Monthly Archives: April 2017

Spot the platypus

Autumn is a great time to set up a blanket by the Yarra at dawn or dusk with a thermos of tea and gaze out at the water and now we have found the best excuse ever to do just that — Melbourne Water is calling on citizen scientists to help spot the elusive platypus.

With the sustained drought over the first ten years of this century, platypus were struggling, however researchers are hopeful that the monotreme’s population is on the rise again.

Jean-Michel Benier from Melbourne Water told the Diary that the Yarra tends to be a refuge to platypus in times of environmental stress — such as drought, flood or bushfire.

“When conditions are good we see more platypus in tributaries, such as the Diamond Creek, Mullum Mullum, and even one recently sighted in Darebin Creek for the first time in 10 years,” he said.

Research partner and wildlife ecologist Josh Griffiths from Cesar Australia said that the Yarra is immensely important for platypus populations.

“Mullum Mullum creek is actually one of the creeks that didn’t show a decline during the drought, even though it is quite a small creek because it is still connected to the Yarra and there is a relatively healthy population in the Yarra — we think the animals keep coming in and out.

“That deeper water of the Yarra provided a bit of a buffer against the drought, so when a lot of these creeks dried up the animals moved into the Yarra and as the water comes back, they move back into those little creeks — so you know the Yarra river is incredibly important for these animals”, said Mr Griggiths.

The research team are pleased that platypus numbers — since the end of the drought — are beginning to increase due to increased water availability and the continuing work of cleaning up the environment.

“There is more water around which means better conditions generally and there has also been a number of habitat improvement works happening, Melbourne Water, and other community groups, do things like weed removal and revegetation, remove litter out of creeks, stabilise banks — create better habitat for them to live in,” said Mr Griffiths.

Melbourne Water have partnered with Cesar to study the health of platypus populations and they need your help.

They have released a website and a smartphone app to collect data on wild populations in the Yarra River and across the rest of the country.

“We would love for people to contribute their observations of platypus to our PlatypusSPOT program,” said Mr Bernier.

The PlatypusSPOT website and smartphone app allows users to upload photos and descriptions of platypus seen in the wild.

“These observations help us to monitor the location and abundance of platypus across Melbourne,” he said.

 How to spot a platypus.

Josh Griffiths says spotting platypus in the river can be very difficult.

“Even for myself, who has seen hundreds of them, they can be difficult to see, because they live in the water and they have a very low profile in the water — they don’t stick up like a duck,” he said.

Platypus are most often active at night, so platypus are best spotted at dawn and dusk.

“Look out for some ripples in the water to suggest there is something there, then there is the fur and the low profile to distinguish it from a duck — the thing they get confused with quite a bit is our native water rat (rakali) and they can look very similar in the water — so look for the distinctive bill of the platypus or the nice rounded tail, Mr Griffith said.

Jean-Michel Benier suggests the main ingredients for spotting platypus: “Patience and luck!”.

“It is best to sit in one place for about 20 minutes and observe any bubbles and ripples on the surface of the water — Platypus will generally dive for around 30 seconds then float at the surface to consume their food for around 10 seconds,” he said.

The PlatypusSPOT app contains more tips and photographs that can also help distinguish between a platypus and rakali.

 How to help the platypus

“Platypus need deep water, so the less water that we use the more that can go back into the environment, even though the drought is finished it is really important that people are still really water conscious,” said Mr Griffiths

At an individual level there are several ways to help the platypus.

“Platypus often get tangled in litter, fishing lines, or anything that forms an enclosed loop like a rubber band.

“Keep an eye on dogs around the waterway — at this time of the year when there are juvenile platypus starting to come out of the burrows, they are a bit naïve, they get taken by dogs and foxes,” he said.

Of major concern are opera house nets, which are used to catch yabbies and crayfish:

“Unfortunately they are illegal in public waters but they are still used very regularly, I think a lot of people aren’t aware that they pose a risk to platypus and water rats and to turtles that go in those nets and drown very quickly.

“The nets get thrown into the water and they are fully submerged and a platypus can only hold its breath for a couple of minutes, they go in there chasing the yabbies that go in there, so [the traps] basically become a baited trap for platypus – they are still very widely available and I think a lot of people just aren’t aware of the dangers they pose,” he said.

