Townsville Ring Road (Stage 5) - Re-introduction of Endangered Species through Environmentally Focused Design & Construction - Environmental Outcomes - ISCouncil

Townsville Ring Road (Stage 5) – Re-introduction of Endangered Species through Environmentally Focused Design & Construction – Environmental Outcomes

Thursday, 5 October 2023

Describe WHAT you have done and HOW you have done it.

The Black-throated finch (southern sub-species) (Poephila cincta cincta) (BTF), classified as 'Endangered' under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and 'Endangered' under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992 , is a critical aspect of Townsville Ring Road Stage 5 (TRR5) project's environment and sustainability goals. Aligned with the BTF National Recovery Plan and the EPBC Act, the project identified and sought to rehabilitate a suitable BTF habitat, aspiring to enhance the ecological value of the area.

Under the TRR5 Landscape, Revegetation, and Urban Design (LRUD) Plan, the Grass Rehabilitation Plan (GRP) for the BTF was developed. This plan targeted a three-hectare area that was deemed suitable for rehabilitation and management. Due to limited precedent on suitable treatments, it was considered an innovative trial. The primary objective was to cultivate native grass species across the allocated region, enhancing the foraging prospects for the BTF.

In an innovative partnership, the project team collaborated with Dr Kendrick Cox from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to commercially produce BTF-targeted foraging seed species: Dichanthium sericeum and Paspalidium distans, a first in Australia, and Setaria Surgens which has previously been grown as a trial but no longer commercially available. Securing these seeds traditionally required wild harvest, an unreliable method due to seasonal variations and other environmental factors. The successful cultivation of seeds was accomplished through the Department of Primary Industries' seed production facility in Walkamin, Atherton Tablelands. This accomplishment extends beyond the scope of the project, as the additional seeds produced will be stored by Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) for use on future projects. Increasing the accessibility of the native foraging grasses directly supports the BTF National Recovery Plan by fostering a more reliable and commercially viable source of these species for future revegetation efforts.

As part of the area preparation before ameliorating and hydro-mulching, the project partnered with the local Wulgurukaba Traditional Owners to conduct a mosaic burn. This culturally-informed approach, aligning with Aboriginal land management practices, facilitated the regeneration of native species already present in the soil by simulating natural ecological processes. This also acted as a strategic weed management tool, reducing the load of invasive plant species by eliminating surface-level biomass and seeds. Post-burn, an active management strategy was launched to monitor and reduce the risk of invasive species being established and improve the ecological diversity of the area.

The Principal Ecologist of Biodiversity Australia, Dr Greg Calvert stated, “the lack of a diverse and reliable range of native grass seeds has resulted in many industries, particularly mining, utilising non-native grasses in rehabilitation projects, and the resulting environmental impact of many of these introduced grasses has subsequently had a greater environmental impact than the mines themselves.” Dr Greg Calvert also commended the project by stating, “the use of grass species that are known to be favoured by black-throated finches is likely to be of enormous value in efforts to prevent the extinction of this species, as commercial availability of favoured species is virtually non-existent.”

What were the OUTCOMES and how were those outcomes shared?

The initiative delivers abundant positive environmental, social and economic outcomes, including the commercial production of three seed species, the enhancement of local ecological value, industry knowledge expansion, and market transformation. The initiative has played a pioneering role in establishing an industry for the commercial growth of native fauna-targeted seeds, encouraging more environmentally sustainable large-scale rehabilitation projects to support endangered native fauna species.

Through the establishment of the three hectares, a suitable and secure habitat was provided for the BTF. This achievement represents a critical step in the ongoing protection and conservation of the endangered species as championed within the National Recovery Plan. By providing a well-prepared habitat alongside a suitable water source, the initiative ensures that the BTF has access to appropriate food sources necessary for its survival and well-being. The BTF requires a diversity of foraging grasses which provide year-round availability of seed. The secure habitat serves as a haven where the BTF can flourish, breed, and thrive, contributing to the long-term viability and recovery of the species. The creation of such a dedicated and sustainable habitat is vital for safeguarding the future of the BTF population.

