The Case for Nature Reserve

Shanes Park was first proposed for a Nature Reserve as early as the 1980s. Similar recommendations have been made in every regional wildlife review since. Over the years, the patch has remained a hidden jewel while surrounding lands were subdivided and developed.

Why Nature Reserve?

Nature Reserve is the highest classification for wildlife protection on public land. Nature Reserves are managed primarily for wildlife (as defined under the amended NPW Act sections 30E to 30K here). By contrast, the Act gives National Parks the joint principles of public/commercial recreation and wildlife, while Regional Parks are managed primarily/solely for recreation. These new principles differ from the public perception of National Parks as fully protected areas.

The wildlife at Shanes Park simply cannot accomodate the uses envisaged by National Park or Regional Park classification. As detailed throughout this site, the key reason for the site's unique wildlife is the absence of urban pest animals, particularly the Noisy Miner. Shanes Park is the last woodland in Sydney not infested with Noisy Miners, and for this reason a number of endangered species thrive here, while declining or extinct in every other reserve. Local research shows that the development of recreational facilities invariably introduces Noisy Miner and other pests, and destroys woodland bird communities.

It is important that such recreational facilities are developed in Western Sydney. However, 200 hectares of such facilities are already being provided immediately across the road from Shanes Park in the Wianamatta Regional Park. The proposal to extend such facilities into the core of the last remaining miner-free woodland in Western Sydney is outrageous, particularly given such clear research regarding their disastrous effects.

The species most immediately under threat is the charasmatic little Speckled Warbler. Shanes Park is the last stronghold for this bird which was once common across Sydney. It is appaling to comtemplate that the proposed aquisition by the National Parks will most likely result in the regional extinction of this vulnerable species through recreational development.

Instead, the community requests that the site become a public access Nature Reserve, protecting it's unique wildlife from recreational and other development so that everyone can enjoy this unique part of Sydney's natural heritage.

What about the heritage buildings?

The NSW government have claimed that Nature Reserve status 'prohibits the use of heritage buildings on the site'. This would limit plans to use the site for staffing and for educational purposes. This is not the case. There are numerous examples of Nature Reserves with actively used heritage buildings. Great examples worth a visit include:

  • The schoolhouse (Field Studies Centre) at Muogamarra Nature Reserve
  • The visitors centre and accommodation in Barren Grounds Nature Reserve (now closed)
  • The Koala hospital and museum in Macquarie Nature Reserve
  • The Historic Lighthouse accommodation in Montague Nature Reserve

This claim appears to have now been dropped. There is no impediment to Shanes Park Woodland becoming a public access Nature Reserve for all to enjoy.

What are Regional Parks?

The Commonwealth government proposes to transfer ownership of the site to the NSW Government on condition that it is made a Regional Park. Preliminary proceedings for this transfer have already concluded, with the federal Department of Sustainability Environment Water Population & Communities approving the potential transfer (approval). While the public environmental approval does not require Regional Park status, the Federal Government had required this through a clause on a confidential Deed of Agreement.

Regional Parks are managed to provide for active recreation, although they can also provide conservation and passive recreation where these uses are compatible with active recreation needs. In recent years, the NSW Government has been under pressure to provide active recreational opportunities on public land to maintain parliamentary majority with the Shooters & Fishers Party. Additionally, the government has been under pressure to zone public bushland for active recreation to meet the development approval requirements of private developers. Immediately southwest of Shanes Park, the Wianamatta Regional Park was created on formerly public land to meet both these political pressures. Formerly the largest remnant of western Sydney's grassy woodlands, this land was sold to Delfin Lend Lease, on agreement that six fragments would be retained as Regional Park.

The Wianamatta Regional Park Plan of Management is believed to have been largely dictated by Lend Lease, and recommends future incorporation of Shanes Park (p2). The Plan of Management explicitly notes the Park's purpose to serve the expected 14,000 new residents of the associated housing developments, not the existing residents of Western Sydney (p64). The more detailed Masterplan provides much more detail on what the regional park will provide, including amphitheatres, kiosks, car parks, a bike race event course, fitness training facilities, concert facilities, and a native plant nursery. In short, it provides for everything except wildlife - which will be fenced in and culled for 'public safety'.

