Grampians Advisory Group Minutes: 11 May 2020

Meeting held via Microsoft Teams platform, except for Margo who was in the room with Rhonda.

We started as always with an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land we were meeting on.

Covid 19 – The park has been closed with opening planned later this week but not campgrounds. Whole team is operating differently and observing social distancing.

Environmental programs – delivered contract ground shooting program but not the volunteer ground shooting. Starting aerial shooting program this week and next week. Completed sallow wattle mulching program. Fox baiting and leg hole trapping continuing. Might not be able to undertake research work on small mammals as per previous years.

Park Operations – Taken advantage of the park being closed and have undertaken tree risk works at campgrounds and some general maintenance works.

Visitor & Communities – reduced work due to school and volunteers programs has meant this team has been busy assisting all other teams and catching up. AS well as taking the opportunity to get into some of our key walking tracks and undertake vegetation clearing and assets updating.

Fire and Emergency – Busy burning season with a number of burns undertaking including around Booroka Lookout, Serra Road and Boronia Peak.

Grampians Peaks Trail – Still working away in construction. There is plans for future meetings with key stakeholders such as advisory committee re huts and the hut experience which know will be operated by Licensed Tour Operators not Parks Victoria.

Brambuk The National Park and Cultural Centre- the current permit expires on June 30 and Parks Victoria will take over the operating of this centre as of July 1. Commercial division will appoint staff to operate this centre.

Landscape Management Plan  – Group discussed feeling not as connected with this plan as with previous plans and that for many on the group emails or documents on websites are not the best way for them to process and understand the information.

Request was to organise a face to face day where the group could come together to discuss the key topics as identified at the Feb meeting and have an agreed position for the members to share with their networks. Also requested that documents that were circulated to the Stakeholder Reference Group be sent to each member of the advisory committee prior to this discussion.

Management Plan Discussion: 28 May 2020

Due once again to Covid restrictions, numbers allowed at the meeting were heavily restricted and yet it was difficult to deal with online. The solution decided on was to have five of us at a time in the Mural Room for an hour to present our comments and questions, then leave and another five come in. I think there were three sessions. There had been quite a few emails circulating before the meeting, which was useful, but it will be interesting to see how much of our contributions will be in the draft plan when that is released.

Advisory Group Meeting: 13 July 2020

Due to an easing of Covid restrictions we were able to meet in person in the Mural room, well spread out. Some of our regulars were apologies, and there was one new member Keith Lockwood representing the rockclimbing group.

The main topic was a detailed report by Mike Stevens on the work of the environment and heritage  team. First he introduced the new team member Marlenne Rodriguez Malagon  ???? and provided an overview of the team structure.

He next gave us some good news on the btrws. The new males have settled in well and some of the females appear to have pouch young bit still a little too early to confirm how many. He followed this by showing a YouTube video that has been made to mark 25 years of the Grampians Ark project, a co-operation between the park and the landholders in Victoria valley. This co-operation has been vital for the survival of the btrws and other creatures. (The video is beautifully shot and yours truly is in it, wearing my FOGG badge – you can watch the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvxW3U9n6RQ.) Mike has said there has been interest from Jalluka Landcare as to whether a similar partnership would be achievable in the more densely settled area on the Halls Gap Pomonal side of the Park.

He told us about how the large amount of money his team received last year was being spent and highlighted the uncertainty whether  large amounts will occur again into the future as the government focus tackles the the impact of Covid on tourism.

Fox update: Fox baiting is continuing, as is research into how to make it more effective and safer. Examples are: looking at ravens helping themselves to fox bait, evaluating live trapping with leg hold, evaluating the effectiveness of cameras along roads v cameras in the bush. I was really impressed both here and later on how important the team takes good science to be.

Cat update: there is now an authorised cat poison available, but it may also be fatal to reptiles. So the current plan is to only use it in the colder months when the reptiles are dormant and the cats probably quite hungry. They will also investigate leghold traps for cats as is already successful with foxes.. Mike gave us a link to a government enquiry into cats, and encouraged us to join it.

Herbivore update: Groundbased shooting by volunteers was done in spring and was planned for autumn but couldn’t proceed due to Covid. Aerial shooting has continued, it’s effective but expensive. There’s a colony of goats on Chatauqua Peak for example which they had hoped to deal with but they need to have staff at every track entry point to keep walkers out, and so it didn’t proceed. Deer they are controlling with both aerial and ground shooting. Deer are very habitat oriented, for example they just love pennyroyal weed, and there is potential for more public/private partnerships.

