The Hawkesbury town of Richmond is rich in history and in unique ecological communities. It is also part of the vast urban infrastructure and population growth area of Western Sydney.
Loss of habitat is one of the most significant threats to the area’s flora and fauna and protecting it is a challenge the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT) and Western Sydney University (WSU) are facing head on with establishment of a Biodiversity Stewardship Agreement (BSA).
The former Richmond Agriculture College campus sits on about 500 hectares of Cumberland Plain Woodland and the newly established BSA covers 119 hectares.
The University entered into the agreement to help protect and enhance biodiversity in perpetuity on remnant bushland that contains some of the most vulnerable fauna and flora in NSW. Under the BSA this land will also generate biodiversity credits. These credits can be bought by those who are looking to offset biodiversity loss associated with land development.
WSU Senior Manager Environmental Sustainability in the Division of Infrastructure and Commercial, Dr Roger Attwater, said the agreement supported the university’s progress to future climate-positive outcomes, generating biodiversity credits sold to fund the management of weeds, pests, fire, and ecological restoration on the site.
"We are taking a proactive approach towards conservation and the natural capital market with the help of the BCT," Dr Attwater said.
“When the idea of biobanking emerged, which then developed into a Biodiversity Stewardship, we recognised it was something very important for us to engage with.”
The value of nature’s assets
Dr Attwater acknowledged the nature capital market and biodiversity credits was an emerging area and the university was a frontrunner in producing and selling credits.
“We have done one trade directly with the BCT and still have some credits for this site,” he said.
“Since we established the site, we have been approached by numerous organisations and individuals who wish to purchase credits and are always exploring the best way to price and to engage in the market so we can continue to undertake conservation management actions on this land.”
The Biodiversity Stewardship Agreement site contains vulnerable populations of endangered native plants including Dillwynia tenuifolia, Micromyrtus minutiflora and Pultenaea parviflora. The site also contains critical habitat for the endangered Cumberland Plains Land Snail.
BCT manager for the Sydney-Hunter region, Ben Fitzpatrick, said protecting the six ecological communities on the BSA, including the endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland and Shale Gravel Transition Forest, was very important.
“The bushland on the Hawkesbury campus has been recognised as being very valuable for a long time,” Ben said.
"Under this agreement the BCT will have an ongoing relationship with Western Sydney University where we check in regularly and provide environmental and technical support. We will do regular site visits and catch up with the landholder about any issues and work to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome.”
Managing conservation efforts
Each conservation site has its own set of challenges, and the WSU site faces pest control issues due to its proximity to neighbours.
"Western Sydney University is quite a unique landholder, and this site has pressures that an agricultural property in regional NSW might not have,” Ben said. “It’s near a lot of housing so there's some issues associated with neighbours and domestic pets,” he said.
"As a priority we are working on fencing and signage in the area. It’s been pretty wet in the past few years with flooding and fires before that. We are looking to get back into some of the most pressing management actions when the conditions are suitable.”
In addition to protecting biodiversity, the agreement will also provide potential indigenous engagement and a “living lab” opportunity for the university’s students.
Dr Attwater said the BSA took a few years to establish but the university was now in a good position to reproduce the process with other remnant bushland areas on the WSU campus.
“In the future we hope to establish additional biodiversity stewardship sites on campus. We are keen to share our experiences because many of the challenges of establishment and trading credits are shared by everybody engaging in these processes. The more we can share information, the better,” he said.
From July 2022, management of BSA applications was handed over to the Credit Supply Taskforce (CST) at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE).
The BCT supports landholders following the establishment of a BSA. This support includes conducting annual site visits and supporting the annual reporting process.