- Mark Diesendorf, UNSW Australia Can Australians be sustainable and enjoy endless economic growth? It’s not likely.Read More
- The report on the review of the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code of Practice was released in August. The NSW Government…Read More
- Allan Dale Professor in Tropical Regional Development, The Cairns Institute James Cook Universiity. Originally published on The Conversation. Read the…Read More
- The Australian Government is reviewing the tax deductibility status of donations to environment organisations and is in the process of…Read More
- From Washington Post 29 June 2015Read More
- The Sydney Institute of Marine Science, located in a historic sandstone quarry on the Chowder Bay foreshore, has opened a…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Council has received considerable flak over a decision to close an unauthorised mountain bike track down a steep hill…Read More
- Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Stop the Chop alliance have revealed that the NSW Government ignored expert…Read More
- The efficacy of offsets depends on a strict set of rules and long-term consistency of application. The first article ponders…Read More
- Under the United Nation's climate change agreement Australia’s current greenhouse gas emissions reduction task is to reduce its emissions by…Read More
- This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.Read More
- Participants in Clean Up Australia Day once again noticed the massive extent of littering and rubbish dumping from vehicles. The…Read More
- The residents of Malton Road and the Beecroft Cheltenham Civic Trust have been working for many months to try and…Read More
- This article was written by former president of STEP, Barry Tomkinson, who has had a close involvement with the Berowra…Read More
- The release of the 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR) by the Treasurer Joe Hockey brings nothing new to raise hopes that…Read More
- This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.Read More
- Just before Christmas, NSW Premier, Mike Baird, and the Environment Minister, Rob Stokes, announced that the Government favoured the introduction…Read More
- The NSW Government has been reforming the legislation governing the operation of local government under the catchy title of Fit…Read More
- On 4 May 2016, the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment tabled a report on its inquiry into the Register…Read More
- The NSW government has been undertaking a major review of the biodiversity legislation in response to farmers’ complaints about the…Read More
- The previous issue of STEP Matters 185 described the risks to Sydney’s water catchment in the Illawarra region from longwall…Read More
- Good news, a container deposit scheme is going to happen. The NSW Premier announced on 8 May that a scheme…Read More
- STEP welcomes new members of the committee and other members who would like to contribute to our work in some…Read More
- Two weeks before the Federal election with Warragamba Dam threatening to spill due to severe storms, the Baird government committed…Read More
- There is surprisingly little information that describes, interprets and records heathlands and its ecology in Australia. However, Nick de Jong’s…Read More
- Well the July election is done and dusted and the Liberal–National Coalition just scraped in. Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s previous statements…Read More
- In November the Turnbull Government ratified Australia’s commitment to comply with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Australia has set…Read More
- There has been a flurry of legislative action and announcements during the final months of the year following varying periods…Read More
- Have you ever enjoyed the cool refuge that an underground cave offers from a hot summer’s day? Or perhaps you…Read More
- The geology of the Sydney Basin changes dramatically at the top of the Hawkesbury Sandstone, which is followed upwards ultimately…Read More
- Following the serious power blackouts that occurred in South Australia and near misses in other states, gas-fired power stations have…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Council has commissioned a report on developing the tourism potential of the municipality. Ku-ring-gai Destination Management Plan 2017 to…Read More
- In May the NSW government released regulations and codes that provide some of the detail on how the biodiversity legislation…Read More
- Over the past 200 years NSW has lost almost half of its bushland through land clearing and only 9% of…Read More
- Lord Howe Island is a magnificent island about 600 km off the coast of NSW. Its unique landform as an…Read More
- Our economy and society ultimately depend on natural resources: land, water, material (such as metals) and energy. But some scientists…Read More
- Male superb fairy-wrens change colour every year, from dull brown to bright blue. But being blue may be risky if…Read More
- The Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, was asked by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to undertake an independent review…Read More
- STEP’s public fund, the Environment Protection Fund, is registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) via the Register of Environmental…Read More
- The NSW government thinks that raising the spillway wall of Warragamba Dam by 14 m will significantly reduce the risk…Read More
