by Annabelle Powell, Journalist, Council magazine

Baw Baw Shire Council, located in rural Victoria, is in the midst of purchasing a piece of land which houses many rare species and local wildlife, with the vision of creating an oasis for locals and critters alike.

Baw Baw Shire Council has purchased a 10.53ha property in Drouin with the intention of creating a community bushland reserve for preserving local wildlife.

Council is in the process of acquiring the Roberts Court Bushland Reserve, located at Longwarry Road, Drouin. Purchase of the Reserve was identified within the Drouin Development Contribution Plan (DCP01) and included in Council’s Long Term Infrastructure Plan to occur in the 2021/22 financial year.

The reserve was identified as a high value environmental property due to its significant biodiversity values and potential for future enhancements, such as meandering walkways, educational signage and wildlife viewing areas.

Retaining the bushland reserve will preserve natural habitats for local wildlife with species such as burrowing crayfish, lorikeets, Crested Shrike, rosellas, Eastern Yellow Robins, kookaburras, and many more calling the site home.

The reserve will also provide benefits for the surrounding community by lowering ambient temperatures, purifying air, and encouraging residents to adopt healthy recreational activities such as walking.

Baw Baw Shire Council Mayor, Cr Michael Leaney, said Council is pleased to be able to secure the future of this stunning bushland reserve, right in the heart of Drouin.

“The value that places like this have goes far beyond the dollar figure of the land on which they sit, and it’s important to recognise this when making decisions for the future,” Mayor Leaney said.

Making plans for the future

The first step moving forward with the reserve will be the development of a Master Plan, in consultation with the community.

“The Master Plan looks to preserve both the natural environment and allows for a level of enjoyment of this site by the community,” Mayor Leaney said.

“Obviously we don’t want to turn it into parkland. It will need to retain its natural feel to it, but it then needs to also have the ability to have some form of access.”

Baw Baw Shire Council plans to engage a consultant to develop the Master Plan, and will also work with organisations such as Friends of Drouin’s Trees, a local community group who voiced their support for the purchase of the bushland reserve via a submission during Council’s 2020/21 Annual Budget process.

Judy Farmer of Friends of Drouin’s Trees celebrated Council’s unanimous decision to purchase the property.

“The Roberts Court Bushland Reserve is home to an abundance of plant and animal life and retaining places like this is vital to ensuring a sustainable future for our area,” Ms Farmer said.

“Hopefully, we will all get to see this area preserved and become one of the most visited and utilised environmental spaces in Baw Baw Shire.”

Creating a long-term home for rare species

Mayor Leaney said a key focus in developing the Master Plan will be ensuring that the biodiversity of the reserve is protected.

“Some of the key things we need to do is to look at things like bushfire management, waterway and biodiversity management,” Mayor Leaney said.

“And of course a key thing that we need to probably look at will be pest management. They’ll be both pest plants and of course pest animals.”

The reserve is expected to provide a haven for rare and endangered species local to the region, such as the terrestrial burrowing crayfish.

“The terrestrial burrowing crayfish and the Warragul burrowing crayfish are very small, and they’re quite rare. And that’s something that needs to be preserved in the area,” Mayor Leaney said.

Eastern Yellow Robin. Image: Friends of Drouin Trees

The reserve is also home to a population of the nationally threatened Strzelecki Gum.

“An important element of the site is that it has a population of Strzelecki Gums, and they are listed as a threatened species on the national level; they’re really important,” Mayor Leaney said.

“The Strzelecki Gums need to be preserved and certainly looked after. There is potential that the southern brown bandicoot occurs on the reserve, but that will be subject to assessment.”

Ensuring urban greenery in a growing region

Baw Baw Shire and the towns of Drouin and Warragul are some of the fastest growing towns in Victoria, with a growth level of over 3.75 per cent.

As the population increases, as does community concern about loss of farmland and open space.

“It’s important that we preserve key parcels of land that are included in the Shire,” Mayor Leaney said.

“This isn’t just a reserve that’s like on the outskirts of town or it’s kilometres away and people don’t see it.

This is actually almost in the centre of town. It’s really important, and a key bushland area that I think people will enjoy for generations to come.”

Mayor Leaney said, personally, he envisions the future of the reserve as “an island of originality within an area that’s been developed really heavily”.

Community keen to maintain biodiversity

Mayor Leaney said Council is committed to involving the community in the planning process.

“The word I’ve had is that there is a strong desire for there to be not too much done,” Mayor Leaney said.

“People don’t want this land turned into some kind of park that thousands of people visit. They want to maintain biodiversity. They want it to be a good place to be able to use for education, to be able to show people what can be done.

“There will be some passive recreational facilities potentially put in like a boardwalk or a bird hide or something along those lines. But primarily the important thing about this site is the preservation of the natural environment.”

The acquisition of the land will be completed using funds allocated in either Council’s Land Sales reserve or Native Vegetation reserve, with contributions from the Development Contributions Levy, meaning no rate revenue will be used to facilitate the purchase.

“Following the recent finalisation of the acquisition, Council will release the purchase price to the community at a future Council Meeting,” Mayor Leaney said.

“We’re very excited that we’ve been able to purchase this property on behalf of the community and it’s going to be there for many generations to come.

“I am looking forward to taking in the site and seeing the community enjoy spending time there in the future.”

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