The industry collaboration effort exhibited with Georgiou and Dr Kendrick Cox of DAF resulted in 13kgs of each grass species – Dichanthium sericeum, Paspalidium distans, and Setaria surgens – being successfully cultivated. Previously, due to the outdated wild-harvest methodology, there was limited availability of these grass species for large-scale rehabilitation projects, making this successful collaboration a significant advance in conservation and recovery efforts. The newfound commercial availability extends benefits beyond the TRR5 project, creating opportunities for other conservation groups and ecological restoration projects to utilise these grass species.

This project's ground-breaking nature becomes apparent considering that it is the first instance where native seed growth and commercial production have been incorporated in a construction contract. It is also the first commercial cultivation of Dichanthium sericeum and Paspalidium distans seeds, which traditionally were sourced via wild harvest.

The project aimed to enhance ecological value in this area. This enhancement is attributed to a variety of methodology and initiatives implemented during the project construction, project planning and design preparation and evaluation, including the establishment of the native grass species and extensive weed removal efforts within the three-hectare area. The project has fostered a healthier environment for BTF by mitigating habitat loss and weed encroachment, which are identified as threats to the species’ in the BTF National Recovery Plan.

The knowledge amassed through this project has been shared extensively within the industry, aiming to stimulate a shift from business-as-usual practices. The methodology and progress have been disseminated both internally, within Georgiou and DTMR, and externally at industry events, and interstate governing agencies like Transport for NSW (TfNSW) through AECOM, the project's Sustainability Consultant. The project's accomplishments have been showcased during events like the Vital & ISC Day in 2022 and during site visits by the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ), positively impacting the perception of the initiative's legacy in enhancing native fauna habitats.

The culmination of this project will be a comprehensive factual report detailing the successful implementation of the grassland rehabilitation plan. The report will provide a clear methodology of how the rehabilitation plan was implemented, particularly highlighting lessons learnt and feasibility for other large-scale rehabilitation projects to undertake targeted management strategies. This will serve as a resource for future projects and contribute to broader scientific studies focused on the effective methodology and the reintroduction of the endangered species into the area. Although the report is aimed specifically at the rehabilitation strategy implemented by TRR5 to improve BTF utilisation of the area, the methodology implemented could be utilised for the purpose of any rehabilitation programs implemented by governing agencies, non-for-profit land rehabilitation organisations and private industry such as construction companies or mining.

By sharing these accomplishments and information, the project aims to inspire other stakeholders to adopt similar innovative practices, fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and knowledge sharing. Thus, the TRR5 BTF initiative not only provides a practical solution for species-specific habitat restoration but also sets a precedent and provides a blueprint for future efforts.

Describe WHO benefited from your initiative, innovation, or approach?

The initiative taken by the project has benefited various stakeholders involved in the process. These include:

• Local Ecosystem: The project enhanced ecological health by fostering biodiversity through the cultivation of native, fauna-targeted grass species. The improvement of habitat for an endangered species such as the BTF reflects a commitment to the improvement of ecological value whilst improving infrastructure.

• Research Community: The initiative fosters a better understanding of the species and informs evidence-based conservation strategies. By sharing their insights and experiences, TRR5 contributes to the body of practical scientific knowledge surrounding BTF ecology and conservation. This knowledge can be used to refine and improve future rehabilitation efforts for endangered species facing similar habitat challenges.

• Broader Industry – The initiative benefits rehabilitation and land management efforts by the broader industry such as other infrastructure construction companies, land developers, mines, councils, public utility providers and seed producers. By implementing BTF habitat rehabilitation measures TRR5 sets a precedent for other projects, helping to mitigate impacts on the endangered species. The initiative's positive impact is identified through another local project, "Townsville Northern Access Road," requested surplus seeds, highlighting the challenge in sourcing suitable seeds for such efforts. The initiative continues to create beneficial ripple effects in local industries and regional ecology.

• Local First Nations Community – By undertaking area preparation that aligned with Aboriginal land management practices this initiative promoted further inclusion and culturally-informed rehabilitation whilst facilitating the regeneration of non-targeted native species already present in the topsoil.

