Newsletter 2016 Q3


The Big Development Fight in the Court Arena.

The fight for the largest parcel of the biodiverse Tootgarook Swamp concluded at VCAT on July 29th after a lengthy 8 day hearing. 

Save Tootgarook Swamp and a number of other parties put forward a strong case against the approval of the proposed now 100 lot subdivision on one of the most important sections of the Tootgarook Swamp attending each and every day in support of the swamp. 

Unlike previous planning applications we were glad to have the Mornington Peninsula Shire on the side of the swamp this time around and were impressed with the effort they put into the case they presented against the development proposal. The Council should definitely be commended for the work put in. 

With a great many issues to be dealt with over a broad range of topics it is likely that we will be waiting for an extended period before we likely hear a result from VCAT and it will be a long and anxious wait for all of us at Save Tootgarook Swamp as the future of the Tootgarook Swamp greatly rests on the outcome of the VCAT hearing. 

If we cannot stop such a large and clearly inappropriate development application within a swamp as biodiverse as Tootgarook it is unlikely that we would be successful in preventing other development approvals from private landholders in the swamp getting the go ahead. 

That said we are confident that justice will prevail for the Tootgarook Swamp and we'll be seeing it long into the future as changes are made for its preservation.

"Water is the driving force of all nature" 
​-Leonardo da Vinci

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Celebrity Visitor in the Swamp

Tootgarook swamp is currently home to a celebrity at the moment, a star of the feathery kind, satellite Bittern Coly-Lion. Whilst the swamp has long been a favourite haunt for the endangered Australasian Bittern, this is the first time a satellite tracked bird has visited the area. Indeed satellite tracking of Bitterns is a world first in Australia and the Bitterns in the rice team are the founders of the project started in the NSW Riverina in early 2015. The project is a result of a crowdfunding campaign to track 10 Bitterns in order to identify the network of non-breeding wetlands they rely on, this information would aid conservation efforts for this elusive endangered bird. Colt-Lion was the third bittern to be attached with a transmitter but unfortunately the device malfunctioned and the team lost contact with him in April 2016 in NSW Coleambally rice area. A month later he was spotted by some of our members at the Tootgarook swamp and photographed on numerous occasions along with several other bitterns currently calling the swamp home. The Bitterns in Rice team were ecstatic to find Coly-Lion still going strong and amazed at his 395km journey from nsw to our beautiful swamp on the Mornington Peninsula. The team even made a special visit to our swamp in hopes of catching a glimpse of the star bird and were impressed by the sheer scale of the Tootgarook swamp. Apparently Coly-Lion thinks our swamp is grand too as 3 months on and he's still here and going strong and hopefully he's found himself a nesting buddy in one of the other Bitterns roaming the area. Next project on the list is getting the satellite off to work out what went wrong. Plans are afoot as the rice project team work towards a solution so stay tuned for further updates.


Matt Herring (Murray Wildlife, Bitterns in Rice Project) and Andrew Silcocks of Birdlife Australia at Boneo Park in Tootgarook Swamp

Shire Swamp Stakeholder Group Update.

The Tootgarook swamp stakeholder group has been on a long hiatus as the shire has been busily working on the Tootgarook wetland management plan. Save Tootgarook swamp has already put forward lots of valuable input during the draft stages and we now await the final presentation of the completed document to the stakeholder group for final comments and sign off before the document goes to a Council vote for public exhibition. Unfortunately the VCAT hearing for the development application at 92 Elizabeth avenue in the Tootgarook swamp has slowed down the process. Shire will now await VCAT comments and position on the application before the finishing touches are applied to the document. Once done a meeting will be called for the stakeholder group for the documents presentation. Unfortunately we don't expect to see anything until some time next year but something as important as the swamps future is not something that should be rushed. So as impatient as we are to see how the shire has progressed there is still plenty to keep the group busy while we wait in anticipation. We look forward to sharing all the details with everyone in due course. 

VicRoads-Aiding Weed Reduction in the Swamp.

Here's a good news story from the Tootgarook Swamp.

After much back and forth juggling and a bit of coercing from our local member of parliament, MP Martin Dixon, VicRoads has finally signed off on an agreement which allows the Mornington Peninsula Shire Natural Systems team to access the freeway reserve area of swamp land to carry out weed and revegetation works for a period of 10 years.

We have for over a year made repeated efforts to get VicRoads to do some work or allow someone else to do some weed management in their section of the swamp as part of the overall strategy for biodiversity improvement across the entire Tootgarook Swamp catchment but with no success, indeed just getting to talk to someone inside the department proved a major obstacle. Entering MP Mr Dixon into the conversation proved the turning point and after several months of negotiations and a number of bumps along the road we are now happy to say that success has finally been achieved.

With the Shire's Green Army funding in place there will now be an opportunity to extend weed and revegetation works into a once off limits area and begin to increase overall biodiversity to that particular area which will naturally have beneficial impacts on the surrounding shire owned portions of Tootgarook Swamp. 

Many thanks go out to our local member and his aide for their persistent efforts and to the Natural Systems Team, Mornington Peninsula Shire and VicRoads for sticking with the lengthy process right through to completion. The Tootgarook Swamp and it's inhabitants are most grateful as are we at Save Tootgarook Swamp Inc.

Tootgarook Swamp Biodiversity Project


For sometime we have been looking at finding a platform for a citizen science project of the Tootgarook Swamp. We had looked a Bowerbird, though it's non user friendliness with mobile phones made it not desirable, and Project Noah did not have an area that could be customised for the project with minimum size covering half the Nepean Peninsula. We have chosen the iNaturalist platform (Web, iOS and Android) for it's easy ability to add an observation from your phone automatically recording gps and other information with minimal steps to record the observed sighting and the data. If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature. We would really love everyone to get involved and post their own observations of the Tootgarook Swamp to share with others highlighting the importance of biodiversity in this unique area of the Mornington Peninsula.

