For tens of thousands of years, the Mornington Peninsula has been part of Bunurong Country. Bunurong people lived and moved throughout the area using the abundant resources that the land and waters provided.
Today, Bunurong people continue to live, practice and strengthen their culture on the Mornington Peninsula though much has changed from the past.
The Mornington Peninsula is now a famous area and one of the most visited and popular recreational areas in Victoria. It is often referred to as Melbourne’s playground due to its scenic landscapes and beaches, biodiversity, sites of cultural heritage and historic importance and productive rural land.
The Peninsula’s landscape supports a healthy and diverse tourism and recreation economy, built around its stunning coastal and rural backdrop and the opportunity for people to reconnect with nature. The beaches and foreshores in the south are among Melbourne’s busiest during the summer months, popular for camping, walking, swimming, fishing and boating. Inland, the many vineyards, restaurants and farm-gate activities are popular attractions, as are the many world-class golf courses in the area.
Virtually all of the towns on the Peninsula have a rural landscape backdrop and no site is more than a 10 minute drive from a major reserve, area of bushland or the coast.
As Victoria’s population grows, the Mornington Peninsula will continue to play a major role in the liveability, sustainability and prosperity of metropolitan Melbourne and surrounds.
The condition of our environment now
The Mornington Peninsula has been Bunurong Country for more than 40,000 years. The Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation is the Registered Aboriginal Party for the whole of the Mornington Peninsula and there is increasing recognition, respect and support for Bunurong people to protect, reintroduce and strengthen their cultural heritage.
Today, approximately 83% of the Mornington Peninsula is rural (mainly farmland or native vegetation) and approximately 17% is urban. This retention of a high proportion of ‘green space’ has been a foundation for maintaining the Peninsula’s social, environmental and economic values, and has been strongly planned for, monitored and defended by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council in policy and planning mechanisms including ensuring 70% of the Peninsula is defined as one of Melbourne’s ‘Green Wedges’ outside of the Urban Growth Boundary.
Broad land use on the Mornington Peninsula (derived from Victorian Land Cover Time Series data)
The gross value of agricultural production on the Peninsula in 2015-16 was $199 million with the main industries including poultry, horticultural (fruit, vegetable, wine grapes, salad mix) and livestock. More detail is available in the agriculture data table.
Various artisan and value-added businesses continue to emerge alongside established farming enterprises.
Groundwater is an important resource for agricultural industries in the south of the Peninsula. Almost 3,000 megalitres were extracted and used in 2018-19 from the Nepean Groundwater Management Unit and provides estimated value of at least $12 million per year. The groundwater resource is managed to ensure it is sustainable, with the annual extraction levels well below the permissible consumptive volume of 6,110 megalitres.
Agriculture on the Mornington Peninsula (derived from Victorian Land Cover Time Series data)
With rainfall averaging around 739 mm/year, supplemented with irrigation using groundwater, the Peninsula generally has high levels of vegetation cover on its soil. Over the whole area, the proportion of exposed soil has been below 15% for most years since 2000, as shown in the graph below, which indicates that most of the land remains covered and protected by vegetation (including pasture) at all times. This tends to protect the Peninsula from the threat of widespread wind erosion of its soil.
Proportion of exposed soils for the area from 2000 to 2020 (data from Australian National University)
The Mornington Peninsula’s natural environment has undergone significant modification since European settlement, including extensive habitat fragmentation, incremental degradation of ecosystems and subsequent declines and extinction of species. Only an estimated 29% of the original extent of native vegetation remains, much of which is in important native vegetation reserves including the Mornington Peninsula National Park, the Arthurs Seat State Park and Green’s Bush.
Work is under way to extend and better connect the native vegetation across the Peninsula, including to establish biolinks between major vegetation reserves in the future.
Native vegetation on the Mornington Peninsula (derived from Victorian Land Cover Time Series data)
The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s Biodiversity Conservation Plan says 402 native vertebrate fauna species have been recorded in the area including 36 mammal, 301 bird, 25 reptile, 11 amphibian and 29 fish species. Ten species are now considered to be locally extinct, most of which are bird species, and 81 species are threatened nationally or in Victoria (primarily bird and mammal species). Those species which have suffered the greatest declines are ground-dwelling grassland and woodland birds and small mammals.
A similar picture is painted in an analysis of animal sighting data that calculated the probability that each species of native fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals recorded in the area was persisting at the end of 2016.
