Prior to European settlement, the lower section of the Elster Creek catchment was an extensive swamp which covered approximately 64 hectares (depending on rainfall) and had no permanent outlets to Port Phillip Bay. This and other coastal swamps in the sandbelt region were extremely biologically productive. When the schooner of John Pascoe Fawkner and his party reached Point Ormond in 1835 he wrote about how “the flocks, almost innumerable of teal, ducks, geese and swans and minor fowls filled them with joy”. In fact the nearby Carrum Carrum Swamp is claimed to have (at the time) boasted a similar level of plant and animal diversity as the world renowned wetlands of Kakadu.

As Melbourne continues to expand due to rapid population growth, consequently more natural habitats will be replaced by suburbs, as is the case around the world. Therefore it will become increasingly important to protect and encourage biodiversity in urban areas. Thoughtful management of parks, beaches and reserves – with consideration to habitat – will play a vital role in sustaining diverse local flora and fauna populations, as well as fungi and other organisms. If carefully planned, there may be opportunities to integrate habitat into the design of golf courses, botanical gardens and other open spaces where the provision of habitat was not one of the original primary objectives.

Even in residential streets and gardens there are possibilities for people to share their environment with native species. Private home gardens comprise a large portion of open green space in urban areas, however they are often lacking in indigenous plants and basic habitat features such as leaf and log litter. Communities have the power to influence enormous changes in their local environment, both positive and negative. They have a fundamental part to play in tackling massive environmental issues such as pollution, invasive plants and animals, biodiversity loss and climate change. Ongoing community education is essential to demonstrate why and how people can contribute to the resolution of these problems, even starting from their own backyard.

Environmental community groups enable people with different skills and interests to share knowledge and function collectively towards a positive outcome for the local environment. Taking practical action in caring for a local reserve can be a very rewarding activity and often creates a sense of ownership of the place. A group of people who communicate ideas and information is obviously capable of far greater things than individuals working alone. These groups also benefit the community socially.

Small urban parks and reserves are generally viewed as unimportant in terms of wildlife conservation, as they are usually unlikely to support a large number of rare or threatened species. Nevertheless this does not devalue any work done to protect and enhance these areas for wildlife. Better quality reserves may accommodate species which are rare, declining or extinct elsewhere in the local area.  Elster Creek not only accommodates a large number of these locally significant species but amazingly, also several which are classed as ‘Near threatened’ to ‘Vulnerable’ on a state-wide level. These include birds such as the Nankeen Night Heron, Hardhead, Pacific Gull and Pied Cormorant, all of which are either regular visitors or resident at Elster Creek.

Urban reserves can also act as ‘stepping stones’ or corridors which improve genetic diversity in wildlife populations by allowing animals to move between larger more viable areas of habitat, or even recolonise areas where local extinctions have occurred. A great deal is yet to be discovered about how certain fauna species are affected by urbanisation and how they make use of urban parks and reserves. The Friends of Elster Creek’s wildlife monitoring and surveys will assist in generating a better understanding of these topics. As well as being beneficial to biodiversity, parks with healthy ecosystems are fun and interesting places for people to visit.

Whilst the Elster Creek area has been degraded and altered beyond recognition since the time of the legendary Elwood Swamp, the variety of fauna which it still attracts is astonishing. Some of the animal species that have been recorded at Elster Creek recently include nine freshwater and estuarine fishes, two frogs, nine reptiles, one hundred and fifty five birds and thirteen mammals. Species of plants, invertebrates and marine fishes are so numerous that lists have not yet been compiled. Considering its position in such a densely populated area, this is a remarkable level of biodiversity. For this and many other reasons, the Elster Creek environment is certainly worth protecting and improving.

Cape Barren Geese

A pair of Cape Barren Geese were present on the Elsternwick Golf Course from the 28th of July to the 20th of August 2012 – a testament to the habitat value of Elster Creek.

Photo by Gio Fitzpatrick.

References:

  • Indigenous Plants of the Sandbelt
  • Development of the Elster Creek Drainage System
  • Melbourne’s Wildlife
  • Elwood Canal Life & Times
  • Getting to Know the Frogs of Melbourne