Landscape systems

>  North East CMA

Urban, Lifestyle, Agriculture, Forest and Alpine Landscape Systems.

Urban Landscape 

The bulk of the population in the North East lives in urban communities of townships over 1,000 people. The largest urban centres are Wodonga, Wangaratta, Bright, Beechworth and Rutherglen, with other villages nearby. Often, townships were historically located on crossing points for rivers – many have a direct connection to the natural landscape with waterways running through the urban boundaries.

In the North East, the riparian zones of major river systems such as the Ovens, King, Kiewa and Murray are in close proximity to urban centres. These river systems and riparian zones provide water resources for consumption as well as important habitat for flora and fauna. The riparian zones also provide for passive recreational pursuits such as walking, cycling and bird watching.  Urban landscapes are an important refuge for people, plants and animals during climate shocks, including fire and floods.

There has been considerable work undertaken to identify the impacts of climate change on urban communities in the North East. This has included risk assessments, identifying current extreme risks, addressing water quantity and quality issues, and business risks from climate change.

NRM-related impacts of climate change on the Urban landscape include:

  • Reduced reliability of unregulated surface water supplies

  • Uncertainty of data relating to sustainable yield of groundwater under climate change scenarios

  • Degradation of parks, gardens and streetscapes

  • Decreased water reliability in unregulated systems for aquatic ecosystems

  • Increased severity and frequency of floods and heatwaves

What We Can Work On

  • Support local government to address changing levels in flooding and other climate change impacts toreduce current and future risks

  • Review the water resource allocation and associated licensing frameworks to ensure resulting water shares and reliability for all consumptive and non-consumptive uses are equitable and achieve clear objectives under future climate scenarios

  • Review water licences, particularly sleeper extraction water licences in unregulated streams, to reduce potential additional draws on surface water


Lifestyle Landscape

Within the North East, many individuals and communities have transitioned from primarily an agricultural focus to more of a lifestyle focus. The Lifestyle landscape is primarily within private ownership and intersects with all the other landscapes. The distinction between this landscape and other landscapes is constantly evolving and is open to interpretation. The attractiveness of the Lifestyle landscape to the people who live within it is centred on the natural environment, aesthetics, solitude, and sense of community.

Landholders in these areas are typically residing on smaller allotments compared with those living in the Agricultural landscape and are not (usually) reliant on income from the property. Although some landholders may be new to the region and may be less connected with sources of information including community knowledge and NRM networks, the potential of lifestyle community members as sources of energy and catalysts to change should be recognised.

Efforts should be focused on increased education and awareness, including reviewing current best practice for revegetation in the context of climate change.

Impacts of climate change on the Lifestyle landscape include:

  • More frequent threat to life and property from fire, particularly on bush blocks

  • Possible reduction in landholder participation in revegetation projects due to perceived increase in fire risk

  • Increase in conflict between forestry, lifestyle, and agricultural land uses due to perceived increase in fire risk

  • Damage to infrastructure from increased flood risk

  • Decline or loss of native ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) due to drying and warming trend affecting biodiversity, aesthetics, and amenity values

  • Decline in fishing and other recreation values due to reduced flows, increased temperatures, and impacts of fire and flood

  • Increased fuel and energy costs which may lead to a contraction of the Lifestyle landscape toward urban centres or reduced participation in NRM programs

What We Can Work On

  • Maximise the adaptive potential of new environmental plantings to climate change through increased education and awareness

  • Enhance the condition of remnant vegetation (e.g. paddock trees) which can provide habitat and improve connection between larger patches of habitat

  • Encourage vegetation management in high cleared, steep sloped and dispersive soil landscapes to facilitate retention of water resources and reduce risk of erosion


Agriculture Landscape

The Agriculture landscape has a strong productivity focus and covers a vast area of the region. Private land in the North East comprises approximately one million hectares (about 46% of the catchment region), most of which is cleared for agriculture. The Agriculture landscape intersects with the Forest landscape in the upper catchments and extends down the valleys to the plains in the west. The distinction between the Agriculture and Lifestyle landscapes is constantly evolving and is open to interpretation. The Agriculture landscape is primarily within private ownership. Agricultural pursuits in the region are diverse, ranging from softwood plantations and intensive horticulture through to broad acre cropping and grazing.

