GPT’s natural capital approach

11 Mar 2024

"Our ‘natural capital account’ helps us understand the biodiversity dependencies, impact, risks and opportunities of our development at Boundary Road, and how to strategically allocate resources to improve outcomes to biodiversity, including restoring native grassland communities adjacent to Skeleton Creek."

PHIL MARTIN

Biodiversity Performance Manager, The GPT Group

Urban development often comes at the expense of biodiversity. But The GPT Group’s voluntary actions at 865 Boundary Road in west Melbourne shows how a natural capital approach can strategically inform the protection and restoration of Australia’s biodiversity.


In 2019, GPT purchased an ex-grazing greenfield development site at Truganina, 22 kilometres west of Melbourne’s CBD. The acquisition and planned development provides a tangible example of delivering on elements of GPT purpose, “We create experiences that drive positive impact for people, place and planet.” The planned high performing logistics hub will support new jobs and services for a growing community on Melbourne’s western fringe. To attract sustainability-oriented tenants, it is designed with exceptional environmental performance, including 5 star Green Star and upfront embodied carbon targets.

The 32.8-hectare parcel is home to  patches of high value native grasslands and wetlands, and habitat for several significant species including the Growling Grass Frog, Striped Legless Lizard, and Golden Sun Moth. The site is also a place of cultural significance for the Bunurong people of the Kulin nation. This connection is reflected in the name GPT has chosen for the development, Djeembana, which means “a place to gather for special occasions”. This case study outlines GPT’s efforts to account for biodiversity values at a site scale, to effectively identify, prioritise and manage biodiversity risks and opportunities from our development

Balancing growth and biodiversity

According to the 2021 State of the Environment Report, at least 19 Australian ecosystems show signs of collapse, mostly due to habitat modification or destruction. It’s a similar story around the world, with the United Nations finding that 75% of Earth’s land surface has been significantly altered by humans.

“Greenfield development keeps ecologists up at night, as land within urban growth corridors is also often habitat for threatened ecological communities and species which have lived in the landscape for millions of years” says Phil Martin, GPT’s Biodiversity Performance Manager.

“Ecological communities and species within urban growth corridors have a high chance of becoming either endangered or extinct in the near future, particularly if pressures threatening their survival go unabated. Impacts from greenfield development, including habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution – air, water, noise, and light – invasive species introduction, and urban heat island effect, contribute to these pressures.”

Greenfield development, however, also presents an opportunity to accommodate our growing cities with high performing business districts and housing supply – critical assets for growing local communities within Australia’s urban fringe.

“If carefully managed in accord with the mitigation hierarchy, greenfield development can limit ecological impacts while also supporting urban development" Phil says.

Djeembana falls within the Victorian Government's West Growth Corridor, one of four growth corridors which are expected to accommodate half of Melbourne's new housing and much of the city's future supply of industrial land over the next four decades.

To offset the impact of development on threatened ecological communities in these growth corridors, the Victorian Government committed to establishing a 15,000-hectare Western Grassland Reserve and a 1,200-hectare Grassy Eucalypt Woodlands Reserve by 2020. As of early 2024, the Victorian Government had not met its commitments, with 80% of the land required for the reserves still under private ownership. Delays in acquiring land, and continuing threats of degradation, pose significant challenges both to the reserve program, as well as to developers with ‘net positive’ biodiversity objectives who require high quality biodiversity offsets to effectively mitigate their negative biodiversity impacts.

The big questions

How do regulatory requirements protect biodiversity values and ecosystem services? How effectively have we applied the mitigation hierarchy? What actions are we taking to address underlying drivers of biodiversity and ecosystem degradation at local and regional scales?

These are the questions all developers, including GPT, need to ask. To address these questions, however, a developer must first understand their ecological interface through ecological assessments.

In August 2023, GPT commissioned an independent ecological contractor to undertake a flora and fauna assessment of 865 Boundary Road to assess the site’s ecology, and strategies for salvage, restoration, and ecologically sensitive asset design and construction solutions. Ecologists assessed each square metre on foot, identifying remnant habitat, including habitat for state and federally listed threatened species. This included potential habitat for the Golden Sun Moth, Growling Grass Frog, Striped Legless Lizard and Tussock Skink.

“We now have a biodiversity ‘account’ for the site, which informs us on the site’s biodiversity dependencies, impacts, risks and opportunities,” Phil says.

“While there weren’t any threatened species identified from the assessment, we are cautious land managers. This means, for instance, that as rock is moved and dams drained, we have a zoologist present in case we need to salvage any animals. We can then move those animals to areas where they can be protected.”

Several recommendations were derived from the assessment, all of which have been adopted by GPT. These range from control and removal of weed species, to translocation of species to Skeleton Creek, to salvage of native grass seed to protect genetic diversity of key species.

Some recommendations will inform the design of buildings at Djeembana. The Golden Sun Moth and various migratory birds, for instance, are sensitive to light pollution, so GPT is investigating low-impact fauna sensitive lighting solutions.

The assessment also found the site held isolated patches of remnant native grassland parcels suited to seed collection.

“We’ve collected enough seed to generate around 5,000 tussocks of Kangaroo Grass – a species that is structurally important to support the site’s grassland community,” Phil explains. The seeds have been dried and stored; they will be cultivated as tubestock at a wholesale nursery when GPT begins revegetation activities.

To support the Growling Grass Frog’s habitat condition and extent, the assessment advised placing rock piles and logs adjacent to the banks of Skeleton Creek. Additionally, by implementing best practice hygiene biosecurity protocols during construction, GPT can also prevent the spread pathogens lethal to the frogs.

Another recommendation includes using indigenous species within the asset’s proposed garden beds to support the local ecology. This offers additional benefits beyond biodiversity. Indigenous species cost less to establish and maintain, are resilient to drought, heatwaves and fire, protect local landscape character, are culturally sensitive, and when incorporated into water urban sensitive design features, reduce water and nutrient runoff.

GPT has established working relationships with a range of environmental practitioners onsite, including ecologists. Actions to protect biodiversity on one site are helping to upskill our development teams and build capacity across the entire property and construction value chain.