I received a tweet during the week from Gavin Heaton @servantofchaos regarding the uncertain fate of a bush block in his community in New South Wales, Australia. Sympathetic to his cause, I caught up with Gavin to find out more about his newly formed Save the Hills Bushland group and their action to protect green space in their community and preserve the habitat of a number of threatrened species. What follows is a great example of a community coming together to lobby for conservation of bushland in their neighbourhood. You can show your support by becoming a fan of their Facebook page and visiting their blog.
Where is your community, and what are you rallying to promote or protest?
The majority of us live within the boundaries of the New England Estate – what was a new housing estate in Castle Hill (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) about 30 years ago. All the land for miles around was originally part of the Government Farm that was established in 1802-03. Over the following 180 years or so it remained largely rural, with lots of native bushland mixed in with orchards and farms. The area of land that we want to protect represents an ecotone between two endangered ecological communities – Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and Shale Sandstone Transition Forest. The current Development Application will destroy habitat for endangered local species such as the Gang-gang Cockatoo, Swift Parrot, Powerful Owl and Grey-headed Flying-fox, Eastern Bentwing-bat and the Eastern Freetail-bat.
This land was part of a large parcel of land (about 14 acres) which has been held by one family for decades. They resisted many efforts to subdivide the land – but a few years ago, the land passed to an estate and the was purchased by a developer. An interim ruling by the Land and Environment Court set aside a significant portion of land to protect the endangered species that shelter there – but development (land clearing, house and road construction, services connection etc) has continued on the remaining land over the past two years. This has had an impact on the land that was earlier set aside – and the developer has revised the original development application. While they acknowledge the need to manage this land from an ecological point of view, they have no interest in the land other than for resale. The current Development Application before the Hills Shire Council is to reduce the building lots from seven to six, with one of these six lots being subjected to development restrictions.
We believe that this area would only further degrade as development takes place – and without management and care, will eventually become unsustainable (and ultimately subdivided). Our vision is for the Hills Shire Bushcare Volunteer group to actively manage and maintain this vital bushland corridor, with the Council taking ownership in trust for future generations of local residents.
How was the block’s fate first brought to your attention and how did the word spread through your community?
We received a letter from the Hills Shire Council advising of the proposed development application. Two locals who have lived in the area for over 30 years, Alan Heritage and Clive Potter, banded together and began talking to their neighbours. Conversations spread and developments were relayed through email, newsletter/flyers and then a blog and a Facebook page. We held a public gathering and petition signing recently with a very strong showing from long term and newer members of the local community.
What did your group decide was the best action to take to save the block?
We lodged objections to Council after speaking with the Council Flora and Fauna Officer, to find out more about the risks to the forest area. We held a public meeting and handed a signed petition into Council asking them to uphold the interim ruling of the NSW Land and Environment Court to maintain this forest area under Flora and Fauna Management plans. We are also speaking with the Environmental Defenders Office and will attend a conciliation meeting with Council on December 1.
Why does your community feel it is important to save this block?
- to conserve a recognised habitat for several animals on the New South Wales List of Endangered species
- to maintain an area of green space for the local community in the absence of a public reserve in our sub-division
Have you or others been involved in conservation activities in your area before? Elsewhere?
Alan has served on the Riverina Committee of the National Trust to identify and preserve examples of buildings, woolsheds, streetscapes, etc.
What are some of the species of flora and fauna that will be displaced if the development goes ahead?
The Species Impact Statement (SIS) identified the affected threatened species as:
- Eastern Bentwing Bat (Miniopterus schreibersii oceanensis)
- Eastern Freetail Bat (Mormopterus norfolkensis)
- Gang-gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum)
- Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor)
- Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) and
- Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)
The affected community has been identified as an ecotone (transition area between two adjacent but different plant communities) between the endangered ecological communities Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (referred to as the “EEC”).
When will the fate of the block be decided?
We should know more following the Council meeting on December 1, 2010.
What will be the consequences if the proposed development proceeds?
The subject land restricted by the NSW LEC decision (Lot 31) has an area of 9,220 square metres and is mostly vegetated. The proposal will directly impact approximately 5,420m2 of land through the clearing of native vegetation – leaving just 3800 square metres as a restricted development area. This area will be bordered by a 1.8m high Colorbond fire-resistant fence. This fence, in itself, will replace the 1.8m high wire fence that is currently in place and we believe will obscure the capacity of the local community to supervise, observe and monitor the space. It’s also likely to attract graffiti.
The 9220 square metre area is a recognised roosting area adjoining the Castle Hill Creek wildlife corridor. The proposed reduced area of 3800 square metres severely reduces the aspect to this corridor – particulary since the contact of part of Lot 31 with the corridor is masked by existing houses. Those animals that seek refuge from development on other parts of the land and the wildlife which use this corridor will be severely impacted. Many of these endangered species are likely to be pushed closer towards extinction.
What would be the ideal result of your actions?
Ideally, Hills Shire Council will uphold the restricted development on the whole of Lot 31 proposed by the North Western Estates Pty Ltd v Baulkham Hills Shire Council (2008) NSWLEC 1167, and refuse housing development on this forested area. We’d like to see this forest area named Prager Bushland Conservation Area and be managed under Hills Shire Council by a body of volunteers (we have more than 24 volunteers already).
If you live anywhere in Sydney and would like to show your support for the Save the Hills Bushland group, you are invited to join them in person at the Hills Shire Council meeting on December 1, 2010. If like us, you live in another part of the world, you can show your support by becoming a fan of their Facebook page and finding out more about their efforts and situation on their blog. NatureScope wishes the Save the Hills Bushland group success in their work to protect established native habitat and its appreciation.