Meeting Obligations to Protect Ramsar Wetlands

Tabled: 14 September 2016

2 Victoria's Ramsar site management framework

At a glance

Background

Sound planning and management is required to conserve the ecological character of Ramsar sites and detect any unacceptable change.

Conclusion

There is limited evidence that all Ramsar sites are managed effectively and protected from further decline. The governance, coordination and oversight of the management of Ramsar sites require significant improvement for Victoria to effectively meet its obligations under the Ramsar Convention. Without this improvement, site managers will continue to work to their own priorities rather than responding to significant threats and working to prevent ecological decline.

Findings

  • The management framework for most Ramsar sites lacks accountability, as governance and oversight processes are poor, and roles and responsibilities for the implementation and monitoring of management plans are not clear.
  • Current documents for sites required under the Ramsar Convention are either not up to date or are not complete.
  • There are some examples of good planning and management by Melbourne Water, demonstrating effective governance and clear accountabilities.

Recommendations

  • That the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, in conjunction with Parks Victoria and catchment management authorities, improve implementation of management plans by improving governance arrangements, and outlining clear roles and responsibilities, time frames and resourcing.
  • That the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning oversee the development of finalised management plans for the Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula and Western Port Ramsar sites.

2.1 Introduction

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, or the Ramsar Convention, obliges signatories to prepare management plans that promote the sustainable use of wetlands. Multiple organisations have a role in looking after Ramsar sites in Victoria, so effective governance arrangements that clearly assign specific roles and responsibilities are required. Such arrangements reduce the risk of overlap and service gaps, and improve accountability by clearly attributing responsibility for the implementation of management plan actions.

Robust management plans are the foundation for the wise use and conservation of wetlands. They should be based on a comprehensive understanding of the ecological character of a site and identify actions to conserve the site's ecological character by addressing emerging threats. Good management also requires continuous monitoring, evaluation and reporting to assess the effectiveness of management actions.

2.2 Conclusion

There is limited evidence that all Ramsar sites are being effectively managed and protected from decline. There is also evidence of potential change in the ecological character of some sites, while changes at other sites cannot be fully determined due to limitations such as a lack of data.

Some sites are better managed than others. The site managed by Melbourne Water is a good example—it has a standalone management plan with clear roles and responsibilities for implementation and monitoring. Roles and responsibilities are less clear for the 10 sites managed by Parks Victoria. Some projects have improved outcomes for Ramsar sites, but these activities are not clearly linked to management plan actions or risks.

Overall, the governance, coordination and oversight of the implementation of management plans for Ramsar sites must improve for Victoria to effectively meet its obligations. Without this improvement, site managers will continue to be guided by their own priorities rather than responding to key threats to Ramsar sites.

2.3 Ramsar management responsibilities in Victoria

The state of Victoria—through the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP) and site managers, including Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water—has certain responsibilities which include preparing Ramsar information sheets (RIS), an ecological character description (ECD) and a management plan for each Ramsar site.

2.3.1 Ramsar information sheet

Ramsar Convention contracting parties commit to preparing and updating an RIS every six years or when the character of a Ramsar site changes. Victoria does not comply with this requirement, as no site has a current RIS. RISs for 10 sites were dated 1999, and the RIS for the Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands site was dated 2001. DELWP advised that updates were drafted in 2005 but were not finalised by the Commonwealth Government. DELWP has updated the RIS boundary descriptions and maps to comply with national guidelines in the first half of 2016 and has provided these to the Commonwealth Government for review and endorsement.

2.3.2 Ecological character description

An ECD describes the baseline condition of a wetland at the time of its listing as a Ramsar site. An ECD provides the foundation for a management plan and is important for monitoring and assessing changes to a wetland's ecological character. In line with a national framework, an ECD must include:

  • site details
  • a description of the components, processes, benefits and services of the site
  • limits of acceptable change (LAC)—the acceptable variation limits of an ecological characteristic or process at the time of listing
  • potential threats to the site
  • knowledge gaps and key monitoring needs.

Of the 11 Ramsar sites, 10 have a published ECD. The Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula ECD has been in draft since 2011 as the Commonwealth Government has not yet endorsed it.

The ECDs for Victoria's Ramsar sites identify 88 critical elements for which LACs must be determined. Currently, 118 LACs have been determined. The national framework for describing ecological character states that there may not be enough information to set LACs for some critical components and processes. In these instances, the lack of information should be described as a knowledge gap. All of the completed ECDs identify knowledge gaps.

