Flora and vegetation surveys are the process of collecting data about the naturally occurring native plant life (flora) and collection of plants (vegetation) present in a particular area, usually to provide guidance for impact assessment and management planning. A flora and vegetation survey may focus on:
- An inventory and mapping of flora and vegetation
- Rare or important (Threatened and Priority) flora
- Rare or important (Threatened and Priority) ecological communities
- Weeds and vegetation condition
- Changes in flora and/or vegetation over time
Flora and vegetation surveys are conducted by botanists who have extensive experience in systematic sampling methods, analysis and reporting. It is essential that the lead botanist has knowledge and experience in the ecology of the vegetation and flora of the region being surveyed. The lead botanist is required to have at least five years’ experience and should ideally lead the survey throughout the entire process. The lead botanist supervises less experienced team members and always checks their work for accuracy.
In Western Australia, in accordance with recognised technical guidance, there are three main types of survey, these are:
- Reconnaissance survey – Gathers broad information about the area being surveyed. Often used when flora and vegetation values are already well known, or if the area is degraded.
- Targeted survey – Gathers comprehensive information about the presence, size and extent of significant flora and vegetation populations.
- Detailed survey – Used when the area supports a high diversity of flora and vegetation.
Why is a Flora and Vegetation Survey Needed?
The reason for undertaking a flora and vegetation survey will depend on the planned development or other uses for a site, such as for conservation. However, some of the reasons may include:
- To ascertain the presence of significant flora, vegetation or ecological communities
- To understand the conservation value of a particular area or species
- To inform environmental impact assessment and enable applications for environmental approvals to be made
- To understand the biological diversity
- To understand the distribution of species and the environmental factors that affect this
- To prepare guidelines for managing natural resources, including via environmental management plans
Flora and vegetation surveys are important to understand the environmental impact of development projects before proposed clearing or other impacts and during management. The main categories of flora and vegetation surveys include:
- Assessment – A biological assessment is undertaken prior to clearing or other impact, in areas where natural ecosystems are present, such as before the development of freeways or mining sites.
- Monitoring – Monitoring is an essential part of managing impacts on the natural environment. Monitoring provides data about the changes in distribution of species, response to the development, degradation or to determine recovery of ecosystems.
Flora and Vegetation Survey for Approvals
Certain flora or vegetation (ecological communities) may be considered under threat or rare, and are protected under Commonwealth and/or State law. Any action that could have significant impact on threatened or rare species or ecological communities requires approval beforehand. Flora and vegetation surveys conducted for environmental impact assessments to support environmental approvals must meet specified guidelines, which include minimum qualifications and experience for the lead botanist. There are also other complex requirements that only a suitably experienced botanist can ensure are being met when scoping flora and vegetation surveys.
The Importance of Flora and Vegetation Surveys
Flora and vegetation surveys can be important for a number of reasons. Surveys may be conducted for natural resource management initiatives, for environmental impact assessment and approvals, or to meet compliance requirements. Compliance requirements commonly arise from commitments made during the approvals process, for impact mitigation, monitoring or management. Whether for impact assessment or approvals before the commencement of a development, or for compliance requirements, it is important to correctly scope flora and vegetation surveys, to avoid pitfalls including regulators requiring surveys be repeated, refusal of approvals, a longer timeline for approvals, hefty fines, suspension of licenses or attracting negative press and bad reputations. It’s therefore, of the utmost importance to engage a consultant team with appropriate skills, qualifications, experience and reputation, and who is prepared to work collaboratively on the best approach that balances environmental responsibility, technical competence, time and budget efficiency and overall risk management.