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Joint Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray
The Hon Warren Truss MP
Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
The Hon John Thwaites MP
Victorian Minister for Environment and Water
The Hon Bob Cameron MP
Victorian Minister for Agriculture

9 December 2003

North Central Victoria Joins Environment and Sustainability Leaders

Another Victorian region has moved to the forefront of natural resource management with the accreditation of the North Central Regional Catchment Strategy by the Federal and Victorian Governments.

Accreditation of the strategy was announced today by the Australian Minister Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Sharman Stone, and Victorian Ministers for Environment and Water, John Thwaites, and Agriculture, Bob Cameron.

The strategy paves the way for improved agricultural and environmental sustainability in a large and diverse catchment that covers more than 3 million hectares - 13% of Victoria's land.

"The North Central Regional Catchment Strategy highlights the community's commitment to sustainable and natural resources in the region," Dr Stone said.

Mr Truss said the plan was the basis of a co-operative effort by the community, the North Central Regional Catchment Management Authority, local governments and the Australian and Victorian Governments to best manage the North Central region's natural resources.

"The North Central Regional Catchment Strategy provides the framework to protect the sustainability of agricultural production worth $800 million a year across the region," Mr Truss said.

"This framework will provide strategic guidance for specific projects such as reducing salinity through improved irrigation infrastructure and maintaining biodiversity by protecting and replanting remnant vegetation. Funding for these projects will be provided through a subsequent investment plan.

"The Strategy is a comprehensive plan aimed at sustainability - a healthy environment, productive farms and a viable future," he said.

Mr Thwaites said the plan was developed through a comprehensive community consultation and public engagement process.

"Victoria is leading the nation in establishing regional catchment strategies - this is the fifth Victorian plan accredited," Mr Thwaites said.

"It has a sound overview of the region's environmental, social and economic resources and identifies the region's major natural resource assets such as rivers and streams, wetlands, native vegetation and threatened ecological communities.

"The catchment contains important features including the Ramsar convention listed Kerang Wetlands, Gunbower Forest and tracts of vegetation that need conservation and consolidation."

Mr Cameron said measures outlined in the accredited strategy focus on saving water and increasing environmental flows in catchment streams while delivering sustainable development.

"A new, strategic approach will combat salinity and improve soil condition and water quality, adding to the sustainability of the region's primary production.

"Focus is centred on developing best practice farming systems, such as retaining vegetation and using better cropping techniques, to reduce the threat of salinity and soil erosion."

Dr Stone said this area includes the oldest irrigation system in Victoria which saw the Central Highlands stripped of timber for gold mining, city building and primary production 1850's through to the 1880's.

"This has been a challenge but today the communities are highly productive and determined to continue that way," Dr Stone said.

The Regional Catchment Strategies are the backbone of natural resource management activity in Victoria. They provide the basis of regional investment from the Australian Government's $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust and $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, a joint Australian, State and Territory Government initiative.

A North Central Regional Catchment Strategy fact sheet is attached.

North Central Regional Catchment Strategy Fact Sheet

The North Central catchment comprises the Campaspe, Loddon, Avoca and Avon-Richardson River catchments and covers almost 3 million hectares, or 13% of Victoria.

It stretches from near the outskirts of Melbourne to the Murray River and includes the municipalities of Swann Hill, Buloke, Greater Bendigo, Campaspe, Central Goldfields, Hepburn, Loddon and Mount Alexander.

The North Central region is agriculturally diverse. Irrigation areas cover much of the lower Loddon and Campaspe riverine plains, with horticulture and dairying the main enterprises. Dryland agricultural areas are characterised by broadacre landuses such as cropping and grazing, with land close to major regional centers involved with horticulture, new and emerging agricultural commodities and 'lifestyle' farming.

The major rural towns and cities include Bendigo, Swann Hill, Echuca, Donald, Maryborough, Daylesford, St Arnaud and Castlemaine. Of the region's total population of 200,000 people, 140,000 live in urban areas.

The region was once Australia's premier gold mining region. Several gold mining ventures are still active in the region, mostly in the Bendigo area, with fossicking widespread throughout the Box-Ironbark forests of the goldfields.

Approximately 13% of the region is public land, with significant reserves, including state and regional parks, flora and fauna reserves and reference areas. Forest operations are concentrated in the foothill forests and softwood plantations in the south.

The interaction between the North Central region and the River Murray is significant. The River Murray is the single biggest source of water for irrigation in the region. It also drives natural resource management over the whole North Central region because of the impact on downstream users. The Loddon, Campaspe and Avoca rivers all contribute salt and nutrients to the Murray. The Campaspe and Loddon rivers flow directly into the River Murray. The Avoca River flows into a series of lakes and wetlands, the Avoca Marshes. The Avoca River is one of the few remaining unregulated river systems in the entire Murray Darling Basin. The Avon-Richardson catchment in the west is internally drained, with most surface water falling into Lake Buloke, in the north of the catchment.

The Avoca catchment contains Dry Foothilll Forest (Peppermint, Stringybark and Box species), Box Ironbark forest complexes (Grey Box, Red Ironbark, Yellow Gum,Red Box, Yellow Box and Long-leaf Box), herb rich woodlands, inland slopes woodlands and grassy woodlands. All of which are habitat for significant native flora and fauna species. Unfortunately, the alienation of large areas and subsequent clearing have led to widespread decline of native flora and fauna and allowed the introduction of exotic species.

The Avon-Richardson catchment has numerous environmental features of high conservation value. Lake Buloke is probably the best known of these features, though there are over 100 lakes and wetlands within the catchment. Conversely, almost all the river basin has been cleared of vegetation, with the area being used for broadacre cropping such as pulse, oilseed and cereal crops.

The Campaspe catchment includes a number of significant waterways, and unique vegetation associations. The Coliban and Campaspe Rivers, the McIvor, Mount Ida, Wild Duck, Meadow Valley, Kangaroo, Axe, Forest and Mount Pleasant Creeks. Lake Eppalock and the Malmsbury, Lauriston and Upper Coliban Reservoirs are part of a complex drainage system within the catchment. The region's Box-Ironbark forests are unique to central Victoria and contain a wide range of vegetation types, including red gum, grey box, red ironbark and yellow gum trees. The Wombat Forest and surrounding public reserves in the upper catchment are currently being managed for multiple uses.

The Loddon catchment is the largest catchment in the North Central region, covering 6.5% of Victoria. The catchment is agriculturally diverse, with highly productive irrigation areas of extensive dairying, pasture and irrigated horticulture. It also includes a number of significant waterways and high conservation and biodiversity value wetlands. Areas of moist dry foothill forests exist in the southern catchment, including small but significant areas of old growth forest with high biodiversity values. Box-Ironbark forests that include a wide range of vegetation types dominate the central area of the catchment, with remnant redgum trees surrounding the northern rivers. The northern Loddon plains are characterised by irrigation farming and small isolated remnant grassy woodlands and native grasslands.

Threatened species in the North Central region include the nationally listed Plains-wanderer, Superb, Swift and Regent Parrot, Regent Honeyeater, Eastern Hare-wallaby, Pink-tailed Worm Lizard, Striped Legless Lizard, Murray Hardyhead, Trout Cod, Macquarie Perch, and Yarra Pigmy Perch.

Many of the region's wetlands, particularly those in the Loddon and Avoca catchments areas have international conservation significance. The Kerang Wetlands and Gunbower Forest have been listed under the international Ramsar Convention. Within the region there are 45,000 hectares of wetlands, including 23 internationally significant wetlands and 24 nationally significant wetlands.

For further information:

Commonwealth of Australia