Some impacts from climate change on the Agriculture landscape may be similar to impacts on the Lifestyle landscape. Impacts include:

  • Declining soil health and increased risk of erosion associated with drought events or reduced average rainfall, combined with increased likelihood of heavy rain events

  • Grazing – shorter growing season, reduced production, increased cost of feed, heat stress of animals

  • Decrease in production of milk due to heat stress

  • Reduced reliability of irrigation water from unregulated sub-catchments

  • Winter cropping – shorter growing season and reduced crop yields associated with reduced winter rainfall and a less reliable autumn break

  • Yield and quality of stone and pome fruit and nuts affected by reduced winter chilling

  • Increased disease associated with changes in rainfall patterns and warmer temperatures

  • Change in weed distribution and prevalence, and emergence of new pest species

  • Increased plant growth due to carbon dioxide enrichment where soil moisture is not limiting, noting that the impacts of reduced rainfall on crops and pastures outweigh any such benefits in southern Australia

What We Can Work On

  • Develop a Regional Land Strategy to explicitly address the increased risks posed by climate change in relation to the land resource base

  • Support farm-scale land use planning to improve site-level management and decision making around climate risk, including changed pastures, pasture management and crop suitability

  • Implement programs to improve soil carbon/organic matter levels in the North East as a measure to build resilience to climatic variability


Forest Landscape

The Forest landscape in the North East includes relatively intact and diverse native vegetation ranging from montane forests to floodplain forests. Forest landscapes include national, state and regional parks as well as forests on private land, and crown land river frontages and reserves. Forest landscapes are used for reserve, recreation and resource purposes. The contiguous nature of the native vegetation in this landscape, along with the level of protection afforded by its conservation status (much is within national park or state forest), provides this landscape with a relatively greater resilience to climate change than other landscapes. There are few barriers to species migration, vegetation is in relatively good condition, and threats are managed.

Despite the relative resilience of the Forest landscape, climate change is expected to have a major impact on landscape values through its influence on biodiversity and vegetation structure, water yield, the extent and abundance of invasive species, and increased fire frequency.

Landscape specific climate impacts are listed below:

  • Bushfires resulting in a net loss of carbon until regenerating stands reach maturity

  • Loss of fire-sensitive species impacting on catchment water quality and yield

  • Increased risk of erosion on slopes and gullies in fire-affected areas, exacerbated by increased likelihood of heavy rain events

  • Temporary declines in water quality post-fire due to sediment movement and loss of riparian vegetation

  • Declines in water yield from fire-affected catchments because of increased water use by regenerating forests

  • Reduced recreational access on high fire danger days and to fire-affected areas, and hotter, drier recreation conditions

  • Decline, loss, or shift in dominance of native ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) due to drying and warming trend, affecting biodiversity and conservation values

  • Change in abundance or extent of pest plants and animals in public lands

  • Increased tree mortality and canopy damage due to an interaction of stressors such as drought and insect damage, with associated impacts on carbon sequestration rates

What We Can Work On

  • Monitor and analyse the response to activities undertaken to address landscapes affected by frequent fire to improve future ecosystem wide interventions

  • Land managers recognise the changed dynamics of the Forest landscape, particularly after multiple fire events, and reflect the likelihood of changed ecosystems in future management plans and community awareness messaging


Alpine Landscape

The Alpine landscape encompasses the high altitude areas of the Murray, Mitta Mitta, Kiewa, Ovens and King catchments. The lower boundary is defined by the snowline, which roughly corresponds with the boundary between snow-gums and other (usually alpine ash) forest types. The Alpine landscape system is mostly comprised of parts of the Alpine and Mt Buffalo National Parks, together with smaller areas of State forest, alpine resorts (Falls Creek and Mt Hotham), and freehold land (Dinner Plain). The Alpine landscape is highly valued for its unique biodiversity, contribution to tourism, and ecosystem services, including water supply and carbon storage. Climate change presents a major threat to the values of the Alpine landscape.

Climate change impacts include:

  • Changes in both snow depth and cover

  • Loss of alpine vegetation communities and potential extinction of alpine species due to warming trend and reduced snow cover

  • Loss or degradation of alpine communities due to severe fire events and post-fire erosion

  • Decline in water quality from fire-affected catchments

  • Reduced recreation access during and following severe large-scale bushfires

  • Increase in pressure on ecosystems from year round tourism due to shorter period of snow cover and road-closures and increased access

  • Spread of invasive species into higher elevation communities

  • Decline in water yield as a result of lower rainfall, snowfall and increased temperatures

What We Can Work On

  • Working with partners, initiate discussions with stakeholders and communities about changes in the alpine region relating to climate change and identify preferred options and management approaches

  • Build adaptive capacity in the Alpine landscape by focusing governance efforts on maintaining large-scale ecological processes and functions


Detailed information about management measures to address climate change can be found in “North East Climate Ready NRM Strategy”, North East Catchment Management Authority, 2016.