– “A Galapagos of our own”
WILSONS Promontory National Park will become a world-unique, 50,000-hectare native flora and fauna sanctuary when a 10-kilometre-long predator-proof fence is built from coast to coast across the Yanakie isthmus at a cost of $6 million.
The funding for the fence is part of “a $23 million investment” allocated to Parks Victoria for the Prom in the Victorian Government’s 2020/2021 State Budget, and announced by Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, in Foster on Wednesday November 18, 2020.
Ms D’Ambrosio said the investment will “create an internationally significant biodiversity sanctuary, protect the Prom’s spectacular and unique coastal wilderness and help more people enjoy it.”
The project also includes $5.6 million for improving the visitor centre and the biology laboratory, as well as upgrading existing accommodation, at Tidal River.
The balance of $11.4 million will go towards developing a new research centre with workspaces and accommodation for researchers, along with another tourism information hub, and 20 environmentally sustainable “pods” for visitors.
A peak-season park and ride service, “to reduce congestion and allow more people to visit mainland Australia’s wild southern tip”, is planned, too.
These facilities will be located near the Yanakie entrance station on privately-owned land neighbouring the National Park’s gazetted northern boundary secured through 99-year leases.
The two-metre-high exclusion fence will also be built on leased private property beyond the Park.
Construction works are expected to start in the new year, with more than 70 jobs associated with the two-year project.
The fence’s design features a projecting mesh curtain at the top, possibly with an electric wire along its edge, as well as flanges at and below ground-level to keep feral cats, foxes, deer, pigs, and rabbits out.
Double barriers at the fence’s shoreline boundaries, combined with dedicated removal programs, such as baiting and trapping, to be conducted throughout the park, are intended to eventually and permanently rid the Prom of all pest animals.
The fence will turn the Prom into “a Galapagos of our own”, according to Parks Victoria chief conservation scientist Dr Mark Norman, as it will protect remaining indigenous animals and plants and allow them, together with other reintroduced species, to regenerate.
“We want to eliminate cats, foxes and other pest animals and plants from the Prom forever,” he said.
“Remote cameras have been in place on the Prom for the past 15 years and show the numbers of small native ground-dwelling birds, mammals and reptiles, like ground parrots, long-nosed potaroos, southern brown bandicoots, and skinks, have been gradually going down, while the predator count has been rising.
“Feral cats are insidious climbers, and each one can eat 500 animals, birds and lizards a year, while wild deer and pigs destroy native plant ecosystems and bring in weeds,” Dr Norman said.
“We will try to bring back creatures lost to the Prom, such as quolls and betongs, from breeding programs being conducted around Gippsland.
“Once the feral animals have been eradicated, the Prom will become in effect a safe, 50,000-hectare island that’s five times the area of Phillip Island.
“We will also be able to introduce threatened native species from other areas to the Prom to set insurance populations and rebuild their numbers so they can in time be returned to their natural homes,” he said.
“An example is the Eastern Bristlebird, which was badly affected in the burnt areas in East Gippsland, and whose habitat is still recovering.”
Dr Norman said the Prom “has such amazing biodiversity and such a wide range of environments, from heathlands, tall forests and stands of banksias to coastal zones and river systems, along with a huge marine national park.
“The Prom is geographically isolated at the south-easternmost end of the Australian mainland and is surrounded by cool waters, and so has naturally buffered temperatures and ecosystems,” he said.
“I look forward to the time when the Prom is quite free of pests and weeds, which can now occur because of this fence.”
During her visit to Foster Minister D’Ambrosio also announced State Government funding totalling $465 million, which includes the Prom’s $23 million, that is aimed at boosting tourism throughout Victoria.
“Gippsland’s unique natural environment attracts visitors, creates jobs and supports communities – so it’s vital we preserve it and improve it, which is what this investment will do,” she said.
The package includes $18.5 million for East Gippsland to replace and improve visitor facilities like access roads and paths, camping grounds, a variety of rail, canoe and native fauna trails, and accommodation at places such as the Cape Conran Coastal Park, Metung, Raymond Island, Lake Wellington, Mallacoota Inlet, and the Point Hicks Lighthouse in Croajingolong National Park.
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said he was pleased that the State Government was “now on board” with a plan the Victorian Nationals first mooted in 2018 to “protect Wilsons Promontory National Park with a predator-proof fence across the Yanakie isthmus.
“This fence will create a 50,000-hectare wildlife sanctuary, which as we said more than two years ago, will help protect our valuable native fauna and flora and potentially help us reintroduce species that have been lost from the Prom.
“It will also, over time, allow us to potentially eradicate all feral animals such as foxes, cats, rabbits and deer from within the National Park.”
Mr O’Brien said he wanted more specific information on plans for the new tourist and visitor information centre and the additional environmentally sustainable accommodation.
“New accommodation is desperately needed in and around the Prom, but I would like to see more detail on what the Government is proposing to ensure that it meets the needs of our local community and tourists coming to the Prom.
“I’m disappointed that despite widespread tourism spending across regional Victoria, the South Gippsland spending from the Government is almost wholly and solely for the Prom,” he said.
“There are many other great projects around Gippsland that deserve funding and I’ll be actively campaigning for them in coming months.”