Lake Clifton’s fragile future thrust into spotlight

The City of Mandurah, Peel Harvey Catchment Council and Lake Clifton locals have moved to protect one of the country’s most important biodiversity hotspots, as its future remains under question.

City conservation officers put forward a report to the City Council on April 11, detailing plans to develop a conservation stewardship program to increase the awareness of the importance and active participation in the protection of Lake Clifton.

“Lake Clifton is one of the most valuable environmental assets of the City of Mandurah and broader Peel region,” conservation officer Brett Brenchley said in the report. 

“However, it is also a fragile environment and under threat from certain land management practices conducted from within the broader catchment. This poses a questionable future for the environmental value of the land itself.”

In response, an initial five-year commitment has been  sought to deliver the stewardship program, which will see a range of events rolled out, including planting days, workshops, site assessments and small grants aimed at including both outside interested parties and local residents.

The report lists practices like groundwater abstraction, land clearing and hobby farming as particularly damaging, having “contributed to a significant environmental decline of the lake”.

This threatens some of the most important sections of the Lake Clifton biodoversity zone, including the well-known tourist destination of the thrombolites, according to the report.

The conservation officers argued the economic importance of the lake and its surroundings, with the thrombolites being a key driver of tourism in the region.

“Annual visitor numbers to the lake are estimated at over 240,000 per annum, making it a key destination for many tourists to the Peel region.”

Should the funding be approved, it will provide a great deal of relief to those who have dedicated themselves to protecting the internationally important environmental hotspot.

Following the Lake Clifton bushfires in 2011, the Mandurah City council, along with the state government and Peel Harvey Catchment Council, provided funding to the Lake Clifton Landcare group to establish a replanting and conservation program.

Peel Preservation Group’s Nancy Fardin was one of the original landcare members, and has spent many years working to conserve important ecologies like Lake Clifton.

“We began working north, from the south end of Capel Way,” Ms Fardin said.

“The first length we did was about 800 metres, and it was a hugely successful planting.”

The first work done by the group centred on rehabilitating what was previously agricultural land.

“We had all kinds of community support at that time. We also had other groups, like Men of the Trees, local residents, even the Mayor helping out with that planting, as well as the Peel Preservation Group,” Ms Fardin said.

Since then, partly due to a restructure in environmental project funding on a state and federal level – from community landcare groups to the more centralised Natural Resource Management model – landcare members have had to adapt in order to maintain the necessary funding and support to protect areas like Lake Clifton.

“Things have changed over time. There isn't a big community group involved in our landcare anymore,” Ms Fardin said. 

“At this stage, it's pretty much Jenny Rose and I who run the landcare group, and we put in submissions and grants for funding.

“We realised at that time that, as a landcare group, you need a long investment in time. Otherwise everything gets inundated with weeds, and you've wasted your money, essentially.

“Thankfully, Jenny Rose is also the president of the Lake Clifton Heron Progress Association, and she’s excellent at writing grant applications.

“We were lucky enough to get that. Not because we were offered a long-term investment, but because we were successful with our applications.”

Despite the changes in funding structures, Ms Fardin said their effectiveness in delivering conservation programs has not been affected too much, thanks in large to support from community and private organisations.

“We’re the ones responsible for the grants, but we have a lot of different groups who help out with all sorts of projects. Men of the Trees are a huge help, as well as a lot of environmental organisations.

“Basically, there’s always going to be people out there who know how important areas like this are, and there’ll always be a need and an active movement in conservation. We’re still able to harness that.”

Ms Fardin said it would be a great asset to the Lake if the proposal was to go ahead.

“The start of the project was great, we had so much support from the City of Mandurah, among others,” she said.

“And it’s not like that support has stopped. There was workshops, there were free seedlings given out to residents to put on their properties, plus all this information on how to ensure they could protect the place they lived in. It’s just that needs to be kept up for a long, committed period of time.

“Those grants mean, year after year, we’ve had weed control, we’ve had planting programs. More of that can only be a good thing.”