VCAs, biodiversity offsets and Part 5 Agreements: Kingborough’s recipe for balancing development and conservation outcomes.
Over the past 12 months UTAS PhD candidate and Environmental Planner Nikki den Exter, and Kingborough Council NRM Coordinator Liz Quinn, have been using the Tasmanian Vegetation Condition Assessment (TasVeg VCA) methodology to make a small but important contribution to our understanding of Kingborough’s natural values.
Using the rapid site-based assessment method, that compares the condition of a given vegetation community to a ‘benchmark’ or average patch of the same vegetation that has not been disturbed for a long time, Council have established the relative condition of diverse vegetation communities across the municipality.
TasVeg VCA provides Nikki and Liz with an evidence-based approach to assessing development applications that require offsets to mitigate impacts on Kingborough’s existing natural values and enables them to compare vegetation condition across different sites, even if those sites support different vegetation communities.
The team has been applying the method across the municipality to monitor the current extent and quality of biodiversity values protected under Part 5 Agreements. The Part 5 Agreements, which are attached to property titles, enable council to stipulate certain requirements in perpetuity, for the establishment and protection of conservation zones, as well as specifying management requirements such as weed control or rehabilitation works to ensure a positive outcome for natural values.
The consistent and repeatable method allows assessment of vegetation condition at paired sites (proposed development/ potential biodiversity offset) for the presence and quality of the structural components of vegetation (e.g. trees, understorey, weeds, logs and litter) as well as landscape-scale factors like patch size and connectivity. This helps council staff make informed decisions in the difficult process of assessing whether a proposed offset represents a good conservation outcome when compared to the values likely to be impacted by a proposed development.
Whilst the decision to offset is inevitably a challenging one, Nikki sees merit in the approach. “The TasVeg VCA method provides an established and transparent framework that ensures a consistent evaluation of the condition of the area to be impacted, relative to the area proposed as an offset. This is critical as it ensures that values which are in good condition are not being traded for values in poorer condition.”
In addition to supporting improved decision-making at the site scale, the TasVeg VCA method also has broader implications, as each VCA conducted adds to a growing resource of baseline information on vegetation condition across Tasmania. Over time this will provide invaluable insight into the health and diversity of native vegetation, as well as the impacts of threatening processes and weeds.
DPIPWE’s Tasmanian Vegetation Monitoring and Mapping Program and Natural Values Atlas (NVA) teams and NRM South are working with Kingborough to improve and build capacity for use of the method.
for more information about the TasVeg VCA method, upcoming training opportunities or other general assistance contact NRM South on 6221 6111.