StopPitt might be stopped

StopPitt President Kathy Sewell and Darcy Duggan President of the Southern Dandenongs Land care group.

The Southern Dandenongs Landcare Group has spoken out about the lack of funding for environmental groups in the Dandenong Ranges.

The advocacy comes after environmental group StopPitt did not secure funding from the State Government, and as a result may be disbanded.

Southern Dandenongs Landcare Group president Darcy Duggan contacted the Mail about the State Government’s failure to address weeds in the Dandenong Ranges.

“About two or three weeks ago we made enquiries around the funding and looked up the website and found that StopPitt had missed out on funding, despite making a submission,” he said.

“Only one project got a Guernsey in the Dandenongs, and that was Friends of Glenfern Valley who got $17,000, to do some weed control work.”

StopPitt was created four years ago to work alongside the Yarra Ranges Council to manage sweet pittosporum on public and private land across the Dandenong Ranges.

The volunteer group was borne out of a damning example in Menzies Creek where in the 1940s only a single pittosporum tree was known to exist.

Fast forward 70 years and thousands could be seen in Menzies Creek at densities of around 4000 to 8000 per hectare.

This observation led to a citizen science project at the Menzies Creek Primary School during 2012 and 2013, which estimated that its invasion rate was about 80 metres per year.

Since then, the group has been working hard to remove pittosporum from around Menzies Creek and have addressed more than 120 private properties.

Mr Duggan said it was disappointing that the group had lost its funding, particularly considering the environmental impact of pittosporum and the bushfire risk that it posed.

“Unfortunately this whole project may collapse as the group needs that regular funding,” he said.

“Part of their work was doorknocking residents and providing advice on weed management.

“They’d prepare a site plan for property on-site training with landowners and then get contractors to help with weed control.”

He said the sweet pittosporum was a new and emerging weed in the southern Dandenongs and posed a significant worry to the region’s biodiversity.

“It produces a lot of shade which blocks out native plants, and it’s highly flammable…you can hold a match up to a green leaf and it would burst into flames,” he said.

“It’s always been about dealing with a growing problem, and if we can nip it now it will save us a lot of grief down the line.”

The group received funding in the past from federal La Trobe MP Jason Wood and the State Government.

But this year StopPitt made a submission for $50,000 under the improving Biodiversity by On Ground Action grant and received nothing.

Mr Duggan said it was a kick in the guts, especially as the group still had another 50 properties to address.

“We’re feeling a bit burnt out as environmental groups are not getting the level of support that they need,” he said.

“It’s one step forward and three steps back, so it’s very disheartening.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) said StopPitt applied for a 2017 Biodiversity On Ground Action (BOA) Community and Volunteer Action (CVA) Grant last year and were approved for $48,580 in funding.

“This project is a one-year project that was due to be completed by 31 August 2018,” they said.

“To date, they have not submitted their completion report.”

She said a reminder email went out to the group on 13 November.

“The Community Volunteer Action Grants, awarded under the bio on-ground action program, were available in 2017/’18 and ’18/’19 – this isn’t an ongoing funding stream and was announced prior to Biodiversity 2037.”

The Southern Dandenongs Landcare Group was founded with the aim to protect and preserve the remnant vegetation of the southern section of the Dandenong Ranges, and works closely with a number of environmental groups around the Dandenong Ranges.