Merri Creek Management Committee

Chapter 2.3 Land Management




This chapter discusses land management issues which havent been covered elsewhere in the document, and which are of relevance to the Merri waterway corridors.

Land ownership

The Merri catchment includes land in a very diverse range of tenures.  There is very little which is unalienated or unreserved Crown Land, with the exception of the bed and banks of watercourses which formed the part of a boundary of alienated land in 1905 when the bed and banks were resumed. 

There are many temporary crown land reserves along catchment waterways, particularly on the lower Merri Creek, for example Hall Reserve in Clifton Hill, which is a Public Purposes Reserve, managed by the City of Yarra as a Committee of Management.  The Craigieburn and Cooper Street Grasslands (Galgi ngarrk and Bababi marning) are also temporary Crown Land Reserves.  Merri Merri Park in Winifred Street Northcote is a Crown Land Reserve managed by Melbourne Water.  Temporary reserves may be repealed by Order in Council.

Roads may be Government Roads (owned by the Crown), which date from the early Parish Plans, many of which remain in the catchment, although they may be declared unused and leased to the adjacent landowner.  Roads may also be subdivisional Roads shown on plans of subdivision of freehold land, which are generally owned and managed by Councils, or arterial roads such as the Hume Freeway, managed by VicRoads.

There is no land in the catchment which is listed as a permanent reserve under the Crown Land Reserves Act or as a park under the National Parks Act, however Yarra Bend Park has its own Act[88] which reserve the land for a public park and recreation.

Melbourne Water and Councils own and manage a number of reserves identified on plans of subdivision, or under relevant Acts.  Many Council Reserves are freehold land owned by Council.

The rest of the land in the catchment is freehold land, which may be owned by individuals, businesses, Councils, or State Agencies.

Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment Management Strategy relevant Land Management Objectives

LO2   Protect and improve the health of land

LO3   Ensure sensitively located and functional urban and urban-rural fringe areas with minimal impacts on the regions biodiversity, water resources and heritage values.

LO4   Match rural land-use, development and management to land capability and minimise impacts on the regions biodiversity, water resources and heritage values.

LO5   Provide a high-quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit.

Relevant land management targets

LT2    No more than a 10 percent increase (from 2004 levels) in the area with shallow water tables (<2m) and the area of saline discharge.

LT3    The structure and biological health of the regions soils maintained.

LT4    No establishment of new and emerging weed species, and no further spread of high-priority established weeds.

LT5    Long term rabbit control achieved on 400,000 ha of rural land by 2008.

LT9    Increase the ratio of urban open space to total urban area and the connectivity between regional open space and habitat assets.

LT10   Increase the environmental quality of parks and other public land and community satisfaction with these features.

Land Management

The health of the land in the catchment is inextricably linked with its biodiversity values, water quality in the catchments waterways and ultimately the liveability of Melbournes northern suburbs. 

The southern portion of the catchment is urban. Management of these urban lands is dealt with to some extent in other chapters of this strategy. 

The health of the agricultural land in the catchment is also linked to the economics of farming in the area.

Farm profitability is an issue because apart from the social consequences of declining profitability, there is less money available for the farmer to implement environmentally sustainable practices.  In green wedge zones rising council rates, controls on noisy machinery and machinery movement, controls on use of sprays, straying domestic dogs etc, can significantly limit the flexibility of farmers to farm and so can reduce profitability. 

All land managers, including public land managers have responsibilities under the CaLP Act to avoid land degradation and control pests (see box)

Duties of Land Owners under the Catchment and Land Protection Act

In relation to his or her land a land owner must take all reasonable steps to[89]

(a) avoid causing or contributing to land degradation which causes or may cause damage to land of another land owner; and

(b) conserve soil; and

(c) protect water resources; and

(d) eradicate regionally prohibited weeds; and

(e) prevent the growth and spread of regionally controlled weeds; and

(f) prevent the spread of, and as far as possible eradicate, established pest animals.