LACs are important for determining whether a wetland's ecology has changed. They are used to measure changes in hydrology, vegetation, native fish, waterbirds or threatened species. The Ramsar Secretariat must be notified if there has been a change in ecological character. If a LAC for a site is exceeded, it may indicate an adverse change in the wetland's ecological character.

Only five of the 11 Ramsar sites assessed have LACs for all their critical ecological elements. This is mainly due to knowledge gaps and poor baseline data at the time of listing. LACs should be determined based on the condition of the wetland at the time the site was listed, to provide a baseline against which to compare changes at the site. However, as ECDs were not developed until 2010–12, LACs could not be determined at the time of listing, which was 1982 for all sites except the Edithvale−Seaford Wetlands site, which was listed in 2001.

The Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands site has no established LACs because its ECD predates the government-prepared guidance on the critical elements that characterise a wetland, which act as the base for determining LACs. Without LACs, it is difficult to determine whether a site is degrading because changes in ecological character cannot be monitored effectively.

The case study in Figure 2A outlines a notification of change in ecological character by a third party—a member of the public, non-government organisation or community group—directly to the international Ramsar Secretariat. This demonstrates the importance of baseline data and establishing LACs in a timely way.

Figure 2A

Case study: Third-party notification

In March 2009, concerns were raised by a third party about an increase in salinity at Lake Wellington in the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site. The Ramsar Secretariat notified the Commonwealth Government which then informed DELWP. The Commonwealth Government led an assessment of ecological character change and, in February 2012, concluded that:

Based on the best available scientific evidence, the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site had not undergone human-induced adverse alteration in the critical components, processes and benefits/services since the time it was listed in 1982.

At this time, an LAC for salinity at Lake Wellington was not set. The 2015 Gippsland Lakes Management Plan indicates an increase in salinity at Lake Wellington from 1986 to 2015. In reviewing the ECD for the site, DELWP developed a draft addendum to include an LAC for salinity at Lake Wellington. In 2015–16, after a further third-party notification, the site was reassessed against this LAC. The findings will be included in the ECD addendum when this is finalised in consultation with the Commonwealth Government.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by DELWP.

DELWP is aware of several problems with ECDs, including:

  • the availability of new information that may update LACs to more accurately reflect the condition of sites at the time of listing
  • the absence of LACs for some critical elements
  • the absence of monitoring data for some LACs and threat indicators
  • methods, time frames and accountabilities for monitoring LACs and threat indicators not being generally documented in management plans or other Ramsar site documents.

To address these issues, DELWP began a project to revise and update ECDs in October 2015, including setting and reviewing LACs. The project is further discussed in Section 3.4.

Photo of a dry lake

Lake Albacutya, photographed in 2014, is threatened by the impact of climate change and has been dry for the last 20 years. It has contained water for only four periods in the last century: 1909–29, 1956–68, 1974–83 and 1992–94.

2.3.3 Management plans

Management plans should outline the management, monitoring and evaluation activities required to maintain the ecological character of Ramsar sites and should address current and emerging risks. ECDs should guide their development.

National regulations set out general principles for the development of Ramsar site management plans. These should contain a description of the site's ecological character, actions necessary to maintain its ecological character, and monitoring and reporting provisions. The principles recommend that management plans be reviewed every seven years.

DELWP has also developed guidance for catchment management authorities (CMA) outlining when and how Ramsar site management should be incorporated into regional waterway strategies (RWS).

Of Victoria's 11 Ramsar sites, seven have a current management plan embedded within an RWS, three have standalone plans—one of which is in draft—and one site (Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula) does not have a current management plan. DELWP advised that work to renew this plan has commenced. It has funded Corangamite CMA to lead the plan development, which is expected to be completed by December 2017.

The location and status of Ramsar management plans is shown in Figure 2B.

Figure 2B

Location of Ramsar site management plans

Ramsar site

Location of management plan

Barmah Forest

Goulburn Broken Regional Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Corner Inlet

West Gippsland Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands

Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands Management Plan 2009

Gippsland Lakes

Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site Management Plan 2015

Gunbower Forest

North Central Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Hattah–Kulkyne Lakes

Mallee Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Kerang Wetlands

North Central Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Lake Albacutya

Wimmera Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula

Out of date

Western District Lakes

Corangamite Waterway Strategy 2014–22

Western Port

In draft

Source: VAGO based on information from DELWP.