Swamp Landfill getting a Makeover

The Rosebud West former landfill which once formed part of the Tootgarook swamp is undergoing a makeover as part of the Shire's ongoing management of the site. To help it along a plan for replanting and weed removal has begun and this will of course benefit the adjacent Tootgarook swamp. Save Tootgarook swamp was contacted from the outset to be involved in the plan and to provide input and guidance in the selection and placement of the correct indigenous species to best match the area as well as discuss weed management options. The Shire after many months of planning and propagating seedlings for area now has the plan is now underway. Having obtained a grant from the government for the green army troops have been sent forth under the guidance of the shires contracted workers Naturelinks to plant thousands of trees on the site as well as undertake some much needed weed management of the noxious buckthorn which has long called the site home. It will be interesting to watch the changes as the plants establish in combination with the Friends of Tootgarook Wetland Reserves bird survey that also runs through the area, and of course we hope that the plans in place will aid in the improvement of the groundwater system which links to the Tootgarook swamp and thus overall biodiversity. As an added bonus we were also pleased to note on a recent trip to the site that the concrete stockpiles created by the shires road maintenance team have also finally been removed leaving the site looking a much cleaner place. This has been a long contentious issue for save Tootgarook swamp as the concrete and bitumen posed further contamination issues to the groundwater water system linking to the swamp and though we had repeated meetings and conversations regarding it, it seemed very little was ever to change. What a surprise to see it gone hopefully for good. Many thanks to all the people and organisations involved in the rosebud west landfill project.



Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as “drones,” are quickly become useful tools for ecologists and biologists alike. They’re relatively cheap, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand US dollars, and are fairly easy to learn how to operate. They can allow researchers access to landscapes that are otherwise inaccessible and to approach animals that are otherwise unapproachable.

Regulatory agencies are increasingly legislating the use of drones, but as Universite de Montpellier researcher Elisabeth Vas and colleagues argued recently in the journal Biology Letters, “no ethical guidelines exist [yet] with respect to their potential impacts on animal welfare.” They reason that the lack of guidelines regarding the use of drones to study animals is perhaps because there’s a lack of research regarding how animals react when drones approach.

As a first step towards addressing that issue, Vas’s team assessed the reactions of three species of waterbirds to a small quad-copter drone, one of the most affordable and widely used varieties. They focused on waterbirds because drones are already being used extensively to survey wetlands and coastal ecosystems. They decided to test mallard ducks in a semi-captive setting; these were birds living at the Zoo du Lunaret in Montpellier, France, but were capable of flying in and out of the zoo at their whim. In addition, they targeted populations of wild flamingos and common greenshanks. They limited their flights to non-breeding seasons, and only approached birds that were resting or feeding.

The specific drone they used was fairly quiet and was classified as non-impacting, so the researchers focused on the visual characteristics of the drone (color) as well as the flight trajectory. Drones were launched either 50 meters or 100 meters away from the target birds, and were colored either white, black, or blue. From the launch spot, the drones ascended vertically to thirty meters, and then approached the birds at one of four speeds (2, 4, 6, or 8 meters per second) and descended from one of four angles relative to the ground (20, 30, 60, or 90 degrees). Put together, this resulted in 36 different conditions for each of the three different species.

While one researcher operated the drone, a second monitored the birds’ reactions through binoculars. Reactions were classified as one of three types: no reaction, brief head or tail movements followed by moving away from the drone, or flying away. The approaches ended either when the bird reacted or when the drone was just four meters away from the bird. When at least one bird from within a group retreated from the drone – whether by walking, swimming, or flying – the group was considered “stressed” by the drone’s approach.

They found that in 80% of the 204 test trials, drones could approach waterbirds to a distance of four meters without any visible behavioral response. Approach speed, drone color, and number repeated approaches did not have any bearing on the birds’ responses. Instead, the main impact on the birds was the drones’ approach angle. Drones approaching at a more oblique angle were typically least stressful to the birds. As the angle of approach moved closer to vertical (90 degrees), the birds reacted more strongly. The researchers suspect this may because the waterbirds’ predators tend to approach from directly above, and a drone descended from directly above may have simulated a predator.

To minimize stress on the birds, they recommend launching drones no closer than 100 meters from the birds, approaching them at an angle rather than from directly above, and adjusting the approach distance according to species. Some species are more tolerant of novel stimuli than others, after all.

They recommend that future studies address the question of noise and drone size, two variables that the researchers in this case did not include. They also note that the study focused only on three types of waterbirds that feed mainly on plants and small invertebrates. Additional studies must be conducted with a wider range of taxa, with a wider range of feeding and social ecologies. A quick YouTube search, for example, reveals that raptors tend to attack drones, and the researchers surmise that the same may be true for corvids and larids. Finally, they recommend that future studies address the physiological responses that birds have to drones. Just because the researchers observed no overt behavioral responses to drones doesn’t mean that they didn’t have increased heart rates or respiration, for example.

Vas concludes that “drones may be used in ornithology for a wide range of population censuses, measurements of biotic and abiotic variables, and recordings of bird behaviour,” but cautions that the study is but a “first step towards a code of best practices in the use of drones for ecological research.” – Jason G. Goldman | 18 February 2015

Source: Vas, E., Lescroel, A., Duriez, O., Boguszewski, G., & Gremillet, D. (2015). Approaching birds with drones: first experiments and ethical guidelines. Biology Letters, 11(2), 20140754–20140754. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2014.0754