Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities
NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995
Threatened Ecological Community listed on either the TSC Act and/or EPBC Act
The Lower Hunter region, encompassing five local government areas in NSW (Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens, Maitland and Cessnock) is one of Australia’s largest urban areas and a major centre of economic activity. As part of the Australian Government’s sustainable population strategy, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) is undertaking the Sustainable Regional Development program in high growth areas, including the Lower Hunter.
As part of the Sustainable Regional Development program in the Lower Hunter region, a key knowledge gap has been identified by local, state and Commonwealth governments, namely data gaps in relation to the values of the Lower Hunter that may be complementary to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA), and potential direct and indirect influences upon these values. The World Heritage area within the Lower Hunter region is contained within the Cessnock Local Government Area (LGA). As a result the study area for this project focuses on the relationship between World Heritage areas and the adjoining lands within the Cessnock LGA.
Land management issues that apply within the Cessnock LGA are considered to be similar to those issues experienced in other parts of the Hunter Valley such as the Central Hunter and Upper Hunter regions. The information contained in this document can more broadly reflect the threatening processes and land use issues being experienced in these other parts of the Hunter Valley adjoining the GBMWHA, particularly when considering matters related to land use, biodiversity conservation and particularly consideration of MNES management requirements.
Additional investigation in relation to the values of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA) and the lands within Cessnock LGA has been identified by SEWPaC as being needed so that the values of the GBMWHA and other associated lands with complementary values in the Lower Hunter can be protected and managed as part of the future growth of the Lower Hunter region.
The GBMWHA was listed as a World Heritage Area as it forms an example of an area that displays characteristics consistent with the following World Heritage criteria:
To be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.
To 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.
Based on these criteria it was identified that it was the biodiversity and threatened species considerations that needed to form the focus of this project. Although the other eight World Heritage Area criteria, such as heritage-related criteria, may or may not apply, they are not officially the reasons for the listing of the World Heritage area (including Yengo National Park) and hence they did not form core aspects of this project.
The natural values of outstanding universal significance (that is, World Heritage values) contained within the GBMWHA are:
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
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.
Complementary values are defined as those natural values that support the integrity and resilience of the World Heritage values, while being generally located outside of the defined World Heritage area.
desktop assessment of the World Heritage values within Yengo National Park and the remaining lands within Cessnock LGA
identification of direct and indirect threats to the World Heritage values within Yengo National Park and the remaining land within Cessnock LGA, particularly the priority conservation lands
identification of existing and suggested management mechanisms to the World Heritage values within Yengo National Park and the remaining land within Cessnock LGA, particularly the priority conservation lands
assessment of land-use pressures, particularly around the priority conservation areas, and mechanisms that may assist with management of those pressures
fieldwork to view priority conservation areas and assessment of management issues in practice.
The 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 important 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 should be considered to enhance 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 (including EPBC-nominated 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.
A number of threats were identified to the values of the GBMWHA and complementary lands. The main existing general threats to this area, apart from the more specific threats that are legislated such as Key Threatening Processes, consist of the following:
Mismanagement of the existing land uses, resulting in direct or indirect impacts upon Yengo National Park or the complementary values of other lands.
The potential for more intensive use of the agricultural lands for purposes such as rural-residential development.
The potential for mineral or gas exploration and extraction activities.
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 in this report 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.