Pyrenees Highway: on the verge

UPDATE ON THIS POST: Please see the press release above relating to this matter

Vicroads is planning to begin its tree clearance works on the Pyrenees Highway east of Newstead this week. Works were planned to start today (the 29th), but we’ve seen no sight of them yet.

Subsequent to the recent Newstead ‘consultation’ meeting, the roads authority has distributed a quantity of material to local residents explaining the project and providing answers to residents’ objections to the vegetation clearance.

The key documents can be found here





As readers will remember, FOBIF’s objections to large tree removal were accompanied by a number of proposals including:  reduction of the speed limit on the road, and installation of advisory ‘black spot’ signs: the point of these being to reduce the likelihood of an accident. As we have pointed out, Vicroads’ strategy in this case is not to reduce accident probability, but to soften the impact of accidents. According to Vicroads’ tree policy ‘The risk of death and serious injury is directly related to the likelihood of a crash and the impact forces on the vehicle occupants when a vehicle impacts an object.’ Of these two factors, the current project is focussed on one only: ‘This project is focussed on improving road safety outcomes for roads users who are involved in a crash.’  (FOBIF emphasis).

Vicroads’ modelling seems to have been focussed entirely on this angle: and, of course, if you run into a tree at 80 the effect is pretty well the same it would be at 90. The question is, would the accident have happened at all at 80? Numerous campaigns designed to convince us that speed kills would suggest not.

As to what decisions will be made on speed limits, we’re not clear.

A further objection, that the project will damage Swift Parrot habitat, is dealt with in the Vicroads material, essentially via the provision of offset plantings in the St Arnaud area. FOBIF has had no response to our question as to how the removed trees are valued, but we assume that the answer is that the offsets will at least equal the removed trees.

As we’ve suggested before, this project, like many before it, is a small example of a very large principle dominant in our culture: where an apparent conflict is seen between humanity and nature, it is nature which loses out every time. The principle is clearly seen in the current predicament in the Murray Darling, where the underlying principle of governments has been that there be ‘no negative socio-economic impact’. The principle is perfectly encapsulated in Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s statement today: ‘I’m concerned about fish, but I’m more concerned about people.’ The end result now most likely: not only has nature been seriously damaged, but the region, and Australia more generally, is facing a serious social and economic crisis as well.

And here’s a footnote: last July the French government controversially reduced the speed limit on secondary roads from 90 kph to 80 kph. The French Prime Minister released figures this week showing persuasively that 116 fewer people had died on the roads in the period since the change, compared to the average over the preceding years.

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Launch of Alison Pouliot’s fungi book

In an earlier post we told readers about Alison Pouliot’s new book, The Allure of Fungi, published by the CSIRO. Details of the book and where to purchase it can be found here.

Wombat Forestcare and Alison will formally launch the book on Thursday 28 February at the Woodshed, 21a Raglan Street, Daylesford at 6pm. All are welcome. There will be a celebratory glass of champagne and some readings from the book.



Alison is running even more workshops in Victoria this year. Two of the new workshop topics are ‘Visualising the Environment’ and ‘Trees in Focus’. You can find out all about them here

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A happy new year!

The FOBIF committee hopes you’ve had a good start to the new year, and take good care not to melt in the coming week’s heat.

The FOBIF monthly walks program for 2019 is now available, and can be found by clicking on ‘Walks’ above. A paper copy is being mailed to all members this week. Weather conditions and other factors may bring some changes, so we recommend that you check this site before each walk for updates.

Open committee meetings

Remember: FOBIF committee meetings are open to all members. They’re at the Continuing Education building, Templeton Street Castlemaine, on the second Monday of every month from February to November, at 6 pm. Come along and have a say—or ask a question!

There is a vacancy on the committee owing to Naomi Raftery’s departure for Adelaide. If you’re interested, contact us.

Subscriptions are due now: Member subs–$10 per individual, $15 a family—are due now. [But this reminder doesn’t apply if you’ve paid your sub in the last three months…] If you don’t receive a membership forms in the mail you can download one here

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A model project: Vicroads ready to start on Pyrenees Highway

A well-attended meeting in Newstead last Tuesday was told that Vicroads’ Pyrenees Highway tree removal and wire rope barrier project was about to proceed. The meeting was therefore a briefing, not a consultation: it was not going to change anything essential. Engineers were put through the wringer by resident questions, but there was an air of fatality about the proceedings.

Strange monument at the Ravensood interchange, Calder Freeway: is this a symbol of the relationship between human beings and the environment? Nearly 2000 trees, many of them ancient,were destroyed for this project. It will take several hundred years for the ‘offsets’ planted to replace them to come anywhere their size.

Although Vicroads has made some compromise on its original proposals of two years ago, its project  is essentially the same. Questioned about the ultimate rationale behind it, engineers cited ‘modelling’. This modelling was unexplained, but– it is claimed–it shows that reducing the speed limit on the highway would have some beneficial effect, but wire ropes and tree removal would have more. Against a background of repeated campaigns to persuade us that ‘speed kills’ and that we should ‘wipe off 5’, this claim was greeted with scepticism by your FOBIF correspondent.

Engineers were also quizzed about the actual rationale behind the project, justified by accident statistics involving one fatality not related to the road condition. They were unclear in their responses to these questions, arguing that their role is implementation, not the justification of the project.

There has been some confusion about this project over the years. For example, we were told two years ago that rumble strips had been removed from the project for cost reasons. Last Tuesday, however, we were assured that they are well and truly in it, though it’s not clear whether centre of the road plugs will be installed. And it seems possible that a speed limit reduction will be ‘considered’.