The analysis indicated that, for the Mornington Peninsula, perhaps only 71% of the total number of species recorded here are still persisting. In general, amphibians and birds seem to have fared the best whereas native fish species seem to been significantly reduced.
The following table shows some of the native plant and animal species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable that have been recorded in this area since 2000. These are considered to be priorities for local protection and recovery work. In most circumstances, work to protect and enhance their health and resilience will also benefit other native animal species and the local habitat. A full list of the threatened species known to occur in this region is available at the Data tables page of this Regional Catchment Strategy.
|Birds||Australasian Bittern, Barking Owl, Black Falcon, Blue-billed Duck, Caspian Tern, Curlew Sandpiper, Eastern Curlew, Eastern Great Egret, Fairy Tern, Freckled Duck, Grey Goshawk, Hooded Plover, Lewin's Rail, Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Little Egret, Northern Giant Petrel, Plumed Egret, Powerful Owl, Southern Giant petrel, Square-tailed Kite, Swift Parrot, White-bellied, Sea-Eagle, White-throated Needletail|
|Mammals||Grey-headed Flying-fox, Southern Brown Bandicoot, White-footed Dunnart|
|Amphibians||Growling Grass Frog|
|Flora||Clover Glycine, Coast Helmet-orchid, Dense Leek-orchid, Frankton Spider-orchid, Late Helmet-orchid, Leafy Greenhood, Mount Martha Bundy, Purple Eyebright|
|Ecological Communities||Natural Damp Grassland of the Victorian Coastal Plains, Seasonal Herbaceous Wetlands (Freshwater) of the Temperate Lowland Plains, Subtropical and Temperate Coastal Saltmarsh|
Some of the threatened species known to occur in the Mornington Peninsula
The Mornington Peninsula region is contained within the Westernport and Mornington Peninsula major catchment and includes the main river and creek systems of the Drum Drum Alloc Creek, Main Creek, Stony Creek, Warringine Creek and Balcombe Creek. It is home to significant wetland habitats, including the internationally significant Western Port Ramsar site, Tootgarook Swamp and Balcombe Estuary. It has 190 kilometres of coastline which is 10% of Victoria’s total, and is part of the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve which is one of four internationally-recognised biosphere reserves in Victoria.
Rivers and wetland conditions and conservation strategy for the area are described in the Westernport and Mornington Peninsula chapters of the Healthy Waterways Strategy. Waterways generally have a low to high rating across a range of key environmental values and waterway conditions.
Waterways and wetlands on the Mornington Peninsula
The Healthy Waterways Strategy 2018-28 assessment of rivers and creeks in the Western Port and Mornington Peninsula region is summarised below.
|Waterway values||2018 state||2018 trajectory||2068 target|
|Waterway conditions||2018 state||2018 trajectory||2068 target|
|Water for the environment||High||Moderate||High|
|Vegetation quality||Low||Very low||Moderate|
|Water quality - environment||Low||Very low||Low|
|Access||Very low||Very low||Low|
|Water quality - recreational||High||Moderate||High|
There is a vibrant Landcare movement amongst the farmers and landholders on the Mornington Peninsula. There are 12 active Landcare Groups, most of which come together as members of the Mornington Peninsula Landcare Network. Based on data from a 2019 survey, it is estimated that the groups and networks collectively have around 933 members and volunteer around 6,623 hours per year for Landcare activities that benefit the environment, landscapes and community. This volunteering is worth in the order of $223,361 per year.
Community volunteers are also active in numerous Friends groups, Committees of Management and other volunteer organisations across the Peninsula. There are an estimated 89 organisations providing 25,310 volunteer hours worth $853,200 per year.
More detail is available in the Community volunteering data table.
Landcare groups on the Mornington Peninsula
Current and future challenges for natural resource management on the Peninsula
The Mornington Peninsula is one of Melbourne’s greatest assets, characterised by unique townships, highly valued green wedge land, areas of national and international conservation significance and featuring around 10% of Victoria’s total coastline.
There are a range of threats to biodiversity in the area including ongoing vegetation clearing, environmental weeds and pest animals, climate change, altered fire and hydrological regimes, and lack of awareness of remaining environmental values and their role in supporting ecosystems services.
Supporting Bunurong connection with Country
Summarise challenges outlined in Country Plan
Urbanisation and population growth
The Peninsula is critical to the future liveability, sustainability and prosperity of the wider metropolitan region. As an area near to, but with a role distinct from, the growing metropolitan area, there are ever increasing pressures and demands placed on the Mornington Peninsula.
