Ballarat environment group volunteers have shared their hopes a City of Ballarat forum held in December will lead to an improved focus on sustainability projects, following years of ‘hit and miss’ council support.
About 30 people attended a council event held on December 7 to encourage networking and information-sharing between council, environmental organisations and community groups wishing to improve their local environs.
Friends of Black Hill Reserve secretary and Friends of the Yarrowee River president Neil Huybregts said the groups he was involved in had experienced ‘mixed success’ engaging with City of Ballarat in recent years to maintain and improve environmental assets. He acknowledged volunteers had received better support from council in the past.
“I think the forum has the potential to set council back on track to redeveloping the capability to again effectively assist community groups to get involved in caring for nature within the city,” he said.
“I am really positive council will take on board what we suggested.”
Mr Huybregts said issues raised at the forum ranged from the difficulty of getting mulch for projects to the need for City of Ballarat to develop environmental expertise.
“We have been told council needs to know a year in advance for things like mulch so they can set up their budgets and make sure they have things in place. It is a hard ask for community groups to tell council a year in advance what they are going to need,” he said.
“It demonstrates that council isn’t really set up for this properly.”
This focus on supporting the council to support volunteers is well over due.Jenny Ryle, Napoleons/ Enfield Landcare Group
Other issues raised at the forum included the need for council to complete maintenance following community plantings, access to small easily-applied-for grants for environmental projects and the need for council to strengthen its commitment to environmental management through policy improvement and action.
For many community volunteers, the priority is for City of Ballarat to establish an environment officer to provide support to community groups, internal expertise, promote biodiversity and champion environmental issues within council.
City of Ballarat director infrastructure and environment Terry Demeo said environmental sustainability was the responsibility of all City of Ballarat departments under the current organisational structure.
Neighbouring Hepburn Shire does have a sustainability officer.
Napoleons/ Enfield Landcare Group volunteer Jenny Ryle said community interest in environmental projects was strong and council focus on supporting volunteers was ‘well overdue’.
More than 90 people joined the Napoleons/ Enfield Landcare Group during planting sessions on National Tree Day last year.
“Council in principal are keen to support but because there has not been anybody in council that is the one go to person for environment it is quite difficult to connect and know what is going on,” Ms Ryle said.
“The website is about 10 years out of date – that doesn’t encourage people to look there, so if someone wants to do something environmental they have to go to people they know. It is all a bit word of mouth at the moment... There are a lot of missed opportunities.
“With a stronger link between council who has responsibilities for a lot of public land and all the volunteers who have time and energy on their side, it would be a win win situation. It has happened in the past for restoring the Yarrowee which opened up the river for cycling and walking and has left us a legacy that could still be worked on.”
See the gallery of photos from the Napoleons/ Enfield Landcare Group Open Day.
In a statement, City of Ballarat said further meetings will be arranged to discuss the way forward and how various parties can more effectively cooperate. These meetings will be held until a consistent and best practice approach is agreed, the statement read.
“The City of Ballarat does not underestimate the fantastic work done by many volunteer groups in enhancing and maintaining our natural environment, and will continue discussions with interested parties with a view of providing a consistent approach to supporting these parties.
“A number of fantastic suggestions were put forward by attendees of the forum and the merits of each will be discussed and considered at future forums.
“As part of the Ballarat Strategy to 2040, the City of Ballarat is committed to supporting local communities to improve streams, habitat areas and public land in local neighbourhoods.”
The work of community environment groups has created improved natural spaces for public use and improved biodiversity in the region.