Wildlife Values

It is the responsibility of all governments to ensure that our wildlife and natural heritage are maintained for future generations to enjoy. To do so, public lands need to be zoned to reflect the value and sensitivity of their wildlife. Many of the Cumberland Plains woodlands no longer support sensitive flora or fauna, and are highly suited to Regional Park management - for example William Howe Regional Park, at Mt Annan in Sydney's southwest. However, Shanes Park retains some of the last populations of sensitive woodland birds in the Cumberland Plain - management as Regional Park will most likely result in regional extinction of these species.

The National Parks & Wildlife Regulations clearly define the various zonings of reserves and their primary and secondary objectives. Both Regional Park and National Park share an objective of providing active recreation. Some government ministers have suggested that the site should be Regional Park for 'administrative convenience', with the promise that disturbing activities such as bike races be excluded. This is not satisfactory, and is poor governance. Parks and reserves must be managed according to the objectives given - and the objectives of National Park and of Regional Park do not align with the sensitive wildlife on this site.

A summary of peer-reviewed literature on the impacts of disturbance on wildlife will be uploaded soon. In the meantime, visit the Documents page for research on this issue.

Passive Recreational Values

Passive recreation is encouraged in most Nature Reserves in NSW, and all five existing Nature Reserves elsewhere in Western Sydney. There is no evidence that passive walking threatens native wildlife.

Passive recreation is the primary interest of most residents in the area. A study for Penrith City Council found that 77% of respondents participated in informal passive recreation such as walking (Urbis Keys Young 2002); a study for Blacktown City Council found a similar rate of 70%. Both studies found 'active' recreation such as mountainbiking to be minority recreational interests. Interestingly, the politically strong mountain-biking minority already consider themselves well-serviced in the region, and this is borne out in maps of existing facilities. This community will be further serviced by the massive Wianamatta Regional Park being developed in bushland immediately southwest of Shanes Park.

Shanes Park is ideally suited to fixing this discrepancy, with over 20 km of walking track on the site, in addition to a small number of fire trails and easements. A summary map is available here. These foot pads are a welcome relief to the barren fire trails of western Sydney's other parks. There are virtually no opportunities in western Sydney for walking in quiet natural areas, in stark contrast to Sydney's affluent northern and southern suburbs. The next decade will see millions of new residents arrive to western Sydney - surely it is time to secure a site for quiet, passive recreation in western Sydney?

Research Value

The site has unrivalled wildlife research value, being the most diverse and intact remnant of woodland remaining in the Cumberland Plain. Flora research has been conducted on the site since 1975, and offers a unique opportunity to monitor changes in the region's vegetation over time. A summary of the substantial quadrat research to date is available here. In recent years, excellent bird monitoring has also begun on the site. A summary of this work is available here

What management does the wildlife need?

Nature Reserve status is not just needed to avoid kiosks, race tracks and amphitheatre. The Nature Reserve status will also ensure that site management proactively encourages the wildlife of the site. With high-density housing soon to blanket the site's rural surrounds, this is more important than ever.

Large herbivore management

Grazing animals are integral to the ecological function of the woodland. The Eastern Grey Kangaroo is the primary grazer, helping maintain the open grassland 'glades' throughout the woodlands. The browsing Swamp Wallaby is also present, and plays an important role in managing shrub densities in the thicker creekside forests. Until the 1970s, the Emu, a browsing species, was also present.

Very small local populations of both native species have remained in the region since European invasion, however in the late 1950s to 1970s, persons associated with the military set out to methodically 'return [kangaroos & emus] back where they belonged... to fix the woodland and [get] the balance back' (pers com. 2011). Animals were professionally bred in dedicated enclosures before transportation and introduction to a range of military properties (with verbal approval of site managers). These bred with existing native stock to produce the genetically mixed stock of today. The Wianamatta Regional Park Plan Of Management (reference p32) and other assessment documents falsely state that these animals are not locally native, and arrived principally as wildlife carer releases. While this did occur (and is the reason for small numbers of Western Grey and Western Red kangaroos on the Wianamatta site), these were the minority.

