Photo by Nao Takabayashi

Colin Vaughan recently consulted on the newly launched National Action Plan for Australia’s Most Imperilled Plants, which highlights the most at-risk plant species and the main threats they face in Australia. It provided a unique opportunity to inform the work of environmental scientists consulting on significant infrastructure projects in the engineering sector.

The National Action Plan for Australia’s Most Imperilled Plants, aims to highlight Australia’s most at-risk plants, understanding the species and the main threats faced by each. I was asked to be involved due to my experience with one of the plants, Zieria exsul (banished stink bush), which is listed as “critically endangered” under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992. Zieria exsul has a highly restricted distribution on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and is under threat from development.

Our approach included multiple plant population surveys and identified a new population growing approximately 50 kilometres south of the only other known plants.

This resulted in the development of a translocation management plan and involved translocating 12 individual plants, that were going to be impacted by a development, to nearby suitable habitat. This helped in propagating additional plants to a new site to help ensure the species’ survival in the wild. The propagation program has been very successful, with over 50 plants propagated so far. 

We are still in the early stages of the program and as this is the first time we’ve attempted to translocate the species, we are learning a lot about how these plants react to these programs. Ultimately, we will gain a better understanding of the species and the actions needed to preserve them.

Understanding Australia’s biodiversity needs

Our understanding of many of these species is very limited, so this plan is helping us to understand how we can best protect them. For example, we may learn that a certain species responds really well to propagation but only moderately well to translocation – this is vital in understanding how the species can be established and thrive in an environmental offset site.

Through population surveys, we gain an understanding of what habitat types certain species prefer, including the soil conditions the species is associated with. This knowledge guides the identification of suitable habitat and suitable offset sites, improving the chance of a positive translocation.

Incorporating environmentally sensitive designs into infrastructure

A key aspect of our role as environmental scientists is to keep every stakeholder on a project informed of the environmental aspects relevant to the project, and to identify any associated risks early in the project. Early identification of environmental risks is crucial because it is much easier to incorporate environmentally sensitive designs from the beginning of a project and it helps to minimise complications later in the design process.

Community expectations around environmentally sensitive designs have improved a lot in the past few decades, but there is still the need to communicate and build an understanding of why plants, animals, or vegetation communities are worth saving. We need to endeavour to shape this understanding to support cost effective design solutions that benefit the project as well as the environment.

What the future holds

Environmental engineering is vital for our future. As our population grows and development continues, we need to protect and preserve biodiversity to keep our cities and regions green, sustainable and liveable.

Vital programs such as the National Action Plan for Australia’s Most Imperilled Plants will enable an understanding and advocacy for the survival of these species.

As engineers and scientists, we need to be committed to developing and delivering quality environmental and social outcomes that balance the short-term needs of projects with the long-term needs of the environment. 

To remain truly successful these programs will need to continue to involve specialists across a range of sectors who collaborate to push environmental, social and economic project outcomes beyond “business as usual”.

Colin Vaughan is an Associate Environmental Scientist with global design and engineering firm, SMEC.  He has more than 10 years’ experience working on a wide range of jobs for a myriad of clients including local and State government agencies and the private sector

Most recently he consulted on the newly launched National Action Plan for Australia’s Most Imperilled Plants, developed by the National Environmental Science Programme’s Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

Colin Vaughan is an associate environmental scientist at global design and
engineering firm, SMEC.


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  1. What about the work of Australian Wildlife Conservancy? They focus on native mammals, but their range of protected habitats which are carefully managed has probably done more for botanical conservation than efforts by state agencies.