By Peter Douglas
Yarra Ranges Council has publicly defended its consultation and engagement strategy in relation to the development of the Mount Evelyn Recreation Reserve Master Plan, which is set for a vote at council’s 12 September meeting at Montrose.
After suggestions the plan, which will act as a guidance tool for proposed works at the site, could sound the death knell for a local Powerful Owl population, council issued a detailed media response, maintaining it has attempted to achieve a balance between protecting local wildlife and providing a benefit for the entire community.
Long-time resident and Powerful Owl watcher, Clare Worsnop, has expressed to the ‘Mail’ her fears the local population may disappear in the next five to 10 years, due to human activity and if the works proceed, which includes plans to resurface the lower reserve and drain a floodplain.
Ms Worsnop said the local Powerful Owl population was already under significant stress.
“The noise level has increased with increased usage of the recreation reserve in recent years … the football club trains from Tuesday through to Friday, then plays weekends and even night matches until 10am,” Ms Worsnop said.
“The owls are becoming stressed and haven’t bred for three years now. If they stop breeding, they won’t be there for future generations.”
However, council released comment on Wednesday 6 September, saying “Council has been working with the community to consider the environmental and recreational needs at Mount Evelyn Recreation Reserve and to ensure this popular and scenic location is managed to benefit the whole community”.
The response went on to explain the lengthy process undertaken by council to develop the master plan, saying:
“Council has worked in partnership with Mount Evelyn Environment Protection and Progress Association (MEEPA), Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water, independent environmental consultancy firm Biosis, Mount Evelyn Netball Club, Cricket Club and Junior Club in maintaining, protecting and enhancing the flora and fauna of the reserve.
“This approach has significantly improved the quality of natural habitat areas within the reserve.
“MEEPPA, with support from council and Melbourne Water, has undertaken significant enhancement works along the alignment of the Olinda Creek over many years.
“Environmental considerations have been recommended throughout the master plan based on advice provided by a senior zoologist from Biosis concerning owl species, especially Powerful Owls at the reserve.
“This builds on the original Biosis Environmental Assessment 2016, which is included in appendix two of the master plan.
“Council is very conscious of the potential impact of human activity on owl breeding and adopted the Powerful Owl Management Procedure in August 2015.”
Meanwhile, Chandler Ward councillor, Tony Stevenson, said the master plan showed how council had considered the needs of all stakeholders involved in the project and how the use of the site could be improved for the community, while continuing to co-exist with the wildlife living at the reserve.
“Council supports junior and female participation in all sports and we recognise the social, health and fitness benefits of organised sport for everyone,” Cr Stevenson said.
“Family friendly clubs like Mount Evelyn create a healthier culture for players, spectators and the community.
“We will continue to work with Melbourne Water to increase and protect vegetation quality along Olinda Creek through the east of the reserve to support the habitat for the Powerful Owls and another wildlife.”
Cr Stevenson said recommendations in the report included investing in a study measuring the reproductive success of the owls compared to other published studies and limiting light spill into the forested area if replacement lighting goes ahead.
He said the report also recommended that records from future bird-monitoring be submitted to a publicly accessible database such as BirdLife Australia.
In addition, the media response highlighted some of the community engagement projects undertaken during the master plan’s development, noting:
“Council has undertaken significant community engagement including a survey in early 2016, which helped shaped the draft Mount Evelyn Recreation Reserve Master Plan.
“More than 200 submissions on the draft master plan collected during community consultation from December 2016 to February 2017 showed:
* 88 per cent of respondents said the plan struck the right balance between recreational and environmental needs and issues;
* 90 per cent of respondents said initiatives would improve walking, cycling and car access to the reserve;
* 89 per cent said the plan adequately provided for long-term recreational needs of the Mount Evelyn community.
“A revised and final master plan has been developed based on this community engagement.
“This will be presented at the 12 September council meeting at Montrose Town Centre.”