creeks and lagoons is the only acceptable outcome.

The Role of Local Government in ecosystem restoration

Alfred Bernhard
Bushland Manager

Willoughby City Council, Sydney Australia

The evolution of ecosystems has taken millions of years.

As part of Gondwana, the ancient southern continent, the sandstone of the Sydney basin was deposited over 200 million years ago. The flora had adapted to the unique conditions while still revealing its ancestry. The nutrient poor sandstone soils have resulted in unique adaptions and numerous ecological communities.

The Araucaria is one link that reveals Brazil and Australia’s ancient connection.

The divisions and boundaries created by States and Local Government are unrelated to ecosystems. Plants and animals can’t see them but are affected by them. There are over 40 Councils in the Sydney Harbour area. Most of the original vegetation has been cleared, except for the steeper gullies and harbour foreshore areas.

It is the role of Local Government to protect and enhance what remains, often in conjunction with State and Federal agencies.

In the Willoughby Council area key problems for natural ecosystems are the result of urbanization, such as clearing native vegetation, fragmentation of natural areas, weed invasion, sewer overflows, stormwater impacts, loss of fauna habitat, feral animals, inappropriate fire regimes and domestic animals.

The Local Government Act requires the involvement of the community in the preparation of Plans of Management to address these and related issues.  They provide the detailed framework for on site works.  Many Councils now have an ‘Environment Officer’ and a ‘Bushcare Volunteer Coordinator’ to facilitate improved ecosystem restoration.

The support and participation of the community is essential and close links to schools and community organisations allow for more proactive environmental education programs.  Nevertheless most Councils still have to take a big step in order to achieve an appropriate balance between environmental and infrastructure spending.

Regional co-operation between Councils on projects such as the ‘Green Web’ will improve the network of Green corridors within Sydney, while State and Federal funding on projects such as ‘Greenspace’ and the Natural Heritage Trust have extended the scope of ecosystem restoration work undertaken by Local Government.

Labour programs such as the ‘Green Corps’ have provided training and initial employment to young volunteers wishing to work in environmental projects.

At Willoughby Council the community has supported an environmental levy, in addition to the usual Council rates, in order to carry our restoration of watercourses, community education, weed control and restoration of endangered ecosystems.  There is however still a long way to go!

Sydney’s sense of place and its special environmental characteristics deserve protection.  Ultimately, decisions by all its citizens, about lifestyle, energy use and recycling as well as global environmental awareness will determine whether that is possible.

Visitor Management

Emma Hayes
Bachelor of Business in Tourism

Willoughby City Council, Sydney Australia

Studies of tourism trends for both the domestic and international visitor show an "increased desire for experiences that are authentic and incorporate learning, rather than contrived entertainment" (Commonwealth Department of Tourism, 1994 p.9.).

The word 'authentic' refers to the natural or cultural environment of an area.  Beautiful or distinctive natural environments are attractive to tourists and the general public for their distinctiveness. Natural areas can fulfill a visitor’s sense of discovery, need for escapism, and desire to experience 'nature'. These areas can also instill a sense of patriotic pride in the domestic and local visitor.

Protecting natural areas from visitor impacts is essential for the survival of ecosystems and the economic and social benefits derived from a tourism industry. Ecotourism has been defined as "nature-based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable." (Commonwealth Department of Tourism, 1994 p.3.)

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01 Fragile natural areas are often not suited to the trampling effects of visitor’s, often creating irreversible damage to the environment.

Managing the natural areas most at threat from visitors can be costly and complicated, however the loss of natural resources is a far greater price to pay. A realistic ecotourism strategy is vital to restrain an industry that can easily damage the resources on which it depends.

Consultation and input from all levels of government, environmental associations, the retail and tourist industry, community and education groups, recreational users and tourists is required.  The principal aim of the discussion being - to protect ecosystems while providing access to a range of activities or sites where visitors can interact with the natural environment and be satisfied by what nature has to offer.

Consultation from within the local community can help create designs, ideas and activities that are original and distinct from those found in other regions or the rest of the world. Including protective structure design i.e. tracks and viewing platforms, managed recreational and educational activities that fit specifically into the natural area and enhance the experience for the visitor. Retaining authenticity, distinction and a 'sense of place' for locals and visitors alike.

