SWIFFT - State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams

SWIFFT - State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams
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Golden Plains Shire
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
Wimmera Catchment Management Authority
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About the research project

 

 

This is a three year research project led by PhD candidate – Inka Veltheim who is based at Federation University Australia.

Ms Veltheim will draw on the expertise and knowledge of an independent scientific panel which has also been appointed to the project. The panel consists of relevant scientific experts drawn from government, the private sector and universities who specialise in Brolga biology, ecology and ecological modelling.

The project will for the first time fit satellite transmitters to a number of Brolgas to investigate their movements, spatial requirements, and vulnerability to collision with man-made structures.

The project is supported through funding from the Commonwealth Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, Sustainability Victoria and the wind energy industry.

Why is this research needed?

With overwhelming scientific evidence indicating the reality of global warming, greenhouse gas abatement through utilising renewable energy, like wind power, has moved to the forefront of government and business agendas. As the nation responds to the urgency of climate change, investment into Australia’s abundant renewable energy resource is rapidly increasing.

The wind energy industry is poised to play a major role in meeting growing energy demand while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with considerable focus being directed to south-west Victoria. South-west Victoria provides a world class wind resource and possesses many of the qualities necessary for commercially viable wind farms.

The south-west Victorian Brolga population lives across a range of wetland habitats where wind farms are currently being developed and is listed as ‘threatened’ under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

Little is known about the life history, behaviour and habitat utilisation of the south-west Victorian Brolga population, which includes how the birds may interact or respond to wind turbines within their range. This lack of information makes it very difficult for Australia’s wind energy industry and regulators to make informed decisions when planning for wind farm developments in the region.

The wind energy industry is concerned about the welfare of the Brolga in this region and is therefore undertaking research to ensure there is no potential impact from wind farms on the development of the Brolga population.

A recent Department of Sustainability and Environment Action Statement available here documents the key reasons for the decline in Brolga numbers.

What does the project seek to achieve?

The primary objective is to develop a rigorous and scientific framework for understanding and assessing the potential impacts of the wind energy industry on the south-west Victorian Brolga population including the effectiveness of mitigation strategies. To achieve this, the following activities will be carried out:

  1. Melbourne University has developed and will administer a Population Viability Assessment (PVA) model for the project. The PVA is a systematic, quantitative population model that integrates all possible sources of information (e.g. results of studies and expert opinion) to predict the population consequences of theoretical impact, mitigation and offset/management scenarios. PVA is a widely accepted tool used for the assessment of risks to populations or species.
  2. The Project aims to progressively improve the quantitative estimates that make up the PVA model. To do this, the Project has funded a comprehensive research program to be conducted by a PhD student at the University of Ballarat. The research program will be field-based and investigate life history parameters, flight behaviours, foraging and nesting behaviour and habitat utilisation. Information acquired from the research program will be used at the discretion of the Scientific Panel to progressively refine the assumptions that make up the PVA, thereby increasing the value of the PVA.
  3. In addition, the valuable data being collected by individual proponents at the project-specific scale, both pre and post-construction will be collected to augment the information being collected by the research program, at the regional scale.

What is the role of the Scientific Panel?

An independent Scientific Panel (Panel) has been appointed to the Project. The Scientific Panel will oversee the development of tools to predict, assess and mitigate the impacts of wind farm development on the species.

Specifically the Panel will be responsible for overseeing a standard set of scientific methodologies which will be used to assess and mitigate all Brolga-wind turbine interactions. The Panel will also be responsible for updating the methodology as new data becomes available.

The Panel will be chaired by the Department of Sustainability and Environment and will include relevant scientific experts in Brolga biology and ecology and ecological modelling from government, the private sector and universities.

The Scientific Panel will remain independent of the Project Steering Committee, but will be represented by its Chair, on the Steering Committee.

Confirmed participants of the Panel are:

  • Dr Michael McCarthy, School of Botany, University of Melbourne
  • Mr Ian Smales, Biosis Research
  • Mr Mathew Herring, Murray Wildlife
  • Mr Brett Lane, B Lane and Associates
  • Mr Phillip Du Guesclin
  • Ms Inka Veltheim, School of Science and Engineering, University of Ballarat
  • Mr Richard Hill, Department of Sustainability and Environment

How long will the project run for?

The Project is expected to run for the term of the research project which is three years.

How will the data be collected?

Some of the most important data will be collected through the capture and fitting of satellite transmitters to up to 25 Brolgas. These transmitters will provide information on the daily location and movements of the individual birds for up to two years.

Brolgas will be caught in nets at their summer flocking sites and the transmitter attached as a backpack, sitting between the wings of the bird. This is a standard method of measurement used by conservation movements around the world. The backpacks will not impact the birds’ natural movements. They will eventually biodegrade and fall off the Brolga.

Brolgas will also be fitted with a uniquely coloured and numbered leg band, so that they can be individually recognised. This will allow the collection of more detailed information on the movements of the marked birds and resightings after the satellite transmitters have ceased operation.

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