All Victorian land owners, or the occupiers of the land, have a responsibility to manage and maintain their soils sustainably by adopting appropriate practices that protect or improve soil resources.
Good soil management improves soil water holding properties, builds soil carbon and nutrients, and increases resilience against threatening processes that may have a negative impact on the soil or other catchment assets. It is also plays a significant role in supporting broader natural resource management goals relating to net greenhouse gas emissions and improving water yields and quality.
Soil underpins all of Victoria's terrestrial ecosystems, storing and releasing water, recycling nutrients, sequestering carbon, enabling the growth of plants and absorbing waste. Soil is the engine room of food production, an archive of human and natural history and host to extraordinary biodiversity. It plays a fundamental role in the carbon cycle, the water cycle, and food production.
Soil health relates to the capacity of the soil to function within the ecosystem and to sustain plant and animal production. Healthy soils sustain biological productivity, maintain air and water quality and promote plant, animal and human health. The health of a soil is a product of its inherent properties and its management or use.
Poor soil management may result in degradation such as soil structure decline, nutrient decline and acidification, thus threatening the capacity of soils to provide ecosystem services. Soil degradation can also have negative off-site impacts, including sedimentation of rivers and water storages, whilst wind-borne soil can pose human health risks.
Relevant laws, guidelines and codes
Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (CaLP)
This Act establishes a framework for the integration and co-ordination of catchments in Victoria and to encourage the involvement of landholders and other community members in catchment management. The broad aim is to conserve the environment while maintaining and enhancing long-term land productivity. Further, it aims to ensure that the quality of the land and water resources in Victoria, and their associated plant and animal life, are maintained and enhanced.
The purposes of this Act are as follows –
- to set up a framework for the integrated management and protection of catchments;
- to encourage community participation in the management of land and water resources;
- to set up a system of controls on noxious weeds and pest animals;
- to repeal and amend various Acts concerning catchment and land management.
The CaLP Act is the main Act in Victoria that deals with soil management. Under Section 20(1) of the CaLP, a landholder, in relation to his or her land, must take reasonable steps to:
- Avoid causing or contributing to land degradation which causes or may cause damage to land of another owner;
- Conserve soil; and
- Protect water resources.
If a landholder fails to comply with a provision of Section 20, under Section 37 of the Act, the DSE Secretary (or their delegate) may serve a land management notice on a land owner.
Environment Protection Act 1970
The Environment Protection Act 1970 governs farm waste management and soil in Victoria. This Act sets out general offences relating to pollution and to causing or permitting an environmental hazard. It provides for hefty fines and penalties for soil pollution offences.
The Environment Protection Act 1970 sets out certain principles relating to the shared responsibility by all levels of Government, industry, business, community and the people of Victoria.
There are a range of associated regulations, SEPPs, Waste Management Policies and Guidelines. These are administered and enforced by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
SEPPs aim to safeguard the environmental values and human activities (beneficial uses) that need protection from the effects of pollution and waste. Relevant SEPPs for farmers include SEPP (Waters of Victoria), SEPP (Groundwaters of Victoria) and SEPP (Prevention and Management of Contamination of Land).
Roles and responsibilities
The management of soil on farm is a shared responsibility between the State Governments, Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs), Local Government and land owners or occupiers of land.
The Victorian Government's role is to act in partnership with the community to assist the land owners or occupiers of the land to manage their natural resources. Government departments work in co-operation with land owners and offer advice about what they can do to meet their obligations.
In addition, we undertake significant research in soil chemistry, soil physics and soil biology, as well as developments into related soil management and soil health. As custodian of soil survey data for the State, the department manages a database for soil site data, the Victorian Soil Information System (VSIS), as well as maps,, hardcopy soil and land survey reports, and the soil site sample archive. The Victorian Resources Online (VRO) website is the primary means for dissemination of soil-related information to the general community.
Following the 2009 release of 'Securing our Natural Future', DSE has developed a Draft Soil Health Strategy for private and public land for Victoria to guide investment priorities, address soil threatening processes, protect high valued soil assets and increase soil resilience.
Under the Environment Protection Act 1970, it is an offence to cause land, air, water or noise pollution. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) administers the legislation in co-operation with local Councils.