- In the early days of settlement in NSW development decision-making took little heed of its impact on the environment, the…Read More
- Over the past century, average land surface temperatures have risen by almost 1°C across the Australian continent. Models suggest this…Read More
- Please consider sending a submission opposing Mirvac's rezoning and development proposal for land adjoining Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant…Read More
- The Plan of Management of the Canoon Netball Complex was amended in 2015. It involved improvements to landscaping and changing…Read More
- It seems a long time ago when the NSW public were fighting an attempt in 2013 by the Shooters and…Read More
- Northern Beaches Council is currently considering a development application that has been submitted to build 95 seniors housing units, three…Read More
- The Australian government has a framework of strategies and programs for the management of biodiversity. According to the Department of…Read More
- In the last newsletter we highlighted the loss of tree canopy in Hornsby Shire and illustrated the abrupt decrease in…Read More
- Did you know that your morning cup of coffee contributes to six million tonnes of spent coffee grounds going to…Read More
- Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) are the mechanism by which the states are permitted to log native forest under accreditation from…Read More
- Australia’s rate of species decline continues to be among the world’s highest. Government decisions to promote population growth and resource…Read More
- It has been a long drawn out process to develop a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas (NRSMPA). In…Read More
- We are delighted to announce that Katie Rolls (Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University) is the winner of…Read More
- The Powerful Owl is a keystone species of bushland in eastern Australia. The survival of the current population of this…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Council is currently undertaking a review of policy for managing recreation in bushland areas. This will cover the way…Read More
- Just months after the hard fight to get tree protections strengthened in Hornsby, council is trying to water down those…Read More
- The South Dural proposal for rezoning and development of rural land has fallen through thanks in no small part to…Read More
- The NSW government has finalised the Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code and Design Guide that were the subject of…Read More
- With the recent introduction of the Biosecurity Act, there is now more emphasis to think about our action in terms…Read More
- STEP member, Beverley Gwatkin, came up with the great idea of conducting walks for people unfamiliar with the amazing features…Read More
- What if Australia were to stop farming? At approximately 3% of gross domestic product, the removal of agriculture from the…Read More
- There are many books on the environment, as you will see if you scan the shelves of bookshops like Kinokuniya,…Read More
- The amount of development along Epping Road is astronomical. Sure, this development is near the Chatswood to Epping train line…Read More
- It is estimated that there are fewer than 21,000 koalas left in NSW. The population may have reduced by more…Read More
- Australia’s total population grew by 390,000 over the year to 30 June 2018. In August 2018 Australia’s population hit the…Read More
- In Issue 198 of STEP Matters we described the latest application by the Hills Council through the Gateway Process to…Read More
- It may not look like a pristine expanse of Amazon rainforest or an African savannah, but the patch of bush…Read More
- The rainforest corridors along the gullies of northern Sydney have been called by many names as ecologists try to describe…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai has a rich environmental history. Some even consider it to be the birthplace of the Australian conservation movement because…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is part of a geographic, geologic and eucalyptus sandstone bushland arc that encircles Sydney. This 12,963 hectare…Read More
- The early European history of the area that became Lane Cove National Park could be said to stem from an…Read More
- Berowra Valley bushland stretches from south of The Lakes of Cherrybrook to the Hawkesbury River. The valley has a long…Read More
- The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee, established under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, has made a Final Determination to list…Read More
- The final deadline was set at 31 May for submissions on the Hills Council’s applications to the NSW government to…Read More
- The transport sector is Australia’s second fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions and yet we still don’t have any…Read More
- In May 2019 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its global assessment of the state…Read More
- The Office of Environment and Heritage has alerted the Hills Council to the fact that the presence of Blue Gum…Read More
- Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is one of the most popular national parks in NSW, with over 3 million visits each year.…Read More
- On 25 May the Friends of Lane Cove National Park put on a special celebration. They were founded in 1994…Read More