Reference:  National Ecotourism Strategy published by the Australian Commonwealth of Tourism 1994.

Environment and Art

Jacqueline Lawes
Artscape - Artspace - Artplace Precis

This illustrated talk highlights the innate value of the beauty of the Australian bush (landscape) and the ability of artists to encapsulate this. I believe their interpretation grows from a passionate link to a particular place. This is the case across all cultures.

The art of the Aboriginal people of Australia is one of the longest continuous traditions of art in the world dating back at least fifty millennia. Art is central to Aboriginal life and expresses individual and group identity and the relationships between people and the land. Art activates the powers of the ancestral beings.

For example the 'Wandjina' - a group of ancestral beings who come out of the sky and sea. They bring rains, control the elements and maintain the fertility of the land and natural species. They are extremely important and are portrayed with such beauty. They continue to be a source of inspiration today.

When the Europeans came to Australia they imposed their European painting styles on the Australian landscape as they came to terms with its difference. Official artists recorded historical events and botanical discoveries. Over time more sympathetic and essentially Australian styles evolved resulting in portrayals of the Australian Landscape as places of beauty and diversity. The link again was made between man and his environment.

The Heidelberg school of impressionists painters - Streeton, Roberts and McCubbin gained inspiration and provided wonderful depictions of many landscapes - they camped all over the country enjoying the bush and its diversity and we enjoy the fruits of their creativity. The vision of artists such as Fred Williams' has greatly altered has altered the way in which we see the country around us.

Artists have also been frontrunners in the environmental protection movement. Hans Heysen became an ardent defender of the eucalyptus tree. He was also a very talented painter and illustrated to all the innate beauty of these glorious trees in a way that only artistic reproduction can. In 1930s Albert Namatjira, Australia's first popularly known Aboriginal painter began painting with European materials and styles. His work historically served as a translation between styles of the two different cultures and was seen as evidence that supported the assimilation policy of the time. Because of this respect for his work was diminished in artistic circles. Posthumously, however, it is now recognised that his subjects were not inspired by the European aesthetic but by the expression of his personal relationship to his spiritual country.

This essential and dynamic connection with the land for Aboriginal people continues and is portrayed by modern aboriginal artists in a great diversity of styles. Modern artists of both cultures continue this distillation of the sense of place made possible by the sheer existence of the beauty and diversity of our environment. Not only is there such diversity of landscape in Australia to inspire artists but also a great diversity of artistic styles which can illustrate the innate significance of this landscape and reinforce society's awareness of the need to protect it.

Rehabilitating Sub-tropical Rainforest

Jenny Ford
Bushland Regenerator

A sub-tropical rainforest area in Northern New South Wales known as the Big Scrub originally covered 75 000 hectares. It has now been reduced to less than 1% of primary rainforest due to clearing, logging, agriculture, mining, housing and recreational activities. The remaining areas are degraded due to the loss of structure, microclimate, changes in hydrology, isolation and weed invasion.

Weeds are amongst the biggest threats to the long-term survival of sub-tropical rainforest remnants and plantings. They suppress the natural processes of succession, flowering, fruiting and the diversity of food sources and habitat required by fauna.

Before work commences on a site, it is recommended that a detailed site assessment be undertaken, thus giving a clearer understanding of all the issues faced. Aspects to look at in this initial process include the health of native vegetation (eg. the structure, strata’s, gaps in the canopy, species over/under represented); Weed species present (eg. their distribution, habit, reproductive cycles, how they are affecting the ecosystem); Other impacts (eg. drying winds, adjoining land use, access, erosion, feral animals).

Once these points are well understood then a Plan Of Management can be written and adopted. This type of document should include a map showing a variety of features, the aim and objectives of the restoration project, the methodology required, priorities and species lists. It allows workers to move in the same direction, can be used as a reference and may assist with acquiring funding.

The control of exotic species is often an essential component of an effective programme. A philosophy known as the Integrated Approach has proven to be the most successful for the rehabilitation of rainforest remnants in the north of N.S.W. It simply means taking the whole system into account – weeds and all! Weeds may be providing valuable microclimate, habitat, and food sources for fauna.

‘Target weeding’ one particular species may create an environment susceptible to the invasion of other exotics, sometimes more detrimental to the local system than those you are attempting to control.

