Under the Melbourne Strategic Assessment (MSA) program, we protect and manage threatened plants, animals and ecosystems in various conservation areas in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. Sites include:
- Western Grassland Reserve
- Banda Bail Nature Conservation Reserve
- Kalkallo Common and Donnybrook Cemetery Grassland
- Truganina Cemetery
- Truganina South Nature Conservation Reserve
- Several private land parcels at Mt Ridley
- The creek corridors of the Merri, Darebin, Cardinia and Kororoit Creeks
- 100 sites across almost 60,000 hectares in Melbourne’s south-east, including the Royal Botanical Gardens Cranbourne.
These sites are monitored by scientists at the Arthur Rylah Institute and managed by Parks Victoria.
We report progress and measure success against various goals, such as population counts and weed levels. For the 2014–2020 period, we are pleased to report that for the Golden Sun Moth, Striped Legless Lizard, Natural Temperate Grassland and Seasonal Herbaceous Wetland, all our targets have been met.
For the other species and ecosystems, too few locations or not enough time under MSA management didn’t allow enough data to set a baseline. Over the coming years, more conservation sites will be transferred into the MSA program, which means increased monitoring, better data and more detailed reporting.
Look at the key findings from our monitoring so far, and for more details read the MSA Ecological Outcomes Report 2014 to 2020.
Protecting species and ecosystems
Through the MSA program, we’re creating a network of new conservation areas on our city’s outskirts. This includes smaller reserves designed to protect some of the best remaining habitats for threatened species, along with the 15,000 hectares Western Grassland Reserve and 1,200-hectare Grassy Eucalypt Woodland Protected Area. The conservation areas will provide ongoing protection for some of our most endangered species and ecosystems.
Key insights from our monitoring program
About the Natural Temperate Grassland ecosystem
- Filled with native grasses, wildflowers and a scattering of shrubs and trees, these grasslands once covered much of the Victorian Volcanic Plains.
- Today, less than 2% of this unique ecosystem remains.
- Now confined to a few small remaining patches.
- Weed invasion, over-growth of grass
- Improve the composition, structure and function of the grassland
- Grassland does not change from a more to a less desirable state (hasn’t been assessed).
- The area covered by native wildflowers expands or stays the same.
- The number of different wildflower species expands or stays the same.
- The area covered by Kangaroo grass stays the same (or increases, in cases where it is absent).
- The area covered by any native grasses, excluding Kangaroo grass, stays the same.
- There is always a good balance between areas with dense grass growth and areas with open ground.
- The area covered by weed species decreases.
Monitoring began in 2013, and the overall quality of the grassland remains relatively steady. In permanent plots, the cover of weeds has generally decreased. In most years, there has been a good balance of open and dense areas. Other key highlights:
- Valuable native wildflowers have remained above the baseline, this includes many rare species.
- Cover of Kangaroo grass has been maintained.
Cover of other native grasses such as Spear grass and Wallaby grass species has also remained above the baseline.
About the Grassy Eucalypt Woodland
- When intact, the canopy is dominated by the majestic River Red Gums, with an understory of shrubs, grasses and wildflowers.
- Other eucalypt species, like Swamp Gum and Yellow Box are sometimes found here too.
- Home to threatened animals and plants, including the Matted Flax Lily and the Striped Legless Lizard.
- Weeds, overgrowth of young River Red Gum saplings, excessively hot fire
- Improve the composition, structure and function of the woodland
We can’t assess the woodlands yet, as not enough sites have been protected through the MSA program.
About the Seasonal Herbaceous Wetlands
- Isolated, shallow, freshwater wetlands occurring on fertile clay soils.
- Generally low and open, the vegetation is made up of native grasses, sedges, wildflowers and ferns which survive in both wet and dry conditions.
- Filled by rainfall but can remain dry for long periods.
- During dry periods, the wetlands may seem to disappear from the landscape, but remain vital habitat for numerous plants and animals.
- Improve the composition, structure and function of the seasonal wetlands improves in all areas where it is protected
The following targets are tracked every summer, and whenever the wetlands have filled with water:
- The richness (diversity) of native wildflowers remains above the baseline.
- The percentage of weed cover remains below the baseline.
All targets met
The overall quality of the wetlands remains steady.
- The diversity of valuable native wildflowers remains steady, including important ‘indicator’ species, which signify high-quality sites.
- Weed cover has generally not increased. Continually reducing weed cover will help important, longer-lived native wildflower species to flourish.
About the Button Wrinklewort
- A small native, long-lived daisy, the Button Wrinklewort has several yellow flowerheads during spring and summer.
- Once widespread south of the Great Dividing Range, it’s now restricted to remnants in south-western Victoria and around Melbourne.
- It grows in grassy woodlands and grasslands, generally in places free from intense overgrowth by other plants, particularly weeds and grasses.