 Using technology to track platypus.

As well as using traditional methods, or citizen science projects like PlatypusSPOT, researchers are using increasingly hi-tech, non-invasive, methods to monitor platypus populations.

“We are now also using a new technique called environmental DNA (eDNA), which allows us to take a sample of water from a location and search for DNA markers that are unique to platypus — using this method, we can tell if platypus have been in the water at a given location,” said Mr Benier.

“We can go out and take a water sample and actually look for genetic traces in the water and identify platypus as well as other species in the water – it’s a lot more efficient than going out doing trapping all night and they are quite sensitive and cost effective, so that is providing another avenue where we can monitor the populations”, added Mr Griffiths.

The PlatypusSpot App is available from the Apples Store or Google Play

Pigeon Bank planning pain 

A storm is brewing in North Warrandyte after Nillumbik council granted planning approval for a residential building at 2 Pigeon Bank Road.

At a meeting of the Future Nillumbik committee on March 14, five out of seven councillors voted to approve the plans, going against the recommendation of the council planning department.

The land in question is a pristine, steep riverine bush-block in an extremely environmentally sensitive area.

Architect Phillip Mannerheim purchased the block in 2014 and has plans to build an eco-friendly sustainable home on it for his retirement.

The property is one of eight blocks in a low density or bush land residential street that is well serviced with existing infrastructure, including sealed road with reticulated water, power and sewerage.

There was just one objector, a neighbour, who was not objecting to the development but wanted better separation and screening from his property.

There are multiple parties both for and against this development.

Warrandyte Community Association

The Warrandyte Community Association distributed a flyer entitled Thin end of the green wedge at the Warrandyte Festival, which states:

  • The land is unique in having four distinct native plant communities supporting diverse wildlife populations.
  • The planning sets a disastrous precedent which could see the end of the “Green Wedge” as we know it.
  • The decision, against the recommendation of experienced Nillumbik Planning Officers to reject the planning application, will see the destruction of at least 746 trees to build a house and out-buildings on a ridge, creating a visual eyesore and threatening the nearby Koornong State Park bushland.
  • At 5.3 hectares, the block is smaller than the eight hectare minimum subdivision required under Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ) Schedule 3.
  • Clause 35.06 of Nillumbik’s own planning scheme requires use of land to protect and enhance the environmental and landscape value of the land — This proposal does the opposite.
  • Rural Conservation Zoning seeks to ensure that “the existing character, landscape quality, view-lines and other natural environmental characteristics of the area are protected and enhanced in an equitable and sustainable manner”.
  • The proposal also contravenes other clauses and overlays in the Nillumbik planning scheme.
  • The “Stranded Asset” argument, that a landowner has a reasonable right to build on such a site has no validity as RCZ zoning was introduced as early as 1973 and any land purchaser should conduct due diligence on any property before purchase.
  • The nearby Koornong land was purchased by the State in 1979 after an intensive campaign by the Warrandyte Environment League, supported by the Warrandyte Diary, to save it from destruction by inappropriate housing development.
  • Council has apparently identified about 700 similar undersized blocks which could be opened-up for development in Nillumbik.
  • This would destroy the Green Wedge and Nillumbik as “The Green Wedge Shire”.

Council planning department

The planning officers’ recommendation to councillors to refuse a permit is on the grounds that the proposal:

  • To use the land for a dwelling on a substandard sized lot is not consistent with the intended purpose and decision guidelines of the RCZ.
  • Does not seek to use the land to protect and enhance the environmental and landscape value of the site.
  • Is not consistent with clauses concerning green wedges, vision strategic framework, settlement and housing and rural land use.
  • Does not respond to the decision guidelines of the RCZ, and siting and design policy, for buildings and works in non-urban areas, due to the level of site disturbance required for the construction of the dwelling, and the associated conservation and environmental impacts.
  • Has not adequately responded to the objectives and decision guidelines of the bushfire management overlay and wildfire management policy as the development of the land; a dwelling will pose a threat to life and property, is inappropriately sited, requires an impractical level of maintenance — in light of the site’s topographical features — and is deemed unsafe.
  • Is not responsive to the objectives and decision guidelines concerning native vegetation in that the proposal has not adequately considered the role of native vegetation as both habitat, and playing a crucial role in minimising land degradation.
  • Has not adequately responded to the objectives and decision guidelines of the environmental significance overlay in terms of the potential to detrimentally impact on the environmental values of the land due to the proposed vegetation removal.
  • Will not result in an acceptable planning outcome as outlined in the decision guidelines having regard to the orderly planning of the area, the degree of fire hazard for the proposed development, the extent of vegetation proposed to be removed, and the potential land degradation and erosion.