The varieties of problems often require a variety of solutions involving herbicide and non-herbicide techniques. Apart from weed control, it may also involve erosion control, limiting access to an area through fencing and signage, formulating pathways or the planting of local species.

Whatever the methods chosen, it is important to work in zones always consolidating on previous works, rehabilitating the understorey before controlling larger woody weeds in the canopy, maintaining a closed edge, and never creating an area too large to maintain. It is also essential to re-visit previously worked areas to conduct follow up weeding as well as continuing to observe the results of your work.

By documenting all works on a day-to-day basis and referring to the plan of management, we ensure that the best work is carried out and that we continue to learn about the regenerating process.

The Care Movement

Louise Brodie

Care for the environment is carried out at a number of levels in Australia. The last 15 to 20 years has seen a growth in community involvement in caring for land, water and vegetation. This involvement has developed from two directions.

There has been a grass roots movement in the community to become involved in caring for land and vegetation and the formation of groups to carry out land restoration work.

The second "top down" approach has resulted in government agencies supporting groups with both funding for materials, and for staff to assist in coordinating these groups and provide expertise. This has largely developed with the recognition of professionals working in the field, that repair and sustainability of the environment will only be successful if the community is involved.

A major popular movement is the Landcare movement. This is Australia wide with groups working in both urban and rural areas on both public and private land. The movement commenced when official support of local groups was undertaken by the Government of the state of Victoria, in 1986. In 1990 this spread over all Australia, when an alliance between a conservation group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and the National Farmers Federation lead to the federal government declaring the Decade of Landcare and providing funding to support groups. These groups work at repairing degraded land, restoring and conserving native vegetation and watercourses. They are supported with funding for materials and the provision of co-coordinators who provide assistance and access to expertise. There are now more than 4,500 landcare groups across Australia. About one in every three farmers is a member of a landcare group.

A subset of this in NSW is Coastcare. This evolved from Dunecare which began when the state agency responsible for the erosion of coastal systems facilitated the formation of groups to work in these areas.

In urban areas, especially Sydney and surrounds, Bushcare is another program. Once again this movement commenced when professional recognised the need for neighbours of bushland areas to become involved in keeping those areas healthy. In the main these are neighbourhood bushland parks, which are managed by local councils. Local government funds the support of these groups. In the Sydney region, there are over 4,000 volunteers in Bushcare groups. There are also programs for individual landholders who wish to conserve native vegetation and wildlife.

A subset of this in NSW is Coastcare. This evolved from Dunecare which began when the state agency responsible for the erosion of coastal systems facilitated the formation of groups to work in these areas.

In urban areas, especially Sydney and surrounds, Bushcare is another program. Once again this movement commenced when professional recognised the need for neighbours of bushland areas to become involved in keeping those areas healthy. In the main these are neighbourhood bushland parks, which are managed by local councils. Local government funds the support of these groups. In the Sydney region, there are over 4,000 volunteers in Bushcare groups.

There are also programs for individual landholders who wish to conserve native vegetation and wildlife.

The role of integrated coastal management and public policies in the sustainable development

Marinez Scherer Widmer
Coastal Management – Instituto Ambiental Ratones

To cope with problems of increasing human pressure in coastal zones and potential ecological impacts on coastal ecosystems, better coastal zone management is required. Many countries and groups of countries have been developing and implementing coastal zone management initiatives for the last decade. Sustainable development, with the participation of different stakeholders in the decision making process, is the main objective of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). Because ICZM is acclaimed as one of the best initiatives to minimize human impacts in the coastal area, one would expect it to have a strong ecological and biological basis.

However, after analyzing Brazilian ICZM initiatives, such as its national Coastal Management Program (GERCO), it becomes clear that they lack strong ecological and biological guidance. This tendency was also observed in other Brazilian bills, plans, projects and programs regarding the coastal zone. This pattern is not exclusive to Brazil. The lack of detailed ecosystems description, an almost complete lack of carrying capacity definition in relation to human activities and poor determination of ecological, biological and environmental indicators for monitoring purposes, are evident at all levels of managerial initiatives, from international to local government.

