Urban development vs. biodiversity – a complex issue

The beginning

The blog deadline was creeping closer, when a friend told me about the volunteer work she was undertaking for a Canberra organisation she described as ‘a hub of many environmental groups’. She furthermore described to me how she is able to directly apply the skills she was currently learning – e.g. writing environmental policy briefs, modelling spatial data – and contribute to the work of the Conservation Council. I was intrigued and decided to carry out my work experience there.

What is the Conservation Council?

The Conservation Council might be familiar to you for its ongoing strong (and proving successful) cat containment campaign in Canberra. It was founded in 1979 and is an advocacy organisation for nature conservation. It has participating members from 40+ environment community groups.

This smart message is distributed by the Conservation Council to thousands of households in Canberra


The Conservation Council is located on Barry Drive and the office itself breathes environmental consciousness. On the inside, it seems warm and inviting with its wooden floor boards and small open office layout. A compost bin and garden is located on the rooftop, tells me Larry O’Loughlin. He is the Assistant Director and responsible for Policy and Communications. Larry is a lovely person and ensured that I, as all other volunteers, would be provided with a volunteer agreement and proper title – mine is ‘Biodiversity Data Analyst’. Fancy!

Simply talking to Larry I learnt a lot about current environmental issues in Canberra, and the dynamics between NGOs, government and communities. In fact, our first scheduled ‘half-hour’ meeting lasted one and a half hours (as did the following meetings, supplemented by organic chocolate).

The Conservation Council helps support a multitude of environmental groups, represents their concerns and interests, and effectively communicates them to government and public.

What did I do?

I expressed to Larry that my strengths lie in data manipulation. I was then assigned to work along fellow student Brittany on spatially examining the controversial planned redevelopment of the Yarralumla Brickworks, and its impacts on the threatened Golden Sun Moth (GSM) and its native habitat, Natural Temperate Grassland (NTG). NTG is the most endangered of vegetation types in Australia, as less than 1% of its pre-European extent remains.

My job was to peer-review the primary mapping work conducted by Brittany. Furthermore I wrote a comprehensive report describing the endangered species found within the project area, and investigating the adequacy of offset arrangements, including researching previous similar offsets.

As we had discussed offsets in the course, further examining a case in ‘real life’ was of great interest to me.


A great map produced by Brittany Dahl visualising the overlapping of the planned development and GSM/NTG habitat



I will continue volunteering for the Conservation Council as I enjoyed learning about the complexities behind urban planning. There is indeed a lot of preparation involved to accommodate the demands of government, developers, local residents, biodiversity, etc.

Moreover I enjoyed how Larry shared his busy time and made sure I was adequately engaged. The Conservation Council demonstrates how effective the voice of grassroots groups can be, both in bringing issues to the attention of the government, and raising awareness among the community.

Get involved:




About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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2 Responses to Urban development vs. biodiversity – a complex issue

  1. Interesting post!
    It’s so great that Canberra has an independent organisation that provides a check on development and biodiversity degradation. I didn’t know that the conservation council was responsible for the cat containment in Canberra – I think that’s fantastic. It’s really important work to communicate to the community that these are important issues, especially when actions like cat containment can bring up emotive responses from owners and other community members.
    Bec DeCourcy

  2. Chloe says:

    Looks like you had some interesting experiences at the Conservation Council, and it’s great they are you going to continue to volunteer there. I would have been interested to know more about the issues with offsets – particularly in the case of the Golden Sun Moth. How with the redevelopment impact the sun moth population? What are the proposed offsets? Are they appropriate? What may some alternatives to offseting?

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