Parks Victoria and the former Department of Sustainability & Environment prepared Ramsar management plans in 2002–04 before they were embedded in RWSs. Despite being out of date, these plans remain on the Parks Victoria website and, in 2013, Parks Victoria used these plans to review the status of management actions—see Section 3.3. This audit did not assess the development of these plans.

Assessment of Ramsar management plans

Our assessment of current Ramsar management plans, based on the key Australian Ramsar management principles, is shown in Figure 2C. No one plan met all the requirements to be considered a comprehensive management framework for a Ramsar site.

Photo shows a lake with dead trees in it.

Photographed in 2016, Lake Wellington's dying vegetation—phragmites reed beds— is thought to be caused by increased salinity in the lake.

Figure 2C Ramsar management planning requirements

Criteria

Met

Not met

Partly met

A management plan exists for the site.

9

1

1(a)

The management plan describes the ecological character of the site.

9

1

1

The management plan states the Ramsar criteria met.

10

1

The management plan has management actions for the conservation and maintenance of the ecological character of the site.

5

1

5

The management plan promotes actions for the wise use of the wetland.

7

1

3

The plan has management actions to address threats that impact the wetland's ecological character.

2

1

8

The development of the management plan utilised a public consultation.

9

2

The management plan involved people with an interest in the wetland and provides for continuing community and technical input.

10

1

The management plan adequately considers monitoring and reporting on the state of the wetland's ecological character on a continuing basis.

8

1

2

The management plan will be reviewed every seven years.

2

9

(a) The management plan is in draft form and currently available for public comment.

Note: CMAs' RWSs assume an eight-year review cycle. This analysis included the draft management plan for Western Port. Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula does not have a management plan and was rated as 'not met' for all categories.

Source: VAGO based on the Australian national Ramsar management principles.

Overall, seven of the 10 plans assessed by VAGO ensured the ecological character of the site would be conserved by linking management actions to ecological values requiring conservation and protection. The draft Western Port plan also clearly links management actions and targets to the ecological character of the site. Three plans were assessed by VAGO as only partly meeting this requirement.

Eight of the plans only partly addressed the stated threats to ecological character, as they did not include management actions to address all the identified risks. Risks such as invasive animals and plants and changes in water level and flow were addressed well, but identified risks from recreational activity, changes in water quality and climate change were rarely addressed.

Recreational activities such as fishing and gaming provide social value but may pose a threat to ecological character. The impact of these threats was not identified in most management plans. Ducks are hunted at many sites, including at Lake Murdeduke and Lake Colongulac, part of the Western District Lakes site. One of the site's environmental values, identified in the management plan, is supporting waterbird habitat. However, the potential impacts of duck hunting—such as the accidental shooting of protected species and disturbances to habitat and fauna—have not been assessed.

Eight of the plans outlined requirements to monitor the effectiveness of actions, which were also identified in the ECD. These plans described what monitoring was required and the time frames and responsibility for it. The Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site management plan is an example of this approach.

Nine plans met the requirement for public consultation by issuing the draft plan/strategy for public comment, holding workshops with agencies and community groups, and indirect consultation through emails and advertisements.

2.4 Governance, oversight, and roles and responsibilities

Sound governance arrangements are required to manage Ramsar sites effectively due to the sites' complexity and the number of organisations involved. Clear roles and responsibilities and good oversight are required for the effective implementation of management plan actions. Together these reduce the risk of overlap and service gaps and increase accountability for the implementation of management plans.

Governance

Governance processes for implementing most management plans are generally poor. There is no robust governance framework, nor procedures in place to help implement plans in a risk-based, prioritised manner. As a result, there is limited evidence that plans are implemented as intended. While most management plans do assign lead agencies to activities, there is limited accountability for implementation and monitoring the impact of management activities. Without adequate governance, site managers mainly use their own planning priorities rather than being accountable for delivering management plan actions.

A number of management plans specify clear governance arrangements for their implementation and these should be used as better-practice models:

  • The Gippsland Lakes plan directs agencies to prepare an implementation plan for each management action they are responsible for. East Gippsland CMA then collates these into a single plan, which also sets monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements. The plan also specifies that a multi-agency Ramsar steering committee will be formed for the Gippsland Lakes.
  • North Central CMA is developing an action plan for the Kerang Wetlands site, for which DELWP has provided $200 000. A steering committee of representatives from other agencies in the region has been set up to overcome the problem of agencies working in isolation. When completed, the action plan is expected to make clear what is required and from whom.
  • Melbourne Water is both the site manager and plan owner for the Edithvale−Seaford Wetlands site. It has clear accountabilities for managing and monitoring the site and internal processes that ensure that it funds high-priority actions for Ramsar sites. Melbourne Water also tracks the implementation of its management activities. The Ramsar plan has 77 management actions. Of these, all high-priority actions have been implemented but 11 are uncompleted—these actions were not completed as they were no longer deemed a high priority.

