Do the right thing: the benefits of native vegetation are clear

SHEEP PADDOCK: A typical sheep paddock on Kangaroo Island with patches of native vegetation interspersed.
SHEEP PADDOCK: A typical sheep paddock on Kangaroo Island with patches of native vegetation interspersed.

Natural Resources Kangaroo Island’s (NRKI) compliance series seeks to provide information and clarity on what you need to ‘do the right thing’. This week we look at the importance of native vegetation on the Island.

Kangaroo Island’s reputation is built on its natural environment, recognised for being the last bastion for a number of endangered animal species, but did you know that we are also the last refuge for many native plant species? 

Narrow-leaved mallee, for example, is nationally protected as a critically endangered ecological community and is found only on KI.

Kangaroo Island’s relatively unspoiled natural environment also provides the basis for its brand proposition of food and fibre ‘produced in harmony with nature’, something increasingly sought by consumers.

Natural Resources Kangaroo Island Management Board presiding member and KI farmer, Richard Trethewey, says native vegetation is and asset that provides us with many benefits that should not be undervalued.

“Native vegetation helps to stabilise soil and reduce erosion, acts as shelter and windbreaks for stock and crops, provides shade, provides oxygen, traps dust, filters run-off from paddocks, hosts pollinators and other beneficial insects and spiders that reduce pest insects; to mention just a few of the services it provides at no cost.

“Excessive removal of native vegetation can cause or exacerbate problems such as flooding, salinization, waterlogging, soil erosion and the spread of weeds,” said Mr Trethewey.

Before clearing native vegetation it is best to seek advice as even dead plants may be protected by the law if they provide benefits, such as being important habitat for wildlife.

In 2017 the Native Vegetation Regulations were streamlined to cut red tape and allow self-assessment for activities not requiring a permit under the Native Vegetation Act 1991.

 NRKI Parks and Sustainable Landscapes manager Rob Ellis says this includes things like clearing for fire hazard reduction and to make conditions safer for people and property. 

“Clearance activities that can be undertaken on your land without a permit are clearly detailed in the Native Vegetation Regulations 2017 and are on the Department for Environment and Water’s (DEW) website, though in some instances you are still required to notify the department if you intend to undertake clearance activities, for example, along fence lines.

“You can clear tree limbs that are greater than two metres in height to remove safety risks to people or property; if there is no other way to reduce the risk, then the whole tree (greater than two metres in height) may be cleared to remove the danger.

“Limited harvesting is also allowed for firewood and up to six cubic metres of firewood can be collected on your property for personal use each year without formal approval, however, this must be done in way that allows those plants to regrow.

“Firewood can only be collected from plants with a stem diameter of 20 cm at a height of 30 cm above the base of the plant, and the plant must be cut at least 30 cm above its base. 

“Firewood can be collected from road verges if you have a permit from the Kangaroo Island Council and they should be contacted in this regard,” Mr Ellis added.

It is important to note that anyone planning to sell firewood commercially needs to apply for a clearance application from the DEW Native Vegetation Unit and people purchasing firewood need to consider whether or not it has been legally harvested. 

A concerning increase in vegetation clearance on the Island has been detected through satellite and aerial imagery, indicating a lack of awareness that native vegetation is legally protected and a lack of awareness about the benefits it provides. 

Native vegetation across South Australia is protected by the Native Vegetation Act 1991 and even dead plants can be protected under the Act where they provide certain habitats, so it is best to seek guidance if you are thinking about clearing vegetation.

Native vegetation may not be removed from any National Parks, Conservation Parks, Wilderness Protection Areas and reserves in SA, even if the wood is dead or fallen.

More information and guidance on managing native vegetation and clearance applications is available at: https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/topics/native-vegetation/clearing 

The Native Vegetation Regulations 2017, including a list of activities permitted outside the clearance controls, is available here: https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/topics/native-vegetation/legislation-administration 

Please feel free to drop into or to call the Natural Resources Centre in Kingscote if you have any questions or concerns with regards to the managing native vegetation.

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