Plan to replace endangered duck breeding site with housing

·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Campaigners are fighting to stop a Victorian developer’s plan to fill in a lake which is habitat for an endangered duck species.

Waddling like penguins when they venture onto land, blue-billed ducks spend most of their life floating or swimming, preferring deep bodies of water like Lake Knox in Melbourne’s east.

The man-made lake is believed to be one of just 17 sites across the state where the species is known to be breeding, but a plan by Development Victoria, a government agency, will see it partially in-filled as part of a housing project. 

The development will see the duck's habitat partially filled in. Source: Development Victoria / Nalinis Wildlife Photography
The development will see the duck's habitat partially filled in. Source: Development Victoria / Nalinis Wildlife Photography

Opponents of the development have questioned the ethics of disrupting an endangered bird during a worldwide “biodiversity emergency”, and found support in their campaign to save the lake from a number of environment protection groups including the Jane Goodall Institute Australia and Wildlife Victoria.

Also calling for protection of the lake is Greenpeace spokesperson Nelli Stevenson who said Australia must end its "destructive relationship" with wildlife "for the sake of profit". 

"We are in the midst of a global extinction crisis driven by climate change and humankind’s unsustainable relationship with nature, and Australia is no exception," she said.

Reproduction expert lists threats to wildlife breeding

Wildlife reproduction expert Dr Nadine Richings told Yahoo News Australia that construction could make native birds living around the lake believe they are under threat.

Lake Knox is currently fenced off, creating a sanctuary for wildlife. Source: Google Earth
Lake Knox is currently fenced off, creating a sanctuary for wildlife. Source: Google Earth

“When they start constructing the new development, there's going to be a whole lot of things that scream not safe,” she said.

“There is going to be quite simply the visual cues of the construction equipment, which are frequently bright red or bright yellow in colour, and they're going to be huge on the horizon.

“There’s going to be noise pollution from the construction sounds.

“There's going to be the vibration through the ground. There's going to be the air pollution and various particulates in the air.

“All of these things will combine and say to any animals there this is no longer a safe habitat.”

New wetland will be improve duck habitat says developer

Development Victoria argue Lake Knox is “structurally unsound” and at risk of collapse within two years.

They have proposed building a new wetland on the 19 hectare Knoxfield site before construction begins which they argue will provide a “sustainable home to a variety of species”.

A young blue-billed duck photographed on Lake Knox. Source: Joshua Tomlinson
A young blue-billed duck photographed on Lake Knox. Source: Joshua Tomlinson

While photographs are said by campaigners to show a hatchling blue-billed duck swimming on the lake, it is understood Development Victoria maintain there is no evidence the duck is successfully reproducing on site.

Nonetheless, the organisation’s group head of property development Penny Forrest, said they will not undertake works “which could impact any potential duck breeding”.

“We are committed to ensuring a safe and healthy future for the blue-billed ducks and other species at the Knoxfield site and propose to deliver an improved wetland to specifically cater for the species’ unique needs,” Ms Forrest said in written a statement.

Despite assertions that the lake’s destruction could be offset by this new aquatic habitat, an independent study, crowd-funded by opponents of the development last year argued this claim was “inconsistent with scientific literature”.

“The chances are slim that the ecosystem-offsetting approach inherent in the development proposal for Lake Knox will rapidly provide a suitable replacement for existing high-value aquatic habitat,” the report found.

Instead the report found that government should investigate repairing the lake, rather than relying on “unsubstantiated hope” that wildlife will transition to the new wetland.

Concern pet dogs and cats could harm ducks

Lake Knox, located just metres from offices housing the state department of environment (DELWP), has been fenced off in recent years, allowing many species to flourish without the threat of land based predators.

Save Lake Knox spokesperson, Anthony Bigelow, said he is concerned removal of the fence, combined with an influx of pet cats and dogs as new housing is constructed, will threaten native animals nesting on the lake.

"The reason I'd say they're breeding there is that they're effectively protected from people interfering with the nest, interfering with the animals," he said.

"If you allow people to get close to the area, they'll bring animals, like dogs, into the spot.

"In terms of breeding that's the biggest concern, because the ducks need to feel protected and not be disturbed."

A mother and her duckling photographed on the lake in March. Source: Joshua Tomlinson
A mother and her duckling photographed on the lake in March. Source: Joshua Tomlinson

Development Victoria did not respond to a question about how the removal of fencing protection will affect the ducks, but said their “improved wetland” will “specifically cater for the species’ unique needs”.

“Development Victoria is currently in the planning phase of the project, and will develop environmental and other appropriate management plans prior to construction commencement to ensure minimal disruption.

“Subject to planning approvals, we expect to start construction in mid-2022,” Ms Forrest said.

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