- There is only one location within the MSA area – Truganina Cemetery Grassland – that contains Button Wrinklewort.
- The department is working in partnership with LaTrobe University’s Nangak Tamborree Wildife Sanctuary to boost population numbers and genetic diversity.
- Competition from introduced species, genetic decline, and altered fire regimes
- No substantial negative change to the population of Button Wrinklewort within the program area
- The 5-year average of population counts must remain above a baseline set by the first 5 years of counts.
- In 2020, we completed the first 5 years of data collection at the site, so we now have a baseline. This means we can measure our progress in the next reporting period.
- The population remains relatively steady, despite generally low recruitment (babies) and some mortality after a fire in 2020. Weed levels remain consistently low.
About the Large-fruit Groundsel
- Native daisy with grey foliage with yellow flowers, growing to around 40cm.
- Lives in grassy woodlands and grasslands, generally preferring more open spaces with less competition from taller.
- Introduced species and altered fire regimes
- No substantial negative change to the population of Large-fruit Groundsel within the program area
- The 5-year average of population counts must remain above the baseline set from the first 5 years of counts.
- The only large population within the MSA area has not yet been protected and is not currently monitored. One smaller population, discovered in one of our conservation areas in 2017, has declined slightly from 17 to 12 plants. The baseline for this population will be set in 2021.
About the Matted Flax-lily
- Found in native grasslands, this lily was once widespread but is now restricted to small pockets, scattered across Victoria.
- A long-lived native flower with grey-green leaves and blue or violet star-shaped flowers.
- Forms mats up to 5m wide.
- During dry periods it retreats underground, which can make detection difficult.
- Overgrazing and weed invasion
- No decrease in Matted Flax-lily population
- Yearly detection rate of known plants must remain above the baseline set from the first 5 years of monitoring.
- Not enough data to draw any conclusion about trends. The first 5 years of monitoring will finish in 2021, which means we can set a baseline. So far, the data shows that the population is steady, with no evidence of decline.
About the Small Golden Moths Orchid
- Small orchid around 15cm tall, with a single stem supporting one to 2 small yellow flowers.
- Each summer it retreats underground and at other times when conditions aren’t favourable.
- Only found on the Keilor and Werribee Plains.
- No substantial negative change to the population of Small Golden Moths Orchid
- The Small Golden Moths Orchid is only known at one location, but this has not yet been protected so no monitoring has occurred.
About the Spiny rice-flower
- Small native shrub growing to around 30cm high, found on fertile plains such as the Victorian Volcanic Plain of western Victoria.
- Living for up to 100 years, usually lives in grasslands, particularly near Kangaroo and Wallaby grass species.
- Only 2 areas managed under the MSA have substantial populations of Spiny Rice-flowers – Truganina Cemetery Grassland and Radio Block in the Western Grassland Reserve.
- It also occurs in small numbers on 4 other sites (Magpie, Olive Grove, Mount Cottrell NCR and the roadside to Rock Correa).
- Overgrowth by native grasses as a result of changed fire regimes, weed invasion
- No substantial decrease to the population, and the population is self-sustaining
- The 5-year average population count (individual plants measured in clusters) must remain above a baseline set by the first 5 years of the survey.
- Recruits (babies) must form over 10% of the MSA-wide population in at least one year of the 10-year reporting period.
- As monitoring of these populations only began in 2019, there is not enough data to measure progress at this stage.
- Results from our first monitoring period show that both sites have relatively low weed cover and there are several hundred plants of spiny rice flower (965 at Truganina Cemetery and over 200 plants at Radio Block).
About the Golden Sun Moth
- Changes in land-use (primarily for agriculture) have led to population decline, and it’s now only found in smaller patches in south-eastern Australia.
- Wingspan of around 3cm.
- Active during the day rather than at night.
- Female lays eggs in the base of wallaby grass, and the larvae feed on the roots for up to 2 years before they emerge as adult moths.
- Females are unable to fly very far, so with scattered populations the genetic variations needed for a healthy population can be lost.
The Golden Sun Moth is found in 4 areas currently under MSA management:
- Western Grassland Reserve, Mount Cottrell NCR (eastern half)
- Western Grassland Reserve, One Tree East (Paddock 1 and Paddock 2)
- Western Grassland Reserve, Wilsons Block (Wilsons North and Wilsons South).
- Western Grassland Reserve, Radio
- Excessive vegetation, predators (birds), loss of food plants
- Ensure the Golden Sun Moth persists in the areas under MSA management
- The 5-year mean proportion of monitoring sites occupied by the Golden Sun Moth must remain above a baseline set by the first 5 years of the survey.
