Our flora and vegetation are special
Western Australia is considered to have high species diversity and high levels of endemism with 60% of flora occurring nowhere else on earth (EPA 2016). Many species occur in small, localised populations and this distribution makes them more vulnerable to environmental disturbance.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) of Western Australia has an objective for flora and vegetation, that is: To protect flora and vegetation so that biological diversity and ecological integrity are maintained.
In order to meet this objective, flora and vegetation are protected by legislation which requires these values to be well-understood before any impact to them occurs. This is so that unacceptable impacts, for example, those to rare flora, do not take place.
When are flora and vegetation surveys required?
Flora and vegetation are afforded protection under certain legislation. Therefore, proponents (organisations that propose to undertake a project) have a legal duty to meet general environmental protection obligations under various legislation. Serious social, economic and legal consequence may result if these environmental obligations are not met.
Environment consultants with a speciality in botany, are engaged to undertake flora and vegetation assessments to contribute to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process for Commonwealth and State environmental approvals.
Flora and vegetation assessments are required to provide adequate information for the assessment of the environmental impacts of a proposed project at a local and regional context.
Under the Western Australian Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act) any person that requires clearing of native vegetation must hold a permit, unless the clearing is for an exempt purpose. These laws apply to all private and public land throughout Western Australia. Exempt activities are restricted to up five hectares per financial year and include activities such as:
- Clearing to construct a building
- Clearing for firewood
- Clearing to provide fencing and farm materials
- Clearing woodwork
- Clearing along a fence line on alienated land
- Clearing for vehicular tracks
- Clearing for walking tracks
- Clearing isolated trees.
Exemptions do not apply in Environmentally Sensitive Areas.
A flora and vegetation assessment should be conducted and submitted as supporting documentation when applying for approval to clear native vegetation.
Why are flora surveys undertaken?
Flora and vegetation assessments are undertaken by botanists or ecologists to gather floristic information about the plants and the collection of plants (vegetation) of a specific area. Flora surveys in Western Australia are undertaken for a variety of reasons and are conducted by environmental consultants on behalf of organisations from the public and private sectors. These surveys are undertaken for:
- EIA and environmental approvals
- monitoring programs
- to determine the conservation status of a floristic feature
- educational purposes
- baseline studies.
Undertaking these surveys contributes to expanding the biological knowledge of an area. Outcomes of surveys include:
- potentially identifying new or threatened species
- expansions in the range of known species
- identifying morphological changes in a species
- determining geographical extent or a species or community or changes in this
- determining habitat requirements of a species or community.
Things to consider when engaging a consultant for a flora survey
It is crucial to engage a suitable consultant for any environmental assessment. Flora and vegetation surveys should be conducted by suitably qualified botanists or ecologists. Engaging a reputable botanical consultant with appropriate skills and qualifications will benefit the project and the proponent. A suitable consultant for the project should have experience, commitment to quality and be prepared to work collaboratively on the best approach on a project by project basis.
Undertaking the appropriate level of survey for any environmental aspect requires consultants to properly understand the values of conservation significance or other sensitivities, in order to design a study that suitably defines these values, meets regulator and stakeholder expectations. The quality and outcomes of the flora and vegetation survey is dependent on the consultant’s experience and understanding of the area, the project and expected project outcomes. These factors will be heavily dependent on the following:
- Good familiarity with EPA guidance for the expected methodologies for flora and vegetation surveys
- Experience with and an understanding of regulator expectations and preferences for survey design, reporting content and areas to invest efforts
- An understanding of seasonal constraints of field survey work across the various bioregions
- Knowledge and track-record with other stages of projects which enables this context to optimise the survey approach, such as:
- An understanding of the approvals implications for flora and vegetation values of significance
- Knowledge of the environmental mitigation, management, offset and compliance opportunities and expectations related to flora and vegetation
- Experience in working on all phases of large development projects, as part of multi-disciplinary teams, with good context in areas such as site/route selection, engineering design, constructability, site environmental management, environmental monitoring and other compliance aspects such as environmental reporting during liability periods.
The bottom line
The flora and vegetation of Western Australia are special and protected by legislation. This legislation requires that where any impact to flora or vegetation may be planned, surveys are undertaken that meet certain requirements. Key to meeting these requirements is engaging a suitably qualified and experienced consultant who can understands survey techniques, regulator expectations, how to assess impacts properly and with insight into suitable mitigation and management measures.
With almost 50 years of combined botanical survey experience across the three key flora survey personnel, the FVC team has the expertise required for flora and vegetation surveys of any scale and in any of the bioregions across Western Australia.