Tech & Science Housing developments are putting Australia's native wildlife at risk. Here's how to be part of the solution

23:01  05 december  2019
23:01  05 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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a bird that is standing in the grass next to a body of water: This design is an example of how one sustainability expert wants housing to be developed: mid-rise with biodiversity at the core. (Supplied)© Provided by ABC Business This design is an example of how one sustainability expert wants housing to be developed: mid-rise with biodiversity at the core. (Supplied)

You've saved the money, signed off on the plans, packed your things.

You're moving to your own piece of land outside the city, and you think you've planned for everything.

If you're like many Australians, however, it's likely you've overlooked one important consideration: wildlife.

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Namely, your new home's impact on it.

"I don't think it's widely thought about or known how massive the impact of urban development is on biodiversity in this country," says RMIT sustainability and urban planning expert Sarah Bekessy.

The good news? There are plenty of steps people can take to do something about the problem.

Driving species to the brink

Don Driscoll, a sustainability expert at Deakin University, agrees there's a "lack of awareness" of how housing construction in urban fringes and country areas affects wildlife.

"There's a whole bunch of native species that can't live in that sort of environment," he says.

"Some species just don't like a lot of human activity nearby. It might be noise. It might be other vehicles nearby."

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Australia ’ s wildlife is suffering an extinction crisis, particularly among its mammals. Clearing of habitat for agriculture and other development is partially to blame, although scientists have identified feral cats and foxes as the primary cause of the decline.

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Native species can also suffer as a result of domesticated animals moving into the landscape — like cats, dogs and horses.

Professor Driscoll says feral animals such as foxes, deer and pigs — a major threat to native animals — will also "move though landscapes on roads that are being built by people".

Invasive plants are also given new access to once undisturbed areas when roads are built.

Professor Driscoll says when homes are built in existing forested areas, it has an "enormous impact" on native species.

"Buying a block that hasn't been cleared and putting your new house on it is definitely going to drive some of these species out of the landscape," he says.

"It's a big problem."

Professor Bekessy says urban fringe development is also an issue, as those areas are often "co-located with a lot of biodiversity".

"Some of our most critically endangered ecosystems are currently being cleared for housing developments in these urban fringe places," she says.

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"So, for example, in the outskirts of Melbourne we have the critically endangered volcanic plains grasslands — probably Australia's most endangered ecosystem, absolutely loaded up with threatened species — and we're clearing massive amounts of it for developments at the moment."

She says the situation is similar in the outskirts of other Australian cities, too.

"The Cumberland Plains [in New South Wales] is currently being cleared at really quite high rates for housing," she says.

"The same in Perth; the Swan Coastal Plain is known as one of the world's biodiversity hotspots and enormous amounts of it are being cleared for housing."

She says one reason for that is the same land conditions that appeal to wildlife — "flat, fertile, productive and wet" — also appeal to developers.

As our cities expand further and further out, we lose bushland — and a "whole lot of species", she says.

"Either species are now extinct from those areas or they're very, very threatened," Professor Bekessy says.

For example, the grassland earless dragon has not been seen in Victoria since 1969, and the eastern barred bandicoot is locally extinct from the Melbourne to Geelong region, she says.

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'We can be doing a hell of a lot better'

Where home building does occur, Professor Driscoll would prefer it to be high-density, which "leaves more area available that's less disturbed for Australian native species".

"Everywhere where population is expanding, it's going to be better to try to cram [houses] into the smallest possible space so that you spare all the other land around so that other species have space to live in," he says.

"Low-density housing areas are one of the worst ways to manage biodiversity.

"So, although it gets people out into the environment and they can enjoy their one or two-hectare block, it also has one of the biggest impacts on native species."

Professor Bekessy says it is "absolutely not necessary" that wildlife takes a hit as our population grows.

"We can be doing a hell of a lot better at protecting biodiversity," she says.

Building a new home responsibly is "absolutely" achievable — "but it takes a bit of work", she says.

"In the first instance, you've got to know what the values on your property already are," Professor Bekessy says.

"People often don't really understand the value of the biodiversity on the land they're purchasing and don't necessarily have the capability to manage it properly."

It's not a job you need to tackle alone.

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Locals councils, land care, and parks groups, and catchment management authorities can all provide help.

There are also organisations, for example, Trust for Nature, that can help people survey their property to determine what kind of wildlife or vegetation there is, and develop management plans for them.

You can be 'a net positive for biodiversity'

Professor Driscoll's advice to someone making a treechange is to not perpetuate an existing ecological issue.

"They should actively avoid areas that are being newly opened. If they have to clear forest to build their house, they're part of the problem not the solution," he says.

"If they can move into pre-existing areas then they're probably not making it worse, and if they alter their land management to manage weeds and feral pests, and constrain dogs and cats, then perhaps they're going to improve it over what it's been like in the past."

Professor Bekessy agrees.

"Don't buy a property in a place that's been cleared for housing. That's going to send the loudest signal to developers," Professor Bekessy says.

She says it's far preferable to buy land that's already cleared, for example "fairly degraded, agricultural land", then work to revegetate it.

A homeowner can even come out on top and "bring things back".

"I think it's entirely possible to have developments that conduct a net positive for biodiversity on the site," Professor Bekessy says.

"You can be providing habitats for animals. You can have bird-friendly glass to prevent bird collisions and bird strikes. Or you can have bat boxes and bird boxes incorporated in your actual construction.

"Your garden itself can be a haven for biodiversity.

"And the really exciting part of that kind of advice is that it ... creates places you want to live in."

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