About the booklet
This booklet is one of a series of eight covering legal aspects of managing a farm:
- Chemical Management
- Introduction to Occupational Health and Safety
- Livestock Management
- Noxious Weed and Pest Animal Management
- Soil Management
- Waste Management
- Water Management
Each booklet provides a list of the relevant legislative Acts and explains the purpose of each Act.
They have been written for land managers and primary producers. Each booklet consists of the following sections:
Key terms, acronyms and abbreviations – an explanation of some of the language and terms used throughout the booklet.
Introduction – a summary of the intention of the legislation.
Roles and responsibilities – an explanation of roles played by national, state and local governments, their agencies and farmers.
Relevant laws, guidelines and Codes – the relevant Acts, guidelines and Codes covering farm management in Victoria.
Legislation and the farmer – A table of potential situations with an explanation of a farmer's obligations or the implications under the relevant Acts in Victoria.
Biodiversity – The variety of life forms: the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems of which they form a part.
Catchment – A structure, such as a basin or reservoir, used for collecting or draining water
Genetic diversity – The variety of genetic information contained in individual plants, animals and micro-organisms.
Ecosystem – A biological community and its environment. All the dynamic interactions between plants, animals, and the physical environment in which they live make up an ecosystem.
Invertebrate animals – Animals without backbones
Land owner – The owner or occupier of land.
Protected flora – Any flora which is declared to be protected by Order of the Governor in Council published in the Government Gazette, and any flora which is part or member of a listed taxon or community. See DELWP website for the up to date list.
Protected wildlife – All wildlife other than pest animals (within the meaning of the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994) or wildlife specifically declared not to be protected.
Threatened wildlife – Protected wildlife that is specified in any list made under section 10(1) of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. These lists can be found on the DELWP website.
Vertebrate animals – Animals with backbones.
Acronyms / abbreviations
- CaLP Catchment and Land Protection Act (1994)
- CMA Catchment Management Authority
- DSEWPaC Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
- DELWP Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
- EPA Environment Protection Authority
- EPBC Act Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth)
- FFG Act Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic)
- ICO Interim Conservation Order
- SEPPs State Environment Protection Policies
Australia has a large number of species and ecological communities that are under threat of extinction, mostly due to land clearing and related loss of habitats. Land owners should be aware of their responsibilities to prevent further damage to the natural resource base and to protect biodiversity.
Victorian farmers have a number of legal obligations in managing biodiversity on their farms. It is important to check the legal implications of any action that may affect native plants and animals.
Native vegetation contributes to water quality, landscape values and long-term productivity of the land. Healthy, diverse farming systems may be more resilient to change. Diversity of plants and animals is necessary to support the natural environment.
Maintaining biodiversity is much more than just protecting wildlife and their habitats in nature conservation reserves – it is about improving the balance within a farm business.
The Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment in 2002 identified approximately 2,891 threatened ecosystems and communities in Australia. As of June 2002, the total number of threatened species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 was 1595.
Each State and Territory in Australia also has legislation that allows listing of endangered or threatened species. The criteria used for listing at State and national levels can differ, so species and ecological communities can be listed under both State and national legislation, or under only one of these.
The listing of a species, ecosystem or ecological community as 'threatened' triggers special management attention to try to ensure that the population numbers or areas of the communities do not decline further and have a chance to recover. This special management may include addressing the threatening processes (such as land clearing, predation by feral species or salinity) as well as measures such as captive breeding or relocation of animals, or cloning or seed banking of plants.
Not allowing species and communities to reach crisis point is the smarter and more effective way of ensuring their survival. Managing all properties to minimise their impacts on the environment and maximise their biodiversity will assist native species and communities to survive, as well as minimising farmers' liability under the State and Federal legislation.
Roles and responsibilities
The management of biodiversity on farms is a shared responsibility between all three levels of government (Australian, State and Local) and land owners.
The Australian Government administers the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 which ensures the protection of Australia's unique biodiversity at a national level.
The Victorian Government administers a comprehensive legislative framework that addresses natural resource and environment management, conservation and sustainable utilisation. The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Wildlife Act 1975 – administered by DELWP – are the primary Acts dealing with biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of native flora and fauna.
Under the Environment Protection Act 1970, it is an offence to cause land, air, water or noise pollution. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) administers this legislation in co-operation with local Councils.
