Recent letters on conservation issues:
Please stop the Annual Duck-Shooting Season.
One of our most valuable assets, our wildlife, must be preserved to build the tourism industry of this Nation as it is unique and irreplaceable. Download the letter for more details:
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On behalf of the Committee and 400 members of Birding NSW, I submit that we are vehemently against any proposal to further develop the Ingleside Precinct. There is already substantial human intervention in the Sydney basin and the proposed clearing of land and building of 3,400 dwellings at Ingleside, Northern Beaches will degrade one of the remaining part-preserved ecosystems on the coast.
Read the full text of the club’s submission here:
Our submission to Bayside Council regarding proposals to relocate Kogarah Golf course at the expense of critical bird habitats.
Read more here
Our submission on the proposed new Biodiversity Act prepared by Ted Nixon for Birding NSW:
June 27, 2016
Biodiversity Reforms – Have Your Say
Office of Environment and Heritage
PO Box A290
Sydney South, NSW 1232
Birding NSW Submission regarding the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill and the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill.
I write on behalf of Birding NSW, incorporated as the NSW Field Ornithologists Club Inc, which consists of 400 members. It is fair to say that the public release of these draft bills was greeted with a mixture of disbelief, horror and indeed some anger by the majority of our members with whom I have spoken on the subject.
Generations of painstaking work to fashion legislation to protect the remains of our fragile natural environment, in particular through the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act, seem to be cast aside in favour of one-sided legislation that – speaking bluntly -looks like a developer’s, miner’s and big agribusiness’ dream. If implemented, these proposals would manifestly result in much more land-clearing and a sharp reduction in biodiversity.
We urge the Government to withdraw the legislation in toto.
The release of the document on the Federal budget night, with the period of public comment coinciding exactly with the length of the Federal election campaign, strongly suggests that the NSW Government, not surprisingly, given their thrust, wished the proposals to proceed with a minimum of attention and criticism.
It is notable that every environmental organisation in NSW and several ‘umbrella’ national organisations are opposed to the changes proposed in these bills. In particular conservative environmental groups including the Nature Conservation Council found it necessary to walk out of consultations with the NSW State Government because it became clear that it was simply not prepared to listen to their reasoned criticisms. Increasingly environmental groups and individuals now refer to the Premier’s and Government’s ‘war on trees’, and the ‘Anti-biodiversity Bill’. Indeed the proposed legislation as it stands will result in extensive destruction of woodland to the detriment of native animals and birds.
As you have already been deluged with detailed submissions highly critical of the bills, I will not repeat all of the objections in detail, so I shall be subjective and selective (see below). I commend to you, amongst other fine submissions from individual bird clubs, two submissions from ‘umbrella’ organisations written from a birding point of view, viz. those of Birdlife Australia, and the Bird Interest Group Network (BIGnet), Broadly, our members would concur with the arguments and sentiments expressed therein.
Removal of grounds for appeal
It is difficult to know where to begin with documents of 202 pp. and 40 pp. respectively.
Let me start with the most outrageous single item, which to my mind serves to characterize the Biodiversity bill, namely the virtual removal of any grounds for appeal against a development, and the virtually unfettered power given to the Minister for Environment. In contrast, if a development is refused, the developer may appeal to the Premier (5.17). Given the recent sorry procession of MPs (if not Ministers of State) of both the major parties to ICAC, we should be very chary in principle of entrusting such powers to anyone without the possibility of judicial intervention. (I hope it should go without saying that I am not impugning the integrity of any member of the current Government, despite my disappointment with the proposals under discussion).
Use of covenanted land as offsets
Equally outrageous, and breathtakingly so, is the allowing of land covenanted for permanent conservation to be used in certain circumstances to offset development. This is clearly a flagrant breach of trust. Clauses such as 10.9.2, p.85, allowing property acquired by bequests to be sold, exchanged or even given away, “if the Trust is of the opinion that the property is of no commercial value, in contravention of the condition [of the bequest]”, do not inspire confidence either. The value of the land is not to be measured according to commercial criteria. Again, the flavour of the legislation is patent: it is not designed to preserve or enhance ecological values, or protect biodiversity.
Offsets and BioBanking
The very notion of offsets when applied to ecologically sensitive land is completely unsatisfactory. Ecologically sensitive land is now at a premium, so even if comparable land, with a comparable suite of vegetation, birds and animals, were available, and surveys by independent experts confirmed that this were so, the loss of the land in question would further diminish the species under threat.
