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Residential subdivision proposals and birdzones: threatened species issu

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Subject: Residential subdivision proposals and birdzones: threatened species issues
From: Craig Williams <>
Date: Sun, 10 Oct 2004 23:57:49 +1000
Hello all

My sincerest apologies for the length of this ďmanuscriptĒ but these are 
serious issues and I hope Iíll be forgiven for drawing this material out in so 
much detail.

Iím seeking to alert birding-aus people to the state of play regarding a 
residential subdivision application concerning a 9hectare block of bushland at 
Buttaba, in the south-western Lake Macquarie area on the central coast of New 
South Wales.  I have followed all the procedures for raising objections to the 
proposal, including making submissions during an exhibition period for a 
development control plan that had to be endorsed by the local council before 
any development application concerning the land could be determined.  I believe 
the reason why the development control plan was considered necessary by the 
council, under its Local Environment Plan 2004 (recently gazetted) was because 
of a range of threatened species and environmental issues, in particular but 
not limited to Swift Parrot, Regent Honeyeater, Glossy Black Cockatoo, Powerful 
Owl, Masked Owl, Squirrel Glider, among other animals, and also, centrally, 
Black-eyed Susan, Tetratheca juncea, a threatened plant  listed under federal 
legislation.  Unfortunately I do not appear to have had much in the way of 
success with my objections and the development application is close to final 
approval from the local council.  I feel I lack the expertise necessary to do 
much in the way of further challenges to the proposal, but this as you might 
expect does not make me feel any better about the matter.

I would like to present some brief background material to the birding list for 
informational purposes, but I would also greatly appreciate and advice or 
assistance anyone can offer in relation to a number of threatened species and 
bushland conservation issues as Iím very confused about some aspects of this 
matter.  Consequently Iím feeling somewhat despondent and I have to say that 
although I have tried very very hard to think the whole matter through, there 
are a number of elements that I just cannot seem to make sense of in spite of 
all my efforts.  Iím not at all opposed to development per se, and I have the 
utmost sympathy for the developer/landholder in this case as it seems to me 
that they have landed themselves an especially significant chunk of bushland in 
an area where there are no conservation management plans in effect designed to 
secure conservation outcomes for the locality.  So if anyone can clarify any of 
my points/question, it would be greatly appreciated, and I hope this material 
will prove useful for those of you facing similar situations in other parts of 
Australia, and in other parts of New South Wales coastal districts.

The subject land of 9 hectares is part of a larger area of land and is divided 
into two ďcatchmentsĒ: the northern (the subject land of 9 hectares), and 
southern (of an area of more than 25 hectares).  These two areas are adjacent, 
separated by a fairly narrow sealed road, and feature surprisingly diverse and 
intact vegetation communities, though there is some degradation of areas in the 
northern catchment due to trail bike and 4wd activity.
Both catchments connect directly and are part of parcels of bushland  to the 
west  zoned appropriately for conservation purposes, and the northern catchment 
also adjoins another parcel of bushland to the north which unfortunately is 
also zoned for future residential development.  Altogether there is an area of 
bushland that is diverse in terms of significant habitat, and very rich in 
botanical terms, making up more than 50 hectares.  In combination with the 
western areas of Crown Land zoned for conservation, this represents a crucial, 
quite extensive area of remaining natural bushland in an area where there has 
been excessive and damaging residential development in close proximity to the 
lake over many years.

Iím wondering if anyone out there can tell me whether the species and 
vegetation communities in the area of any real importance in terms of Swift 
Parrot and Regent Honeyeater, among others.  For example, in the area of Crown 
Land zoned for conservation adjacent and to the west of the southern catchment 
there is a moist gully area with some cave-like rock structures and overhangs, 
and some very large, very old, hollow-supporting trees: brown stringybark, a 
number of angophora (smooth barked apple) the size of whales, some big, 
hollow-ridden scribbly gum, among other species, and a somewhat different 
understorey and mid-storey structure to the other connected areas of bushland.  
I recently found a feather in this area with a distinctive chevron pattern 
which I associate with Powerful Owl, and in April of 2003 I heard night birds 
calling to one another which sounded like the birds in question.  I have no 
means however of proving the origins of the feather, but the Flora and Fauna 
Assessments, though they agree that Powerful Owl may forage in the subject 
land, suggest that there are no areas nearby with the ďcorrectĒ vegetation 
structures likely to support roosting and nesting sites for Powerful Owl.  As 
you can see, Iím inclined to disagree and still feel very strongly that the 
Flora and Fauna Assessment should have noted this location and the possibility 
that it may very well support Powerful Owls roost/nest requirements.  But itís 
not on the subject land of course.  In any case my concerns have not appeared 
to make much of an impact!  Anyone good with feathers?  I mean it could be from 
a Kookaburra I suppose, but I canít test this story out.

There are extensive areas dominated by scribbly gum, bloodwood and a range of 
different banksia species that are spectacular when flowering at various points 
in the year, including winter.  Iíve not trespassed of course, so Iíve only 
been able to closely inspect areas of Crown Land, or make observations of the 
subject land from the road areas, but what Iíve noted seems very rich indeed.  
Towards and along the lower riparian areas there are a few huge swamp mahogany 
and smaller specimens, and various creek bank sedges and paperbarks.  Are these 
vegetation types important in terms of Swift parrots and Regent Honeyeaters?  
In some places there are groves of Allocasuarina species with chewed seed cones 
beneath them: is it only Glossy Black Cockatoos that eat Allocasuarina seeds, 
or do yellow-tailed black cockatoos eat them too?