Statutory authorities who manage land must have regard to the Port Phillip and Western Port Regional Catchment Strategy except where a provision of the Strategy conflicts with an Act of Parliament.[90]


In 2002, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment published Victorian Pest Management: A Framework for action.  The Framework identifies that local government has an important role to play in natural resource management as it has relatively broad powers in relation to environmental control, protection and conservation, as well as being a land manager (see Duties of Landowners box above).  Local government, through the local planning scheme, determines the appropriate use and development of land.  As part of the scheme, they must have regard to relevant aspects of regional catchment strategies and any associated implementation plan or strategy approved under the CaLP Act 1994.  Statutory planning provides an essential framework for future sustainable regional development.  Local government (when acting as an agent for VicRoads) also has responsibilities for pest management on roadsides under its management[91].

Public land managers are identified as having primary responsibility for ensuring pest management is a component of all public land plans[92].

Hume City Council has prepared a Sustainable Land Management and Integrated Weed Control Strategy 2003-2006 which deals with pest plant and animal control and also erosion.  An updated version is in preparation.

Pest plants

Pest plants are a threat to both agricultural and biodiversity values. 

In 2002 the State Government published its Weed Management Strategy[93].  The goals of the Weed Management Strategy are:

·      Prevent new weed problems.

·      A significant reduction in the impact of existing weed problems.

·      A Victorian community that is fully aware of the economic, social and environmental impacts and threat of weeds, and has the knowledge to act to minimise their damage.

·      Effective working partnerships built for progressive weed management.

·    Continuous improvement through review and evaluation.

The principal legislation relating to the control of weeds in Victoria is the Catchment and Land Protection Act, administered and enforced by the Department of Primary Industry.  It identifies four categories of weeds State Prohibited Weeds, Regionally Prohibited Weeds, Regionally Controlled Weeds, and Restricted Weeds.  119 species are listed at present.  DPI doesnt appear to have the ability to enforce the control of even the worst of these weeds, and much of the burden falls onto local government to encourage weed control. 

The Cities of Hume, Whittlesea and Mitchell employ staff who are responsible for working with the community on weed management.

City of Whittlesea has a pest plant local law that lists 8 priority weeds and requires landowners to remove the weeds when required by an authorised officer to do so.[94]

Urban Councils also have responsibilities to control weeds on their own land and on land they manage as Committee of Management.

The Local Government Act 1989 and the Planning and Environment Act 1987 provide opportunities for local councils to enforce pest and weed control[95].

The Port Phillip and Westernport Native Vegetation Plan encourages Councils to educate their residents on how to control environmental weeds (see Native Vegetation Plan Management Action Target MAT21)

Noxious weeds (including State Prohibited, Regionally Prohibited, Regionally Controlledand Regionally Restricted weeds under the CaLP Act) in the Port Phillip and Western Port region are listed in the regional Weed Action Plan (PPWCMA 2003), along with integrated management actions.  A full and updated list of noxious weeds for Victoria is maintained on the DPI website[96].

Weed species which pose a threat to biodiversity values are known as environmental weeds.  Environmental weeds in Victoria are tabulated in Carr et al 1992.  A list of problem plants along Melbournes northern waterways was published in MCMCs book Plants of the Merri Merri[97] Most environmental weeds were introduced to Australia originally as garden plants, and gardens are still the source of many environmental weed invasions in the Creek corridors.  Weed seed is spread by the wind, by water flow, by animals, in soil, and on machinery but also by dumping of garden refuse which can contain fragments of plants which grow vegetatively.

Control of these species in the Creek corridors also means minimising their spread from gardens, and the best way to do this is for people to not grow environmental weed species, especially adjacent to the creek corridors.  Where they do grow environmental weeds residents should manage their gardens to minimise seed production and spread, and certainly refrain from dumping garden refuse on public land.

The Merri Creek Development Guidelines (MCMC 2004) specify in standard MC19 that landscape works should not use environmental weed species, and lists environmental weed species in its table B.

Other species are emerging as environmental weeds, and others have the potential.  The importation of new species to Australia by gardening enthusiasts is fraught with the risk that new species will become environmental weeds.  As a result, the environmental weed problem is likely to escalate.