The EPA has established audit protocols for river health including environmental flows and biological indicators of stream and river health. The EPA works in partnership with DELWP, the Department of Primary Industry, Catchment Management Authorities and other stakeholders to facilitate the adoption of clean agricultural practices which provide both environmental and economic benefits.
Victoria's native vegetation is protected by law, and various offences apply to actions concerning native plants. It is sensible for land owners to check with your local Council and DELWP (call 136 186) before starting any work that could affect native vegetation.
Relevant laws, guidelines and Codes
Legislation and policy at international, national, state and local government levels reflect the community's aspirations for nature conservation.
They direct mandatory and voluntary protection and management of native biodiversity.
There are a number of international agreements (e.g. the Japan-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement, the China-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands) that encourage the protection and conservation of wetlands or habitats of international significance.
The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international, legally binding treaty that was adopted in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 that is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development. It has three main goals:
- Conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity)
- Sustainable use of its components
- Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
Its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government's central piece of environmental legislation. It provides a legal framework to protect and promote the recovery of threatened species and ecological communities, and preserve significant places from decline.
The EPBC Act established the use of Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations, which provide for the issuing of approvals and permits for a range of activities on Commonwealth land and land affecting the Commonwealth. Failure to comply with the Act can result in penalties including remediation of damage, court injunctions, and criminal and civil penalties.
This Act regulates the importation of plants and animals via the Live Imports List. This lists what plants and animals can be brought into the country. Any person wishing to bring a plant or animal into the country that is not on the Live Imports List must apply to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC) to do so.
The Act identifies various matters of national environmental significance:
- Wetlands of international importance (as defined by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands)
- World Heritage properties
- National heritage places
- Listed threatened species and ecological communities
- Listed migratory species
- Commonwealth marine areas.
The EPBC Act comes into play when a proposal has the potential to have a significant impact on one of the above matters of national environmental significance. When a person wants an action assessed for environmental impacts under the EPBC Act, he or she must refer the project to DEWHA.
This 'referral' is then released to the public, as well as relevant State, Territory and Commonwealth ministers, for comment on whether the project is likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance. The minister or the minister's delegate will then decide whether the likely environmental impacts of the project are such that it should be assessed under the EPBC Act.
A range of legislation covers the protection of biodiversity in Victoria.
Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994
The Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CaLP Act) develops a framework for integrated management and protection of catchments via Regional Catchment Strategies. The Act provides for the development of regional catchment strategies which, among other things, must assess the nature, causes, extent and severity of land degradation of the catchments in the region and identify areas for priority attention. Local Planning Schemes must have regard for the regional catchment strategies. Under the CaLP Act, land owners may be directed to control noxious weeds, including on roadsides adjacent to the farm (as noxious weeds may affect native biodiversity).
Environment Protection Act 1970
The Environment Protection Act 1970 is outcome oriented, with a basic philosophy of preventing pollution and environmental damage by setting environmental quality objectives and establishing programs to meet them.
This Act establishes the EPA and outlines its powers, duties, and functions. These include administering the Act and any regulations and orders made pursuant to it, recommending State Environment Protection Policies (SEPPs) to the Governor in Council, and issuing works approvals, licences, permits and pollution abatement notices.
The SEPPs provide more detailed requirements and guidance for the application of the Act to Victoria. There are SEPPs for air quality, land contamination, groundwaters and waters, amongst other things.
Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (FFG Act) is designed to enable the conservation of Victoria's flora and fauna. It allows the listing of threatened species, threatened communities and potentially threatening processes. Once a species, process or community is listed, the Government prepares an Action Statement that sets out the actions to conserve and manage it. The Act also provides for the use of Interim Conservation Orders (ICOs) for the urgent protection of a critical habitat of a listed threatened species and community.
The Act makes it an offence to take, trade in, keep, move or process protected flora from all public land without a licence or permit. On private land, the taking and sale of protected flora, except tree-ferns, grasstrees or sphagnum moss, is permitted unless the taking is from land declared 'critical habitat' under the Act. The taking of tree-ferns, grasstrees or sphagnum moss for the purposes of sale requires a permit or licence under the Act.
The Act also makes it an offence to take, trade in or keep without a licence any fish that are members of a listed species or community, with the exception that a person make take listed fish from, or keep listed fish in, a private dam or lake provided that the listed fish occurs naturally in the dam or lake, or the dam or lake was stocked in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1995 or the Fisheries Regulations 2009.
Local Government Act 1989
This Act assigns powers to local Councils to formulate by-laws and conservation regulations.