For ICZM to be effective and to move towards sustainable development, it is necessary to increase our understanding about the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the coastal zone. To achieve that, more basic research should be supported. An increased use of this knowledge by Brazilian coastal managers, in conjunction with extensive public participation, should also occur.

Environmental Education for Children

Nadia Lalak
Environment educator - Willoughby City Council, Sydney Australia

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01 Willoughby Council has a dynamic and expanding Schools’ Environmental Awareness and Bushland Education Program, which is coordinated from Council, but implemented in the schools and local community.

The aim of the Program is to raise environmental awareness of urban bushland and catchment issues utilising local resources. This provides the students with opportunities for direct experience with the natural world whilst forging links between schools and their local bushland reserves and waterways. The Program supports the longer-term objective of involving community in the management of our bushland reserves.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01The Program is in line with a recent Department of Education –Environment Education Policy for Schools – which aims to instil in children awareness and the capability to contribute to the care of both the local and global environment. This policy states that environmental education has a spiritual focus, inspiring an emotional and sensitised response from people, not only in their appreciation of the wonders of the natural world, but making them feel at one with the environment.

Hands-on experience is the key in environmental education.

he majority of activities are field trips in the form of bushwalks to local reserves – ranging from 2 hours to a whole day. Topics may be linked to specific units of work in the curriculum syllabus or lend themselves to cross-curriculum application. A sense of fun is incorporated so that children have an enjoyable experience which assists in an emotional/positive connection with nature. A worksheet and suggested follow-up activities are organised to consolidate awareness and learning.

Other diverse activities in reserves or at school are:

  • Propagation workshops (locally collected native seed)
  • Concept plans of school grounds
  • Indigenous plantings within school playgrounds
  • Spray-stencilling stormwater drain pits in CBD with

Environmental messages

  • Environmental street theatre
  • Interactive displays using WCC Bushcare Trailer at schools
  • Rudimentary water testing in local creeks / Bug Survey
  • Clean-up pollution in creeks
  • Environmental competitions (eg Weed Busters)
  • Display children’s Environmental artwork in Library, Shopping areas, Council Reserves
  • Assistance with Environmental Grant Applications
  • School Staff Bushwalks

What we are trying to do is familiarise children with their local natural environment, so they will be at ease within their natural world and have a sense of connection to it.

What happens when children get out into the natural environment?

They are excited ... ready to marvel... to experience awe... full of wonder and delight...

With children the appearance of wildlife invariably inspires such  responses.  A lizard just there  in the bushes...

a frog,  so still,  so camouflaged...

a tawny frog-mouthed owl silhouetted on the branch of a gum tree...

a ring-tail possum dozing in a tree with tail curling through the nest...

a spider delicately weaving its web...

and is that fairy dust sprinkled on the leaf litter…..perhaps there is a bush fairy nearby...

All of these have an impact...

And once there is a sense of connection, there is more than a momentary link the beginnings of a lasting relationship – with this particular place and with nature in general.

In the course of children’s education it is important to provide repeated opportunities for nature to work its magic.

Development of an Ecological Restoration Educational Program

Rowan Hayes
Consultant Landscape Planner

This presentation is about the process that led to development of formal education programs in ecological restoration. In Australia we called these ‘Bushland Regeneration’ programs.

The beginning of the restoration movement in Australia started in the 1970s when a group of volunteering women working on small, almost domestic scale recovery projects, established a series of important ecological principles suited to the Sydney environment. The main problems they faced were urban run-off and rampant exotic weed invasion.

By the 1980s, the volunteers had been joined by a workers union movement and enlightened professional environmentalists. This led to a demand for formal technical education to train workers who could continue with the pioneering work of the volunteers.

Beginning at the School of Horticulure in Sydney, it was necessary to develop a new range of study through a syllabus that was more holistic than the traditional courses in urban horticulture and ‘gardening’ skills. Advisory committees counseled educators to develop a specific course in ecological restoration.

This course has been highly successful and strongly supported. In the past 2 decades, participation in educational programs has grown from a few enthusiastic volunteers to more than 500 per year. One Technical College in Sydney has 200 enrolled students this year.

Today education and on-ground action work together to promote behavioural change, raised awareness and mainstream employment for trained technicians and operators. Technical education has contributed to a growing change in community attitudes and a new, Australian-wide, environmental restoration industry is now well established.


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