There are also extensive ranges of native grasses, and in some places the 
grasses are so thick and twisted and shrouded in leaf litter that they form 
thick domes, providing shelter and protection for a range of birds and other 
animals.  I have pictures if anyoneís interested.  I recently had a close look 
at some spring flowering orchids in the area and snapped one flower that an 
authority on the subject suggests is an unidentified Caladenia (aff) catenata, 
but I donít know how to go about having this sighting registered in the 
National parks and Wildlife Atlas (no GPS for example, and Iím not so clever at 
detailed map coordinates!)  On another occasion in the early evening I heard a 
great deal of wing flapping going on under one such grass/shrub dome but was 
not able to get a fix on the bird as it flew off into more dense grass/shrub a 
short distance away!  I thought it was some ground dwelling owl, but apparently 
there are none likely in this region.  Again, my lack of expertise is glaringly 
obvious here, but you should be able to see why I remain very concerned.

This area is also unique in that it is within 1km of the lakeshore, and forms 
an important bushland connection from the lake to forests towards the mountains 
to the west.  I am still very confused as to why this area was zoned from rural 
to residential by the council in 2000, considering all the issues of 
biodiversity, conservation and connectivity, and what I thought was an 
obligation of councils to preserve as far as possible remaining natural 
vegetation, especially that which may be of importance in sustaining viable 
populations/communities of threatened species.  Iím no expert as I said, but 
cannot quite understand how this matter has come to pass.  For example, I 
thought that the New South Wales government had introduced a statewide planning 
instrument, called SEPP 71, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 
1979, which links several pieces of legislation, notably coastal zone 
environmental protection, and which applies to land within 1km of sensitive 
coastal locations Ė in this case Lake Macquarie.  But I have heard that this 
SEPP 71 has not yet come into effect in the local government area because the 
minister has not ďsigned offĒ the maps showing the coastal zones around the 
lake, and this means that instead of the minister, it is still the council who 
is the consent authority, and the council can lawfully approve the development 
at this point in time.  This confuses me considerably, as, again my sense is 
that a range of issues need to be more fully investigated in terms of 
possible/likely overall long term impacts on the subject land and adjoining 
land zoned for conservation.  Iím really worried that there is considerable 
likelihood of resultant intensification of key threatening processes (clearance 
of vegetation, weed invasion and destruction of vegetation due to and 
associated with trail bike and 4wd activity, more pressure on remaining 
bushland due to removal of trees for firewood, which has already had some 
impact on adjoining areas, among other things).  I am not a lawyer!!!

Another point Iím confused about involves how development applications are 
dealt with in terms of state and federal legislation dealing with threatened 
species and key threatening processes.  In the course of this development 
application negotiations between the council and developers resulted in a trade 
off whereby, as the developersí initial Flora and Fauna Assessment (there have 
been at least three amendments to their Flora and Fauna Assessments) which 
covered both the north and south catchments and indicated threatened species 
issues in line with Eight part test requirements under the state-based 
Threatened Species Conservation Act in NSW.  The council however agreed to 
support the submission of the development application covering the northern 
catchment without the need for a species impact statement because the developer 
agreed to retain the southern catchment for conservation purposes to offset the 
impact on Black-eyed Susan removed from the northern catchment.  A practical 
outcome perhaps!  But at a later point there was some attempt to sell off 
blocks that had been surveyed in the southern catchment, so the offset factor 
no longer seems to apply, yet there does not appear to be any scope for 
requiring a new species impact statement in support of the development 
application for the northern catchment.  The council are acting on the original 
application submitted in early 2002, with amendments made over the past two 
years.  I still donít quite understand why the focus is for the most part only 
on the plant Tetratheca juncea, given that there is some likelihood that other 
threatened species, including a number of birds are present in and around the 
area, and therefore there seems some prospect of impacts deriving from this 
development affecting adjoining bushland areas, some of which are zoned for 
conservation but are already subject to threatening processes traditionally 
very difficult to manage/eliminate/police (trail bikes, removal of firewood, 
weed invasion, feral honeybee activity, rubbish dumping among others).

The developers did the right thing early on in February 2002 under federal 
legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 
where they applied successfully for referral to have the proposal deemed as not 
being a controlled action on the basis that only a small percentage of 
Black-eyed Susan would be affected, less than 10% of the local population: this 
document is available from the Department of Environment and Heritage site 
listing all applications and referrals under the Act.  But Iím still confused: 
I canít see how this point makes sense given that the southern catchment of 
some 25 hectares and more, and the area to the north of the northern catchment 
of similar or larger area, are zoned for future residential development which 
means that the local population of the plant is likely to suffer dire 
consequences, as will birdlife once all of these areas are subdivided and 
developed.

So, I am now at a loss as to what I can do to have my concerns fully 
investigated, and I guess I should throw in the towel so to speak, but I've 
lived in this area all my life Ė Iíve watched as the local environment has 
deteriorated, I used to have to duck to avoid Lathamís snipe in areas around a 
swamp at Toronto for instance, but now they no longer visit - and find it very 
hard to let it go! I would prefer to be able to have the council defer giving 
development consent until all the above issues are investigated in more detail, 
but I fear time for such action has passed.

Anyone interested in this matter or with any advice are welcome to email me at 
any time for more information, and again I hope this material is useful for 
some of you out there facing similar issues.

Thanks all

Craig Williams

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