As a result, Mornington Peninsula Shire Council is committed to maintaining the current 70% rural and 30% urban mix on the Peninsula. Development within the Urban Growth Boundary, whether within residential, commercial or other areas, will be of a type and scale that maintains the existing valued character of each town or settlement, or supports a change to a preferred future character
Habitat loss and decline
Loss of habitat extent, quality and connection are common issues in the Mornington Peninsula. Some of the native coastal vegetation is secure on public land, including in the National Park along the Bass Strait coast, but population growth and applications for development will continue to create pressure for clearing in other areas. In addition, incremental damage to native vegetation from recreation, illegal clearing, vandalism and rubbish dumping are inevitable pressures of increasing resident and visitor populations.
The effect has been to isolate many native animal populations in remnant habitat patches. Population growth will continue to exert this pressure as more people look to reside on the Mornington Peninsula. Development may often be on land cleared long ago and will create minimal habitat loss but the off-site effects of development are of most concern, including:
- Altered stream flows and water pollution from increasing urban stormwater run-off and more intensive road development and other disturbances on rural land.
- Waterways habitats damaged by flood protection works and sediment inputs.
- Barriers to animal movement created by roads and infrastructure.
- Continuing habitat damage from recreation, vandalism, informal vehicle tracks and rubbish.
- Continued incremental native vegetation clearing for buildings, fences, access, views etc.
Pest plants and environmental weeds
Weeds are a major threat to native vegetation and threatened habitats. Infestations can begin from garden escapes, dumping of garden refuse in native bushland, and poor choice in planting species in rural areas and they can spread exponentially.
Phytophthora cinnamoni (Cinnamon Fungus) is a particular threat which can spread easily in bushland areas and attacks and destroys plant root systems. As a result plants die because they cannot absorb sufficient water and nutrients. It is present across the state including Greens Bush and the Arthurs Seat State Park and measures are needed to stop it spreading further.
Many pest plants are spread from domestic gardens. Seeds are spread by birds and animals or by people dumping garden cuttings into our bush and waterways. Weed invasions in coastal and wetland environments can also degrade habitat for fish, platypus, frogs and macroinvertebrates. Coastal weeds such as Sea spurge invade the nesting habitats of shorebirds and seabirds.
Pest animals and predators
Pest animals are threatening the Peninsula’s biodiversity in many ways. The damage from foxes, feral cats, and rabbits is well known, but native fauna and flora are also threatened by many other introduced species. For instance, introduced birds such as the sparrow and turtle dove compete for food from bronzewing pigeons and rosellas, and the starling and myna take over breeding hollows and spread lice to native fauna.
The introduced mosquito fish eats baby native fish and frog eggs and introduced mammals such as black and brown rats take over the hollows of native animals such as the agile antechinus.
Climate change will impact on biodiversity values in numerous ways, some of which are not yet fully understood; climate change will accentuate natural variability in the climate, leading to uncertainty regarding the full implications for biodiversity. Across Victoria, the climate will become warmer and drier. Around Greater Melbourne warming has increased since 1960, equivalent to 1.2 – 1.4°C on the Peninsula, while rainfall has decreased since 1950 (by up to 100 mm per year on the Peninsula).
This trend is likely to continue, and will likely result in:
- Increased number of days of extreme weather and longer heat-waves
- Less spring rainfall
- More frequent and intense downpours
- Fewer frosts
- Rising sea levels.
For the Peninsula, these changes are likely to lead to:
- Increased frequency and intensity of wildfire (altered fire regimes)
- New and emerging environmental weeds and pest animals
- Altered phenology of flora and fauna (e.g. timing of flowering, breeding)
- Decreased stream flows and loss of ephemeral waterways
- Increased salinity of freshwater coastal wetlands
- Loss of coastal habitats from sea-level rise.
According to Mornington Peninsula Shire, the most vulnerable habitats and species on the Peninsula are coastal, especially those with restricted distributions, or where the potential for inland migration with sea level rise is limited . These include beaches and primary sand dunes, and coastal wetlands, which support nationally endangered species such as the Hooded Plover and migratory shorebirds. Inland streams and wetlands are also likely to be impacted from reduced catchment inflows, leading to decreased streamflow in waterways and decreased hydroperiod (the period of time a wetland holds water) in wetlands. Species which depend on these habitats include the nationally significant freshwater fish, the Dwarf Galaxias Galaxiella pusilla, as well as waterbirds such as the cryptic crakes and rails, and nationally endangered Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus.