Jane Ashton – Sugarloaf ward councillor

Jane Ashton was one of five councillors who supported the development. She spoke at length to the Diary, and these are her main points.

  • The decision was not made lightly; I did a considerable amount of research beforehand with regard to the design, the CFA reports and the environmental studies performed.
  • The block has a house number and kerbing for the driveway.
  • The Department of Environment and Land did not object and said the development “is not expected to have a significant impact on any rare or threatened species”.
  • The applicant commissioned 5 ecological surveys, has agreed to 4.5 ha becoming Bushland Conservation Zone and is providing $80,000 of offsets.
  • The applicant is an experienced architect.
  • He has designed an eco-friendly carbon-neutral home with a 10-star energy rating
  • The home has solar panels, a 500,000 litre water tank for bushfire survival and is recessed into the ground to minimise any visual impact and reduce the footprint substantially.
  • The application meets all bushfire risk management requirements and the design displays excellence in satisfying CFA requirements.
  • The block is very heavily treed having over 5,000 trees, many of which are small.
  • The 750 trees mentioned are mainly saplings and very immature trees with a girth less than 50cm, there are very few mature trees and no “significant” trees.
  • The number of mature trees impacted is likely to be less than 100 in total and, as with the other houses in the street, removal is necessary to provide a defendable space around the property.
  • The applicant has committed to connect to the sewer at considerable distance and expense, even though this is not a requirement.
  • The eight-hectare minimum lot size mentioned by critics is for subdivision planning only and is not relevant to this application as the area has already been subdivided.
  • Under RCZ Schedule 3, dwellings are not prohibited, the land is in private ownership and is not reserved for conservation purposes.
  • I firmly believe that we do not own the land, the land owns us; we are the guardians.
  • Friends of Nillumbik should embrace the applicant with open arms and help him tidy up the understory and remove the 17% of introduced species from his block.
  • I am of the opinion that the applicant will be an impeccable guardian of this precious land.

Friends of Nillumbik

This group’s latest bulletin states:

  • The permit approval undermines Green Wedge values and our Planning Scheme
  • The 5.3 hectares contains habitat of high conservation significance, almost a hectare of vegetation will be cleared including the loss of 746 trees.
  • A ridge top will be extensively cleared for the house so landscape values will be seriously degraded.
  • It is intended to use the land for rural residential purposes, a use at odds with its rural conservation zoning.
  • Councillor’s Brooker and Dumaresq opposed issuing the permit urging respect for our planning scheme.
  • This irresponsible council decision shows that the purpose of Nillumbik’s Green Wedge has been purposely questioned by councillors.

They have recently added the following comments:

  • Nillumbik was created to be “the conservation shire with the Green Wedge as its strategic focus”.
  • The bulk of Nillumbik’s Green Wedge was given protection under the Rural Conservation Zone (Schedule 3) of the Planning Scheme and the later placement of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) reinforced this demarcation separating planned residential land from rural land.
  • The government’s intention to protect our Green Wedge was given further emphasis when it required any rezoning proposal affecting Green Wedge land to be passed by both houses of the Victorian Parliament.
  • This permit application has brought into sharp focus the application of Nillumbik’s Scheme.
  • The north side of Pigeon Bank Road is outside the UGB, is zoned Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ3) and there is no mention of residential use in the zone purpose.
  • In fact for the RCZ it is all about protecting the natural environment, landscape, faunal habitat and cultural values including biodiversity of the area and ensuring that land use changes do not have an adverse impact on these.
  • The removal of close to a hectare of bushland, including the destruction of 746 trees and the clearing of a landscape-sensitive ridge top, is not consistent with these zone requirements.
  • It is up to a purchaser of land to consider all restrictions which may affect future plans; hence the need for a permit.