Sallow wattle update: They are making more use of mechanical mulching rather than manual pulling up of plants. It is cheaper. They are continuing to monitor it and compare sites which have had different treatments. Sallow wattle remains a real problem because of the damage it does by excluding all other vegetation..

Bird Surveys: Mike had hoped to have some extensive bird surveys done this year using “citizen science” with volunteers trained by Greg Kerr of the Nature Glenelg Trust. Firstly at the southern end of the park, and then the northern end. But it has been put on hold due to the Covid pandemic.

Mike and some of his team have also spent quite a lot of time assisting in the Gippsland parks burnt in January.


We could have spent another hour learning from Mike, – we are so fortunate to have him, but it was time to hand over to Rhonda.

Working during the Covid emergency:  Most staff are working from home, but one senior person is in the HG office each day. Out in the park most places are open, but they are keeping an eye on popular places like Mckenzie Falls and Wonderland carpark. Halls Gap is worryingly full of tourists. PV is trying to work out how best to deal with volunteers, and it’s not easy and looks like it will get harder. Leaders need to be trained, go on Park Connect, take names and phone numbers, report back.

Brambuk: There has been a delay in emptying out the offices from the old managers, due to the death of Geoff Clarke’s mother. Representatives of the three traditional owner groups are working together on classifying the artefacts there. An interim commercial manager has been appointed and ads have gone out for a full time indigenous manager to be appointed. It is hoped the information centre will open in September, then the cultural centre later.

Management plan:  The draft public plan is due to come out at the end of the year and then to be open to comment. The draft internal plan was due to come out in September, Rhonda has just received a draft draft draft version. Some of the topics include; upgrade to cultural signage, information hubs in more locations than just HG, discussion on camping, nothing yet on waste management, more thought needed on fire management, more work needed on recreation activities, particularly climbing. Keith asked why not make changes now to climbing areas that have been shown not to have heritage issues. Can it be an evolving document?

Grampians Peaks Trail: We were fast running out of time but I did ask why almost finished sections couldn’t be opened now. The answer was it’s mainly an insurance question but it is hoped that some of the northern section could be opened in September. There have been some staff changes, and some of the team are not here. One for example is based in Sydney! The next AG meeting will spend more time on the Peaks Trail.

At the end of our meeting we were introduced to the new area chief ranger, Rhonda’s boss, Jamie Staples. He, I am pleased to report, is based locally, mainly in Horsham. His area covers west from Ballarat to the SA border, north from Warrnambool to Wyperfeld. Interestingly he is not a longterm PV employee but has joined by applying for this position when it was advertised. He previously worked for the Grains Board but has always been a bushwalker and lover of parks.

Committee Meeting Report: 15th July 2020

We met on zoom and Paul Strickland from the Victorian Environment Friends Network had been invited to join us. All the committee were able to join in.

Bill outlined his recent discussions with senior park management regarding Prof Timms research permit problems and had positive discussions and concerns from this meeting. Senior Park management wanted to hear feedback and to have this information to try to improve the system.
Acknowledgment of the lack of funding, lack of staff and time constraints on local rangers due to bushfires, inadequate funding and Covid19.

Paul outlined that Parks Victoria is not a conservation agency. That we are independent organisation and as such can determine our own directions and activities. He mentioned that there is a Draft Volunteer Management Manual which is rules for staff engagement with volunteers. Issues around lack of staff and funding.

Suggestions included:

  • Work with Parks staff to resolve these issues. Our best allies are the people we know locally and we need to involve them in our discussions.
  • Essential vs non essential activities briefly discussed , It seems that Parks are happy to have working bees, seat installation etc, while not approving social activities and bird watching events. We don’t want to do all the hard work and not have any fun social activities. Concern that limiting activities will mean we have members dropping off as people lose interest. FOGG have always said that they are not there to do Park work which should be done by rangers. Paul advised that we should be able to have a balance of activities including personal development/educational and working bees as a Friends Group and that this is up to us to determine.
  • FOGG is an independent organisation and we have our own insurance.
  • Park connect is there to assist us but activities do not need to be put on Park Connect for approval

Committee concerned that we don’t want to upset parks or ignore them.
We decided to ask Rhonda to facilitate a meeting with the new regional head . At this meeting, discuss the issues with our area that we need to get sorted out. Making it clear that we want to support local staff so that they can get more support from higher up to improve the Park.