- River red gums, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, are among the most iconic of Australia’s eucalypts. They are the most widely distributed of…Read More
- Mermaid Pool, a rock pool below Manly Dam was named in the 1930s for the naked girls who used to…Read More
- In November the results of an aerial survey of feral horse numbers was released. The numbers have increased by more…Read More
- The decline in koala numbers in NSW has been highlighted over many years by environment groups. The major causes have…Read More
- Currently there are several reviews taking place into biodiversity management at the federal level: Senate inquiry into faunal extinction review…Read More
- After a prolonged process of research, impact assessment, economic analysis and discussion with residents the Lord Howe Island Board got…Read More
- While we may stand on a clifftop lookout and gaze in awe at its world-class sandstone scenery, it wasn't the…Read More
- The state and federal governments are unwilling to discuss the issue of Australia’s population growth. The general view is that…Read More
- The Australian Association of Bush regenerators (AABR) is cautioning against rushing in to replant burnt areas. They are advocating a…Read More
- This strategy has taken many months to finalise after extensive consultation was undertaken with interested groups, often with competing interests.…Read More
- Optimistic, prosperous – a country of rare beauty, blessed with abundant natural resources. Australia has all the ‘golden eggs’ ’needed to…Read More
- Many Australians feel compelled to help our damaged wildlife after this season’s terrible bushfires. Suggested actions have included donating money,…Read More
- The process of partially filling in the void that was Hornsby Quarry using spoil from the excavation of the North…Read More
- Documentary maker Michael Moore’s latest offering, Planet of the Humans, rightly argues that infinite growth on a finite planet is…Read More
- Love, sex and mate choice are topics that never go out of fashion among humans or, surprisingly, among some Australian…Read More
- ARENA is the Australian Renewable Energy Agency that is tasked with improving the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increase…Read More
- On 6 May the Sydney North Planning Panel conducted a hearing into Hornsby Council’s DA for the works of Hornsby…Read More
- The Powerful Owl Coalition, of which STEP is a member, presented a submission to a Sydney North Planning Panel on…Read More
- The NSW Government Architect has released a draft Greener Places Design Guide that is open for comment until 28 August.…Read More
- Amid the urgent need to slow climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency makes sense. But as Australia’s…Read More
- On Thursday morning 18 June the Friends of Lane Cove National Park held a special celebration at Carter Creek to…Read More
- In April this year an international citizen science bioblitz event was held. Volunteers from all over the world recorded flora…Read More
- In many areas of Ku-ring-gai people living near bushland have been busy constructing bike tracks for their family and neighbours…Read More
- The Mirvac development of the old IBM site next to Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills was fast-tracked by…Read More
- The North Connex Tunnel that is a direct link between the Sydney Newcastle Expressway (now called the M1) and the…Read More
- The final report on the review of the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act headed by Prof Graeme…Read More
- The long-awaited plans for the redevelopment of Hornsby Park and Westleigh Park are now open for submissions until 2 June.…Read More
- Picture this: you’re in your backyard gardening when you get that strange, ominous feeling of being watched. You find a…Read More
- Glyphosate, most commonly marketed as Roundup, is extensively used as a herbicide in agricultural areas and bushcarers know how effective…Read More
- It is 20 years since the Grey-headed Flying-fox was listed as a threatened species under NSW and Commonwealth legislation. This…Read More
- The land that comprises the St Ives Showground, Wildflower Garden and Community Nursery are important areas for conservation as well…Read More
- We haven’t heard much lately about Mirvac’s planned development on the IBM site in West Pennant Hills next to the…Read More
- In STEP Matters 210 we described the strong community opposition to plans by several councils for the installation of synthetic…Read More
- The Byles Creek Valley Union has been fighting for several years for the valley to be protected from further development.…Read More
- The key recommendation of Prof Samuel’s review of the EPBC Act was that the national environmental standards need to be…Read More
- Since 2017 STEP has supported the Threatened Species Children’s Art Competition. The competition was instigated by Forestmedia Network, a non-profit…Read More
- This information has been provided by the Willoughby Environment Protection Association, a member of the Powerful Owl Coalition. WEPA was…Read More
- In the Issue 209 we reported on the community concern about Ku-ring-gai Council’s determination to remove an illegal mountain bike…Read More
The land that comprises the St Ives Showground, Wildflower Garden and Community Nursery are important areas for conservation as well as recreation. A draft plan of management (PoM) has been released and is open for submissions until 6 August.