While these examples illustrate effective operational governance arrangements, there is limited opportunity for site managers to have ongoing input into processes that impact the management of Ramsar sites. A wetland working group that includes representatives from Melbourne Water, Parks Victoria, CMAs, DELWP and the Commonwealth Government meets three times a year. The group discusses wetland management matters broadly, but Ramsar site matters are only discussed as required rather than being an ongoing agenda item. This forum shares information but lacks formal arrangements to help set priorities.

Oversight

Inadequate oversight of Ramsar site management means management plans are not always effectively implemented. DELWP, which is responsible for promoting the wise use and conservation of Ramsar wetlands and reporting on their ecological status, has limited oversight of how plans for all sites are implemented and evaluated.

Parks Victoria has poor oversight of the implementation of management plans for the 10 sites it manages. Parks Victoria carries out many habitat-management activities in these wetlands, which often result in improved environmental outcomes, and they work in collaboration with other partners to reduce threats—see Figure 2D. However, this work is mainly implemented through projects and specifically funded initiatives, so it is opportunistic and reactive to when funding is available. These activities are generally not guided by the current Ramsar management plan, and this can result in significant ecological risks not being addressed in a timely way.

Figure 2D

Examples of opportunistic management activities

Site

Project

Gippsland Lakes

Water management at Sale Common

During a dry period in 2008–10, the native plant giant rush spread throughout the Sale Common. Changes in the water created an environment that encouraged growth of the plant.

The giant rush can provide excellent habitat for waterbird and colonial nesting species but can also create tall, dense stands, competing with other native vegetation and decreasing the ecological value of the wetland.

The West Gippsland CMA and Parks Victoria responded by preparing a management strategy to drown the rush by artificially filling the wetland and maintaining high water levels for about three years. Rainfall filled the Sale Commons in 2010, resulting in the giant rush seedlings being drowned.

Reducing the extent and density of the giant rush led to other vegetation types being restored. This management activity directly responds to a management action in the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site management plan, which requires control of native invasive species such as the giant rush.

Kerang Wetlands

Protecting and enhancing priority wetlands

This project, led by North Central CMA, aims to protect endangered and threatened flora and fauna species supported by the Kerang Wetlands site. This project ran over four years and ended on 30 June 2016, with no further funding available. It delivered land management activities within and near the wetlands including:

  • monitoring outputs and outcomes through vegetation surveys and wetland condition assessments
  • managing invasive plants and animals
  • fencing and revegetation work
  • maintaining conduits at sites where environmental water was to be delivered
  • talking with communities and Indigenous people to raise awareness of the value of the wetlands.

These activities respond to various actions in the Kerang Wetlands management plan, including controlling weeds, rabbits and foxes, mapping vegetation, and assessing the condition of the wetland.

Western District Lakes

Borrell-a-kandelop Wetland Restoration Project

Between 2001 and 2014, Greening Australia, Parks Victoria and Corangamite CMA jointly carried out this project, aimed at preserving habitat for migratory birds through conservation work, including revegetation, building fencing and fox baiting.

One of the major challenges at the Western District Lakes is that the site boundary abuts private land and some management activities depend on the willingness of local landowners to take part in the project.

Part of this project was to stop grazing on the wetland. Parks Victoria engaged and negotiated with landowners to fence the boundary between the lake and private land.

The Borrell-a-kandelop project started under the former management plan for the Western District Lakes, prepared in 2002. The name 'Borrell-a-kandelop' relates to the objective of the site's management plan—'protect and, where appropriate, enhance ecosystem services, processes, habitats and species.' Management activities for this project aligned to the priorities of the Ramsar site management plan.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Parks Victoria and CMAs.

In 2015, Parks Victoria introduced a new approach to improve its planning, governance and oversight processes for public parks and reserves, which includes Ramsar sites. This approach involves preparing management plans for 16 areas with similar landscapes. At present, no plan that covers a Ramsar site has been completed, so this process is not advanced enough to assess how well Ramsar sites will be catered for. The River Red Gums landscape plan, in the early stages of development, includes four Ramsar sites—Barmah Forest, Gunbower Forest, Kerang Wetlands and Hattah−Kulkyne Lakes. It is unclear how this plan will link to the relevant RWSs for these sites, which include Ramsar management plans.