Under the current system, it is all too often wrongly assumed, without independent expert verification, that a tract of similar looking vegetation will contain a similar population of birds and animals. As any experienced birdwatcher can tell you, this is often false. The Offset system of BioBanking makes this assumption: it ought to be scrapped.
Unassessed of self-assessed land clearing
Unassessed or self-assessed land clearing is totally unacceptable. It will almost certainly lead to large scale clearing of land, that may well contain threatened species. Another threat is that any large scale land-clearing will further fragment our remnant bush. Many species of birds (and animals) are dependent on bush corridors in their search for food, and these are particularly important where there has been extensive clearing. A graphic example of biodiversity loss in such circumstances is the Pulletop Nature Reserve, created for the study of the Malleefowl in the 1950s. Now an island surrounded by agricultural land, many of the rare and endangered Mallee birds, that occurred there as recently as the 1980s, are now locally extinct. These include the Malleefowl itself, the Red-lored Whistler, the Southern Scrub-Robin, and the Mallee Emuwren.
Conflict between the two bills
Attention has already been drawn by others to the contradiction between the two bills with regard to threats to endangered species, an example being that the Biodiversity Conservation Bill singles out “loss of hollow bearing trees” as a key threatening process. Yet the Local Land Services Amendment Bill will allow the clearing of paddock trees without approval. This would have a serious impact on species like the vulnerable Superb Parrot, to name one example.
Finally, I am particularly disappointed in the Government in that when Rob Stokes became Minister for the Environment he expressed the hope to see NSW become Australia’s California. I cheered. Alas, it looks as if you wish it to become Australia’s second Simpson Desert.
Ted [Dr C.E.V.] Nixon
Conservation Officer, Birding NSW
BIGnet Submission:June 25, 2016
Biodiversity Reforms – Have Your Say
Office of Environment and Heritage
PO Box A290
Sydney South, NSW 1232
Re: Draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill and Draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill
I am making this submission on behalf of the members of the Bird Interest Group Network (BIGnet). This network brings together members of 32 bird clubs in NSW and the ACT; members meet twice each year. BirdLife Australia, the peak organisation in Australia for research and conservation of birds and their habitats, is also a member of BIGnet.
Members of BIGnet welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill and the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill. We have a number of issues with the proposed legislation.
Members of BIGnet strongly oppose any unassessed or self-assessed land clearing since this will cause long term loss of irreplaceable bird habitat. Replacing the current Native Vegetation Act with the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill will result in a significant downgrading from the current Environmental Outcomes Assessment Methodology to self – assessment codes and discretionary clearing without clear environmental targets. Members of BIGnet believe that the NSW Government must make accurate calculations of the area of land likely to be cleared under the new legislation and provide this information to the public before the legislation is presented to Parliament. In particular the NSW public needs to know how much land listed as Endangered Ecological Communities or Critically Endangered Ecological Communities will be cleared. There is also conflict between the draft Biodiversity Conservation Act and the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill. The Bills will be in conflict over reducing the impact of listed key threatening processes and permitting increased land clearing. For example “loss of hollow bearing trees” remains listed as a key threatening process under the draft Biodiversity Conservation Act but clearing of paddock trees without requiring approval is allowed under the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill .
Members of BIGnet believe that the proposed legislation should include provisions to prevent extinctions and promote recovery of threatened populations and ecological communities. The draft Biodiversity Conservation Act has the aim to maintain biodiversity. This represents an important downgrading of environmental legislation in NSW which previously aimed to restore biodiversity by preventing extinctions and promoting the recovery of threatened species, populations and ecological communities. Without the powers to ensure that the impact of any action affecting threatened populations is properly assessed, clearing of land may result in loss of core habitat for birds throughout NSW. For example the Superb Parrot is listed as Vulnerable under current NSW legislation. These birds depend on large old paddock trees for nest sites. Increased clearing of these paddock trees (both dead and alive) will be allowed under the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill. This will reduce nesting site availability and further threaten the Superb Parrot. Similarly relaxation of current standards would allow increased clearing of Mallee habitat leading to fragmentation of habitat important for threatened bird species including Malleefowl and Red-lored Whistler. Among threatened bird species listed as vulnerable under legislation in NSW, several woodland species including Brown Treecreeper, Hooded Robin, Speckled Warbler and Diamond Firetail will be adversely affected by increased clearing of woodland remnants on farmland.