A PoM provides a framework and guides the management of public land owned or managed by a council. It identifies issues affecting public land and sets out how that land is to be used, managed, maintained and enhanced in the future.
The draft PoM also covers areas south of Mona Vale Road; the Green Waste Tip site and HART road safety centre. The management of these two areas is different because they are bound by user agreements and developments that are subject to the Minster of Planning’s consent. Nevertheless, because of their bushland location, they are considered important for development of an integrated management plan for the overall precinct.
St Ives Showground and Precinct Lands contains several ecologically important areas including:
- threatened vegetation communities including Duffys Forest Endangered Ecological Community and Coastal Upland Swamp;
- riparian habitats protecting creek systems; and
- habitats for a number of threatened plants and animal species (listed under NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act).
The area is an important wildlife corridor that can facilitate movement and gene flow between Garigal and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Parks. However busy Mona Vale Road is a barrier. Measures to facilitate crossings should be developed and improvements should be made to the ecological function of the roadside edges that are weed and litter infested.
Changes that are canvassed that may be worthy of comment include:
- Traffic signals at the entrance to the Showground to improve safety.
- Improved public transport.
- Improved internal road circulation, walking tracks and signage.
- Closure of trails that fragment bushland and impact wildlife and Aboriginal heritage sites.
- Additional bushwalking tracks and fire trails to key points of interest be built in accordance with council’s Recreation in Natural Areas Strategy.
- Development of a multi-purpose cultural and environmental education centre. The centre would provide a range of education programs, activities and exhibitions focused on environmental and cultural topics.
- Possibility of commercial camping subject to market analysis of viability. Currently camping is only allowed during special events.
- Development of a commercially operated outdoor adventure recreation area including issuing a licence or lease for a high ropes course or similar activity.
- Rehabilitation and repurposing of the former mini-wheels site based on suitability of the site yet to be determined. This may include activities such as sustainable nature-based community education and camping or other recreation activity.
- Upgrade of the Wildflower Garden facilities and car parking. There is a plan to designate the site as a Wildlife Protection area (under the NSW Companion Animals Act 1998).
The community nursery site has been neglected for many years. The draft PoM proposes some upgrades and additions of community facilities such as a retail outlet, bushfoods garden or green waste collection. It is suggested that other uses be investigated such as camping facilities, adventure-based recreation such as obstacle courses and potential for sporting facilities. It is difficult to see how these can be compatible in this area of swampy land on the edge of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
Green Waste Tip Site
This area is a conundrum as this stage. The draft PoM states:
The main objective for the site is to continue the current site rehabilitation and water recycling/harvesting processes. Additional improvements and proposed uses to be considered are:
- A feasibility study could be undertaken to determine the potential for a dedicated mountain bike facility.
- Explore the potential for environmental initiatives with associated infrastructure. For example, solar farming, community green waste and compost, alternate location for community nursery, sustainable light industry for community benefit.
Should recreation use or additional environmental infrastructure not be viable, then full rehabilitation and inclusion into Garigal National Park could be pursued.
We haven’t heard much lately about Mirvac’s planned development on the IBM site in West Pennant Hills next to the Cumberland State Forest. You may recall that last June the NSW government ‘fast tracked’ the rezoning of the land that would enable the development of 600 apartments to proceed and, in theory, provide jobs to stimulate the post COVID-19 recovery. This decision ignored the strong community and local council objections that include overdevelopment, destruction of critically endangered vegetation communities and loss of forest habitat for the Powerful Owl and other endangered species.
