Grevillea venusta is commonly known as the Byfield Spider Flower. It can grow up to 5 metres in height (depending upon the soil and conditions) and depending upon the pruning method, probably just as wide!
Grevilleas’ are typically shallow rooting shrubs. They are also typically fast growing. This means they can be susceptible to falling over. However, strategic pruning can mitigate this.
Grevillea venusta germinate readily from seed and so it’s quite strange that this plant is a threatened species. Or is it?
Before reading on you may wish to read my article that discusses the legal framework of vulnerable species.
Locations in the wild
Grevillea venusta has been sited in a handful of places in the wild. In 1993 and then in 2016, Grevillea venusta was sited at two sites in New South Wales. In 1984 there was a siting in the Australian Capital Territory. All other substantiated sitings are in Queensland and date back to the 1930’s. The vast majority of wild Grevillea venusta are now found just north of Rockhampton.
Knowing its location is important. Realising plants die and seeds germinate is also important. But why? If we don’t know where the plant grows, we can’t know how many there are or what is continuing to threaten her existence or if any recovery plans are working. We don’t know if she’s regenerating herself or if she needs help. So where is she located?
The 2008 Commonwealth conservation advice identified Grevillea venusta’s distribution as follows. For ease of comparing this extract with the next one, I’ve coloured the text in each extract where the wording is exactly the same in both documents. Note also that n.d means no date. The 2008 Commonwealth conservation advice says:
“Grevillea venusta is known from central eastern Queensland, where it occurs in coastal areas from Many Peaks Range to Shoalwater Bay (Makinson, 2000). This species has been described as locally common at Oxlee Creek in Many Peaks Range, 1992; locally common at a tributary of Werribee Creek, 1.5 km west-south-west of Mount Carroll in the Shoalwater Bay area, 1999; very common 2.5 km north of Mount Parnassus, 1977; and 10 plants were seen at the base of Mount Parnassus, 1975 (BRI collection records, n.d.).
Grevillea venusta occurs in Castle Tower National Park (Briggs & Leigh, 1996), Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, Bowenia State Forest (BRI collection records, n.d.), and Byfield State Forest (Qld EPA, 2007). The species has been collected in rocky areas at the base of mountains, often along creeks in sandy soil, and on granite in sclerophyll forest and woodland (BRI collection records, n.d.). This species occurs within the Fitzroy (Queensland) Natural Resource Management Region.
The distribution of this species overlaps with the “Semi-evergreen vine thickets of the Brigalow Belt (North and South) and Nandewar Bioregions” EPBC Act-listed threatened ecological community.”
Therefore, according to the Commonwealth government in 2008, central eastern Queensland is the only place Grevillea venusta is known to grow in the wild.
In 2017 the Queensland government slightly reduced this distribution, deleted references (not the facts) to 1992, 1999, 1977 and 1975 documents and stated the following.
“Grevillea venusta is known from central eastern Queensland, where it occurs in coastal areas from Many Peaks Range to Shoalwater Bay (Makinson, 2000). This species has been described as locally common at Oxley Creek in Many Peaks Range; locally common at a tributary of Werribee Creek, 1.5 km west-south-west of Mount Carroll in the Shoalwater Bay area; very common 2.5 km north of Mount Parnassus; and 10 plants were seen at the base of Mount Parnassus (BRI collection records, n.d.).
Grevillea venusta occurs in Castle Tower National Park (Briggs and Leigh, 1996), Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, Bowenia State Forest (BRI collection records, n.d.), and Byfield State Forest (Queensland Herbarium, 2012).”
As we can see, both texts are largely verbatim. In the 9 years between 2008 and 2017, the official distribution of Grevillea venusta hasn’t really changed. What’s also really interesting is that both official records are relying on really old data. I would have thought up-to-date data on the locations of a threatened species might be fairly important. This may be why the 2017 Queensland government deleted the references to the older dates!
