The Swift Parrot
The Swift Parrot is a small bird (23-25cm), largely green, with red on the forehead, chin and neck, with splashes of blue on its cheeks, head and wings. It is a slim bird, weighing up to around only 65g, with a build that makes it streamlined in flight. The Swift Parrot usually flies in small groups of up to 30 birds, but has been known to fly in large flocks of up to several hundred birds at times when food is plentiful.
Swift parrots are migratory birds that breed in Tasmania and migrate in Autumn to mainland Australia, largely in Victoria and NSW, during the winter months before returning to Tasmania. This is reportedly the longest known annual migration of any parrot species in the world.
The Swift parrot only breeds in Tasmania. Swift parrot breeding habitat is largely confined to the East Coast of Tasmania. Breeding surveys indicate that there are an estimated 2000 breeding birds or 1000 pairs of Swift Parrots that remain.
The Swift Parrot’s main habitat in Tasmania is dry eucalypt forest, woodlands, and occasionally Wet Sclerophyll forest. The Swift Parrot’s preferred nesting habitat is Tasmanian Blue Gum forest, Stringybark, White Peppermint, and Swamp gum where there are Old-growth trees. The birds require tree hollows for nesting which can take hundreds of years to form.
The success of breeding for Swift Parrots seems to correlate with the extent of flowering of Tasmanian blue gums and black gums. Swift Parrots breed in different parts of their breeding-range in different years depending on flowering conditions. In breeding seasons, the Swift Parrot population may become concentrated within and dependent upon a limited number of areas where both nesting hollows and favourable flowering conditions exist. Swift Parrots also are known to nest in close proximity to each other, and so they can be highly sensitive to disturbance of nesting sites.
The Swift Parrot mainly feeds on nectar, but it also feeds on insects, seeds and fruit. There is some evidence to suggest that swift parrots live between 8 and 15 years of age in the wild.
Download the REPORT: Pulling A Swiftie: Systemic Tasmanian Government approval of logging known to damage Swift Parrot habitat.
This report outlines the findings of a Right to Information Request which reveals serious systemic failures in the protection of the Endangered Swift Parrot, with the support of the logging of critical breeding habitat for the parrot by senior decision-makers within the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water & the Environment, against their own experts’ advice. The report also provides context to these RTI findings through an outline of the Swift Parrot’s current conservation status, threats and legislative protections. What this contextual information demonstrates is a complete breakdown in the system to protect this iconic Endangered species.
The report finds that;
The Swift Parrot is a small, beautiful parrot, streamlined for fast flight, one of the world’s only migrating parrot species, and the parrot species with the longest known migration. The Swift parrot breeds only in Tasmania, largely confined to the East Coast of Tasmania, and migrates annually to mainland Australia.
The Swift Parrot requires older hollow bearing trees for nesting, with these hollows sometimes taking hundreds of years to form, and with the success of breeding of Swift parrots correlating with the presence of particular habitat, largely on the East Coast Tasmania, and the extent of flowering of the Tasmanian blue gum and black gum.
The Swift Parrot is listed as Endangered under the Commonwealth government EPBC Act 1999, meaning that it is; “A species at very high risk of becoming extinct in the near future” (DoE, 2015) and is also listed as Endangered under the Tasmanian government Threatened Species Act 1995, meaning that it is one of; “Those species in danger of extinction because long term survival is unlikely while the factors causing them to be endangered continue operating,” (DPIPWE, 2015)
The total population of the Swift Parrot in 2010 was estimated to be approximately 2500 at most, and whilst recording clear declines prior to the past decade, is thought to most likely be in decline, and continue to decline due to ongoing threats to its survival.
Habitat loss is considered to be the major threat to the Swift Parrot’s survival, and this is particularly significant in places such as the Swift Parrot’s breeding habitat in Tasmania. Logging operations are a known threat to the Swift Parrot’s survival, and “In Tasmania, the logging of mature, hollow-bearing trees on which the species relies for breeding is of particular concern… These activities further accentuate the already fragmented nature of the species’ limited breeding habitat.” (TSSC, 2011, pg 3)
The South-East of Tasmania has been identified as a ‘Swift Parrot Important Breeding Area’ (SPIBA) and as priority areas for conservation management of the species.
Specialist advice provided to DPIPWE and obtained through the RTI request reveals that there has been significant cumulative loss of Swift Parrot breeding habitat in Tasmania’s Southern forests in recent years;
“…There has been ongoing loss of breeding habitat over the past 20 years on public and private land within the ‘southern forests’ area of Tasmania (see PI type, Hanson et al. (2013), mature habitat layers). Cumulatively this loss is significant in terms of both area and the impact on the potential of the species to reproduce and to forage…. Ongoing priority research into population monitoring of the swift parrot (undertaken by DPIPWE) indicates that in some years the majority of the population relies on sub-sections of the southern forest region to breed. Monitoring has identified that during these years almost all the remaining habitat in these areas is occupied by the birds…”
Specialist advice provided to DPIPWE revealed through the RTI request also reveals that loss and fragmentation of habitat in South-East Tasmania has also resulted in much of the nesting habitat and feeding habitat being separated from each other, and that therefore; “Ensuring adequate foraging and nesting habitat within foraging range of each other is key to the maintenance of breeding habitat in which birds can successfully breed in the region”
Australia is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the key pieces of Commonwealth legislation or policy overlay relating to the protection of Threatened Species, particularly the Swift Parrot, include the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), the National Forest Policy Statement and the RFA Act. The Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement, the Forest Practices Act 1985 and the Threatened Species Act 1995 provide the Tasmanian legal instruments to protect the Swift Parrot. Management prescriptions for the protection of the Swift Parrot in logging operations are overseen by the Forest Practices Authority (FPA) through the Forest Practices Code, in consultation with the Department of Primary Industries Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) through their agreed procedures. Specific management prescriptions for the Swift Parrot are outlined in the FPA’s threatened fauna advisor.
