Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Values Study in the Cessnock Local Government Area and Surrounds

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GIS analysis

  1. Geodatabase

A centralised GIS database (Geodatabase) was developed and used to store all relevant GIS data including existing vegetation mapping, analysis and processing extents, as well as other relevant topographic information. The Geodatabase was used throughout the life of the project for all GIS processing and reporting purposes. The final vegetation sensitivity feature class stored within the Geodatabase has been topologically checked and attributed with associated metadata.

        1. Data compilation

Existing GIS vegetation data was sourced by the project team from the Lower Hunter vegetation mapping project that was undertaken by Parsons Brinckerhoff (2013a). For the purposes of the analysis the Lower Hunter vegetation was clipped to the Cessnock LGA boundary. The vegetation data set was modified to record the different scores of each criteria (see Section 2.4). The data sets of the different assessment criteria were compiled and limited to the Cessnock LGA extents.
      1. Fieldwork

Desktop analysis and the priority conservation mapping identified areas that have high conservation values using World Heritage weighted values. The field survey particularly targeted lands that adjoined the GBMWHA to look at the interface between private land and the GBMWHA to identify threats and to validate and perform rapid data assessment. A site inspection to ground truth the current condition of the biodiversity values of these lands and related management issues was undertaken by two qualified ecologists on 20 and 21 May 2013.

The site inspection involved driving on public roads and taking notes of vegetation condition, using Rapid Data Points (RDPs) to assess the priority conservation mapping. The objective of the RDPs surveys is to summarise the dominant vegetation, condition and threats surrounding each point. The RDPs were variable in size. This methodology allowed for a brief confirmation of vegetation condition, vegetation community and threats that occurred at each point. A total of 27 RDPs were inspected and each RDP included the following:

Canopy layer dominant species.

Shrub layer dominant species.

Ground layer dominant species.

Field observed vegetation unit.

Floristic structure.

GPS co-ordinate (GDA94).

Land use and practices.

Threats (vertebrate pests, weeds, soil erosion rubbish dumping).

Condition of unformed tracks.

Photographic record of vegetation condition and threats.

In addition to the lands adjoining GBMWHA, areas that were highlighted by the priority conservation mapping as having high conservation value within Cessnock LGA generally were also inspected.

Figure 2.1 shows the site inspection locations. The results are outlined in Section 6 of this report.

      1. Limitations

        1. Reliance on externally supplied data

In preparing this project, Parsons Brinckerhoff has relied upon data, surveys, analyses, plans and other information provided by SEWPaC, OEH, CCC and the GBMWHA Advisory Committee. Except as otherwise stated in the project, Parsons Brinckerhoff has not verified the accuracy or completeness of the data. To the extent that the statements, opinions, facts, information, conclusions and/or recommendations in this project (conclusions) are based in whole or part on the data, those conclusions are contingent upon the accuracy and completeness of the data. Parsons Brinckerhoff will not be liable in relation to incorrect conclusions should any data, information or condition be incorrect or have been concealed, withheld, misrepresented or otherwise not fully disclosed to Parsons Brinckerhoff.
        1. Field survey limitations

The field survey was restricted to publically accessible land, predominantly of key locations in lands within Yengo National Park and its private land interface as well as areas that were highlighted by the priority conservation mapping as having high conservation value within Cessnock LGA. No private properties were accessed during the survey.
        1. GIS limitations

It was decided to undertake the analysis using vector data rather than adopt a raster process. This approach is superior from a data integrity point of view but it also allows for each vegetation community to have each criteria score recorded as separate attribute information. To simplify the analysis and reduce processing time when assessing the corridor criteria it was decided that for communities that overlap a riparian or habitat corridor the entire patch would be identified as an area supporting a riparian or habitat corridor if 50% or more of the vegetation area is covered by the corridor. It is acknowledged that this approach highlights a whole community rather than the portion of land covered by a corridor, however due to direct connection to the identified corridor this limitation was considered to be acceptable.

This page should be replaced with the corresponding GIS figure once the document has been pdf'd. This caption page must follow an even numbered page if the figure is A3 size or larger.
Figure 2. Site inspection locations

    1. Values assessment

      1. World Heritage Values within GBMWHA

The International Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1972, and ratified by Australia in 1974. The Convention provides a framework for international cooperation and the collective protection of cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value.

The GBMWHA was formally nominated by the Australian Government for inscription on the World Heritage List in June 1998, on the grounds of both natural and cultural criteria (NPWS and Environment Australia, 1998). In November 2000 the nominated area of over one million hectares was inscribed on the World Heritage List for biological reasons. The long history of Aboriginal occupation and connection to the Countries that comprise the GBMWHA, as well as its diversity of non-Aboriginal cultural sites, and the history of early conservation campaigns, were factors cited in support of its nomination under the World Heritage Convention’s cultural criteria, a proposal which was subsequently not endorsed by the World Heritage Committee due to lack of adequate information available at the time (NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service2009).

The GBMWHA is a complex area, incorporating eight protected areas comprising Blue Mountains, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone, Wollemi, Nattai, Yengo and Thirlmere Lakes National Parks and the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2009). These lands are located within twelve LGAs. Refer to the earlier Figure 1.1 for a diagrammatic illustration of this.