What this location data shows me is that neither governments have allocated the resources to monitor these vulnerable populations of Grevillea venusta. If they have been monitored why isn’t the information published and/or referenced?
For example, how do we know that the Grevillea venusta sited at Castle Tower National Park in 1996 are still there? What’s the typical lifespan of Grevillea? How viable are the seeds? If they or their offspring are still there, surely these government documents would reference the more recent evidence? Their silence on the matter suggests they do not know.
If we do not know, how can any recovery plans be implemented and evaluated?
Therefore as a tax paying Australian citizen I am unconvinced as to the current locations of Grevillea venusta in the wild. Being unconvinced of this, I’m really questioning if this species is being protected at all.
Threats to Grevillea venusta – 2008 and 2017
On the 16 December 2008 the Australian Commonwealth government listed Grevillea venusta as vulnerable to extinction. Read my blog on vulnerable species for an understanding of what that means and how the definition changes. Many of my arguments and definitions used in this article are based on the facts and definitions stated in that article.
In 2008 the decision to list Grevillea venusta as vulnerable was based on the conservation advice to the then Minister. That document identified some main threats to Grevillea venusta and included:
“broad-scale vegetation clearing; altered fire regimes; grazing pressure; increasing fragmentation and loss of remnants; and inappropriate forest operations.”
That was based on 2007 Queensland government evidence published on a government site that no longer exists. It is however, quite clear that the threats are largely due to human activity.
In Queensland Grevillea venusta was listed as vulnerable in September 2017. At that time the threatening processes were listed as:
“broad-scale vegetation clearing; altered fire regimes; grazing pressure; increasing fragmentation; and inappropriate forest operations”.
We can see that in 2017 the Queensland government evidenced the exact same threats as the Commonwealth government had in 2008. The wording in each document are verbatim. Therefore, unless there’s negligence in reporting, we can probably safely assume that the threats haven’t changed and remain the same. So what’s the plan for her recovery?
Recovery Plans for Grevillea venusta
The Queensland government outlines a number of ‘management recommendations’ regarding Grevillea venusta. It says:
“Regional and local priority actions to support the recovery of Grevillea venusta are outlined by DSEWPC (2012). A summary of these include: avoid habitat loss, disturbance and modification (e.g. monitor known populations to identify key threats, minimise adverse impacts from land use at known sites; identify populations of high conservation priority); increase conservation information (raise awareness of Grevillea venusta in the local community); minimise trampling, browsing and grazing (e.g. develop and implement a stock management plan for roadside verges, prevent grazing pressure at known sites through exclusion fencing or other barriers); manage fire (e.g. develop and implement a suitable fire management strategy for G. venusta); and enable recovery of additional sites and/or populations (e.g. undertake appropriate seed collection and storage).
Now, without contacting the department and perhaps applying for that information under the Freedom of Information/Right to Information laws, I can’t say if these things are being done or to what extend they might be being implemented.
For example, I would love to know what the Queensland government is doing about avoiding habitat loss, disturbance and modification given land clearing and tree felling have been at record highs in Queensland over recent times.
I’d also like to see the entire referenced document: the DSEWPR (2012) document referenced in that extract. That reference can be found at the bottom of that site and also where we find the Species Profile and Threats Database managed by the Commonwealth government – it’s the SPRAT database. When we go to Grevillea venusta on that database, we find written in bold: “There is no adopted or made Recovery Plan for this species” and also “No Threat Abatement Plan has been identified as being relevant for this species“.
Given the Commonwealth government has deleted Grevillea venusta from its threatened species list, this response isn’t that surprising. Huh? Deleted G. venusta from the threatened species list? Yes, more on that in a moment. First, I’ll say I am happy that the Queensland government has identified some sort of a recovery plan even if it is a bit weak. I’d really like to know if it’s actually being implemented…
Grevillea venusta is no longer a threatened species?
At the time of writing this article (October 2018) Grevillea venusta continues to be listed as a species vulnerable to extinction in Queensland. The threats identified in 2017 continue to be published as relevant threats today.