Mirvac has initiated the next stage of the development process by submitting an application for the demolition of the existing buildings on the site and clearing of vegetation in the development area. This would involve the removal of 1253 trees. The application will go before a Planning Panel on 21 July.
Local community groups have objected strongly to the removal of so many trees including about 450 that are essential components of two critically endangered ecological communities. These communities, Blue Gum High Forest and Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest, have the same classification under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act as the NSW threatened species legislation.
Under the EPBC Act clearing of this extent of critically endangered vegetation could be deemed to be a matter of national environmental significance. The planned clearing should therefore be referred to the Federal Environment Minister to decide whether the proposal should be subject to assessment. Assessment can lead to approval, refusal or conditions of approval.
It is understood that the Mirvac has not done this referral, arguing that the trees were planted as part of the landscaped gardens when the IBM corporate park was established and cannot be classed as natural forest relevant to the EPBC Act. However, the community groups Forest in Danger and West Pennant Hills Valley Progress Association (WPHVPA) have been successful in obtaining further documentation dating back to the original development plans that indicate that the trees are regrowth from remnant bushland and therefore come under the Act.
A threatened species assessment of significance by an independent ecologist has confirmed that the vegetation within the demolition meets the definition of a critically endangered ecological community.
The Nature Conservation Council, the peak body for conservation groups in NSW, supports this action and has written to the Federal Environment Minister, the Hon Sussan Ley, asking that she intervenes so the proposal is assessed under the EPBC Act.
This issue appears to be holding up Mirvac’s planning process. A concept masterplan for the apartment development was planned for earlier this year.
In our previous newsletter there was a last-minute story about a proposal to build an 18-storey tower at Eden Gardens on Lane Cove Road in Macquarie Park. Many submissions in opposition were made to the City of Ryde Council. The development application will be assessed by the Sydney North Planning Panel.
Eden Gardens is surrounded by Lane Cove National Park on three sides and Lane Cove Road to the west. The M2 is further away to the south. The only development nearby is on the western side of Lane Cove Road where the buildings are 6 to 8 stories and further south in Macquarie Park.
There seems to be an oversight in the zoning because there is actually no zoning for the site. The applicant has taken advantage of this and decided to have a go at getting approval for building a commercial tower significantly higher than any other building nearby. Did the City of Ryde Council provide any guidance about the chances of such a tall building being approved?
Some of the problems with the development if it goes ahead are:
- Additional traffic along the already congested Lane Cove Road as workers on site will be reluctant to tackle the long walk from Macquarie Park Station involving crossing several major roads.
- Developments adjacent to national parks are required to meet guidelines defined by the NPWS (2020) covering matters like the impact on public amenity or enjoyment of the park, whether it is sympathetic with the natural and cultural heritage of the park, and appropriate controls on lighting.
- Lane Cove National Park has important heritage values drawing from its long history of aboriginal use and European development plus the presence of many threatened species and endangered ecological communities.
- The location has high bushfire risk with exposure to the north and northwest. Up to 2000 workers would need rapid evacuation via Lane Cove Road.
- The building would form a high risk to bird and bats traversing the park that would be attracted to reflections from the glass facade and foraging for insects.
- The building will tower over the surroundings with lighting that spills into the park disturbing the natural foraging and nesting patterns of nocturnal and diurnal aerial fauna, particularly owls and bats. Threatened nocturnal species recorded in the park include four species of bat plus the powerful owl and barking owl.
NPWS (2020) Developments adjacent to NPWS lands: Guidelines for consent and planning authorities. National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment.
Early this month the Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment announced that Macquarie Park has been chosen as one of the sites for major new development. A draft strategy has been released that is open for comment until 10 August.