The landowner

Phillip Mannerheim spoke to the Diary and stated:

“This is to be a home for my retirement.

“I jumped through various hoops, hurdles, ecological surveys and assessments required by council, at considerable expense.

“At their suggestion, the plans have already been changed so as to relocate down from the ridge top and the driveway redesigned for fire truck access.

“It was therefore quite dismaying to receive a recommendation from the planning department which was totally negative, and amounted to a statement to the effect that this land was unsuitable for a building.

“I cannot understand why my block is being singled out for special treatment, as all the other blocks in the subdivision contain houses and the planning regulations have not changed.

“Fortunately, Mayor Peter Clarke, himself an architect and with considerable experience as a Councillor at Melbourne City, saw my point of view and four of the other six councillors agreed with him.

“I am trying here to achieve a 10-star energy rating with innovations such as tracking the sun, insulation, and recessing part of the home into the ground; all designed with world-leading conservation values in mind.

“I am surprised that so-called conservation and community groups would be against this development, when what I am proposing should set an example to Australia on how to build sensitively and efficiently in the bush while protecting and enhancing the environmental and landscape value of the land”.

Moving forward

Not being an original objector to the proposal Warrandyte Community Association is unable to lodge a direct case at VCAT.

However — as we go to press — we learn that it is considering whether as an “Affected Person”, it will apply to VCAT for leave under Section 82B of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to apply for a review of Nillumbik Council’s decision.

Tough shakedown for Bloods at Chirnside Park

THE Warrandyte Bloods fell in both fixtures in their 2017 season opener, losing to a chipper Chirnside Park outfit at Kimberley Reserve on the weekend.

Both Warrandyte teams were handicapped with injuries, with several players failing to pass their midweek fitness test.

Before play commenced one minute’s silence was observed, in memory of former Chirnside Park player Brian Pedler who died October 2016.

Drew Hollingsworth, father of Reserves player Jake Hollingsworth, was also remembered.

First on the field were the Reserves: they put in a nifty defensive performance to ensure the game remained an arm-wrestle, but inaccurate goal kicking and a difficult breeze allowed Chirnside to take the spoils.

Andre Balemian kicked the first goal of the campaign for the Warrandyte Reserves and the Bloods defence looked steadfast, with Bryce Leeanarts and Drew Corke applying terrific pressure in the back half.

Chirnside made better use of the wind in the second quarter, holding Warrandyte scoreless while tacking on 18 points themselves.

Throughout the second half, returnee Daniel Large looked lively, booting a major and providing a spark down the left-hand side of the ground.

Unfortunately, while the Bloods defence was relatively strong throughout, the forwards struggled to create opportunities.

The Reserves welcome back past favourite Daniel Large, whose performance this weekend was arguably best afield for the Bloods.

Chirnside Park Reserves: 5.10.40

Warrandyte Reserves: 3.9.27

For the Seniors, windy conditions and the Bloods lack of familiarity within a new look outfit played into Chirnside Park’s hands; the Seniors were defeated comfortably after a strong first quarter.

Much like the Reserves, they started the game kicking with the breeze and hit the ground running.

Jason Fitzgerald got the Bloods revved up with an early goal, and new-recruit Ryan Tester looked comfortable off the half back line.

Former Colts player Jake Trewella was exhilarating in his Senior debut and the Bloods rattled off four majors in the first term to lead by 19 points at the first change.

Sadly, this only seemed to kick Chirnside into gear, who were far more dangerous with the breeze.

The backline began to show a few cracks, and Chirnside Park’s big forwards started to assert their dominance.

The home side slammed on nine goals for the quarter to put Warrandyte in disarray, and the Bloods were never able to recover.

Jake Bentley put in a solid shift and Tom Naughtin played a commanding role in defence, but Chirnside never looked like relinquishing control, running out a 74-point winners.

Chirnside Park Seniors: 17.17.119

Warrandyte Seniors: 7.3.45

Warrandyte will now turn their attention towards the first home game of the season after the Easter break on April 22, the first of a series of “themed” home games that will take place over the season.

“Community Day” will promote and acknowledge the support of local businesses, sponsors, and supporters, who will be encouraged to attend.

Complementing this is a ceremony for the opening of the Bendigo Bank Gym.