In the western region, the field investigations identified that the areas that have been mapped as being the higher levels of conservation priority were valid. Generally the condition and ‘intactness’ of native vegetation in this region, much of which adjoins or is connected to the GBMWHA, is high. This is reflected in the modelled conservation priority mapping. The field investigations also identified that while this region is relatively isolated and intact; threats are still present to the integrity of the biodiversity of the area and surrounding complementary lands. Threats directly observed included weeds, wild horses, riparian vegetation impacts and general agricultural uses such as grazing. It should be noted that in some cases rural property owners are contributing to positive outcomes that protect the GBMWHA by undertaking activities such as weed control and fuel management.
The central region was found to represent a good example of conflict between conservation objectives and being located within more densely populated urban areas. From a biodiversity and complementary values perspective, the field investigations validated the mapping methodology by classifying areas of importance as being within the higher categories of conservation priority. Direct observations of threats in locations such as Werakata National Park and HEZ included potentially illegal activities such as 4WD use, trail bikes, extensive rubbish and household waste dumping. They also included evidence of weed infiltration around exposed edges of intact bushland.
Within the eastern region the field investigations were relatively limited due to the smaller size of this area and it being located the furthest distance from the GBMWHA. Areas mapped as being in the higher categories of modelled conservation priority were confirmed in the field. Evidence of threats appeared to be less evident in this part of Cessnock LGA, although general observations of illegal uses such as those occurring in the central region, weed invasion and land uses such as cattle grazing, chicken farming, industrial development and open cut (and underground) mining all threaten the complementary values to various degrees.
Conclusion and recommendations
This project involved a detailed process of literature review and expert consultation to identify key parameters to include in the priority conservation mapping process. The results of the priority conservation mapping process, which focussed on World Heritage complementary values within the Cessnock LGA, identified a number of areas as priority for conservation. It should be noted that the mapping process was tenure-blind and therefore treated all land, regardless of ownership, equally. The field investigations were found to validate the modelled conservation priorities, while also directly identifying threats to complementary values in a number of locations.
The outcome of the conservation mapping process has identified the Wollombi Valley and surrounds as one of the key conservation priorities in relation to the protection and management of the GBMWHA. This area is generally poorly studied due to its relative isolation. These lands, the majority of which are either privately owned or managed by State Forests, were found to provide critical buffer capacity to protecting the World Heritage values contained within Yengo National Park. The lands in this area also demonstrate complementary values consistent with those contained within Yengo National Park and the GBMWHA. Management and protection of this area is of importance to ensure protection of the values of the GBMWHA.
Another important set of lands was the inholdings of generally private lands located within the boundaries of Yengo National Park. These lands are mostly naturally vegetated and were mapped as displaying high affinities with World Heritage values. The future management of these inholdings is considered to be of high importance in order to protect the World Heritage values within Yengo National Park and the GBMWHA, as well as ensuring protection of the complementary values within the inholdings themselves.
Other priority conservation areas identified through the mapping process included the following:
Hunter Economic Zone.
East Richmond Vale.
While some of the mapped locations are not necessarily directly linked or in close proximity to the GBMWHA they have been identified by the project as containing a wide range of biodiversity values that are complementary to the listing criteria for the GBMWHA. While some of the species and communities may be different to Yengo National Park and the GBMWHA, the totality of threatened ecological communities and species, combined with other attributes such as high eucalypt diversity, vegetation that has been highly cleared, large patch size and importance in local habitat connectivity and riparian protection have identified such areas as important in providing complementary values to the GBMWHA.
Future management of identified threats to all of these areas, particularly Wollombi Valley and the inholdings, requires further attention to ensure that Yengo National Park and the associated GBMWHA continues to maintain the characteristics for which the GBMWHA was listed by the World Heritage Committee. A number of recommendations have been made below to aid future management prioritisation.
The high priority conservation areas identified in this study should be considered as part of strategic and local planning processes, such as the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan and Cessnock Biodiversity Strategy. This study should also be considered in the strategic assessments being undertaken in both the Lower Hunter and Upper Hunter regions.
Consider conservation of the high priority conservation areas as part of strategic and local planning processes, such as the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan and Cessnock Biodiversity Strategy. Such areas could be the focus of future biodiversity offsetting to facilitate other development in the region, thereby contributing to conservation of World Heritage values within Cessnock LGA. High priority conservation areas identified in this study included:
Wollombi Valley and surrounds
Hunter Economic Zone
East Richmond Vale.
Community awareness and recognition of the values outlined in this project could be improved through increased education activities for the general community and to specific areas of landholdings. This could be done via mechanisms such as Catchment Action Plan updates.
