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Native grasslands and fire safety

Native grasslands include local indigenous grass species, as well as mosses, lichens, fungi, native lilies, orchids, daisies and other plants.
They are habitat for many species of native animals, including the vulnerable Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar) and critically endangered Golden Sun Moth (Synemon plana).
The Eastern Barred Bandicoot relies on this grassland in its enclosure at Parklands reserve, Hamilton.

Why we care about native grasslands

Less than 0.1% of the native grasslands at European settlement are left.
Grasslands are now listed as a threatened community under both State (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988) and Federal Legislation (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).
Aside from the legal and conservation reasons to protect native grasslands, they are valuable to be kept as they keep fire dangers lower.

Fire hazards - native grasses compared to introduced grasses

Native grasslands are characterised by short tufty plants with taller flowers.
These species respond quickly with green shoots after fires or rain events.
Well managed native grasslands without weeds inherently have lower fire danger with:
• lower flame heights
• slower flame speed
• slower rate of spread
• lower radiant heat
• fewer embers.

Roadsides are important for native grasslands

In Western Victoria a large proportion of known native grasslands are on roadsides and in cemeteries. Pastures improved for agriculture have replaced most native grasslands on private properties.
Roadsides support some of the most intact and diverse patches of native grassland. They have survived partly because of past management including burning by CFA brigades.
Roadsides that have been sprayed or ploughed have lost most of their native grasses.

CFA brigades and native grasslands

CFA brigades burn hundreds of kilometres of native grasslands on roadsides and railway lines each year in the western Victoria, in accordance with fire management plans.

Timing of burning native grasslands is important

Regular burning can reduce invasion of trees and weeds. It reduces fuel load and makes ‘spaces’ for a diversity of plants to seed and grow.
Burning is delayed until new year each summer to allow the grass to set seed and for the soil to crack and provide refuge for the striped legless lizards.

Weeds and pasture grass in native grassland

The weed that threatens the native grass most is phalaris. Phalaris produces a large amount of fuel and results in:
• higher flame heights
• faster flame speed
• faster rate of spread
• higher radiant heat
• many more embers

Pasture grasses, particularly phalaris, out-compete native grasses. While native grasses respond well to an appropriate fire regime, many pasture grasses don’t respond as well. Phalaris is not killed by fire but it tends to slow its progress.
Keeping phalaris and other pasture grasses out of native grasslands benefits both biodiversity and fire safety.

Native grasslands can be vulnerable

Critically endangered Golden Sun Moth

Although native grasslands are well adapted to the local climate and conditions, they are vulnerable to:
• soil disturbance – ploughs, stock hooves
• herbicide spraying
• trampling
• wheel marks
• inappropriate grazing or mowing
• fertiliser.
Over one third of native grasslands surviving on roadsides in the 1980s were destroyed by 2004. Loss continues from weed infestation and activity causing soil disturbance.

You can help

If you have native grassland on roadsides adjacent to your property, contact our Planning Department before doing any works.
Our Biodiversity Officer and Emergency Management Officer work with agencies supporting activities promoting the health of native grasslands. Contact us on 03 5573 0444.

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