Future activities were discussed and arrangements planned, but all cancelled due to Covid restrictions.

Further discussion on the progress of the reprint of Ian McCanns book .

Insect Talk

February 7, 2020

It was very good to see over 20 people come to hear Denis Crawford speak on the importance of insects, and to enjoy his amazing photography of “creepy crawlies and bloodsuckers”.

Did you know that the world has 5,500 species of mammals, 10,000 of birds, 40,000 vertebrates and 1.25 million invertebrates, of which 1 million are insects?  Understandably we didn’t hear about all 1 million species but looked at some moths, bees and ants. Lots of fascinating snippets: I never knew that there was a moth that only feeds on dead grass trees. How specialised is that? What do insects contribute to the environment? They pollinate flowers, recycle and bury dung, eat or parasite other insects, provide food for other animals, disperse seed (and in various intriguing ways), aerate the soil. A reduction in insects would massively impact on flowering plants, lessen the food available for fish, bats, mammals and birds, there would be much more dung lying around, and carcasses and other organic waste, we’d have  no silk, honey, cochineal …. Where would our agriculture and horticulture be? There was some discussion of bushfires and insects, the loss of so many bees, both commercial and native, the fact that ants are the first colonisers after a fire.

Denis  has a blog and a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. Look for his name or “one minute bugs”

After his talk most of us retired to the Halls Gap pub for a meal and further discussion. Thank you Denis.

 

Advisory Group Report

There have been two meetings since our last newsletter. I missed the November one but have the minutes.

A tour of the new Troopers Creek Campground was undertaken . It is the last of the major infrastructure project from the fire recovery program. The team discussed the finalisation of the fire recovery program, Grampians Peaks Trail operations and the biodiversity response program with the Advisory group members.

The February meeting was held last week. The first item was an update on what had happened since our last meeting, particularly the two fires in the park (Mt Lang and Mt William }. Due to the conditions here and the emergencies elsewhere in the state, an enormous effort went into getting them out as soon as possible. Lots of people, lots of equipment. Even on Christmas day 65 people were at the fire. An interesting point was made that as firefighting equipment gets heavier, access tracks such as Harrop’s track have to be upgraded.

The new walking track at Golton Gorge is now open to the public and is a great example of volunteer work.

The next topic was an update on the management plan. So far the stakeholder meetings have been mainly Parks informing people, but now there will be a greater emphasis on listening to comments and questions. Those of us on the AG are requested to consider what are our key concerns. Several were given at the meeting, more will come. The next meeting will be in March. (FOGG are part of the stakeholder group).

Grampians Peaks Trails update: Alisa Redsell, GPT Coordinator, presented  a detailed update, including outcomes from community engagement sessions prior to Christmas, transiting GPT into park operations and signature experience opportunities (indigenous). Parks are hoping that all the camp sites will have indigenous names. Quite a bit of the trail is almost complete but we are asked not to use it until signs and safety stuff are completed. The camp site at Mt Abrupt may need to be moved. Progress has been slower than hoped and money is a bit tight, so they are looking at simplifying tracks and campsites without compromising standards. The team have been reminding the board of Parks Vic that the maintenance costs for the trail will be huge. An example of this is that when the existing toilet at Wannon Creek on the Major Mitchell Plateau had to be emptied by helicopter, the weather cancelled the first two attempts, so the bill was for three helicopter flights!

The maintenance cost of the trail is a subject the AG has had concerns with from the very start, so it is good to see the team sharing it.

Parks were disappointed how few people came to the four sessions across the local towns (Halls Gap only had 3!) but hope for more at the sessions coming shortly.

I can send more information to anyone interested. Current date for completion of construction is Dec 2020. It will be a big year. The Peaks Trail team send out a community report every few months. The last one was in November so I won’t put it here but can forward it to you if you ask. Or you can learn more by registering on   to get it mailed to you.

