Rural Wyndham is a fire prone area. As part of managing the risk of wildfire, Wyndham’s Local Law 16 requires the establishment and maintenance of fire breaks on rural properties in the period between 1 September and 30 April of each year by:

  • Slashing a 10 metre break around the perimeter of the property; or
  • Ploughing or grading a 3 metre fire break around the perimeter of the property; or 
  • Burning a 3 meter fire break around the perimeter of the property providing the appropriate permit has been obtained to do so

This requirement may conflict with other Wyndham City policies in areas of native flora, fauna, threatened species habitat or natural rock formations. This Guide has been produced to assist Wyndham City’s officers and landowners with determining an acceptable fire break on freehold rural land in Wyndham where native flora and fauna and/or habitat exist.  The Guide also applies to freehold land covered by a Public Acquisition Overlay and Environmental Significance Overlays. Information regarding timing of fire break establishment in these natural environment situations is also detailed in this Guide.

Wyndham City officers will undertake an inspection by roadside, of rural properties to determine areas which support native flora, fauna and/or habitat and the fire break acceptable.

Exemptions from Local Law 16

Landowners may request an exemption from the Local Law 16 requirements for a fire break if:

  • crops have been planted on the premises and upon harvest the required fire breaks will be installed and maintained until the specified date; or
  • grazing of livestock has commenced and will reduce the risk of fire to the satisfaction of an authorised Wyndham City Council Officer; or 
  • you are unable to install a perimeter break due to rock, however you must provide a site map and photographic evidence to Wyndham City; or
  • the Council has accepted any other reason as appropriate for the circumstances.

Requests for exemption must be in writing and will not apply until the applicant has received a written response from the Council.  Requests must be received by Wyndham City before 30 September. Native flora, fauna and habitat may be an appropriate reason for seeking an exemption.

Legislation and Permits

In determining an acceptable fire break, the following must also be considered along with the actual “site” conditions/features:

  • Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999
  • Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987 – specifically the Wyndham Planning Scheme including the Public Acquisition Overlay and Environmental Significance Overlays
  • Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 – for public land only
  • Victorian Local Government Act 1989
  • Victorian Country Fire Authority Act 1958
  • Other legislation may be applicable and that is not considered in this Guide includes the Victorian Heritage Act 1995 and Victorian Archaeological and Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1972

A planning permit from Council may not be required to install a firebreak.  However, the works must be in accordance with the Notice issued under the Victorian Local Government Act.  In order to comply with the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, works must also be in accordance with the Notice.

The Wyndham Planning Scheme exempts the need to obtain a planning permit for bushfire protection measures at clauses 52.43 and 52.48-2.  This allows for "The removal, destruction or lopping of any vegetation for a combined maximum width of 4 metres either side of an existing fence on a boundary between properties in different ownership that was constructed before 10 September 2009".  This overrides the Public Acquisition Overlay and Environmental Significance Overlay requirement to obtain a permit for removal of native vegetation for this purpose.

The Environmental Significance Overlay Schedule 4 provides an exemption from the need to obtain a permit for vegetation removal for fire protection purposes at clause 42.01-3, up to 6 metres wide or any width if in accordance with a fire prevention notice.

Clause 52.17 “Native Vegetation” in the Wyndham Planning Scheme also carries exemptions from permit requirements for the removal or destruction of native vegetation for “fire protection”, including access tracks up to 6 metres wide, in accordance with a fire prevention notice under:

  • Section 65 of the Forests Act 1958
  • Section 41 of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958
  • Section 8 of the Local Government Act 1989

New tracks and firebreaks in areas of listed ecological communities and flora and fauna species are likely to require approval under the Commonwealth EPBC Act and the Victorian Planning and Environment Act.

Landowners are encouraged to obtain their own advice on the EPBC Act from the Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities with regards to Matters of National Environmental Significance.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Fire Breaks

To minimise impacts on native flora and fauna, there are some options for vegetation treatment to create a fire break.

Slashed or brushcut fire break

Slashed and/or brushcut fire breaks may be appropriate in areas of native grassland and threatened species habitat. These methods are acceptable subject to the following:

  • It is no more than 10 metres wide
  • It is no lower than 100 mm above the ground
  • Where known habitat exists, a slashed or brushcut break must be installed prior to 1 October
  • Slashed and/or brushcut fire breaks in known habitat areas must not be conducted during or within one month before the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth (GSM) flight season (generally October to January, but may vary in any given year).  It must also not be conducted for at least 6 weeks after the end of the GSM flight season or longer dependant on presence or otherwise of GSM eggs. 