Prescriptions for integrated weed control minimising herbicide use

Plan use of herbicides and adopt processes that maximise their effectiveness
Where herbicides are to be applied as part of the weed management program, carefully plan their application to maximise their effectiveness and minimise the quantities used. Guidelines include:

  • Apply herbicide only to actively growing plants to maximise plant absorption and translocation.
  • Select the appropriate herbicide that will effectively control the weeds while minimising impacts on the herbicide sprayer, other people and the environment.
  • Only apply the herbicide when weather conditions are appropriate (not too hot or cold, not too windy, etc).
  • Follow guidelines designed to minimise spray drift and risk of contamination of surface and ground water.
  • Use herbicides according to their recommended usages and rates of application as listed on their labels.

Organisations with staff using herbicides should note:

  • Field staff applying herbicides must be supervised by Commercial Operators Licence holder and hold Agricultural Chemical Users Permits where required.
  • Managers of staff and contractors using herbicides need to be able to ensure standards are being maintained, and staff skills and accreditation are kept updated.
  • Use herbicides as a part of identified strategies that lead to minimised herbicide use and avoid ad hoc or perpetually ineffectual applications.
  • Ensure actions on priority weeds are coordinated across organisational boundaries to reduce reinvasion. An example is for Blackberry spraying by creek side to be coordinated with treatment on adjoining land.
  • Ensure preparation for planting is thorough enough to provide a planting area free of existing weeds and reduced soil-stored seed bank.

Adopt Processes that prevent weed spread and establishment

  • Ensure field staff identify unfamiliar plant species so that early, small infestations of weeds are detected and given a high priority for treatment.
  • Ensure field staff can recognise and manage invasive species which invade plantings. Some of these species were formerly grown as ornamentals and can be inadvertently fostered.
  • Implement machinery and vehicle hygiene processes to reduce spread of weeds.

Integrate non-herbicide treatments that reduce reliance on herbicides

  • Hand weeding will rarely be the sole means by which an area can be managed however in certain situations strategic hand weeding will reduce the need for herbicide application.
  • Strategically timed brush cutting or mowing can reduce production of weed propagules in some cases.
  • Land managers should seek and assess new products and approaches for their capacity to replace or reduce current herbicide use. These products may have their own environmental or health risks.

Use mulches and mats

  • Use mulches and jute mat. They can greatly reduce herbicide use in conjunction with other measures.

Design plantings and select species to produce plantings that are resilient to weed invasion

  • Select plant combinations that are accurately matched to environmental conditions and are capable of responding to climatic variations. For revegetation, choose species that maximise the chances of natural regeneration. Groundcover plants, trees and shrubs that generate weed-suppressing natural mulches or heavy shade can be used deliberately.
  • Herbicide dependent situations should be minimized during landscape design and infrastructure placement:
  • Use existing ‘defendable’ edges (such as paths) for revegetation plots to reduce herbicide use to maintain edges.
    • Avoid placement of infrastructure (including signs and bollards) in lawn areas which require residual herbicide around bases.
    • Ensure maintenance resources for planting areas are sufficient to prevent the plantings becoming host to weeds that spread to nearby managed areas.
  • Ensure species with weedy potential, especially environmental weeds (see Carr et al 1992), are not included in planting designs.
Integrated Weed Management. 

Management of weeds is an integral element of most environmental restoration projects and wider open space management both during the initial establishment phase and as part of ongoing maintenance.  Weeds can have major impacts on the environment if left unmanaged through swamping or outcompeting indigenous plants, preventing or smothering regeneration, reducing habitat and biodiversity, and reducing ecological linkages and relationships.

Herbicide usage is sometimes unpopular, and where used irresponsibly herbicides can be environmentally damaging.  However, effective management of weeds requires a strategic program that integrates a number of techniques and tools, including careful use of herbicides, use of mulches and mats, design of plantings and selection of species from appropriate ecological communities to maximise indigenous plant survivorship and competitiveness.  Prescriptions for integrated weed control minimising herbicide use are listed in the box below.