Roles and responsibilities for implementation

Site managers and CMAs are generally responsible for developing and implementing management plans, but roles and responsibilities for specific actions are not always clear or documented. This means that, while lead agencies are identified, actions are not always implemented. CMAs led the development of Ramsar management plans for the Parks Victoria sites, where the plans are embedded in RWSs, but they are not fully responsible for the plans' implementation. This results in limited accountability for the implementation of management actions. This is not the case for Melbourne Water, which is the site manager for the Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands site—it is responsible for developing and implementing its management plan.

Most management plans also do not contain clear roles and responsibilities for monitoring the outcomes and effectiveness of management actions. As a result of this limited accountability, most site managers determine their own management priorities based on available funding and resources, rather than those identified through the Ramsar management planning process.

DELWP acknowledges that improvements should be made in governance and in better integrating agencies who have a role in Ramsar site management. It is planning to resource a Victorian Ramsar forum to bring together agencies with management responsibilities to share information, communicate issues and national updates, and progress issues across the state.

2.5 Funding for delivery

Inadequate resource planning is a major hurdle to the effective management of Ramsar sites in Victoria. Not all management plan actions are funded, so responsible agencies rely on grants. In addition, meeting sometimes competing Commonwealth and state priorities is challenging. DELWP advised that funds for management plans, generally in resource management, are limited.

Despite this, agencies should know what resources are required to manage these sites to avoid any change to their ecological character, and should budget appropriately.

State funding

In Victoria, funding is provided to DELWP through the State Budget process, and DELWP allocates a large portion of these funds to CMAs to deliver the actions in their RWSs. In addition, there are other grant and program-funding opportunities available.

Under its Waterway Health Program, DELWP provides CMAs with some funds for Ramsar site planning and on-ground management. DELWP also provides advice on developing Ramsar management plans to be embedded into RWSs and advice on renewal and/or development of standalone Ramsar site management plans.

CMAs apply for annual funding through the Victorian Water Programs Investment Framework, which includes a component to manage Ramsar sites. Funding is allocated through annual service level agreements (SLA) between CMAs and DELWP, covering projects related to river and estuary management, as well as wetlands. In 2015–16, only the SLA for North Central CMA had a dedicated Ramsar program for the Kerang Wetlands and Gunbower Forest Ramsar sites. The other SLAs integrated funding for Ramsar sites into general wetland projects.

With no dedicated funding for the management of Ramsar sites, CMAs also use funding from other sources, including the National Landcare Programme to plan and manage these sites. One CMA advised that the issue with this type of project-specific funding is that it is not ongoing and does not necessarily need to be spent on monitoring or maintenance activities.

Under RWSs, Parks Victoria and other agencies are assigned management actions. However, these actions do not have funds specifically allocated to them. CMAs are funded to complete management activities in priority waterways and may allocate funding to other agencies, including Parks Victoria, to complete this work.

DELWP and Parks Victoria have a management service agreement detailing arrangements for managing parks and reserves. The agreement does not make specific funding provisions for the management of Ramsar wetlands but does cover environmental management activities—threatened species, invasive plants and animals, native animal management, habitat restoration, catchment and water management, ecological fire management and marine management. Many of these activities are undertaken at Ramsar sites.

As environmental management is part of Parks Victoria's core service, it should be able to assess and know what resources it requires to manage its 10 Ramsar sites, but it currently cannot do so. Parks Victoria is aware of this is issue and intends to collect this information as it introduces its new planning process.

Figure 2E details funding spent at each Ramsar site for the last two years. However, we are not confident about the reliability and completeness of this information and had difficulty compiling this data. Parks Victoria did not have this information readily available because it tracks expenditure at a program level rather than at a Ramsar site level. Parks Victoria demonstrated that it could provide a reasonable estimate of the funds it expends at each site.

