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Tom Arup. August 8, 2013.

Environment editor, The Age

A 3000-hectare State Emblems Conservation Area would be created on Melbourne’s eastern fringe as part of efforts to help stave off extinction for two Victorian species under the recommendations of a major review.

An 18-month, government-commissioned study has called for the conservation area to be established, bringing together 13 existing reserves and 364 hectares of other land and inscribing it under the National Parks Act.

The largely unknown and tiny Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve – which would be brought into the proposed 3000-hectare area – is home to the last wild populations of helmeted honeyeaters and lowland Leadbeater’s possums, both emblems of Victoria.

Yellingbo also houses the state’s floral emblem – the common heath – and a number of other endangered and rare creatures.

The review by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council says through significant conservation work the extinction of honeyeaters and lowland Leadbeater’s possums has been averted so far. But despite the efforts, the report says substantial threats still exist.

The honeyeater’s numbers have fallen to just 60 in the wild, down from 90 a decade ago. Lowland Leadbeater’s possums – genetically distinct from their celebrated highland cousins – have fallen to just 42, a 60 per cent collapse in numbers over the past decade.

The decline is largely the result of die-back of suitable habitat in the Yellingbo reserve. The habitat has suffered from flooding due to altered waterways by farmers and what conservationists say has been a lack of management. Suitable habitat for the species in Yellingbo has fallen from 150 hectares when the reserve was set up to about 15 hectares. The council report says drawing together the highly fragmented public land in and around Yellingbo under one umbrella will bring attention to the natural values of the area and co-ordinate and boost conservation efforts.

For the first time a committee would be established to set goals and targets for management and restoration of the region and oversee the State Emblems Conservation Area. The council also calls for the state government to boost funding for conservation, pest eradication and fire management.

The convener of the Woori Yallock Creek Park Alliance, Jeff Latter, said the group backed the proposals and hoped the state government would move quickly to put them in place.

The state government has six months to respond to the council’s report.

”It is the one place in the state where you have three emblems together,” Mr Latter said.

The council’s chairman, Phil Honeywood, said it believed the approach it has developed could be replicated in other areas of important, but highly fragmented habitat.