Pest Animals

Rabbit infestations provide a significant threat to remnant vegetation, to revegetation efforts, and to soil conservation in the catchment. Infestations tend to be worse on the Silurian slopes than on the flat basalt plains.

The PPWCMAs Rabbit Action Plan (2003) identifies the urban parts of the catchment, and the basalt plains to receive only a base level of service from the State Government for rabbit control, whereas areas on Silurian soils are identified as a high priority zone for an enhanced level of service[98].  This however doesnt mean land owners have a reduced responsibility for rabbit control.

Rabbit control in rural areas is best undertaken by groups of landowners to minimise re-invasion. Coordinating this can be a challenge.  The challenge is greater in an urban area where many more landowners may be involved. Nonetheless landowners are responsible for rabbit control on their own land.  In urban areas any coordination of rabbit control will be up to Councils or community groups.

MCMC has developed a rabbit control strategy for Moreland.  Rabbit control in urban areas is difficult because of community sensitivities to seeing dead rabbits, because of the diversity of land owners, and the constraints on control methods imposed by the urban context.


The fox is a major threat to the survival of many native mammals, and other wildlife.  In Victoria, Bioregional Network analyses have identified 92 priority species of endangered, vulnerable or insecure vertebrates for which predation by Foxes is a known or potential threat[99]. These comprise 53 bird, 15 mammal, 19 reptile and two amphibian species.  This list includes the Striped Legless Lizard, Southern Lined Earless Dragon, Plains Wanderer, endangered species known or thought to occur in the Catchment.  A large number of other species which arent endangered on a state level are also adversely affected by foxes.

Foxes populations can survive at higher densities in the urban areas particularly in open space and waterway corridors where there are plenty of drain to use as dens.

No regional fox action plan has been published, and the urban area is considered a low priority by state agencies for fox control.  Control of foxes in the catchment will require both public and private landowners to act in an integrated manner.

Fox control in rural areas is the responsibility of the landowner.  Assistance in covering the cost of bait may in some cases be obtained from DPI.  Little other assistance is available in the Merri catchment.

Landcare Note LC0364 (DPI (2007) indicates that the normal rural methods of fox control (such as shooting, poisoning and trapping) are usually not appropriate in urban and urban-fringe areas. The note outlines fox activity in urban environments and describes actions that can be used to reduce their impact.  These include den identification and fumigation, habitat removal, tidying up food scraps etc.  The note advises that if a breeding den is identified early in the breeding season, people should contact their Shire or Council ranger. It says many

council staff are trained in the use of humane methods of den fumigation developed for urban areas and that authorised pest controllers may also carry out den fumigation.

Habitat removal should not include removal of habitat for indigenous species.

Feral and straying domestic cats and dogs

Cats are ferocious predators of native animals.  Both feral cats and straying pet cats are implicated.  Responsible pet ownership programs encouraging the de-sexing of cats and keeping them inside especially at night are key to reducing the toll on native wildlife.

Feral dogs may not be a major problem in the catchment however straying pet dogs certainly are.  Straying dogs hunt and kill wildlife (including Kangaroos, reptiles and birds) and also kill sheep and other livestock.  Dogs should be kept confined, or be on-lead or under owner control at all times when walked. 

Enforcement of domestic animal laws should remain high priority.


Salinity poses a mostly low threat to the economic values of agriculture production in the catchment[100].  However, increasing salinity levels in Merri Creek combined with reductions in rainfall may pose a threat to the in-stream habitat values of the Creek.

Almost no points of saline discharge are shown on NREs Catchment Information Mapper in the Merri catchment.  On the other hand mapping of the sector of the catchment between Somerton Road and Kalkallo for the Hume Committee for Smart Growth[101] shows a number of salinity hotspots, and salinity hazard areas along Merri, Aitken, Malcolm, Curly Sedge and Kalkallo Creeks all the Creeks in that sector.

Saline seeps into the Merri Creek are often accompanied by unusual patches of salt tolerant indigenous plant species, suggesting that these seeps have been present for some time, and therefore are natural, and should be protected.