• Department of Agriculture and Fisheries: DAF gained invaluable insights into the cultivation, growth patterns and suitability of Dichanthium sericeum and Paspalidium distans. This knowledge gained will be instrumental in guiding future projects and initiatives aimed at habitat restoration.

• DTMR: This endeavour led to a sustainable supply of BTF-targeted seed species for DTMR, facilitating their provision of seeds for commercial cultivation to contractors and local industry seed producers. DTMR anticipates that the project's legacy will aid in future rehabilitation programs for native fauna like the BTF. The department's long-term goal is to distribute a limited seed volume to contractors who would replenish the DTMR seed bank after successful commercial reproduction.

• Georgiou & AECOM – Invaluable experience was gained in successfully implementing a GRP that goes beyond business as usual. By incorporating design practices that prioritise ecological value, they have contributed to habitat restoration. This experience has expanded their understanding of sustainable and nature positive construction, enabling a stronger focus on ecological enhancement

What LEGACY and UN SDG CONTRIBUTION was achieved?

The availability of these grasses on a commercial scale benefits the project and provides opportunities for other land managers, conservation groups and ecological restoration projects to reintroduce native species. This initiative’s legacy is further highlighted by DTMR’s aim to continue assisting successful rehabilitation programs on infrastructure projects by utilising the established seed bank. DTMR will provide contractors and commercial seed suppliers with a volume of seed supply to be reproduced at a larger scale. The larger-scale cultivation will then yield a volume of seed to be returned to the DTMR seed bank, promoting ongoing conservation efforts.

The project’s strong and positive relationship with the local Wulgurukaba Aboriginal Traditional Owners has received commendation from representatives of the community. The partnership with the Wulgurukaba Aboriginal Traditional Owners exemplifies the respectful and inclusive approach to land management, commitment to understanding and respecting Indigenous knowledge and practices that enhance ecological value. This collaboration established a foundation for continued positive and cultural mindful engagement, fostering the opportunity for ongoing consultation and collaboration on future projects. This approach ensures culturally considerate infrastructure development and construction, promoting mutual respect and understanding between projects and the Indigenous community.
Furthermore, the legacy of the initiative aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the following aspects:

• Goal 15: Life on Land. The project's BTF grassland rehabilitation plan and implementation and industry collaborative approach contribute to the following aspects of Goal 15:
o Reducing land degradation
o Mitigation of biodiversity loss
o Improving ecological value
The project's contributions to habitat rehabilitation and the cultivation of native fauna-targeted grass species have produced a lasting impact. The comprehensive factual report will offer an in-depth account of the successful amelioration of each section of the BTF rehabilitation plan, whilst detailing the strategies used to enhance the ecological value of the area. As a valuable resource to providing a lasting legacy, this report will guide future projects aiming to combat land degradation and biodiversity loss through the implementation of their own BTF rehabilitation initiatives.

• Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. The project’s GRP contributed to the emergence of a new commercial seed growth opportunities for the purpose of native fauna-targeted seed cultivation on rehabilitation projects. This has the potential to create new opportunities for growth in the local industry. Such expansion for local industry commercial growers promotes sustainable business practices by contributing to economic diversification.

• Goal 13: Climate Action. By improving biodiversity and ecological value, the initiative helps to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of terrestrial ecosystems. This enhancement bolsters the natural ability of these ecosystems to absorb greenhouse gases, making a valuable contribution to the global response to climate change.

• Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. By demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of incorporating biodiversity considerations into infrastructure projects, the initiative offers valuable insights for future urban and regional planning. This approach ensures that development is balanced with the need to protect and restore natural habitats, paving the way for more sustainable communities.

• Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals. It seeks to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. The collaboration between various stakeholders, including Georgiou, DTMR, AECOM, DAF and local industry stakeholders, embodies the essence of this goal. Their united effort sets a strong example of cross-sectoral cooperation aimed at improving environmental outcomes, fostering knowledge sharing and promoting best practices in conservation and rehabilitation. The successful commercial production of the three seed species through the collaboration with DAF signifies a step forward in conservation and recovery efforts for the targeted management of vulnerable and endangered native fauna such as the BTF.