Figure 2E Funding for Ramsar sites

Ramsar site

State funding ($)

Commonwealth grants ($)

Joint funding / TLM(a) ($)

2014–15

Total state

Parks Victoria

   

Barmah Forest

67 547

20 047

553 223

237 872

Corner Inlet

228 305

11 825

745 000

Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands

309 170(b)

Gippsland Lakes

4 749 860

126 100

31 500

Gunbower Forest

15 120

15 120

747 550

Hattah–Kulykne Lakes

151 166

151 166

887 247

1 277 373

Kerang Wetlands

143 000

32 000

522 440

Lake Albacutya

10 250

10 250

95 404

Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula

1 508 640(c)

21 600

893 940

Western District Lakes

345 000

25 000

30 000

Western Port

726 600(c)

40 000

550 000

Total

8 254 658

453 108

5 056 304

1 515 245

2015–16

Total state

Parks Victoria

   

Barmah Forest

200 924

100 924

442 578

318 083

Corner Inlet

355 699

16 000

585 385

Edithvale–Seaford Wetlands

791 615(b)

Gippsland Lakes

1 795 606

149 250

56 000

Gunbower Forest

85 060

17 400

346 964

Hattah–Kulykne Lakes

355 794

157 360

373 638

1 870 455

Kerang Wetlands

468 642

4 200

209 166

Lake Albacutya

37 107

14 530

75 534

Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula

1 230 678(c)

31 650

68 975

Western District Lakes

63 000

7 000

30 000

Western Port

421 600(c)

43 500

306 225

Total

5 805 725

541 814

2 494 465

2 188 538

(a) 'Joint funding' comprises funding from Victoria and the Commonwealth Government. Funding from 'The Living Murray' (TLM) initiative comprises contributions from Victoria, other state and the Commonwealth governments—see Figure 2F.

(b) Entire contribution from Melbourne Water.

(c) Includes contributions from Melbourne Water made up of:

For 2014–15, Melbourne Water contributed $1 412 040 to Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula and $686 600 to Western Port.

For 2015–16 Melbourne Water contributed $908 400 to Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula and $274 600 to Western Port.

Note: Parks Victoria contribution is included in the state funding column.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by DELWP, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and CMAs.

Commonwealth Government support

From 2008–09 to 2011–12, the Commonwealth Government had a Ramsar program that funded the development and review of ECDs, updates to some RISs, and the first Ramsar Rolling Review in 2011. While the Commonwealth Government does not currently fund these, funding from Commonwealth programs has been used for on‑ground management activities at Ramsar sites. Some of these programs are summarised in Figure 2F.

Figure 2F

Selected Commonwealth/joint programs relevant to Ramsar sites

Caring for our Country —this natural resource management investment program was largely focused on delivering outcome targets against six national priority areas. Actions that supported the environmental Ramsar values formed a key aspect of the coastal and critical aquatic habitat priority area. These actions included restoring and protecting nationally significant threatened species and ecological communities, and controlling weeds of national significance. The first stage of the grant program ran between June 2008 and 2012. The second stage ran between 2012 and December 2015.

National Landcare Programme —this current natural resource management investment program commenced in 2015. It focuses on managing natural resources with the aim of maintaining and improving ecosystem services. It aims to do this through sustainable management and increasing the restoration and rehabilitation of the natural environment, including protecting and conserving nationally and internationally significant species, ecosystems and ecological communities. This includes protecting and/or conserving 'Matters of National Environmental Significance' such as Ramsar wetlands.

The Living Murray Initiative —this joint initiative is funded by the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Australian Capital Territory and Commonwealth governments. Coordinated by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, it is a restoration program that aims to improve ecological conditions along the River Murray, by recovering water for the environment and building water management structures at six significant sites, including:

  • Barmah–Millewa Forest, which includes the Barmah Forest Ramsar site
  • Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest, which includes the Gunbower Forest Ramsar site
  • Hattah Lakes, which includes the Hattah–Kulkyne Lakes Ramsar site.

DELWP advised that some of the funds assigned to The Living Murray initiative consist of joint funding contributed by state and Commonwealth governments to undertake joint programs.

Source: VAGO.

This funding available through these programs is not ongoing and is provided for the delivery of Commonwealth priorities, which include Ramsar site management. The risk with relying on this form of funding is that projects may only be short term and funds may not be spent on monitoring or maintaining ecological character.

Recommendations

  1. That the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, in conjunction with Parks Victoria and catchment management authorities:
  • develop and implement robust governance arrangements for managing Ramsar sites, including clarifying roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for planning, management and reporting
  • strengthen management plans to include time frames and resourcing to ensure that actions are carried out effectively and in a timely way.
  • That the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning:
    • oversee the development of a finalised Ramsar management plan for the Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula and Western Port sites
    • work with catchment management authorities and site managers to develop and assess options for the direct funding of management plan activities focused on high-priority threats that impact on the ecological character of Ramsar sites
    • implement arrangements to oversee how management plans are put into effect.

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