Bass Coast Shire Council, located in Victoria and encompassing the pristine Phillip Island, prides itself on its stunning natural environment and draws tourists from around the world. So when the Council discovered the region had only 14 per cent of native vegetation cover left across the Shire, the Biolinks Plan was born.

Biolinks are wildlife corridors that connect pockets of native vegetation and allow animals to move between these areas freely, increasing the genetic diversity in breeding populations and preserving natural flora and fauna.

Community members and landholders identified 200 biolinks across the Bass Coast Shire Council.

Bass Coast Shire Council introduced the Biodiversity Biolinks Plan in 2018, to assist in linking conservation works across the Shire and providing an avenue for community involvement in restoring the landscape.

Bass Coast Shire Council Mayor Cr Michael Whelan explained the challenges Bass Coast faced, and what spurred the development of the plan.

“We discovered there was only 14 per cent of native vegetation cover across the whole Shire. This is very low. In addition, Bass Coast is home to 153 species of plants and animals that are classified as under threat or endangered.”

To understand why 14 per cent is alarming to this coastal Council, Mayor Whelan quotes a phrase often heard in the Bass Coast, “Our environment is our economy”.

“Our enormous tourism industry is heavily reliant on our environment. The internationally acclaimed attraction, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, showcases to the world the importance we place on conservation,” Mayor Whelan said.

Local landowners embracing biodiversity

Alongside many locals, farmer Paul Spiers and landowner Dave Sutton provided input to the Bass Coast Shire Council Biodiversity Biolinks Plan in 2018.

Mr Spiers has described the transformation of his land as “like magic”, following the fencing off of a creek bed, the removal of blackberries from his farm and the revegetation of his land.

While Mr Spiers admits each landowner will have a different reason for revegetating their landscape, for him the provision of habitat and increased biodiversity were key.

“I’ve been walking on this land for 30 years, from when it was a weed patch. It’s now a cool temperate rainforest that provides a home for so many beasties,” Mr Spiers said.

The beasties Mr Spiers is referring to includes birds, insects and mammals that have returned to his property in droves.

Think Local, Act Global is a little too big and pretty depressing for Mr Spiers, whose advice to those interested in environmental protection is “Think local, act local. If we can fix thousands of microclimates that will make a huge difference”.

Mr Sutton, who is also Chair of the Gippsland Threatened Species Action Group, renourished his land over five years; revegetating 16ha and creating a biodiversity hotspot in a surprisingly short period of time.

“Our land is now home to wallabies, echidnas ,kangaroos and over 45 native species of birds,” Mr Sutton said.

“Biolinks allow animals to move between areas and increase the genetic diversity in breeding populations. They are critically needed and it’s important that both substantial east to west links and north to south links are created.”

Collaboration is key

The project’s collaboration with the local landowners has been critical to its success, alongside the commitment of multiple stakeholders including Bass Coast Shire Council, Bass Coast Landcare Network, Westernport Water, Melbourne Water, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and the Bunurong Land Council.

The project enables a widespread area with different owners to be revegetated in a planned approach, working in unison with the Bass Coast Landcare Network, one of the biggest Landcare networks in Australia, which engages local farmers to revegetate their properties, select the correct vegetation for each location and organise community volunteers to plant the sites.

The Biolinks program also assists in engaging agriculture properties to help make waterways more resilient to local flood risk and climate change by increasing the amount of native trees and plants in the landscape.

Council, in conjunction with Victoria University and the Bass Coast Landcare Network, have also set up a monitoring program.

As the video monitoring equipment was installed by Mr Sutton and Diana Whittington of Bass Coast’s Council, the pair stumbled across a threatened species – a Lace Monitor.

Lace Monitors are some of the many species flourishing in the Bass Coast Council’s Biolinks.

“We had just put up the camera and were walking out of the bushland when I heard a rustle in the bush. I asked the others if it was a wallaby, but then we saw it climbing up a large gum tree and realised it was a Lace Monitor. They have a nasty bite if surprised so we kept our distance. It was fantastic to see and great to know there were more of them around the property happily breeding in the tree hollows,” Ms Whittington said.

Future plans

As the project’s revegetation works for 2022 continue, there are 46 landowners signed up to do works.

“This is the largest number of landowners we have had participating in the Biolinks program since its inception. We will plant 125,000 indigenous plants across this Shire, with the assistance of the Bass Coast Landcare Network, volunteers, school students, community members and landowners. It’s a great project to be a part of,” Ms Whittington said.

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