This new development is in addition to the huge amount of new construction of commercial and residential projects currently in progress. This web site lists the major proposals, including:
- Meriton has built a 27-storey building between Talavera Road and the M2 that that interrupts views across Lane Cove National Park from West Pymble. This is only the first stage of the Orana development with three more buildings of 60, 45 and 30 storeys providing another 1000 units. The image is of the First Meriton tower, the smallest of the four planned for the site
- Natura on Waterloo Road will have two, 20-storey towers with 357 units.
- NBH on Epping Road has eight buildings ranging from 3 to 17-storeys with a total of 885 units.
- The Ivanhoe Estate on Epping Road will have 3500 dwellings including 950 social housing and 128 affordable housing units.
The plan for up to 7600 additional apartments will be in addition to these 6000 apartments already approved!
The framework for the new development is explained in a long-awaited draft Macquarie Park Place Strategy. The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes, in announcing the strategy, said:
This future development would help Macquarie Park transition from a successful suburban business park to a vibrant commercial and residential centre.
The plan is intended to be implemented over the next 20 years up to 2041.
The entire 350 ha being considered for development includes land between the Macquarie Centre and Ivanhoe Estate to Lachlan’s Line and Riverside Corporate Park, bounded by Epping Road, Delhi Road, M2 Motorway and Vimiera Road adjacent to Lane Cove National Park.
Under this strategy, seven new residential neighbourhoods as well as 14 ha of new parks, squares, plazas, cycleways and linear parks plus 2.7 ha of enhanced open space are proposed. The forecast additional floor space will create upwards of 20 000 new jobs in the region. It is acknowledged that major expenditure will be required on infrastructure with the need for about $6.5 billion in spending on transport and other public facilities within the next 15 years. The state budget has allocated $20 million for initial planning.
One innovation that fits in with the Greener Places strategy is the integration with indigenous history and the Dharug languages. Each of the neighbourhoods is to be given an indigenous name. For example, the area east of Lane Cove Road south of the M2 has been named Burbigal, meaning ‘morning’.
The area of particular concern for potential impact on Lane Cove National Park is the Riverside Park area (Narrami Badu-Gumada or connecting water spirit) where 1500 to 2000 new homes are proposed as well as expansion in commercial and retail space. The area abuts directly alongside Lane Cove National Park between Epping Road and Fairyland. There are some statements that are overwhelmed by jargon, for example:
Walking trails, cycle ways and possible micro mobility corridors will weave through and across the water corridors.
What are micro mobility corridors and water corridors? The area is at the top of a hill!
One Big Issue – Transport
Rob Stokes said the three Sydney Metro stations delivered in 2019 at Macquarie University, Macquarie Park and North Ryde have laid the foundations for this growth plan. The documents also reveal that currently about 70% of trips to Macquarie Park are made by road despite the opening of the new Metro stations. We all know about the North Ryde congestion any time of day.
Transport is an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. NSW has an objective to be net zero by 2050 so reduction in car use is essential. Conversion to 100% use of electric vehicles will not be a solution.
There is plenty of public transport going east and west using the Metro and bus services along the M2 and Epping Road. There is only one road taking cars from north to south, from the North Shore to Macquarie Park and on to the Olympic Park. The only other options are a long way further east (Gladesville Bridge) or further west (Pennant Hills Road). Public transport involves buses that add to the congestion or catching a train to Chatswood and then the Metro back west.
What the strategy has to say about dealing with road congestion is optimistic. Car transport will be discouraged with new buildings having fewer car parking spaces than in existing buildings. Walking and cycling will be encouraged with more pathways and made more pleasant by widening footpaths and greater tree planting. This statement is made:
The proximity to Lane Cove National Park provides an opportunity to increase cycling once the lack of facilities, safety issues and limited crossing opportunities can be addressed.
A lot more information is required.
In STEP Matters 210 we described the strong community opposition to plans by several councils for the installation of synthetic turf on local ovals. There are concerns about the environmental impacts of using plastic grass and the social impacts of creating fields that are primarily designed for playing football and therefore restrict community use. There are examples of the use of natural grass that overcome the problems of fields becoming degraded by overuse so the number of playing hours do not need to be restricted.