The Mitchell Shires Planning Scheme incorporates a Salinity Overlay that aims to prevent salinity damage and stabilise and repair areas affected by salinity.  The overlay covers much of the northern catchment, however deletion of the overlay in the Merri Catchment has been proposed through a planning scheme amendment.  No other municipalities in the catchment have a salinity overlay.

The Department of Primary Industry is preparing a report on salinity in the Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment which is expected to be released in late 2008.  Salinity zone 5 east of Kalkallo is the zone impacting most on Merri Creek.

Soil protection

Soil erosion appears not to be a serious problem on the basalt plains, however the Silurian foothills are highly erodable.  In Mitchell (but not other municipalities) these slopes are protected by an Erosion Management Overlay which in July 2008 was being reviewed by a planning panel as part of a proposed planning scheme amendment. 

An examination of the upper Kalkallo Creek reveals very serious gully erosion in the northern and western tributaries which extends south along Kalkallo Creek until the soil changes at the edge of the old Inverlochy Swamp.  In places this erosion has been stabilised, however bare eroded cliffs adjacent to the waterway could add much sediment to the water in heavy downpours.  The sediment is unlikely to reach Merri Creek however, as it would probably be caught in the Kalkallo Retarding Basin.  Nonetheless, continued erosion poses a serious threat to farmland productivity in the upper Kalkallo Creek catchment.

The upper Wallan and Taylors Creeks also show signs of gully erosion.

Melbourne Waters Streamside Frontage Management Plan aims to stabilise degraded sometimes eroding stream frontages, but there doesnt appear to be a program to address erosion of land in the catchment away from the waterways. 

The Regional Catchment Strategy notes that there is insufficient data or understanding about soil condition (in particular erosion, land slip and acid sulphate soils) and land use compared to its capability, and identifies an action (LA3) to develop a Regional Soil Health Plan.

The 1993 Soils Study[102] only mapped the terrain of the inner Merri Creek valley, not on tributaries where the bulk of the erosion is occurring.  It sampled soils, and evaluated the state of erosion of the bed and banks of the main stem of Merri Creek.  Terrain data, erosion sites along the Merri Creek channel and soil landscape types of the inner valley were recorded on 1:5000 and 1:2500 scale map extracts.  Analyses of 55 soil samples taken were also presented.

The study indicated that the hazard from the mapped erosion sites arises mainly in localities where the floodplain is narrow and there is insufficient buffer space to allow meander development or bank retreat without causing a threat to properties or other values of the creek[103].  Bank erosion is a significant source of sediment in the Merri Creek.  There is a need for a more detailed study to determine the main contributions e.g. runoff in the rural areas of the catchment, bank erosion, stormwater flows in the metropolitan area etc. 

Due to the friable and cracking nature of the alluvial soils that flank the Merri Creek, minor bank slumping occurs along many alluvial sectors.  There are very few areas where rates of this process exceed that to be expected along an alluvial stream channel.  The most vulnerable areas are in the northern floodplain (north and south of Beveridge Road) and at Donnybrook where stock have uncontrolled access to the stream frontage.  The dense growth of weed species in many areas of light grazing or where stock are excluded aids in bank stabilisation.  There are several naturally eroding meander bends in alluvium between Craigieburn East Road and Summerhill Road. 

The study noted deeply incised meanders in alluvium on Edgars Creek just upstream from the confluence with Merri Creek. It indicated that these natural meanders illustrated a natural process of a floodplain stream and provided accessible examples of the structure of alluvial deposits and were one of the few natural examples of soil/sediment profiles available in the metropolitan area of the Creek.  It suggested that this process could be allowed to continue.  The meanders were stabilised through earthworks and the placement of large basalt rocks by Melbourne Water in the 1990s, destroying the geological value of the site, but it is possible that the meanders might re-establish if allowed to do so.

Key References

Carr, G.W., Yugovic, J.V., and Robinson, K.E. (1992) Environmental Weed Invasions in Victoria: Conservation & Management Implications. Department of Conservation and Environment and Ecological Horticulture Pty Ltd.

Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2002a) Victorian Pest Management: A Framework for Action

Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2002b) Victorian Pest Management: A Framework for Action: Weed Management Strategy.

Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2002c) Victorian Pest Management: A Framework for Action: Rabbit Management Strategy.

Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2002d) Victorian Pest Management: A Framework for Action: Public Land Pest  Management Strategy.

Department of Natural Resources and Environment (2002e) Victorian Pest Management: A Framework for Action: Fox Management Strategy.

Department of Primary Industries (2007), Foxes: Control in Urban and Urban Fringe Areas, Landcare Notes LC0364, DPI Melbourne.

Hume City Council (2003) Sustainable Land Management & Integrated Weed Control Strategy 2003-2006.

Hume Committee for Smart Growth (2005) Hume Growth Area, Towards Melbourne 2030: Final Report. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne (CD)

Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (2003a), Port Phillip and Westernport Rabbit Action Plan, PPWCMA, Frankston

Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority (2003b), Port Phillip and Westernport Weed Action Plan, PPWCMA, Frankston

Rosengren, N. (1993b). Soils Study, prepared for Melbourne Water and Merri Creek Management Committee, Melbourne.



1.   Pest plants and animals continue to be a major threat to sustainable land management.

2.   Some urban Councils are reluctant to undertake weed control on their own lands even for species for which they are legally obliged to do so.

3.   Council and contractor mowing equipment and earthmoving equipment can effectively spread weed seed.

4.   Many weeds originate from gardens, and responsible gardening practices can make a difference to weed spread.

5.   Early detection of weed outbreaks facilitates their control.

6.   Communities in the catchment are not highly aware of their duties to control weeds and ways to reduce their spread.

7.   Many environmental weeds are not covered by legislative controls and are under-recognised by the agricultural sector.

8.   Pest control strategies integrating a range of measures working together, and a range of adjoining landowners working together are more effective than piecemeal approaches.

9.   Participation rates in land management incentive schemes and their effectiveness in protecting biodiversity could be improved.

10.  Councils could develop or enhance local laws to increase weed control activity.

11.  Councils and MCMC can contribute to pest control research.

12.  Training is needed to effectively control pests safely and without harming non-target species.

13.  Rabbits are not well controlled in the catchment.  Nor are rabbit control works well coordinated across the catchment.

14.  Salinity in the catchment is not well understood, nor the extent to which it is a threat to catchment values.

15.  Severe tunnel and gully erosion in the upper Kalkallo Creek catchment needs further work to ensure its stabilization.

16.  Cats and foxes are a problem in both rural and urban areas.

17.  There is a strong resistance from the community to cat curfews and no-dog or dog on-lead areas along Creeks.


1.   Protect and improve the health of land
(from the Regional Catchment Strategy LO2)

2.   Ensure sensitively located and functional urban and urban-rural fringe areas with minimal impacts on the catchments biodiversity, water resources and heritage values. (from the Regional Catchment Strategy LO3)

3.   Match rural land-use, development and management to land capability and minimise impacts on the catchments biodiversity, water resources and heritage values. (from the Regional Catchment Strategy LO4)

4.   Provide a high-quality network of parks and open space across urban and rural areas managed for community and environmental benefit (from the Regional Catchment Strategy LO5)


1.   No establishment of new and emerging weed species, and no further spread of high-priority established weeds (Regional Catchment Strategy LT4)


See Section E p 190.


[88] The Kew and Heidelberg Land Act 1933

[89] Section 20 of the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994

[90] Section 26, Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994

[91] DNRE 2002a, p22

[92] DNRE 2002d, p9

[93] DNRE 2002b

[94] City of Whittlesea General Municipal Law (No 1 of 2008) Clause 5.6

[95] DNRE 2002b, p5


[97] Now out of print

[98] PPWCMA 2003a p13.

[99] DNRE (2002e) Section E

[100] Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment Management Strategy Fig 21 p 125.

[101] Hume Committee for Smart Growth (2005) Figure 6

[102] Rosengren 1993b

[103] Rosengren 1993b p20