Victoria's CMAs are currently (2012) re-developing their regional catchment strategies, with many considering completing specific Soil Action Plans in coming years. These strategies identify the priority natural resource assets (including soils) in each region and what can be done to protect and enhance them.
Water Act 1989
The Water Act 1989 provides guidance for the management of waterways including swamps. Before considering draining a wet area you should contact your local CMA and regional water authority for advice, as an authorisation may be required.
Planning and Environment Act 1987
Under this Act (and the relevant planning scheme), a land owner may require a permit to clear native vegetation that could result in a loss of biodiversity and/or soil degradation.
Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006
Land owners or occupiers should be aware of the Aboriginal heritage legislation. Before undertaking any works on a farm that would result in disturbance to land, water or vegetation you should contact us, the local CMA, or the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.
One of the main objectives of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2007, is to promote the management of Aboriginal heritage as an integral part of the land and natural resources management. For example, some pest control and land management activities (e.g. rabbit warren ripping to a depth greater than 60 centimetres or land management activities that result in 'significant ground disturbance') may need to be assessed and a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) developed if the work takes place within an area of cultural heritage sensitivity. Areas of cultural heritage sensitivity are displayed on maps located on the website of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria. A CHMP is not needed on land where there has already been significant ground disturbance.
Codes of Practice
Code of Practice Piggeries 1992
The Code of Practice – Piggeries is the current Code for all piggery developments in Victoria. It specifies minimum standards that apply to new piggeries, or where there are substantial modifications to existing piggeries. It is designed to assist municipal councils, pig producers and planning authorities in the proper establishment and operation of new piggeries or where there are major modifications to existing piggeries.
The Code also covers emission to air from buildings, effluent collection system within all pig buildings, effluent collection system outside all pig buildings (but within the piggery compound), noise and waste water (which also includes slurries) or solids that are discharged off the premises and subsequently re-used (e.g. to irrigate a neighbour's property).
Code for Cattle Feedlots 1995
The Victorian Code for Cattle Feedlots was developed to facilitate the financially and environmentally sound development of cattle feedlots in Victoria. The State Government, in conjunction with both industry and the wider community has developed the Code.
The Code for Cattle Feedlots is a State planning document and is incorporated into all planning schemes in Victoria.
The local Council is responsible for implementing the Code on a specific feedlot development. and this department provides executive support to the Victorian Feedlot Committee who administrates the Code within the State.
Design and operational requirements cover odour, noise along with waste storage, treatment and use. The Code covers water supply catchment in which feedlots are prohibited and also provides details of a waste management plan.
Code for Broiler Farms 2009
The Victorian Code for Broiler Farms was established within the Victorian planning provisions and replaces the 2001 Code.
The Code provides a basis for the planning, design, assessment, approval, construction, operation and management of broiler farms in Victoria. It seeks to present an appropriate balance between the operational needs of the broiler farm industry and the protection of the environment, particularly the air environment for people who live near broiler farms.
Under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 a planning permit is required for all broiler farm development. Compliance with the Victorian Code for Broiler Farms 2009 is applicable and mandatory for the establishment of all new broiler farms and expansion of existing broiler farms.
Legislation and the farmer
Key questions for farmers
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 DSE Customer Service Centre on 136 186.
- Have you prevented land degradation on your property?
- Does a Special Area Plan affect your property?
- Do you plan to buy a property that may be affected by the previous owner having been served with a Land Management Notice (LMN)?
- Do you plan to extract large amounts of soil, gravel or sand from your property?
- Are any of your activities polluting the soil in a way that is harmful to humans or animals?
- Do you plan to establish a rubbish dump on your land?
Farm activity or situation
On-farm obligations or implications
Land degradation and soil conservation
Complying with land management notices
Farming in special areas
For information on managing soils in Victoria phone the Customer Service Centre on 136 186 or visit Victorian Resources Online (VRO).
Draft Soil Health Policy Framework
Victorian Catchment Management Council
ISBN 978-1-74264-488-2 (print)
ISBN 978-1-74264-489-9 (online)
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.
Contact us for more information.