Graded fire break

Graded fire breaks are not acceptable unless:

  • It was lawfully established (i.e. graded) in previous fire season period/year, or
  • It is established in an agricultural crop, or
  • It is established in completely exotic pasture and is not habitat, or
  • All relevant permits and approvals are obtained prior.

Due to the high level of disturbance associated with this treatment, it may have a high level of impact on native flora and fauna.

Cultivated fire break

Cultivated fire breaks are not acceptable unless:

  • It was lawfully established (i.e. cultivated) in previous fire season period/year, or
  • It is established in an agricultural crop, or
  • It is established completely exotic pasture and is not habitat, or
  • All relevant permits and approvals are obtained prior.

Due to the high level of disturbance associated with this treatment, it may have a high level of impact on native flora and fauna.

Grazed fire break

Fire breaks grazed by livestock may be appropriate in areas of native grassland and threatened species habitat. This is acceptable unless:

  • The vegetation is native or habitat exists and livestock grazing has not occurred in more than 2 years in which case permits and approvals may be required prior to the re-introduction of grazing.

Herbicide fire breaks

Herbicide use to establish a fire break is not accepted unless:

  • It was lawfully established (i.e. treated with herbicide) in previous fire season period/year, or
  • It is established in an agricultural crop, or
  • It is established in completely exotic pasture and is not habitat, or
  • All relevant permits and approvals are obtained prior.

Due to the high level of modification associated with this treatment, it may have a high level of impact on native flora and fauna.

Burning

Burning existing vegetation to establish a fire break is the best option for areas of native grassland, provided safety measures are in place and the relevant permits are acquired.  This method is appropriate where the vegetation is habitat (or potential habitat) to species (flora and/or fauna) and/or ecological communities listed under the EBPC Act 1999. 

The species and ecological community of most relevance and vulnerability in rural Wyndham (in regards to fire breaks) when undertaken such a method for establishing a fire break in rural Wyndham is the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth (GSM) and the Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain respectively. 

Note: GSM can exist in native and non-native vegetation.  Burning of vegetation that is considered habitat must be undertaken between April and August only (i.e. outside periods of EPBC listed species activity).  A permit for an outdoor burn from Wyndham City is to be obtained prior to burning.  Proposed burning may require an EPBC referral if the subject area has not received regular (i.e. at least every 3 years) burning. The same applies to the burning of the Natural Temperate Grassland of the Victorian Volcanic Plain ecological community and, autumn is the preferred burn time.

Barriers

Where barriers such as rocks, dams and tree plantations exist along a property boundary, the fire break (installed via an acceptable technique) must be installed directly adjoining the barrier inside the property to Wyndham City’s satisfaction.  Rock removal is not acceptable without relevant permits and approvals and a cultivated fire break around an area of natural rock and natural grasses adjoining a perimeter fence line.

Roadsides

Numerous rural road reserves in Wyndham support conservation sites containing native vegetation, native animals and/or habitat.  Landowners must not interfere with these sites, the associated marker posts or undertake any fire prevention works in these sites.

Roadside conservation sites are managed by Wyndham City, VicRoads and/or the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

Rural Wyndham roadside conservation site with marker post

Further information on this Guide can be obtained from Wyndham City’s Legislative Services or Environment and Sustainability Departments on (03) 9742 0777.  Information on planning permits and the Wyndham Planning Scheme can be obtained from Wyndham City’s Town Planning Services on (03) 8734 5463.

Information on the EPBC Act can be found at www.environment.gov.au/epbc/ as well as the Australian Department of the Environment’sBushfire Management and National Law 2010 publication.

Information on legislated responsibilities for land owners/managers along with practical advice on fire management can be obtained from the Country Fire Authority’s On the Land Agricultural Fire Management Guidelines at www.cfa.vic.gov.au

Landowners who are not sure if their fire break supports native flora, native fauna and/or habitat, or suspect it might, are encouraged to obtain confirmation from an ecological consultant, Wyndham City’s Environment Unit on Ph: (03) 9742 0777 or an alternative information source.

Definitions

  • Native flora refers to plants native to Victoria and plant species listed under the EPBC Act 1999.  It also includes any native vegetation community listed under the EPBC Act 1999.
  • Native fauna refers to animals native to Victoria and animal species listed under the EPBC Act 1999.
  • Habitat refers to natural rock formations and vegetation (native or non-native) that provides habitat or potential habitat to species (flora and/or fauna) listed under the EPBC Act 1999.
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