By Ishbel Cullen
In April this year I joined staff from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage on a site visit to a wind farm biodiversity offset site for Native Temperate Grassland on the Monaro plains in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.
The Native Temperate Grasslands of the Monaro region may at first seem dull. The naturally treeless slopes are windswept and inhospitable. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were lifeless beyond a uniform layer of grass. However, these grasslands are a critically endangered ecological community of significant biodiversity value, home to numerous threatened plant and animal species.
For Native Temperate Grasslands, the beauty lies in the detail. If you take a closer look, you’ll see a great diversity of grasses, daisies, orchids and scattered rocks providing shelter for a range of invertebrates and reptiles.
With European arrival and the introduction of agriculture, the extent and quality of Native Temperate Grasslands has decreased dramatically. In recent years a new industry has realized the potential of the Monaro landscape, with wind farms now being developed throughout the region.
Wind turbines and associated infrastructure represent a new threat to Native Temperate Grasslands. However, biodiversity offsetting policy can mitigate impacts on this endangered ecological community, presenting the appealing option ‘to have your native temperate grassland and eat them too’. But how can biodiversity offsetting achieve this?
In New South Wales, biodiversity offsetting is organised under the ‘BioBanking’ scheme run by the NSW government. BioBanking is a system of biodiversity credits that are typically sold by landholders and bought by developers. Sale proceeds are received by the credit holder, however, a portion is deposited into a trust fund. This trust fund generates interest which is given to offset managers annually to maintain conservation management actions. Furthermore, offset sites are secured in perpetuity for conservation through conditions on land title.
The offset property that I visited will be used to secure adequate Native Temperate Grassland biodiversity credits. The property includes areas of both high-qualilty and highly degraded Native Temperate Grassland. This presents opportunities to preserve good sites and restore poor areas to increase connectivity in the landscape. The trust fund finances will be used to realise these goals, with extensive weed eradication measures and closely monitored low-intensity grazing regimes.
A significant proportion of remnant Native Temperate Grassland exists on private property and is not managed for conservation. Indeed it is likely many of these remnants are under pressure from over-grazing and invasive weeds. As wind farms are established on properties like these, it is likely that the areas of Native Temperate Grassland would have been degraded over time anyway. Considering this, if biodiversity offset arrangements can secure areas to be managed for conservation in perpetuity, with ongoing funding, this represents a positive long-term biodiversity outcome.
Land management is a difficult balance of social, economic and environmental objectives. The BioBanking framework can facilitate outcomes that support economic development through wind farm construction while achieving environmental protection of Native Temperate Grasslands. Though biodiversity offsets for wind farms are not without shortcomings, in this context they represent progress towards a ‘win-win’ solution. And after all, these are wind farms, not coal mines.
- BioBanking overview: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/biobanking/biobankingoverview07528.pdf
- The science behind BioBanking: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/biobanking/09476biobankingscience.pdf
- Natural Temperate Grassland of the Southern Tablelands of NSW and the Australian Capital Territory- an endangered ecological community: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicshowcommunity.pl?id=14