Advisory Group Report (August 13)

Rock Wallabies: A new ranger is looking after this (Derek Sandow) and funding has been extended. There are five animals remaining, one of them is a male. In September a new young male is planned to be introduced.

Grampians Ark: Fox control is continuing in partnership with private landholders in Victoria Valley and the Dunkeld area. This project implements a best practice pulse fox-baiting programs to protect threatened species of the volcanic plains grassy communities in a target area of grassy woodland and wetland habitat adjoining the Grampians National Park.
The baiting is timed to coincide with the Grampians Park fox baiting

Sallow Wattle: The aim had been to mulch 100 acres but only 15 acres could be done. There is now a new ranger Anke Spiridis who will get the work going again.

Goats: Shooting has been both from the air and from the ground. The aim had been 165, the actual number was 218. Aerial shooting is the more successful way. The aerial shooting comes as a package. 10% of the shot animals must be checked by a vet to ensure it is being done humanely. The vet gave a very good report. Lots of goats were in the Black range

Rabbits: Very little done as it is a lower priority. The group raised some concerns about how this wet winter may affect numbers, and there was also a query about hares.

Deer: Contractors have killed 135, many more in the Wannon area than had been expected. Plans are to engage with adjacent landowners to use sporting shooters on their properties. Donald suggested investigating the use of drones to locate both deer and goat herds.

Peaks Trail: Channel 9 had a feature on it and the Minister for Regional Development visited. The timeline has changed, and it will not be complete before March 2020. 70% of the track from Troopers Creek to Halls Gap is complete, but not yet open. Halls Gap to Cassidy Gap will be completed by December 2020. The main problem is the hiker camps, 4 will be completed by March 2020, there are 11 altogether. Then pods will be constructed at the same camp sites. These are currently only for people doing the PV indigenous cultural guided tour. About twelve indigenous folk have expressed interest in becoming tour guides, discussions are continuing on how many are needed, from which groups etc. There are quite a few staff working on the trail planning: the construction, water supplies for campers, cultural tours and other guided groups. For updates see the website.

Rubbish: We discussed the problem of visitors to the Park overloading rubbish and recycling bins in surrounding towns Halls Gap, Wartook, Dunkeld and what could be done.

Landscape Management Plan and the stakeholder group. Rhonda showed us the map of the area to be covered. See below.

Nine discussion papers by local staff will soon be available to the general public to assist in thinking through the issues and consultations will begin in September. We had much discussion about the fact that only one person from the AG is included in the stakeholder group. We unanimously agreed that this was a mistake. The AG has been the major voice of community groups with park management ever since the opening of the Park. We are not just an interest group. Also, although united in our concern for the Park, we at the same time are not always in agreement on some issues. It was agreed that our chair should write expressing this view, but until the matter was resolved that he would be our rep on the stakeholder group.

Fire Management: We heard a report on the talk given by Kevin Tolhurst on lessons learnt about fire. Big hot fires are disastrous. Control burns need to be patchy.  When staff change years of experience and knowledge are lost.

Update on climbing at Summerday valley: Lots of work going on to resolve some of the issues. Further surveys have found more cultural heritage sites. Training of tour operators is proceeding. Groups are not allowed to use the site unless they are accompanied by a licenced tour operator. Both the PV website and the climbing club websites have maps showing where climbing is allowed and where not.

Conservation Action Plan: Rhonda gave us printed copies of the new action plan for our Park. It can also be downloaded from  ParkWeb. This is the plan that Mike Stevens was so happy to tell us about at our October meeting last year and delivers the funding for all the actions we heard about earlier this meeting.

Advisory Group Report (June 21)

Not surprisingly much of the meeting was taken up with the rock climbing controversy, also that this controversy has brought forward the long awaited review of the management plan which this group has been requesting for some years already (the previous one was published in 2003).

Traditional rock climbing was mentioned in the previous management plan. At that time, they were few in numbers and came with clubs or groups. But today there are something like 45,000 rock climbers coming here, of whom only 5,000 belong to a club.

In the worthy aim to help tourism recover after the 2006 fires, changes were made to Summerday Valley to encourage climbing there. Most climbing clubs are respectfully asking for better information so they can do the right things and Park staff are working on the complex task of getting information on to various apps.

Several of our group asked for a new climbing policy, collaboration, clear understanding as to who makes the decisions. They recognise that there are areas that will remain out of bounds.