The Mornington Peninsula is one of Victoria’s premier tourism destinations, and is often described as ‘Melbourne’s Playground’, because of its popularity for nature-based recreation. While nature-based recreation is important for improving the engagement with the environment, a number of recreational activities have the potential to adversely affect biodiversity.
For example, the coasts and beaches of Port Phillip and Western Port hold some of Victoria’s most valuable shorebirds and seabird habitats. Careless boating, fishing and walking and associated intrusions by dogs and horses can cause significant disturbance and adverse impacts on coastal bird species, their breeding and migration success. Education and enforcement to protect vulnerable species during their breeding seasons are important conservation actions.
Policy and planning
A range of policies and plans are in place for the Mornington Peninsula to protect and enhance the area’s cultural, social, environmental and economic values and address the challenges that lie ahead.
Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 is the main integrated land-use, infrastructure and transport plan published by the Victorian Government. It aims to support economic growth and protect liveability and sustainability across metropolitan Melbourne. As part of its implementation, Land Use Framework Plans are being developed to guide strategic land-use and infrastructure development for the next 30 years in six metropolitan Melbourne regions. This includes the Southern region (comprising Cardinia, Casey, Frankston, Greater Dandenong, Kingston and Mornington Peninsula Local Government Areas).
The management of land, water and biodiversity in the Mornington Peninsula is principally overseen by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, Melbourne Water, Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and EPA Victoria along with landholders and other authorities, organisations and community groups.
The Shire Council has important policy and planning in place relevant to land, water and biodiversity management including:
- Council Plan – Our Peninsula 2017-2021: The overarching Council strategy which sets out the vision, mission, objectives and strategies for the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council and its community.
- Biodiversity Conservation Plan: The plan seeks to protect and improve the resilience of the Mornington Peninsula’s natural landscapes, ecosystems and biodiversity.
- Green Wedge Management Plan 2019: The plan highlights the values of the Mornington Peninsula’s Green Wedge, outlines key issues, opportunities and likely future pressures, and commits to keeping 70% of the Peninsula rural in nature.
- Climate Change – Carbon Neutral Policy: The policy sets the Mornington Peninsula Shire’s approach to achieving carbon neutrality, with the aim of protecting locally bio-sequestered carbon.
- Beyond Zero Waste Strategy 2030: The Shire’s ambitious 10-year plan to send zero waste to landfill with a variety of actions.
- Our Health and Wellbeing Plan 2021: A plan aiming to protect, improve and promote the health and wellbeing of the Mornington Peninsula community.
Other significant regional plans in place that are relevant here include the:
- Healthy Waterways Strategy 2018-28 coordinated by Melbourne Water which provides vision statements, goals and 10 and 50-year targets for waterway management in each of the region’s catchments
- Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037 – the Victorian Government’s state-wide strategy to arrest biodiversity decline
Southern Rural Water oversees development and implementation of the East Port Phillip Bay Groundwater Catchment Statement and the Westernport Groundwater Catchment Statement that are relevant to the Mornington Peninsula including for management of the Nepean Groundwater Management Unit.
Traditional Owners are the voice of their Country
For all policy and planning, there is a need for recognition and inclusion of Traditional Owner knowledge and aspirations. The waterways and lands are increasingly being recognised as ‘living and integrated natural entities‘ and the Traditional Owners should be recognised as the ‘voice of these living entities’. A Country Plan being prepared by the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation will describe the vision and priorities of the Traditional Owners for Country in line with their role as a Registered Aboriginal Party, and provide a strong basis for all planning to recognise and include the voice of these Traditional Owners.
Vision and targets for the future
The Traditional Owners of this area, the Bunurong people, have cared for this Country for tens of thousands of years, and now have the following vision for its future:
To be added in line with Bunurong Country Plan (in prep).
The Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Council Plan 2017-21, Biodiversity Conservation Plan 2019 and Green Wedge Management Plan include the following visions for the area:
- To value, protect and improve the unique characteristics and way of life on our peninsula
- To improve the resilience of its natural landscapes, ecosystems and biodiversity.
- The Mornington Peninsula is a place that keeps about seventy percent of the Peninsula’s land mass as a rural land resource in recognition of its value for current and future generations and is a place that protects, conserves and enhances the diversity, quality and extent of natural systems for their international, national, regional and local significance.