All this is against a background of far more serious Vicroads atrocities around the state, especially on the Calder at Ravenswood and the Western Highway west of Beaufort. No one disputes the need for safer roads: but it seems that in pursuit of this end environmental concerns are froth to be run over by the bulldozer. We assume that authorities would not demolish Saint Paul’s Cathedral to improve safety in the Melbourne CBD; they don’t have too much trouble obliterating thousands of trees, many of them hundreds of years old, in pursuit of the same end.

Vicroads has undertaken to run a further ‘consultation’ soon. It’s fair to say that the Vicroads personnel at these meetings are unfailingly professional and courteous. The problem seems to lie deeper: that in any consideration of land management (water, fire, roads…) the environment comes off second best. That chicken has still to come home to roost.

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Not enough flies? How can that be a bad thing?

Do a few trees matter?The context of all the above is not only the preferences of a few tree lovers. It’s found in the map below:

It seems that at every point in what passes for debate these days, we’re being asked to choose between the environment and people. There is no choice: people are dependent on the health of the environment. Whatever affects the environment, affects people. Large trees have a softening effect on environmental extremes…and extremes are what we are increasingly facing.

And on another matter to do with the fragility of nature: anecdotal evidence is coming to us of a relative absence of insects in the region this summer. People have observed that they aren’t being as irritated as they usually are by flies and other insects. And when was the last time your windscreen was spattered with insects? This may be just one of those seasonal variations, but for over a year now reports have been coming in about a massive decline in insect populations worldwide. You can find a couple here and here. Does this have to do with rising temperatures, or vegetation clearance? Science is cautious on the matter…but we’d argue that in any case, the precautionary principle should apply: whatever makes natural systems more resilient in hard times is good; whatever damages them should be avoided.


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A new use for public land: free storage space

We’ve seen the margins of public land around towns sometimes used by residents to store their unwanted stuff—car bodies, machinery, etc. And we’ve seen residents encroach onto public land with garden extensions and attempts to expand their own properties. And here’s a new development, in the Fryers Forest on an unnamed track near White Gum Track: a neat stack of pallets, two of them loaded with building blocks labelled: ‘These blocks are privately owned’, with a phone number attached. The material lasted a couple of weeks, then disappeared. We believe no rent was paid to DELWP for storage.

We’re hoping this doesn’t become a popular pastime: building materials ‘stored’ in the Fryers Forest, December 2018.

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Want to know where Grog Shop Gully is?

Castlemaine Historical Society has just published an excellent new map by Clive Willman: Castlemaine Diggings: historical and modern place names. It’s available at the Info Centre in Mostyn Street for $15.00. All the place names are modern, actually, since they’re all European. The names are a little history in themselves: Hit or Miss Gully, Murdering Flat, Old Hard Hill…they add up to a picture of pretty hard struggle. We do have a Shakespeare Hill, however, to add a touch of class. Strongly recommended.

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A Killer Christmas bargain

This year has been the worst on record for drownings of native water rats, and the second worst for platypus.

According to DELWP, an average of five platypus are drowned per week in Victoria, victims of illegal or inappropriate yabbie nets. One of the culprits is the ‘Opera house’ net, which traps air breathing animals, stops them from surfacing, and drowns them. An alternative, appropriate net would have an open top, allowing the animal to escape.

It’s illegal to use the Opera net in public waterways, but has been legal in private water: however, from July 1 next year, it will be illegal to use it in all Victorian waterways.

The Victorian Fisheries Authority has a deal with some stores to offer a free exchange of old opera house nets with open top nets. The Authority has done tests and found the new nets are very effective yabbie catchers. The Victorian Fisheries Authority had supplied a  list of participating stores.

So it was a bit of a downer to find one of our local stores offering Opera house nets for a bargain price before Christmas. Nothing illegal about it, of course…up to next July. But maybe not a great Christmas gesture for one of Australia’s most remarkable creatures.

Photo caption: Christmas catalogue for Lyal Eales stores. The Opera style yabbie net is a platypus killer.

By the way, there are heavy penalties for taking protected wildlife, or using prohibited equipment in public waters: nearly $39,000 and 24 months jail.

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Snake and reptile workshop in January

Join Connecting Country and Muckleford Catchment Landcare on Saturday 19 January 2019 from 10.00 am to 12.00 pm to learn about snake ecology and behaviour. Snakes play an important role in healthy ecosystems, snacking on frogs and smaller reptiles and providing a food source for larger predators. Find out what makes good snake habitat, how we can protect snakes, as well as keep our pets and families safe!

The workshop will include an opportunity to meet real live snakes. However this activity is optional.

This is a family-friendly event held at a property in Muckleford. All are welcome. Morning tea will be provided.

RSVP is essential. For bookings and more information contact Jacqui Slingo by email at or phone 03 5472 1594.

A flyer on the workshop is available here.

This workshop has been made possible by funding from the North Central Catchment Management Authority.

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FOBIF breakup in Walmer

About 20 people gathered at Walmer last Monday for the FOBIF end of the year BBQ. It was perfect weather for a relaxed and enjoyable end of the year celebration.

Looking north-west at Walmer. Photo by Harley Parker

Lynette, Harley and Rex relaxing.

The FOBIF committee wishes all friends of our forests a happy Christmas and a great new year. Our 2018 walks program will soon be available. We’ll see you in the bush in the new year!

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