Manly Vale Public School upgrade threatens local extinction of endangered species

The cover image is copyright of Stephen Mahony and this article is written by Chad Beranek

 

Manly Vale Public school is praised as being an innovative pioneer in regards to teaching their students the importance of the environment and sustainability. One of the reasons this school is able to to achieve such success in this area is because of its location. The school is located next to well kept remnant bushland which forms a linkage to Manly Dam Reserve which has further linkages that reach Garigal National Park and beyond. This unique setting allows students of Manly Vale Public School to immerse with the Australian wilderness and learn about the plants and animals which dwell there. This is a crucially important experience for children to have during their development. This enables them to form an early respect and understanding of the natural heritage of Australia, as well as a toolkit for survival and an early embodiment of adventure and joy of the wilderness.

Despite boasting being one of the few school in Sydney lucky enough to be surrounded by pristine Sydney sandstone woodland and being the forefront in primary education of sustainability, the department of education have decided to expand the school in a very unsustainable manner. Much of the  4.37 hectares of bushland proposed for “removal” will be on Department of Education land including the schools own “nature area”- used to teach generations of children about the environment. Clearing for the Asset Protection Zone requires compulsory acquisition of land into  Condover and Manly Dam Reserves. The latter being a living memorial to those who served in two world wars.

Now lets make this clear, I’m not against the expansion. I want this school to expand so it’s environmental education can reach more students. However, it can expand it’s facilities in a much more sustainable way. In this article I will describe what animals and plants of interest call this bushland-to-be-developed home and the inherent threats these species face.

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Red-crowned Toadlet is the first in line to be completely wiped out from this area if this development proceeds. As I have described in the Backyard Conservation Fact Sheet for this species, the Red-crowned Toadlet is vulnerable to development which occurs on the ridge top above where they live. This is because Red-crowned Toadlets are always found on sandstone slopes in trickling tributaries and soaks. Development which occurs on the ridge top causes altered storm water regimes which always causes surplus of water discharges down these trickles and soaks which end up washing away the nests of these rare frogs.

Red-crowned Toadlets are usually only found in large reserves and national parks, so the fact that they are occurring in this comparatively small tract of bush next to Manly Vale Public School is a testament to how healthy and biodiverse this bush patch is. The proposed expansion of the school sees buildings to be constructed on the ridge above the known Red-crowned Toadlets populations and alarmingly close. These population will unfortunately be entirely extirpated from this bushland if the proposed development proceeds.

Eastern Pigmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus)

As with the Red-crowned Toadlets, the Eastern Pygmy Possum also faces local extinction if the current proposal is allowed to go through. The Eastern Pygmy Possum (the one depicted in the cover photo) is one of the smallest possums in the world and is just an adorable animal. Unfortunately often comes out second best in the face of urban expansion. In the case of Manly Vale, the remnant bushland next to the school appears to contain one of the most urban situated populations, which just further highlights how valuable and diverse this relatively small strip of bushland is. Experts have said that this population appears to be the remnant stronghold for pygmy possums in Manly Vale. Any further encroachment can and will eliminate pygmy possums from this area and surrounding areas.

Powerful Owl chick

Powerful Owl chick. These birds threatened and naturally rare. They are very picky in choosing their nesting hollow. Cutting down a chosen nesting tree will eliminate them from the surrounding landscape.

There are many more animals at threat  from the proposed expansion, including Bandicoots, Edichnas and Wallabies, but I have just touched on the threatened rare species. There has even been Powerful Owls found nesting on site. In addition to the threatened animals that face local extinction, there are also potential for threatened plants occurring on this site which also face annihilation. The plants include the Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis spp. terminalis), Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora, Seaforth Mintbush (Prostanthera marifolia), and  Tetratheca glandulosa. This surprisingly diverse little bush hosts a wide array of many other  plants which once again highlight just how biodiverse it is. Thanks can be given to the hard working bush regeneration volunteers of this area which have labored thousands of hours keeping this bush clean and weed free. Unfortunately the proposed development would see all this work undone.

Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Sunshine Wattle (Acacia terminalis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

The fact is that there is enough space on school grounds which don’t contain bush to start development there. The proposed bush smashing can be undone with a smarter, more sustainable and less fragmenting development design. Any decrease in the destruction of Sydney sandstone woodland is huge in conserving the nature in Sydney as this biome is constantly under threat because it is situated in the most urbanised area of Australia. This is a very similar to a case to the Spring Gully threat. Both of these land clearances are proposed to be occurring within Sydney sandstone woodland, and in both instances we need to realise that we cannot negotiate the already limited pristine bushland within the Sydney region. There are always smarter and more sustainable ways of achieving development.

Pimelea curvifolia var. glabrata, a close and more common relative of Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

Pimelea curvifolia var. glabrata, a close and more common relative of Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora | Copyright Chad Beranek 2014

 

Overall we need to understand that we live in an age with an ever expanding population and thus very limited resources. Our strength is being the most intelligent species in the world. We need to use this intelligence and realise that unsustainable destruction of nature will only have negative compounding influences in the future. If the directors of the expansion of Manly Vale Public School can’t wake up and see just how unsustainable and unproductive the proposed development is, they will undo all the good work this school has been striving to achieve in the fronts of sustainability, the environment and the very future of the next generation of innovators and pioneers.




To help out and stay informed please visit, like this page and voice your opinion. Every voice counts, with enough of us we can call out ill-informed bad practices like this and ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for all. You can find out more information on the Wild About blog.

The video below provides more information on this bushland:

Destruction of Australia’s oldest National Park – The Royal scheduled to be downsized

The Royal National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the entire world. It was the first to receive the title of a national park and is only younger in terms of being a nature conservation area by Yosemite and Yellowstone. The Royal National Park is also one of the closest national parks to a city. This is one of Australias biggest boasting points as in almost all other countries one must travel hours to experience untouched wilderness, yet in Sydney one needs only to travel 40 minutes. This closeness to the city is also a major breakthrough for wildlife conservation as it acts a source of habitat which provides population of a large variety of animals shelter and food, and enables these populations to expand into neighboring urban suburbs. This enables Sydney to pertain a high biodiversity compared to other cities in the world.

Despite having the claim to being arguably the oldest national park in the world, and despite the paramount conservation value this amazing natural heritage area offers, the beautiful forests within the Royal National Park are still under threat of developers. Over a thousand trees are threatened to be cut down over multiple hectares of unaltered bush, many of which provide essential housing for possums, sugar gliders and birds. These hollows can’t be replaced by plantings, as it takes at least 80 years for a tree to mature enough to support a large enough hollow. The trees present in Spring Gully are very unique. The canopy mostly comprises of Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummifera) which is a relatively common relative of the Eucalypt. However the Red Bloodwoods present in this area have formed in strange growths known as ‘mallee’, which is very rare for this species and yet is abundant at this particular site.

Ring-tailed Possum (Pseudocheirus perigrinus). One of the many tree dwellers set to loose their home in Spring Gully | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Ring-tailed Possum (Pseudocheirus perigrinus). One of the many tree dwellers set to loose their home in Spring Gully | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

This area is also a stronghold for the vulnerable Eastern Pigmy Possum (Carcetus nanus). This adorable marsupial is susceptible to fires which are a common in the Royal due to the practice of back burning. However Spring Gully represents one of the only areas in the entire Royal National Park which has remained unburnt for a comparatively substantial amount of time. This is evident with the presence of a large Pigmy Possum population which is present in Spring Gully. This population appears to be acting as a population stronghold for this threatened species, and provides ongoing breeding which enables the population to spread from this point.

The threatened Eastern Pigmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

The threatened Eastern Pigmy Possum (Cercartetus nanus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Two threatened frog species are also under threat from this development. The Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis), which occurs on the proposed site in the small trickles, and the Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) which would use the site as foraging habitat and breeding habitat. The development threatens both species as firstly, development build at the top of a slopes (as is planned) increases water volume, due to guttering, running down the slope. This results in increased water movement speeds which clear the accumulated leaf litter clumps in the tributaries that the Red-crowned Toadlets depend on for breeding. Furthermore, human disturbances have been known to always completely eliminated Giant Burrowing Frogs from areas mainly due to elimination of habitat, as this frog species has a large home range and requires pristine vegetation across their home range. That is why they are only found in large nature reserves and national parks. This development threatens to completely wipe out the Bundeena occurring population.

Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

Red-crowned Toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2016

There is one threatened snake which very likely occurs within the site boundaries. The attractive Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) is one of the most threatened snakes in Australia and the Royal National Park is known to be one of their strongholds. They are a nocturnal snake and require west facing rock outcrops with lots of trees in the surrounding area. Long and behold, Spring Gully also has this particular habitat right on the site boundary. Since there has currently been no threatened surveys for nocturnal animals, which the developer should be required to employ people to do, it is unknown how abundant Broad-headed Snakes are on this site. They are a very sensitive species and will be eliminated as soon as the canopy is decimated, not to mention the increased amount of people in the area will increase the amounts of ignorant snake killings.

Hoplocephalus bungaroides

With all this biodiversity to loose, not to mention making one of Australias greatest treasures smaller still, what do we stand to gain? The developer aims to create ‘Eco-tourism’ for the area, with the installment of accommodation tents, kitchens and office. While on the surface, this may seem harmless, there are a few alarming facts which make this facade visible for what it truly is. The applicant is seeking to apply  pastoral land management to a pristine native bush. It is likely under this development plan that eventually the entire 15.5 hectares of untouched bushland will be knocked down and developed, but it wont happen instantly. The tactics most developers use is a death by a thousand cuts. First a small development, then another small development, meanwhile after each consecutive installment the biodiversity value goes down, till eventually they will argue: “Why not knock it all down for housing? There’s no threatened species here anyway…”

All in all, Eco-tourism can be great idea and can help conservation efforts if applied correctly. But if a developer is truly concerned about conservation, they will ensure to purchase a property that is already developed and does not involve the cutting down of 1000+ trees encompassed in a national park, with threatened species at stake. To stop this crime against nature from going on please visit the Spring Gully Protection website for more information and lodge your objection. The link directly to the objection form is below. We need to let the world know that our oldest relics are not compromisable.

LODGE YOUR OBJECTION




King of the Sandstone Throne: The red crowned toadlet

This species of the week is dedicated to the threatened red crowned toadlet (Pseudophryne australis) which is both spectacularly adorable and has an incredibly interesting strategy of survival. This frog is quite small and is really strange for a frog in the way it lives. The red crowned toadlet, unlike most frogs, makes a terrestrial nest. The male will sit and guide his egg clutch and call almost all year round. Female red crowned toadlets visit the male and deposit eggs which he fertilises. The tadpoles start development inside the egg. A male will end up with eggs of many different stages of development stages. When it rains, the eggs in the nest will wash away to the closest puddle or creek where the developed tadpoles will emerge from their eggs to complete development as free swimming tadpole. Only the eggs at the right development stage will be able to survive when being washed into a puddle.  By having eggs of multiple development stages, the red crowned toadlet is able to ensure at least some of the eggs will be at the correct development stage when it rains and will hatch. This is the unique strategy of the red crowned toadlet known as ‘bet hedging’.

 

Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

The red crowned toadlet is found in sandstone areas across Sydney and is quite well distributed within the Royal National Park. They prefer rocky sandstone outcrops and reside within tributaries that are prone to drying up. This is the perfect habitat for their unique life strategy. They are threatened due to being easily wiped out during development and may be susceptible to the changes to water run off due to curb and guttering, which diverts water away from the small tributaries that the red crowned toadlets live in.   With good management, this species can be preserved and hopefully they will continue to exist unimpeded in areas such as the Royal National Park as they are an interesting little frog.

 

A male Red Crowned Toadlet next to his nest of eggs | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

A male Red Crowned Toadlet next to his nest of eggs | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

One last random fact sure to interest most people is you can actually talk to them and they will call back. They are able to hear the frequency of the human voice, and if you yell for example “HEY FROG!?”, it will respond in its calls which is a series of squelches and squeaks.

 

Male Red Crowned Toadlet | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Male Red Crowned Toadlet | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)