Regional Catchment Strategy targets
The following long-term targets for the Mornington Peninsula (at the year 2050 or further) reflect the region-scale vision of the Regional Catchment Strategy and the visions and directions of the local councils, the Healthy Waterways Strategy, other plans and the community. They will contribute to achieving these visons and help ensure this area remains healthy and prosperous for future generations. The targets are the local contributions towards achieving regional-scale targets outlined in the ‘Themes‘ section of this strategy.
Coasts and marine
Traditional Owners as the ‘voice’ for waterways and Country
Traditional Owners are the strong and respected voice for Country, with fundamental roles and influence in planning, decision making and action across the region in land, biodiversity and water management. The value of traditional ecological knowledge held by the region’s Traditional Owners is embraced and influential in modern decisions and practices.
Partner organisations for the journey ahead
The following organisations formally support the pursuit of the Regional Catchment Strategy’s targets for the Mornington Peninsula. They have agreed to provide leadership and support to help achieve optimum results with their available resources, in ways such as:
- Fostering partnerships and sharing knowledge, experiences and information with other organisations and the community
- Seeking and securing resources for the area and undertaking work that will contribute to achieving the visions and targets
- Assisting with monitoring and reporting on the condition of the area.
- Mornington Peninsula Landcare Network
- Main Creek Catchment Landcare Group
- Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation
- Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority
- Melbourne Water
- Parks Victoria
- Sustainability Victoria
- Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA)
- Victorian Planning Authority
- Trust for Nature
- Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation
- Dolphin Research Institute
- The Nature Conservancy
- Birdlife Australia
- The People and Parks Foundation
- Gardens for Wildlife Victoria
- Conservation Volunteers Australia
- Native Fish Australia (Vic)
- OzFish Unlimited
Add your organisation as a supporter and partner
If your organisation supports these directions and targets for the Mornington Peninsula, you can request to be listed as a partner organisation. Adding your organisation to this list will:
- Enable your organisation to list one or more priority projects in the Prospectus which will describe how your priority project will pursue the targets of this Regional Catchment Strategy and potentially make your organisation’s project more attractive to investors by using the strategy to highlight its relevance and value
- Demonstrate your commitment to a healthy and sustainable environment
- Demonstrate the level of community engagement and support for this work.
Priority projects to move forward
There are significant ongoing programs and initiatives undertaken by many organisations that are vital for the management of natural resources and the support of communities on the Mornington Peninsula. In addition, there are numerous project proposals that, if funded and implemented, can contribute to achieving the Regional Catchment Strategy’s visions and targets for the area. They include projects that:
- Establish new vegetation in large-scale, strategic locations where it provides multiple benefits by contributing to carbon sequestration, habitat restoration and habitat connectivity
- Help achieve net gain in the extent and condition of habitat across public and private land, coasts and waterways
- Protect waterways
- Protect threatened species
- Support soil health and the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices
- Support resilience to climate change in agricultural enterprises and communities
- Protect ‘blue carbon’ stores held in coastal/marine soils and vegetation including saltmarsh, mangrove and seagrass
- Increase community participation, engagement, education and enjoyment in nature and conservation
- Strengthen Traditional Owners roles in environmental decision-making and action.
Project proposals include:
- Sustainable agriculture on the Mornington Peninsula proposed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
- Local, sustainable food production proposed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
- I ❤ the Mornington Peninsula proposed by the Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority
- Green’s Bush to Arthurs Seat Biolink led by the Mornington Peninsula Landcare Network
- Regenerative agriculture skills and capacity development proposed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
- Fostering a circular economy proposed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
- Land regeneration proposed by the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
- Community Conservation of the Hooded Plover led by Birdlife Australia
- Linking the Mornington Peninsula Landscape led by the Mornington Peninsula Landcare Network
- Balnarring to the Bay Biolink led by Merricks Coolart Catchment Landcare Group
- Dunns Creek Rehabilitation led by Merricks Coolart Catchment Landcare Group
- Mornington Peninsula koala biolink led by Mornington Peninsula Koala Conservation.
A list of project proposals and their key details can be viewed and sorted on the Prospectus section of this website.
Propose a new priority project
As part of the ongoing development and refinement of this Regional Catchment Strategy, additional priority projects may be considered for inclusion in the Prospectus.
If your organisation supports the directions and targets for this area, and has a project it would like highlighted and supported in this Regional Catchment Strategy, please submit a Prospectus Project Proposal.