Interestingly, back in May 2013 Grevillea venusta was delisted from the Commonwealth protection regime. At the Australian level, Grevillea venusta is no longer considered a threatened species. Now, that’s a little odd given the threats have remained the same over the last decade, isn’t it? It’s also odd given we don’t really know where she’s located, how numerous she is and obviously: whether or not any protections are in fact working!
Shockingly, in the conservation advice document that sought to delist Grevillea venusta at the Commonwealth level we read about her threats. It says:
“Threats: “No substantiated threatening processes have been recorded (Barker, 1998).”
Now, that’s interesting isn’t it? Not only did their 2008 document identify a host of threats but the Queensland government continues to identify those same threats. Yet, somehow we’re letting our Commonwealth government get away with saying that by relying upon some 1998, clearly out-of-date reference evidences that there are no substantiated threatening processes today.
This is the insanity of environmental protection in this country. That same 2013 conservation advice identified potential threats as:
“timber harvesting in Byfield State Forest, destruction of habitat by clearing (populations in remnant vegetation or high value regrowth are protected from clearing by the Queensland Vegetation Management Act 1999), inappropriate fire regimes and inappropriate grazing regimes (that may affect populations in state forest and on freehold land) (Barker, 1998).”
Again, relying on old data. In fact, that statement relies on older references than their 2008 document that identified key threats! Surely this is some sort of political joke!
Apathetic decision making
In my blog that explains what makes a species vulnerable to extinction I discuss the prescribed criteria, one of which must be met to include a species as vulnerable at the Commonwealth level.
According to that law, if a species meets just one of these criterion, it is well on the way to being listed or retaining its listing. So when I read the 2013 Commonwealth conservation advice that recommended delisting, I wanted to know why. I looked for the prescribed criteria checklist. I found it. That criteria is located a number 4 on the conservation advice. Click the link and have a look. The next bit will make more sense if you do.
So, below is the criteria for vulnerability and in coloured text is the response to that criteria as stated in the 2013 conservation advice.
- A substantial reduction in species number in the immediate future –
- Not required to be demonstrated for this assessment;
- That it’s geographical distribution is precarious for the survival of the species –
- No – This species is known from only two locations and five populations. There are no known current threats (Barker, 1998); however, several potential threats have been identified. This species is considered to be naturally fragmented, with the likelihood of locating additional locations high (Queensland Herbarium, 2009).
- and is limited
- – Restricted – has an extent of occurrence of 3600 km2 and an unknown area of occupancy (Queensland Herbarium, 2009).;
- The estimated total number of mature individuals is limited
- – Insufficient data – Population data are unavailable, however, herbarium labels from two Shoalwater Bay populations state that the species is locally common at one site and very common at another (Queensland Herbarium, 2009)
- and evidence suggests that the number will continue to the number is likely to continue to decline at a substantial rate –
- Not required to be demonstrated for this assessment.
- or the number is likely to continue to decline and its geographical distribution is precarious for its survival –
- Insufficient data – See Criterion 2;
- The estimated total number of mature individuals is low
- – Insufficient data – See Criterion 3; or
- The probability of its extinction in the wild is at least 10% in the medium-term future
- Not required to be demonstrated for this assessment.
Should it shock and disappoint us that decisions to remove a threatened species from the threatened species list is based on insufficient data and an opinion that the prescribed criteria doesn’t need to be answered?
In my world of evidence based decision making: if there’s insufficient data, a quality decision can’t be made! What ever happened to the precautionary principle? What happened to accountability and due diligence?
So, as it happens, based on insufficient data and a reticence to answer the prescribed criteria as set out in the Regulations, the Scientific Committee recommended deleting Grevillea venusta from the Commonwealth threatened species list and the Commonwealth Minister followed suit!
Our natural environment provides millions of beings with the conditions necessary for life. As such it’s important that any decisions are evidence based and directed toward protection and enhancement. It’s not ok to make important decisions without evidence, without data and without care.