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Plenary Speakers

John Altringham, University of Leeds, UK

John Altringham, University of Leeds, UK

In Europe and North America, bats and roads have been the focus of significant research and mitigation – the complete opposite is true in Australasia. Studies clearly demonstrate that bat populations are profoundly affected by roads. The magnitude and geographical scale of the effects point to the combined influence of habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation and direct roadkill. Is the lack of information about road impacts on bats in Australasia a result of a lack of interest, or is it because our bat species are more robust and resilient to road effects? Or is road development across Australasia having a significant impact upon bat populations and we are just oblivious to the effects? In this presentation, John Altringham, a leading researcher on bats and roads from the UK, provided insights into the impacts of roads and traffic on bats and how that might apply to bat species from Australasia. John is critical of many aspects of current European practice and is using his work on bats to promote a more evidence-based approach to environmental impact assessment and mitigation and explored some of the challenges this involves.

Andrew Bennett, La trobe University, Melbourne

Andrew Bennett, La trobe University, Melbourne

The study of the impacts of roads and traffic on plants, animals and ecosystems is globally relatively recent. The development of this field in Australia is even more recent, and Andrew Bennett was one of the pioneers of road and landscape ecology in Australia. During his PhD, Andrew studied the ecology of small mammals in a network of habitats that included roadside reserves, demonstrating the importance of the ‘long paddock’ for biodiversity. Since those early days, Andrew has inspired many young ecologists (and indeed many practitioners) to investigate and appreciate the value of roadside vegetation as habitat and corridors for the movement of wildlife. In this presentation, Andrew spoke about the importance of landscape-level connectivity for the conservation and maintenance of plants, animals and ecosystem processes and the role of roads and other linear infrastructure in shaping our natural systems. Importantly, Andrew inspired us to think about conservation and planning from a landscape perspective – and forced us to see the woods beyond the road itself!

Highway Wilding – a short documentary

Build them and they will live. That is the simple message of Highway Wilding, a short documentary exploring highway-wildlife conflicts and the pioneering solutions that are preventing roadkill and reconnecting landscapes in Western Canada. Here in the Rocky Mountains, we have a unique opportunity to maintain a fully functioning mountain ecosystem, but highways remain a significant barrier to ecosystem health and connectivity. Everything from grizzly bears and wolverines to ducks and salamanders need to cross roads safely to meet their life needs, and these critical connections are increasingly threatened by highway expansion. After seeing Highway Wilding, you will never look at highways the same way again.

Thin Green Line Foundation

Sean Willmore, founder and director of the Thin Green Line Foundation, is our special guest during the conference dinner. Roads through all wilderness areas are a serious issue, and even more so in countries where poaching and bushmeat hunting occurs. The Thin Green Line Foundation is devoted to protecting park rangers across the globe and supporting the families of Rangers who are killed in the line of duty. Sean recently met with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and accompanied Jane Goodall on her recent Australian tour.  Hear more about the work of the Thin Green Line and how you can make a difference at our conference dinner. You can find out more on their website.

Government road agency forum

An important forum for road agencies, co-organised with the Queensland Department of Transportation and Main Roads, was held on Tuesday afternoon. Open only to government staff, including transportation, planning and environmental/regulating agencies from local, state and federal government, this workshop was the first opportunity for networking at this level in Australia. The objectives were focused broadly on ensuring cost-effective mitigation and discussing the need for national standards. 

Field trip – Pacific Highway Upgrade

Mitigation works along the Pacific Highway upgrade. Image: Brendan Taylor

Mitigation works along the Pacific Highway upgrade. Image: Brendan Taylor

The Pacific Highway is the single longest road or rail infrastructure project currently under construction in Australia. The aim of the Australian and NSW governments is to upgrade the highway to dual carriageway (i.e. 4 lane divided road) between Hexham and the Qld-NSW border by 2020. Since 1996 they have jointly spent just over $7 billion and completed 381 km of the total 657 km length. A further 80 kilometres is under construction, with the remainder being prepared for construction. A key outcome of the highway upgrade has been to set the standard for fauna-sensitive road design in Australia.
The Pacific Highway passes through endangered ecological communities and habitat that support many rare and threatened species and populations of wildlife, including emus, spotted-tailed quolls, gliders, koalas and abundant populations of kangaroos. When selecting a route for the highway upgrade, RMS considers a range of factors, including impact on plants and animals, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage, ease of building, cost, and safety. No one factor is considered in isolation, and a preferred route is identified based on the best balance of all aspects. Even after a route is chosen, RMS always looks for the opportunity to make innovative changes and improve the design where ever possible. The design of the Pacific Highway upgrade includes numerous measures to protect wildlife, conserve native vegetation and improve driver safety. The Pacific Highway was the first road in Australia to feature a land bridge, and now has three of them with at least a further three planned. Wildlife underpasses, rope-bridge crossings, glider poles, koala drop-down ramps have also been installed, and various designs of exclusion fencing have been installed along its length.

This field trip visited sites north and south of Coffs Harbour that demonstrate a range of different mitigation measures, including Bonville, Woolgoolga and Glenugie. Sites ranged from structures completed over 10 years ago, as well as sections currently in the design/construction stages. Experts monitoring the use of mitigation measures, and those involved in the planning, design and construction of the project were on hand to describe and explain those aspects that worked well, those that have been improved and provide insights into fauna sensitive road design that can be applied to other locations and species.