- This indicates progress towards our conservation goal. We now monitor 11 permanent sites for Golden Sun Moth
About the Growling Grass Frog
One of Australia’s largest frogs, with a distinctive growling call that sounds like a motorbike.
- Usually found in still or slow-moving pools of water that are filled with a variety of aquatic plants and close to open grasslands.
- These are ideal locations to find the small insects and other foods it lives on.
- Disease, habitat loss, predators
- Ensure the Growling Grass Frog persists within the MSA area
- The proportion of sites occupied in a given year in each of the 7 identified Growling Grass Frog corridors will remain above a baseline set by the first 5 years of monitoring.
- The Growling Grass Frog is found at several locations in the MSA area. However, none of these are protected yet so no monitoring has occurred.
About the Southern Brown Bandicoot
- Small marsupial growing up to 30cm long.
- Lives in the dense undergrowth of grassy woodlands and grasslands, which helps to protect the bandicoot from predators.
- Eats insects, fruits, seeds and fungi.
- An important ‘ecosystem engineer’, helping keep the bushland ecosystems healthy.
- Predators (foxes, cats and dogs)
- Ensure the Southern Brown Bandicoot persists within the management area
- The proportion of sites occupied by the Southern Brown Bandicoot will remain above a baseline set by the first 5 years of monitoring.
Not enough data available, but key highlights include:
- In 2019 we completed the first round of surveys which enabled us to establish baselines for the species, based on the different habitat types it uses. We’ll measure our performance against these in the next reporting period in 2024.
- Overall, the results for this reporting period are encouraging. They tell us that, despite land use changes and urbanisation, the Southern Brown Bandicoot persists. That puts us well on the way to meeting our conservation goal.
About the Striped Legless Lizard
- A small, thin, reptile growing up to around 30cm.
- Remaining populations are found mainly in Melbourne’s outer west.
- Often mistaken for a young snake, this little lizard is easily distinguished by stripes along its body and small flaps that act as back legs.
- A long-lived species, sheltering in soil cracks, crevices, under rocks or at the base of clumps of grass, so it’s rarely seen.
- Loss of native grasslands
- Ensure the Striped Legless Lizard persists in the MSA management area
- Evidence of the Striped Legless Lizard at least once in every 5-year period at 100% of permanent monitoring sites (sites where detections were previously recorded).
- Over the past 5 years, we’ve found evidence of the Striped Legless Lizard at 11 different sites, including Mt Cottrell and Truganina South Nature Conservation Reserves.
- We also collected data on other environmental factors including weeds, bare ground and rock cover. At both Mount Cottrell and Truganina South, levels of bare ground and rock cover, and weeds, remained stable over the monitoring period. These are positive indications that suitable habitat and conditions for the Striped Legless Lizard are being maintained.
To ensure each species and ecosystem has the best chance of survival, the conservation areas are managed to maintain the appropriate habitat, using techniques such as ecological burning and weed control. We also use an ‘adaptive management’ approach. This means techniques are adjusted and tweaked over time, depending on what’s working well for each species and ecosystem. In short – we repeat successes and avoid making the same mistakes. Finally, each species and ecosystem is monitored regularly in the field, using the most suitable techniques and methods.
How we measure progress
Each species and ecosystem has a single conservation goal and one or more targets that show how we will achieve that goal – we measure our progress against the goal by tracking these targets. Most targets need each species or ecosystem to remain above a baseline (in cases where we want high measurements, such as population number of threatened species) or below a baseline (in cases where we want low measurements, such as the amount of weeds).
For most species and for wetlands, results are reported separately for different locations. For the Southern Brown Bandicoot and Golden Sun Moth, we have a single measure for all locations. This helps determine if the improvement is consistent or mixed and lets us compare results for different sites under different management regimes.
Newly-discovered populations of EPBC-listed species are also monitored. For the grassland and woodland ecosystems, results are reported separately according to ‘states.’ States are areas of different status within each ecosystem (such as different history or quality).
Reporting on each state helps us understand if the improvement is even or mixed and allows us to have different baselines for different states.
What do the results tell us?
Change in the condition of vegetation and population of species is usually very slow. Sometimes, it can be hard to separate what influence our management actions are having versus natural influences, such as floods or bushfires. Collecting data over a long period helps us to see trends in the environment.
All of the species and ecosystems we monitor are threatened and have been in decline since European settlement. We don’t have any site-specific data on the rate of decline before we took over management of these areas. However, we can use monitoring data to set a baseline to understand if our management is stopping any further decline and stabilising populations and beginning to increase populations or condition of the ecosystems.
It’s important that we remain focussed achieving our conservation goals. We use this data in an adaptive management approach that ensures land management decisions and on-ground actions are responsive to the results of this monitoring.
Get in touch
For more information about the MSA program reporting, or to request an accessible version of the progress reports, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Page last updated: 13/10/21