The Wianamatta site has been fenced (to differing quality) for many decades, and since the 1940s drought Kangaroo and Emu populations bred up within the enclosure. When the 1990s drought hit, these animals were not allowed to disperse. With natural population control thwarted, the site was rapidly overgrazed, and small numbers of animals died. When areas of the site began to be developed in 2000, sick animals entered display homes for shelter - this was not appreciated by the developers. Further, the animals were identified as a threat to public safety in the future Regional Park (reference p32). For these reasons, Eastern Grey kangaroos have been further fenced and culled on the site; this program continues to date. Emu are also informally culled through egg destruction on the site.

By contrast, Shanes park is unfenced. As such, the site maintains a natural population of Kangaroos through good and bad years, and there is no evidence of overgrazing on this site. However, there is a very high risk that surrounding development will retain insufficient linkages between Shanes Park and to remnants (particularly along creeks) - effectively 'fencing' these animals. There is also a risk of the species will be falsely identified as a public risk, as it has in the Regional Park - despite being completely harmless unless interfered with.

In the long term, it is important that Emu be reintroduced to the site to maintain ecological function, and avoid the site becoming heavily forested (which is detrimental to woodland fauna). The genetically mixed animals in the Wianamatta Nature Reserve are the preferred stock, however for now these are caged and culled. If these animals are not made available, and the Parks & Wildlife Service fail to undertake a responsible reintroduction, it is likely that community volunteers will attempt unuathorised introductions as occured at the Wianamatta site.

Fire

The Cumberland Plain's woodlands have evolved in the presence of fire, and appropriate fire regimes are needed to maintain diversity and function. Most remaining woodlands receive too little fire - this creates thick, shrubby forests with low diversity and few woodland fauna. Often these thick shrubby forests are seen as 'natural' by land managers, who are familiar with the naturally thick shrubby forests of the sandstone-dominated national park system. Some woodlands are also subject to regular arson and receive too regular fire, resulting in open grassland without shrubs or trees. Ironically, sites receiving arson are frequently better managed than neighbouring conservation reserves. Arson burns tend to be extinguished quickly, resulting in an ideal mosaic of patchy burn history. Ideally, the burn regime should be patchy, with intervals of 7 - 15 years.

In defence of conservation management agencies, it is increasingly difficult to manage fire in western sydney, due largely to encroaching development. Development not only makes accessing/managing existing fires impossible (risking wildlife, human life and property), but makes implementing the necessary ecological burns impossible.

The Growth Centres have been particularly poorly planned in this regard. The Marsden Park Industrial precinct plan provides for development to within 2.5 m of the woodland edge. This has already doomed the eastern edges of the proposed Nature Reserve.

It is critical that the Growth Centres Commission incorporate a 25 m open buffer (before any roads or development) to allow for fire management in the remainder of the reserve. Visit How You Can Help to have your say before the Marsden Park Residential and Shanes Park precinct plans doom the remainder of Shanes Park to the same fate.

Incorporating Sydney Growth Centres offset lands

The rural areas surrounding Shanes Park Woodland to the north, east and west have all been zoned for high density suburban and industrial development under the Sydney Growth Centres. Approximately 140,000 new residents will arrive in the next decade, with further growth down the track. This will have a big impact on the proposed Nature Reserve.

To date, only the Marsden Park Industrial Precinct to the east has been fully planned. About one third of the industrial area will drain through Maria Lock Creek - presently one of the most intact streams left in Western Sydney and protecting the last known population of Large Sydney Crayfish (image) in the region. The Growth Centres Commission estimates that the industrial area will drain approximately ten thousand kilograms of additional pollutant per year into the reserve (reference).

The eastern portions of Shanes Park are not owned by the Commonwealth ASA, but are zoned for conservation under the Growth Centres 'Offset' scheme. These areas need to be incorporated in the Nature Reserve so that the entire woodland can be appropriately managed. Visit the How You Can Help page to support this incorporation.