Ku-ring-gai and Lane Cove Councils are proceeding regardless with deadlines to meet to sign contracts related to funding, particularly promised grants. A report from the inquiry instigated by the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Rob Stokes is due any day now. This inquiry is investigating sustainable alternatives to reduce environmental impacts.
Ku-ring-gai Council – Norman Griffiths Oval
Following the decision to proceed in November 2020, Ku-ring-gai Council has been developing a design for installing synthetic turf at Norman Griffiths Oval so that quotations could be commissioned from contractors. The infill to be used is cork not the most common fill, tyre crumb. The use of cork is a fairly recent innovation for keeping the plastic grass blades upright. We don’t know much about the management of cork nor the construction and management methods for keeping it clean and in place during general use and heavy rain.
The design covers stormwater mitigation works as well as the synthetic turf installation because the field currently acts as a stormwater detention basin. Extensive stormwater mitigation works are required because Quarry Creek flows under the field and it is also the catchment area for rainwater collected over the large area of Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (STIF) above the field. With synthetic turf the oval will no longer absorb the water flows from this catchment.
STEP and several other interested people, representing the local community and volunteer bushcarers as well as the sporting clubs, were advised they could participate in a stakeholder reference group that would review progress and provide comment on the design at key milestones. We were told that these reviews would be:
… a check measure to ensure we remain transparent and accountable to the community.
However, we were not given any opportunity to consider the design before it went out to tender. We had been advised early this year that the level of the field needed to be raised by about half a metre to accommodate the stormwater mitigation and the base fill. This would impact on the hydrology of the bank above the field, which contains some rare orchids as well as the STIF around the oval. No reference group meeting has occurred.
The outcome of the tenders was considered at the council meeting on 15 June. According to the meeting agenda documents, only two tenders were received and neither met the tender requirements. With a deadline to be met to select a contractor and sign documents, the critical part of the process is being rushed.
There was no discussion at the council meeting and the decision was in line with staff recommendation. The meeting resolution was as follows:
- Fresh tenders as referred to in clause 178(3)(b)–(d) of the Regulation not be invited due to the current deadlines for the grant funding.
- Pursuant to clause 178(3)(e) of the Regulation, the General Manager enter into negotiations with any person (whether or not the person was a tenderer) with a view to entering into a contract in relation to the subject matter of the tender in terms acceptable to Council’s requirements.
- The Mayor and the General Manager be delegated authority to execute all documents on Council’s behalf in relation to any contract formed as a result of the above.
We are very concerned that there will be no broader review of the design and construction contract. No information has been provided about potential environmental impacts of the decision.
In October 2020, when the decision was made to proceed with the project, it was stated in the meeting agenda papers that the likely environmental impacts were ‘reasonable’ on the basis of only a concept plan. Now we are told that a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) will be completed by the winning contractor when the design and construction of the project is refined. This is putting the cart before the horse! What happens if the review finds that impacts will exceed guidelines?
We hope to find out more soon.
Lane Cove Council – Bob Campbell Oval
For several months the community of Greenwich has been fighting the proposed installation of synthetic turf on Bob Campbell Oval, on the edge of Sydney Harbour foreshore at the end of Gore Creek. This park, which is the only piece of flat land in the area and is used by all the community, would be predominantly available only for organised sport if synthetic turf were installed. It would be fenced off from general community use and the popular off leash dog area would be reduced to small areas beside the field.
Lane Cove Council claims that the issue of potential environmental impacts has been addressed by their decision to use ‘4G’ technology, a fully woven product made of one polymer family (polyolefin). The woven construction results in the grass fibres and backing structure being produced as one combined product and eliminates the need for infill such as tyre or cork crumb. It is claimed that this product will significantly reduce the likelihood of lost fibres migrating into the environment. It would be the first use of this product in Australia.
