Council is working with ecologist on peafowl

WELLINGTON Shire Council says it is working with an independent ecologist to ensure the natural habitat of peafowl in the Sale Botanic Gardens is “protected and enhanced”.

Community concerns have arisen as council undertakes works for its Garden for Life project, which will involve the removal of a fenced area.

A draft report from the ecologist, Jim Reside, states more tussocks should be added to the plans, to provide more density to protect younger peafowl.

A fence has not been recommended.

The full report is expected this week.

Council has been at pains to point out that it has no plans to remove the wild birds from the gardens.

Wellington Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley said the Garden for Life project was an exciting one that would “draw together the history of humans sharing this beautiful space with other living things, including the peacocks”.

“The peacocks are wild and have not been actively managed for many decades,” she added.

Cr Crossley said it was unfortunate council’s comments that it did not actively maintain the wild birds had been misconstrued by some who thought that meant they would be removed.

“We understand that everyone loves the peacocks, as do we, and we are working with an independent ecologist to ensure the habitat and breeding conditions of the peacocks are maintained,” she said.

“Whilst some people believe that the fence protects the peacocks from predators, regular visitors to the gardens will understand that the birds live happily throughout the gardens and are not constrained by any fences.

“This can be confirmed by many who live close to the gardens who regularly experience peacocks roosting in their gardens.

“The peacocks are also ground nesters, and they nest in all parts of the gardens and are very good at protecting their young from predators.”

Sale resident Tony Smith welcomed the engaging of an ecologist.

“It’s nice to see responsibility has been taken,” he told Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Mr Smith said concerns about the Garden for Life project centred on the effect the removal of the fence would have on young peafowl.

“I don’t believe the fence protects the peacocks from predators who roam around,” he said.

“My concern, and those of the people I’m associated with, are for the safety and security of the nesting peahens, the eggs and the young in their early stages.

“They currently do nest and rear those very young ones behind the security of the fence.

“The younger peacocks then venture out around the park with their parents, then go back to the safety of the current enclosure of a night time.”

Even if the fence was removed, the peahens, Mr Smith said, were likely to continue nesting in the same area.

“They may nest where we’re actually drawing people, young kids, and the eggs will be at risk,” he said.

Stradbroke-based peafowl breeder Wendy Watt said the peafowl were particularly vulnerable when they were nesting.

“They do need to be protected,” she said.

“Mine are all in fox-proof enclosures — they do need an enclosure when they’re breeding.

“It is warranted; they are vulnerable because they do nest on the ground, and they’re not the smartest birds when they’re nesting.”

Ms Watt added peachicks took about 35 days to hatch, with a period of about eight weeks in total needed as they grew.

Another Sale resident who attended Tuesday’s council meeting, Ron Waymouth, said council’s response was not satisfactory.

“It’s a big area, (the peafowl) don’t need that big an area, they could have a smaller area at the big tree they seem to favour,” he said.

“They’re going to go ahead with the gardens whether we like it or not, but they could just leave part of it enclosed.”

Public submissions for the project were open in 2016, and many of the responses included concerns about the remaining wallabies in the park. These have since been re-homed at wildlife reserves.

Council received 44 formal responses and the Friends of the Sale Botanic Gardens, a key stakeholder in the gardens, has formally expressed its support for the master plan.

Work on the project has begun, and is scheduled to be completed in March next year.