Rhonda informed us that PV was working on a temporary plan to re-open parts of the valley, and the PV website now says:

Tour operators that offer rock climbing and abseiling at Summerday Valley in the Grampians National Park have been issued a variation to their existing licences for three months by Parks Victoria.

This decision allows existing Licensed Tour Operators who currently offer climbing in Summerday Valley to work with Traditional Owners to understand and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage unique to the Grampians.

The agreement will allow Parks Victoria, Traditional Owner groups and key stakeholders additional time to work together to ensure the ongoing review of the national park’s management plan is thorough and considered.

The licence provides strictly conditional authorisation for the tour operators to continue undertaking their activities in three designated areas – Barc Cliff, Back Wall and a section of Wall of Fools – within Summerday Valley until 30 September 2019. Additional three-month extensions could be offered if strict conditions are adhered to.

Conditions will ensure that harm to natural and cultural areas in Summerday Valley, which is in a designated Special Protection Area, is minimised.

Conditions include: a limit on operating locations; compulsory completion of an Aboriginal cultural heritage induction program; ongoing education for operators and their tour groups; identification for tour guides and their customers; use of a booking system to manage and monitor access; and reporting of visitor data to help with planning and review.

Tour operators found in breach of the conditions will have their licences suspended or cancelled. Any breaches will put access to Summerday Valley for all operators at risk. Anyone causing harm to natural and cultural values will also face financial penalties and referral to other authorities for possible further action…….. In partnership with Traditional Owner groups, Parks Victoria is preparing a new management plan for the Grampians landscape, an area that covers the Grampians National Park and adjacent parks and reserves. People can register their interest to be part of the process at engage.vic.gov.au/grampians-management-plan

Over Easter park staff did a compliance check at several sites. They spoke with 703 visitors, and 67 offences were detected. (road behaviour, illegal campsites, as well as some climbing offences).

Other topics we discussed were the introduced herbivore control programme and how cultural heritage is assessed for projects such as the Peaks Trail.

We then moved on to discuss the development of the new Management Plan. It is a “Landscape” management plan and covers some small reserves to the south of the park as well. A draft plan is expected to be on view by June 2020. There will be a stakeholder reference group consisting of 12-15 members which will meet four times over the next 12 months. Groups involved will be: VNPA, Aboriginal Victoria, Outdoors Education, Grampians Tourism, Bushwalking Victoria, Rock Climbers, Wimmera 4 Wheel drive Club, FOGG, local councils and this Advisory Group.

Committee Meeting – February 2

Our main item of business was deciding which of the many suggested activities for the year we would choose, and which month was the most suitable. We had decided at our November general meeting that it was a good idea to join with other groups interested in our unique environment, and this has happened on several dates this year.

Schedule of events is in the Calendar.

Another decision was to proceed with reprinting the book by the late Ian McCann “The Grampians in Flower”.  Margo is exploring some options, but would love any help that members can contribute.

Other items included

  1. Discussion of what topics we would like to discuss when the committee has a meeting with Parks staff on 20 Feb (just too late for this newsletter. Report next time.)
  2. Discussion of what activities of other groups should be emailed to FOGGs members (decided that three committee members to agree on each case).
  3. Members will be encouraged to sign up and Bill is  the person who will edit our site, all activities to be posted through the secretary.
  4. Margo to write a letter/ card to David Handscombe on behalf of FOGG.
  5. Our finances are pretty healthy and we received a surprise gift of $250 from the Australian Field Naturalists Network after a visit to the park, much appreciated. We still have funds earmarked for a seat along the walk from Zumsteins to McKenzie Falls, and of course the Ian McCann book project won’t be cheap.
  6. We have been given two books for our library: “Tree walk in Drouin”, gift of a visitor to our area, and a personal memoir of Chataqua Peak by Marian Colton

Advisory Group Meeting – October 19th

We started with welcomes to new Area Chief Ranger Rhonda McNeil, to new team member John Grayling (Roads, camping areas, other assets), and thanks to Tammy Schoo who has been acting as ACR.

Advisory group membership – was due to end this year, but we made the decision to delay until Rhonda was settled into her job, but no longer than 12 months.