Members of BIGnet believe that downgrading of the environmental legislation in NSW could adversely impact species of land and shorebirds, which have been recently listed or have had their listings upgraded under the Federal Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Of these the Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot, Plains-wanderer (all upgraded to Critically Endangered) and Painted Honeyeater (listed as Vulnerable) will potentially be negatively impacted by the downgrading of biodiversity legislation in NSW with an increase in self-assessed land clearing, where land managers may not be familiar with the vegetation required by these species. In addition poorly controlled clearing and development in coastal areas of NSW will adversely affect shorebirds and contribute to decline in their numbers. Eight shorebird species found in NSW (Eastern Curlew, Curlew Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit [two subspecies], Great Knot, Red Knot, Lesser Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover) have been added in 2015 and 2016 to the list of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable species under the Federal Government’s EBPC Act.
Members of BIGnet believe that the current requirements for public consultation should be maintained and that members of the public in NSW should continue to have the right to challenge environmental planning in the Land and Environment Court. The proposed reforms appear to remove avenues for appeals, for example, where environmental assessments have failed to identify endangered species known to be present by experts in the field. While we welcome increased investment in private land conservation, we understand that such potential gains in biodiversity will be small unless guaranteed in legislation rather than depending on government policies and available funding.
Members of BIGnet believe that offsets should only be used as a last resort and only when true “like for like” habitat based on species assessment is available. We believe that surveys by experts are required to ensure that the species displaced by a development in one area are present in the area to be used as an offset. The draft Biodiversity Conservation Act is reliant on offsetting the impacts rather than preventing the negative impacts in the first place. The draft legislation proposes an offset based system where developments will be approved provided that funds are available to protect and restore biodiversity elsewhere via the offset system known as BioBanking. However we understand that when an area is assessed for offsetting, the BioBanking calculator assumes that a parcel of land contains important bird species based on a vegetation survey of the site only and not on surveys by experts to determine that the birds and other species are actually present in the proposed offset. Therefore under the proposed legislation, in protecting a patch of land with equivalent vegetation type in NSW, the offset is assumed to protect a suite of ‘Ecosystem credit species’ even though there is no guarantee that those species are present on that site. The draft Biodiversity Conservation Act also does not protect offsets in perpetuity. Offsets can be cleared by “offsetting the offset”. In addition land can now be cleared with a payment into a Biodiversity Conservation Fund when offsets are not available. Therefore we can expect progressive destruction of important habitat in woodlands, grasslands or along the coasts with increasing reduction and loss of bird and other species.
Dr. Elisabeth Karplus
Committee Member of Birding NSW on behalf of Members of BIGnet
Contact email: BIGnet (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Contact telephone: 0421 665553
Members of BIGnet
Australian Bird Study Association
Australian Wader Study Group
Bird Group of “Ulitarra”
Birding NSW Central Coast Group
BirdLife Northern NSW
BirdLife Northern Rivers
BirdLife Southern NSW
BirdLife Southern Highlands
Blue Mountains Bird Observers
Byron Bird Buddies
Cumberland Bird Observers Club
Clarence Valley Birdos
Canberra Ornithologists Group
Crookwell Native Flora & Fauna Club
Cowra Woodland Birds Program
Dubbo Field Naturalist & Conservation Society
Far South Coast Birdwatchers
Hunter Bird Observers Club
Illawarra Bird Observers Club
Illawarra Birders Inc.
Milton Ulladulla District Birdwatchers (MUD)
Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists Inc
NSW Bird Atlassers Inc
NSW Wader Study Group
Tomaree Bird Watchers
Tweed Bird Observers
Other submissions on the Biodiversity Act from:
Public Consultation Draft of “A New Biodiversity Conservation Act NSW’’ Released 2/5/16.
A Summary of the Draft Paper.
Written Submissions must be made before 5.00 pm 28th June 2016.
This proposal constitutes the most serious threat that our wildlife has faced during our lifetime.
Over the next few days, conservation groups will provide submission guides and workshops about the draft Biodiversity Conservation Act. In the meantime we have highlighted some of the critical issues for you:
Summary: The draft Act would change the nature of NSW biodiversity protections:
From our current regulatory system where the impact of development proposals are assessed (where unacceptable impacts are refused and/or challenged in court);
To an offset based system where developments are approved as long as funds are paid to protect and restore biodiversity elsewhere (with no effective refusal or challenge in court);
The draft Act would remove virtually all legal avenues for the public to effectively oppose developments that harm our endangered wildlife. Illegal direct action would become the only effective avenue for the community to oppose unacceptable impacts on our natural heritage.
