Protecting remote habitat is essential for protecting biodiversity and rare species like the swift parrot, but ecologists are also increasingly recognising the importance of green urban areas in Australia’s major cities to threatened species.
In fact, a quarter of Australia’s threatened plants and 45 per cent of threatened animals can be found in cities and towns, including Melbourne, according to a recent report from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).
But these numbers keep dwindling. During the 17-year operation of the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the national laws supposed to protect Australia’s environment, at least 20,200 hectares of habitat for these species in urban areas has been destroyed.
“Melburnians love nature but few would realise they share their city with such remarkable and endangered animals,” says ACF campaigner Jess Abrahams.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is being reviewed and this is a chance for the federal government to “seriously lift its ambition” and protect urban habitat, he says.
Inner Melbourne is home to a surprising number of threatened species: the City of Melbourne has 11 and Port Phillip has nine, in part explained by remnant coastal habitats.
Only the white-throated needletail is known to exist in all 31 Melbourne local government areas, but the swift parrot, growling grass frog, Australasian bittern and regent honeyeater have been found in a wide range of suburbs.
Melbourne’s inner east hosts a grey-headed flying fox colony at Yarra Bend Park, and while the little penguins at St Kilda Pier are not a threatened species as such, they are a protected marine species under national laws.
The endangered Australasian bittern and other threatened birds can be seen around Edithvale and the Seaford wetlands, and the Cheetham Wetlands at Point Cook.
Only about 1000 pairs of swift parrots remain in the wild due to extensive habitat loss, and seeing them each day in the park was a bittersweet feeling, says Mr Livingstone.
“There are moments of real excitement in birding, when something turns up in Melbourne that wouldn’t usually be here,” he says. “But when you stop and wonder if it’s because of brutal drought, or fires. There’s a real mix of joy and fear about where it’s all heading.”
During his twilight lockdown walks in north Eltham, Dr Rohan Clarke, a senior lecturer in ecology at Monash University, has seen three different phascogales – small carnivorous Australian marsupials – a Victorian threatened species, near the Yarra River.
He’s lucky: within a five-kilometre radius he can easily see more than a dozen species of native mammals, plus a range of bats.
Clarke hopes seeing animals – rare or otherwise – in urban green havens will encourage people to have a sense of connection to their natural environment. And he also believes they will be moved to better protect that environment.
“There’s a benefit for people – even just for our mental health in this current world – to be able to get out and immerse yourself in your little patch of bush,” he says. “And the flip side of that is there’s a bunch of champions to protect these species.”
Miki Perkins is a senior journalist and Environment Reporter at The Age.