A Right to Information request submitted in August 2014 to DPIPWE revealed that in the 2013-2014 financial year, the Forest Practices Authority (FPA) referred 5 proposed logging coupes in Southern Tasmania to DPIPWE for expert advice as they were unable to meet the endorsed management prescriptions for the Swift Parrot under the Threatened Fauna Advisor
In each of the 5 proposed logging coupes, the Swift Parrot Specialist advice sought and received by DPIPWE from their experts raised major problems with the proposed logging. The concerns expressed by the experts included variously that the proposed logging;
“…will result in the continued loss of breeding habitat that has been identified as being of very high importance for the species with the further fragmentation of foraging habitat…”
“…cannot contribute to the long term survival of the species…”
That “…Within the coupe there is known foraging habitat that has been identified as being of particular importance to the species. This habitat is within close proximity to known nesting sites for the species…”
That “…Multiple nest sites existed immediately adjacent to the coupe most of which have been removed through harvesting in the past 5-7 years…”
That “..The consequence of loss of foraging habitat and further fragmentation of the suitable habitat within the coupe and surrounding areas is likely to interfere with the recovery objectives for the species as outlined above…”
That “…In allowing harvesting of breeding habitat for the species at this site conservation objectives for the species at the coupe and regional scales will not be met; hence the conservation management for the species would become ineffective…”
That “…The species’ conservation objectives are driven by the need to maintain existing habitat; further loss would not meet sustainability objectives of ecologically sustainable forest management as outlined in the National Forest Policy Statement and planning guidelines referred to above…”
And that “…There is no scientific evidence to support the position that continued harvesting of breeding habitat will support conservation objectives for the species…”
In spite of this expert advice provided to DPIPWE on the proposed logging, the RTI documentation reveals that DPIPWE end up supporting three of the five logging coupes, with RTI documentation being incomplete for the other two logging coupes, and their final outcome at the time of this report unknown (with one of these two coupes being currently listed on Forestry Tasmania’s 3-year logging plan for logging this year, the other unknown).
RTI documents reveal that Forestry Tasmania were in discussions with DPIPWE over proposed Swift Parrot logging coupes that the Forest Practices Authority had determined did not meet the prescribed management prescriptions for the species during the time leading up to their FSC application
The RTI documentation refers to a “… current operational environment…” that made it difficult for the Department to reject approval of logging to protect the Swift parrot, despite the strength of the science.
The approval of the logging of critical Swift Parrot breeding habitat, despite the specialist advice, is at odds with the requirements for the achievement and maintenance of FSC certification
The following recommendations are made to address the failures revealed in this report:
Recommendation 1: That Commonwealth Environment Minister Greg Hunt orders an inquiry into the specific failures of DPIPWE and the Tasmanian Government to protect critical Swift Parrot breeding habitat despite expert advice as revealed in this report, and conducts a broader inquiry into the adequacy of the Tasmanian legislative and regulatory framework to protect the Swift Parrot as a matter of national environmental significance under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
Recommendation 2: That State Environment Minister Matthew Groom orders an inquiry into why critical Swift Parrot breeding habitat was approved for logging despite Swift Parrot specialist advice on the potential impact on the parrot, and identify and address the systemic failures that led to these approvals
Recommendation 3: That all existing Forest Practices Authority Threatened Fauna Advisor prescriptions and recommendations for the Swift Parrot and other Threatened Species be fully complied with
Recommendation 4: That the State and Commonwealth improve the adequacy of Threatened Species protections in Tasmania by fully adopting the recommendations of recent reports of the Forest Practices Authority including;
The review of the biodiversity provisions of the Tasmanian Forest Practices Code and
The Biodiversity Landscape planning guideline, including the mature habitat retention guidelines
Recommendation 5: That the State and Commonwealth governments strengthen the resourcing of the Threatened Species Section of DPIPWE to ensure adequate ongoing expert assessments, research and advice on the protection of the Swift Parrot and other threatened species
Recommendation 6: That the forest reserves that were to be implemented under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement 2012, including the reserves that overlap with the Swift Parrot Important Breeding areas, are formally gazetted as reserves
Recommendation 7: Until such time as proposals 1-6 have been implemented, the State and Commonwealth governments put in place a protection order that halts further logging and/or clearing of forests within Swift Parrot Important Breeding areas in Tasmania