Unique partnership protection

The Providence Ponds and Perry River catchment is unique. It hosts one of the most intact chain of ponds systems in the country. These were once common across south-eastern Australia but are now very rare.

The Protecting our Ponds project was established in 2016 by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA), to safeguard and rehabilitate the chain of ponds.  The project is funded by the Victorian Government’s Our Catchments, Our Communities program.

“A strong relationship with the community and other agencies was essential for the project to succeed,” explained the project manager, Paula Camenzuli, Strategic NRM Planner with WGCMA.

“A consultation process helped put together an implementation plan, which provided the strategic direction.

“The focus was on restoring and maintaining pond health by controlling pests, establishing vegetation buffer zones, and wherever possible, fencing the ponds to keep stock out.”

Coming together to protect the ponds
From this came a series of on-ground works with the local council and landholders. And a vital partnership developed between WGCMA, Trust for Nature and HVP Plantations.

Trust for Nature is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to protect Victoria’s native plants and wildlife for future generations, by protecting habitat on private land. In the past 15 years Trust for Nature and WGCMA have worked on more than 20 projects together.

HVP Plantations is the largest private landholder in the Providence Ponds and Perry River Catchment, and a major timber supplier. The company has a commitment to safe and sustainable plantation management and had already worked with Trust for Nature to covenant and protect areas within their estate.

These three organisations are now playing a vital role in rehabilitating the unique chain of ponds waterways.

“The CMA ran a really thorough process, getting all the different stakeholders together to get the priorities right,” explained John Hick, Trust for Nature’s West Gippsland Regional Manager.

“We are now working with HVP on three of the projects identified through this. We are improving the habitat on existing covenants within the plantation and creating buffers along the areas that have ponds. We are also working together on a 20-year plan to identify opportunities for protecting and managing habitats throughout the estate.”

For HVP’s Stewardship Forester, Simon Heislers, getting involved in the project was a natural progression from the original community consultation.

“HVP’s estate includes approximately 20 per cent of the total Providence Ponds and Perry River catchment area and so not only are we a major landholder but we’re an important member of the community,” explained Simon.

“As land managers we focus on ensuring that our operations have minimal environmental impact, particularly on water quality and river health.”

Simon said the project provided a significant opportunity for HVP to learn more about the chain of ponds waterways on their estate.

“It also helped us identify better ways to manage our operations and land so that we can help improve the condition of the waterways, not just on our land but throughout the catchment.”

A unique partnership
Much like the landscape the organisations are working to protect, John Hick says the partnership around the Protecting our Ponds project is unique.

“This is not the kind of project that Trust for Nature would usually focus on. Everyone has stepped out of their comfort zone to try and protect this area.

“We come together as partners deciding what to do,” said John.

“We then proceed to work together. It’s not just one organisation paying another to do specified work. The three organisations are involved at most levels of the project management.”

He said the depth as well as the width of the partnership was different.

“It’s a deeper relationship, as there is constant negotiation and management decisions being made by all parties. The scale and type of this project is also unusual. While we’ve had our challenges, those challenges have made us work in a more integrated way and that’s a positive thing.”

WGCMA worked with HVP to identify and assess erosions sites on their estate, while Trust for Nature worked with them to establish a new covenant and to improve the biodiversity values of the existing covenants.

“Large stretches of the Chain of Ponds waterways on HVP’s estate are already well protected with native vegetation buffers,” said Simon.

“The company is committed to improving the condition of riparian buffers on other stretches where they are lacking.”

John Hick praised the decision by HVP to retire small areas of plantation to create wider buffers to the riparian corridors.

“There are already corridors along the waterways through the pine plantation, but we’ve now got an agreed minimum width,” said John.

“Where the current corridors are narrower, HVP is planning to harvest and retire pine and plantation and restore the areas to native vegetation in order to achieve the minimum width.”

In total, 1.6 hectares will be restored.

“We are also doing weed control throughout the priority waterways and having the vegetation surveyed throughout the planned covenanted area at Paisley Creek,” John said.

The covenants represent long-term protection for the area, providing ecological buffering and helping to manage threats to the system.

“This is a unique system with ponds in better condition than elsewhere in the state,” continued John.

“This is an opportunity to improve the condition of the ponds and the riparian system. And there’s flow-on benefits for the lakes downstream. We are focusing on the ponds, but downstream benefits as well.”

For everyone involved, the project has already delivered a much greater understanding of these important waterways.

“It has a changed how HVP manages operations around waterways,” said Simon.

“This no doubt will improve waterway health, not only within the upper and middle catchment where HVP’s estate is situated, but also downstream along the middle and lower Perry River.”

As well as the protection and enhancement of these important waterways, this multi-layered partnership, has delivered other, unexpected results.

“Many people might think that the physical project outcomes might be the most important, and they are very important, but I think the most important thing has been the shared learnings about the Chain of Ponds,” said Simon.

“We have all learnt a lot as a collective group about the Chain of Ponds and the catchment, including the community that lives there. And because we have such a wide range of outlooks and interests, knowledge bases and fields of expertise, we have all put those learnings into different contexts which makes the whole experience much richer and more enjoyable.

“We all have a lot to learn and to share. Action is important, knowledge is critical, and partnerships are central to both.”

For more information, visit the Protecting our Ponds page.

Paula Camenzuli (WGCMA), John Hick (Trust for Nature) and Simon Heislers (HVP)
Paula Camenzuli (WGCMA), John Hick (Trust for Nature) and Simon Heislers (HVP) - Episode 22
Perry River Chain of Ponds formation