Planning and Environment Act 1987 – Clause 52.17 Native Vegetation in the Particular Provisions of all Municipal Planning Schemes
Under all Victorian Planning Schemes a planning permit is required to remove, lop or destroy native vegetation, including dead trees of a particular height or width, unless a relevant exemption applies. Native vegetation includes any and all locally native trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses. Planning schemes are administered by Local Governments.
Local Government may also develop and implement local policies and overlays, which may add additional permit conditions in relation to vegetation removal. A local Council can also protect rare wetlands and other biodiversity assets through their planning scheme.
Water Act 1989
This Act provides formal means for the protection and enhancement of the environmental qualities of waterways and their in-stream uses and the protection of catchment conditions.
Wildlife Act 1975 and Wildlife Regulations 2002
The Wildlife Act 1975 covers all wildlife, which is defined to include all native vertebrate animals, all kinds of deer, non-indigenous quail, pheasants, and partridges, and all terrestrial invertebrate animals listed under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. The Act regulates the hunting, trading and taking of wildlife.
Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 provides for the protection and management of Victoria's Aboriginal heritage. On-ground works to protect or enhance biodiversity must not contravene the Act.
Legislation and the farmer
Key questions for farmers about biodiversity management
Consider the following questions. If you are unsure of the answers to these questions, look through the table on the following pages for more information or phone the Customer Service Centre on 136 186.
- Is my land in an area declared as critical habitat for flora under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988?
- Does an Interim Conservation Order affect my property?
- Am I taking treeferns, grass-trees or sphagnum moss for sale?
- Am I clearing 'native vegetation'? If so, do I fall within the planning scheme exemptions? If not, do I have a planning permit?
- Am I hunting 'threatened' or 'protected' wildlife?
- Am I hunting 'game'?
- Am I disturbing the habitat of wildlife?
- Am I catching listed fish?
- Where can I graze my stock?
- Are any of my activities having a 'significant impact' on matters of national environmental significance?
- Do I affect the biodiversity of my farm through breaches of the laws regarding water, chemical use, weeds, pests, pollution or soil degradation?
Farm activity or situation
On-farm obligations or implications
Interim Conservation Orders (ICOs)
Trading, taking or disturbing protected flora
Licence to take and trade in protected flora
Abandonment of flora
Flora damaging crops
Native vegetation removal
Lands adjoining State Forests
Disturbing wildlife habitat
Hunting or destroying wildlife
Taking listed fish
Wildlife Act 1975 and Wildlife Regulations 2002
Offences in State Wildlife Reserves, Nature Reserves and sanctuaries
Licences to trade in wildlife
Authorisations to hunt wildlife damaging crops, etc
Actions causing 'significant impact' on the national environment
Policies and strategies
For up-to-date information on managing biodiversity on farms in Victoria phone the Customer Service Centre on 136 186. Refer to the following websites to access electronic copies of the principal Acts and statutory rules in operation at a given point in time.
Most have advanced searching and browsing facilities that enable easy accessibility to specific clauses, etc:
- Biodiversity legislation: agriculture.vic.gov.au (> Conservation and Environment >Legislation)
- Victorian legislation and statutory instruments: www.legislation.vic.gov.au (>Law Today)
- Commonwealth and State Acts: comlaw.gov.au
- Australasian Legal Information Institute: www.austlii.edu.au
- International Treaties: sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/entri/guides/sec2.html
Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities – Approvals and Legislation Division
Farming and national environmental law: environment.gov.au/epbc/publications/farming-epbc.html
Also: Environmental liaison officer 1800704520
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 list of migratory species: environment.gov.au/biodiversity/migratory/index.html
For more information on flora and fauna protection and the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 see agriculture.vic.gov.au. Follow the links through 'plants and animals' then 'native plants and animals'. The website contains all listed species, communities and processes and Action Statements.
Native Biodiversity Resource Kit – Environmental Management in Agriculture (available on the DELWP website).
Follow the links from DELWP Home through > Conservation and Environment > Biodiversity > Rural Landscapes > Biodiversity & Agriculture > Native Biodiversity Resource Kit.
Farm Business and Biodiversity (available on the DELWP website).
Follow the links from DELWP Home through > Conservation and Environment > Biodiversity > Rural Landscapes > Biodiversity & Agriculture > Farm Business & Biodiversity
Victoria Planning Provisions Practice Note 'Farming and vegetation removal'. December 2008. Available from the DELWP website
This publication may be of assistance to you but the State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.
For more information contact us.