The GBMWHA was inscribed on the World Heritage List because it satisfies the following criteria for natural values of outstanding universal significance. It specifically contains:

outstanding examples of significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of ecosystems and communities of plants and animals, particularly eucalypt-dominated ecosystems (Criterion II); and

important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including the eucalypts and eucalypt-dominated communities, primitive species with Gondwanan affinities and a diversity of rare or threatened plants and animals of conservation significance (Criterion IV) (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2009).

Eucalypt diversity was considered to be a crucial factor in the listing of the GBMWHA. Australia is the only continent in which the vast majority of woodland and forest ecosystems are dominated by a single group of closely related taxa; namely the ‘eucalypts’ including the genera Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora. The vast majority of eucalypt species are endemic to the Australian continent, only sixteen species of eucalypts being native elsewhere (Hammill & Tasker 2010).

The GBMWHA contains an exceptionally diverse array of eucalypt species which have evolved to fill the wide variety of ecological niches found in the area as a result of its varied geology, rugged landform, altitudinal variation and varied climate (Hammill & Tasker 2010). The area contains an outstanding diversity of eucalypts, including 13 per cent of all described taxa, more than in any other major conservation area (Hammill & Tasker 2010). A list of the Eucalypt species that have been recorded in the GMWHA is provided in Appendix A and is based Eucalypts identified by Hager & Benson (2010) and Hammill & Tasker (2010).

The key World Heritage values of the GBMWHA as described in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Strategic Plan (Hammill & Tasker 2010; NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2009) are shown below.

Outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.

A centre of diversification of the eucalypts with:

exceptional representation of the major eucalypt groups and aspects of their evolution and radiation, including species in the following groups:

genera; Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora

Eucalyptus subgenera: Monocalyptus and Symphyomyrtus

examples of species divergence occurring in a relatively small area, including:

differentiation of eucalypt taxa in isolation in response to persistent habitat islands (e.g. those associated with sandstone plateaux isolated by deep valleys)

mutually exclusive distributions of taxa in the series Strictae (the mallee ashes) and Haemostomae (the scribbly ashes) resulting from long-term isolation of breeding populations (allopatric speciation)

eucalypt taxa demonstrating very high levels of hybridisation

representative examples of dynamic processing in eucalypt dominated ecosystems, including the full range of interactions between eucalypts, understorey, environment and fire, extending from forests with rainforest boundaries to mallee communities with heath boundaries, demonstrating the exceptional ecological amplitude of the eucalypts.

Ancient relict primitive species with Gondwanan affinities including the Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis and the primitive gymnosperm Microstrobus fitzgeraldii.

The highly unusual juxtaposition of diverse scleromorphic species with Gondwanan taxa.

Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Outstanding levels of plant diversity:

high diversity at different taxonomic levels:

152 families

484 genera

approximately 1500 species

high values for all three measures of species diversity:

local species richness or ‘alpha’ diversity

species turnover across environmental gradients or ‘beta’ diversity

regional species richness or ‘gamma’ diversity

plant taxa with very high levels of species diversity, including

the families — Fabaceae (149 species), Myrtaceae (150 species), Orchidaceae (77 species), Poaceae (57 species), Cyperaceae (43 species), and

the genera Eucalyptus (>100 species), Acacia (64 species)

very high diversity of scleromorphic taxa represented within 20 plant families including Myrtaceae, Proteaceae, Ericaceae (Styphelioideae), Fabaceae (Faboideae and Mimosoideae), Dilleniaceae, Rutaceae, and Euphorbiaceae (sensu lato).

Outstanding levels of vegetation community and habitat diversity including:

exceptional diversity of eucalypt-dominated ecosystems, including: tall open forests (towering, single-stemmed trees); open forest; woodland; low open woodland; and mallee shrubland (small, multi-stemmed shrubs)

more than 70 plant communities, including 56 eucalypt-dominated open forest and woodland communities covering a diverse array of environmental conditions including:

wet environments (including the margins of rainforests)

dry environments (rapidly-draining, drought prone sandstone plateaux)

low-nutrient environments (including sandstone-derived substrates)

fire-prone environments (including the sandstone plateaux)

fertile environments (remnants of formerly widespread Tertiary basalts).

Exceptional diversity of habitats that contributes to the property being one of the three most diverse areas on earth for scleromorphic plant species and the only one of these areas that is dominated by trees and without a Mediterranean climate, including plateaux tops, ridges, exposed rocks, cliffs, rocky slopes and sheltered gorges and valleys.

Outstanding representation of the Australian fauna within a single place, including

400 vertebrate taxa:

52 species of native mammals

265 species of native birds (33% of the Australian total)

63 species of reptiles

> 30 species of frogs.

Examples of species of global significance such as the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) and the Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) .

High levels of diversity of invertebrate fauna, including Lepidoptera (4000 moth species, 125 butterfly species), and cave invertebrates (67 taxa recorded at Jenolan Caves).

Primitive plants with Gondwanan affinities including:

ancient relict species including the Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis and the primitive gymnosperm Microstrobus fitzgeraldii

other primitive species including: Lomatia, Dracophyllum, and Podocarpus; taxa in the family Lauraceae; Atkinsonia, the most primitive extant root parasitic genus; and taxa in the family Winteraceae, such as Tasmannia.

Plant taxa of conservation significance including:

endemic species (114 plant species)

relict species

species with a restricted range

rare or threatened species (127 species).

Animal taxa of conservation significance; rare or threatened taxa including:

40 vertebrate taxa including 12 mammal species and 15 bird species

12 invertebrate taxa.

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