GNP Team update – new staff. Hannah Auld is the new volunteer co-ordinator, which is now at last an ongoing position. Connor Smith is temporarily replacing Matt White who is taking leave to visit European parks on a bike trip. (We will have to ask Matt for an article when he returns.) There will also be four summer rangers over the holiday period.

Recovery – Fire /Flood update – There has been quite a bit of road work recently, especially culverts, and work is starting on track upgrades as part of the Recovery programme, particularly the McKenzie River Track. (Note that FOGGS has money set aside for a seat along the track with money we inherited from Friends of Zumsteins. We hope this will be done soon as part of the upgrade.)

Other park project updates – Emergency markers are being installed at key points in the Park where accidents or other incidents are likely to happen. This is so that when a call is made to 000, the exact location can be given to the operator. This has been a real problem in the past.

Visitor numbers are continuing to increase markedly, which is good in many ways, but also presents challenges. Most roads and walking tracks now have counters installed to measure the traffic. Parking at popular spots is a problem, and the team are looking at possible solutions. Visitor behaviour and expectations can also present problems, as so many visitors now are city or overseas based.

BRP Environment funding Update

Mike Stevens was on leave, so Dave Handscombe told us Mike’s good news. I am actually using the email I had from Mike with the details.

Well on my last day of work before two months holiday I received news that the Grampians has received its biggest environmental funding allocation in history…$1.855m over 3 years.  When considering we have $400k of Grampians Ark funding the Grampians is expecting to receive over $3m in environmental funding for the next three years.

The projects funded through the Biodiversity Response Planning grants over the next 3 years are:

  • Sallow wattle control – $647,445
  • Feral Goat and rabbit control – $309,000
  • Deer control – $624,000
  • Feral cat control – $275,000

We now have funding security to employ the Environmental Project Coordinator for a three year term, and throw significant energy behind ramping up a Sporting Shooters Association of Australia and Australian Deer Association partnership in combination with contractors targeting goats and feral deer. There is a marked increase in managing contractors to control Sallow Wattle, and we will lead innovative state-wide approaches to rabbit control and feral cats.

Considering that we plan to significantly ramp up our ecological fire program in Autumn – Winter 2019, combined with an exciting partnership with Glenelg Hopkins CMA investigating ecological water opportunities for the Grampians landscape, it looks as though we will be able to make significant progress to deliver the Grampians Conservation Action Plan.  A web update and details of all successful BRP projects can be found at https://www.environment.vic.gov.au/biodiversity/biodiversity-response-planning.”

At our AG meeting Dave elaborated on what this means. The existing goat control programme will be expanded, deer control will commence. The aim is to remove 150 deer each year from the Park, with better cooperation with adjoining land owners to be able to remove deer from their properties too. The sallow wattle programme will continue to focus on the North plus satellite populations in other areas.

The PV Act has changed four weeks ago. It now simplifies responsibilities, and our local staff think it is an improvement. (Note that it is unrelated to the somewhat controversial changes to the management plans of parks along the Great Ocean Road.) The Management Plan for our Park is way out of date and needs a lot of work but there is no indication of when that process will begin.

Grampians Peak Trail

We next had a detailed update on the Peaks Trail project. Work is starting on the 102 km of new tracks. There is a new phone app, ArcG15 which is helping speed up the work as the exact location of works can be shared.  Work is continuing on such questions as Offsets, planning requirements, resourcing, finalisation of the cost modelling analysis, the hiker camps, supplier agreements, marketing plans.

But we spent most time on the Interpretation project update. As I report next, a company has been appointed to look at how the interpretation should be delivered, but first you need to think about who will be using the trail. Day walkers, school groups, overnight independent walkers, group walkers, guided walkers, luxury walkers. Thirteen things needing to be decided  were listed, the top 5  being: how many people at sites, what type of accommodation is offered, at what cost, the experience offered (interpretation), is there a need for a shuttle service. Some others were: length of each day’s walk, what the shower/ washing facilities should be. Some key gaps on what is on offer to the sort of people thinking of doing the walk were: high end accommodation, transport to and within the region, quality dining experiences, and on-park accommodation options.  The key focus areas of interpretation and signage were outlined too, which I will add to the article on the interpretation meeting I attended, rather than repeating myself.

So much to think about and we were running out of time and energy. I am sure we will be talking more at the next meeting which is in December.

We were to have an update on Traditional Owner agreements but that too was postponed to December.