Reduced scale: The draft Act has lower objectives than the current Acts. Its stated objectives are to maintain (not restore) biodiversity and to ‘facilitate sustainable development’.
The scale for biodiversity conservation is broadened from local to bioregional & state only. So while existing declarations for endangered populations remain it would be difficult to list any in the future.
The draft Act provides for continued habitat loss with the scale and rate of loss managed through offsetting. Developers will no longer need to consider indirect impacts such as climate impact, pollution, introduction of pests or other indirect impacts on endangered biodiversity (6.3). Instead a payment will be made to secure a future offset for direct (clearing) impacts only.
Ending legal appeals (Ministerial power): The draft Act removes almost all grounds for appealing developments in court, and gives almost unlimited discretionary power to the Minister for the Environment.
There will no longer be avenues for appeal when environmental assessments ignore endangered species, and no avenues for appeal against the merits of proposals. Conversely the draft Act provides numerous appeal rights for those doing the wrong thing: for illegal clearing, failure to meet conservation offset actions (8.23), or if you are refused a licence to harm a protected species (2.16).
The Minister for the Environment can determine developments as he/she sees fit and in the unlikely event the Minister refuses a proposal the developer can submit it to the Premier to resolve (quoting the act) ‘as the premier thinks fit‘ (5.17).
Corruption risk: The ICAC has strongly criticised the proposal for broad Ministerial powers noted above. The new Act goes further and allows for those regulating development offsets to personally invest in the same offsets they approve (6.6). This provides extremely high risks of mismanagement and corruption.
Public information about Offsets: The OEH can choose to restrict any information they wish from the public register of offsets (s 9.10) making public oversight of the scheme impossible. The OEH already restricts data on Bio-Banking, making it impossible to see where funds for development offsets go – an alarming situation. There would no longer be a requirement to publicly list submissions lodged against a development (9.3 pt2) and developers could choose to ‘summarize’ ecological assessments for public consultation as they see fit, rather than publicly exhibit the full assessment (9.2 part 4).
The Offset system, or BioBanking, is used to generate credits which are sold to developers to offset habitat destruction or to generate credits to assess environmental impacts at a proposed development. However, the BioBanking calculator assumes that a parcel of land contains important bird species based on a vegetation survey of the site and not by actually observing the bird species to be present. Under the BioBanking Scheme, if you protect any patch of any vegetation type in NSW, you are automatically protecting a suite of ‘Ecosystem credit species’ which are assumed to be present on your site. There is no guarantee by the BioBanking system that those species, are in fact, present. An audit by experts must be carried out for each site to adequately provide some protection to those species.
Offsets not like-for-like: The draft Act repeatedly claims that offsets will be made for the same species or community which is lost by clearing. In reality, the Act allows offsets to be for a different species or vegetation community as long as they are considered more threatened.
Offsets not to be protected in perpetuity: Offset sites are not in perpetuity but can be cleared by simply ‘offsetting the offset’. Mining rights and mining prospecting override offset sites and their landowners (5.18) and the landowner is not entitled to compensation for the lost biodiversity payments (5.18 pt 8). Offset sites can be developed with consent from the Minister for the Environment (s5.10 & 5.16 b) for example or for ‘a purpose of special significance to the state‘ (5.16 c).
No need to have offsets available: Development can proceed by payment into a Biodiversity Conservation Fund even if offsets are not available. Shortages of offsets are likely to be frequent – a current example is the Badgerys Creek Airport development which refuses to pay landowners enough to secure offsets for endangered Marsdenia viridiflora, so will instead fund other actions to ‘assist’ the species. For example, offsets could be ‘research and education’ (3 b) rather than conservation of habitat.
Misusing bequests & covenants: Some landowners have made the ultimate gift and covenanted their bushland property to conserve it forever after they are gone. Many landowners have done this explicitly to ensure their property is not used to justify or offset development elsewhere. The draft Act will allow their properties to be converted from the covenant (after death or sale) and be used to offset development (technically: the existing covenants automatically become a Conservation Agreement Tier 2 and can be upgraded to a Biodiversity Stewardship Agreement Tier 1). This is a travesty of trust.
You can read the full documents at www.landmanagement.nsw.gov.au