Councillors will table and vote on the biodiversity strategy 2020-2030 at its June 25 meeting, with staff recommending adoption with the amendments. It has been on public exhibition for eight eight weeks.
According to Council staff, the strategy includes ‘over 90 actions to help improve biodiversity conservation in the Shire’.
Staff say it is a ‘plan of action for both Council and the Byron Shire community to protect and enhance our local biodiversity. The strategy describes some of our unique biodiversity values, why they are under threat, and what opportunities exist to mitigate these threats’.
Yet with the exhibition of the latest strategy, Council’s previous strategy was not included for the public to compare. The Echo sought the previous strategy, which was supplied. Staff replied, ‘Not sure why the old strategy is not on the website. Will work on getting it up there’.
The following is a Q&A with staff on the latest strategy.
Q: I was hoping to know more about the previous biodiversity policy? For example, what was the budget, how many staff were employed, and what groundwork was done in the last one?
A: For the previous (2004) Biodiversity Strategy, Byron Shire Council implemented a ‘special rate’ for a biodiversity levy in the 2004/2005 financial year. The special rate was a 2% rate increase at the time and was in place for 4 years. It concluded at the end of the 2007/2008 financial year. In 2004/2005 the Biodiversity levy raised $185,900.
In the 2008/2009 financial year, Council’s rate income was reduced to take out the revenue raised by the biodiversity levy. The reduction at this time was $237,300. In the 2008/2009 financial year, Council applied for another rate increase but this time as an increase in the ordinary rate which became a permanent addition to Council’s rate income. Among other purposes, it included an Environmental Levy. The amount approved for the Environmental Levy at the time was $270,000. While the order approving the environmental levy increase has expired, Council has continued to allocate this funding each financial year for the environmental levy and continues to budget to do this.
In addition to the Biodiversity Officer, the original strategy included actions to engage a number of positions including a biodiversity extension officer, ecologist and biodiversity education officer, all of which were temporarily appointed in the early years of the plan’s delivery. There were 3 staff originally employed in the Bush Regeneration team. The number of staff employed in the Bush Regeneration and Biodiversity teams has grown recently due to successful grant funding applications. However those extra positions will always be subject to the availability of grant funding. Please note that the actual amount of funding spent on biodiversity projects varies from year-to-year, depending on project-specific budget bids and grant funding.
Q: It would be good to know the budget predicted of the current draft policy too. There are two staff listed on the website. Is there any more staff employed in this dept?
A: Biodiversity programs are currently implemented by 1 full time permanent and 1.4 temporary staff, who undertake ecological and education projects. Council also funds a part time Landcare Officer (from Brunswick Valley Landcare) who undertakes some extension services. These positions, in addition to Council’s three permanent bush regeneration staff will be required, as a minimum, to deliver the strategy. This is explained in section 5.1.1 (p.63) of the current draft Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. To answer the question, yes we currently also have a second part time officer, plus additional bush regeneration staff, employed using grant funds. These are likely to vary from year to year, subject to grant funding.
Q: Within appendix 1 (page 74) is information on the first Biodiversity Conservation Strategy in 2004. Presumably that was the last one? Council claims to date, it ‘succeeded in addressing 80 per cent of actions, including 90 per cent of those designated as high to very high priority’. Is there a breakdown of this info available?
A: The achievements of Council’s first Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2004 were tracked in a report for the Biodiversity and Sustainability Advisory Committee, 25 October 2013, which includes a breakdown (attached). If anything, the claims of 80 per cent achieved are most likely to be on the conservative side, as it is probable that more actions were completed after this date. However, Council’s focus has been on moving forward with preparation of a revised strategy and we will be reporting on actions achieved annually to the Biodiversity Advisory Committee so we have a clear record of progress in future.