Further investigate funding opportunities to assist State organisations such as OEH and State Forests, and private landholders, to increase effective management of the threats outlined in this report.
Conduct a detailed study into the inholdings within Yengo National Park to determine options regarding working with land owners to protect World Heritage values, both within the inholdings and within the adjoining areas of Yengo National Park. Alternatively, determine with relevant government departments and land owners the potential for acquisition and integration into Yengo National Park. This applies if specific inholdings are determined to be in acceptable high quality condition or could be restored to World Heritage-equivalent condition with appropriately sourced funding.
The modelling in this project should be considered for further refinement or expansion in the future, including further field validation.
Undertake investigations into other values (such as cultural heritage or aesthetic values) of the GBMWHA and surrounds.
The following sections outline specific recommendations for management strategies and actions that could assist in responding to specific threats to World Heritage and complementary values within the Lower Hunter region.
Undertake detailed strategic planning processes that analyse appropriate land uses and zonings. Communicate this to land owners.
Communicate at a land-owner level about values of remnant bushland and legislation that applies to land clearing activities.
Educate visitors, adjacent landowners and communities about potential threats posed by land clearing within GBMWHA and complementary lands and ways they can minimise such impacts.
Restore native vegetation and habitat features to increase substrate stability and create natural habitats suitable for terrestrial biodiversity.
Remove major existing weed infestations where recorded.
Investigate whether substantial bushrock removal is occurring in the complementary lands and explore options to minimise removal if detected.
Investigate potentially susceptible habitats to determine whether forest eucalypt dieback is occurring in the GBMWHA or complementary lands and explore options to mitigate impacts through measures such as weed control.
Conduct a review of management regimes prescribed for the parks that make up the GBMWHA to ensure a consistent approach to fire management and associated biodiversity monitoring.
Consider any new research demonstrating the fire regime requirements of threatened species during future updates of management plans.
Management activities that can minimise the potential conflict between fire management for protection of human life and assets and biodiversity conservation include the location of developments, use of fire resistant plants and bushfire hazard reduction burns.
Occupants of private inholdings and lands adjacent to the GBMWHA should be contacted and advised of the importance of the retention of large and hollow-bearing trees, especially in fertile valley landscapes. Advice should also be provided, regarding the ecosystem services provided by wildlife associated with tree hollows (e.g. pest control by microbats) and regarding appropriate mechanisms for tree protection.
Research into the possible presence of hill-topping sites in the complementary lands is recommended to determine if any important sites may be threatened and the nature and severity of threats.
Educate the users of the GBMWHA and complementary lands regarding ways of minimising the potential for spread of pathogens.
Monitor likely entry points such as road and track edges to detect the presence of Myrtle Rust and Root-rot Fungus.
Signage and/or exclusion fencing of infected sites should occur.
Treat any infestations of Myrtle Rust and Root-rot Fungus detected, if practicable.
Pest animal species
It is recommended that control programs for vertebrate predators are focussed on areas with sensitive biodiversity values. For example, control should focus on habitat for the susceptible species such as:
Fox control in and surrounding areas of habitat for the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby and other threatened macropods and
Wild Dog control in areas of Koala habitat.
As foxes affect both biodiversity and agricultural values, fox control in cooperation with landowners and NSW National Parks to eradicate foxes from properties should be investigated.
Improvement of the quality of runoff from rural and urban areas should be a future objective.
Removal of major existing weed infestations associated with previous disturbance should be considered.
Restoration of native vegetation in areas cleared during weed removal should occur.
Encourage adjacent landowners to remove weeds.
Monitor for new infestations and treat them prior to establishment.
Educate visitors, adjacent landowners and communities of potential threats to the waterways within GBMWHA and complementary lands and ways they can minimise the impacts.
Restore native vegetation and habitat features within waterways and riparian areas to increase substrate stability and create natural habitats suitable for aquatic and riparian biodiversity.
Improve the quality of runoff from upstream rural and urban areas.
Remove of major existing weed infestations within waterways and riparian areas.
Control stock access into waterways.
Control domestic and feral animals.
Manage quantities of water withdrawn for irrigation purposes and type and level of pollutants that can be legally discharged into waterways.
Water monitoring prior to and after strategies have been implemented should be considered.
Improve the quality of highly used roads and access tracks.
Install barriers to further decrease access to tracks, ecologically sensitive and/or restricted areas.
Educate visitors to raise awareness of values and potential threats and impacts.
Regulate entry of visitors within ecologically sensitive and/or restricted areas.
Restore native vegetation in areas that have been cleared as a result of vegetation clearing or habitat modification.