A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 42, March 2000
The Importance of Biodiverisity Conservation
Biodiversity conservation is a very important issue for rural planning. As I discussed in the September 1999 issue, Rural land includes areas of native vegetation, which acts as habitat for plants animals, invertebrates and microorganisms.
What is biodiversity?
Biodiversity, as defined by the NSW Biodiversity Strategy, is:
"The variety of life forms, the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems they form. It is usually considered at three levels: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity "(p4)
It is not intended to discuss each of these levels in detail. Whilst all are important for planning, it is the last one - ecosystem diversity - that has most relevance to planning. Ecosystem diversity is defined by the strategy as:
" the variety of habitats, biotic communities and ecological processes. An ecosystem consists of plant, animal, fungal and micro-organism communities and the associated non-living environment interacting as an ecological unit." (p4)
It is this mixture of things that makes the environment, which we as planners work within and for. As planners, the advice we give and recommendations we make can have a large impact on the conservation of these ecosystems. Biodiversity is vital in supporting human life on Earth. It provides many benefits, including all our food, many medicines and industrial products and supplies clean air and water, and fertile soils. Over the past 200 years, however, the Australian environment has been modified dramatically. Australia is one of the biologically richest countries in the world and many industries such as tourism, agriculture, forestry and fisheries depend directly upon biodiversity. Therefore its conservation is very important - socailly, economically and environmentally.
Biodiversity conservation is one of the key principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD). Like all things in planning, you have to consider all aspects of an issue and not only one part. It is therefore necessary to consider the other parts of ESD when talking about biodiversity conservation.
As planners, we should consider biodiversity conservation and the other principles of ESD, as a general matter with the recommendations we make. This is particularly so for those rural areas which have a large amount of remnant native vegetation which is habitat for a number of species which are already threatened. It is the development pressures that are partly responsible for the need to list them as threatened.
The NSW Biodiversity Strategy details actions to conserve the biodiversity of NSW. The focus is on:
So what can we as planners do to conserve biodiversity? The first thing to do is to read the State Biodiversity Strategy, which has great relevance for local government planners in particular.
From the strategic planning point of view, we can carry out detailed studies of the vegetation in the area and then use this to prepare appropriate zonings to ensue that land use in that area is managed appropriately. Shellharbour Council is in the process of doing such an exercise and has carried out mapping of its rural land to identify the conservation priorities and to then propose zones for nature conservation and other issues such as habitat corridors buffer areas and enhancement areas. This is due to be exhibited in the near future as a draft LEP and DCP. Cessnock have developed an LEP for the vineyard area of Pokolbin that identifies habitat corridors and incentives to enhance them. Other things that can be done is encouraging people to enter into voluntary conservation agreements or to provide rate rebates for enhancing corridors or by providing density bonuses as is being done in Cessnock's wine district.
The development or statutory planners can take more notice of the impact development can have on the native wildlife corridors and can suggest that applicants actually take steps to enhance these. They can also look at the design of the buildings and for things like swimming pools, for example, can require low netting to keep koalas and possums from falling in an drowning (as is being done at Pittwater Council). This may seem trivial or small but it is the little things like this that can help to implement the plans.
So biodiversity conservation is an issue that is very important to planners and there are a number of things that we can do to improve the biodiversity of our areas. As planners, I don't think we have considered the issue in sufficient detail in the past and we must do so in the future to ensure that the appropriate balance is achieved. If we don't actively look for opportunities, we may lose one of the things that draws people to rural areas - the vast amounts of native bushland (the scenic as well as the prickly scrub) which acts as a biodiversity reserve for the future.
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