A new group has been formed to fight this decision, Natural Grass at Bob Campbell Inc (NGABC). On 21 June, the same day that contracts were due to be signed, solicitors for NGABC delivered a letter of demand to council’s general manager stating that they have serious concerns about the validity of the mandatory environmental assessment that had been conducted. The letter calls on council to undertake to cancel its environmental assessment, to conduct a new assessment in accordance with environmental legislation and not to sign construction contracts for the synthetic surface.
The Byles Creek Valley Union has been fighting for several years for the valley to be protected from further development. The valley has high quality biodiversity including threatened plant species and a habitat for Powerful Owls and Gang-gang cockatoos. In addition, it contains beautiful tall forest and is an important wildlife corridor from the Lane Cove Valley through to Pennant Hills Park.
Land immediately along the creek is zoned open space but there are several residential lots that have not yet been developed. Many of these residential lots are large and recent approvals have allowed subdivision leading to the removal of many trees for bushfire protection. The valley is steep so the creation of driveways and construction access will require clearing and excavation with a risk of erosion.
Thanks to pressure from the local groups Hornsby Council has resolved to progress a review of the suitability of the planning controls for residential properties adjoining open space zoned land within the Byles Creek corridor with regard to protection and maintenance of the environmental values of the land. Consultation has now been completed.
Representatives from the Byles Creek Valley Union have been trying for over two years to meet their local member, Minister Perrottet. This finally happened recently with a promising outcome. Minister Perrottet clearly stating there is money set aside for the purchase of private land to support the Byles Creek corridor. He told them he was ‘going to take care of it’. They will hold him to his word!
In Issue 191 we wrote about our concerns about the effectiveness of the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme (BOS) to be established under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act. We wrote:
Implementing the BOS will in fact add extinction pressures to the very species and ecological communities it is supposed to protect by facilitating the more rapid and widespread destruction of threatened species habitat across NSW.
NSW has had several offset schemes since 2005. The principle behind the schemes is that, if a development requires the destruction of native vegetation and habitat then other land must be protected and/or restored to offset this loss on a ‘no net loss’ basis. The fundamental problem with this idea is that vegetation on the development site will still be lost. In theory offset land will be improved to make up for the loss but it is impossible to restore another piece of land to match habitat effectively. To make matters worse the BOS has several compromises that go against the like for like principle.
Not only are there concerns about the principles of the scheme but now there are some recent examples of promised offsets that are not delivered. Guardian Australia reported in February that:
- Fifteen years after the M7 opened to traffic, the state government has not yet established a public reserve that was proposed as the major environmental offset for loss on Cumberland Plain Woodland from the motorway’s construction.
- A second reserve on the site of Airservices Australia’s former radio transmitting station at Shanes Park in the Blacktown City Council area is also undelivered more than 10 years after it was first identified as priority conservation land to compensate for the construction of 181 000 houses in new suburb developments. Bureaucratic obfuscation of the transfer of ownership from the Commonwealth to the NPWS is the problem here. This high-quality land has become weed infested and degraded by 4WD access.
More recently there are questionable transactions whereby landowners have made windfall gains over a short space of time. A Guardian investigation (published 25 June 2021) uncovered tens of millions of dollars in offset credits purchased by the state and federal governments from properties linked to consultants whose company advised the government on development in western Sydney.
Some of these transactions have been referred by the Transport Department to ICAC for investigation. The NSW auditor general has also fast-tracked a planned review of the scheme.
Now experience in the use of environmental offsets to compensate for habitat destruction caused by major developments will be examined by a NSW Upper House inquiry.
The inquiry was self-referred by the environment and planning committee with backing from the Greens, Labor and the Animal Justice party.
The terms of reference are to examine:
- the effectiveness of the scheme to halt or reverse the loss of biodiversity values, including threatened species and threatened habitat in NSW, the role of the Biodiversity Conservation Trust in administering the scheme and whether the Trust is subject to adequate transparency and oversight;
- the use of offsets by the NSW Government for major projects and strategic approvals; and
- the impact of non-additional offsetting practices on biodiversity outcomes, offset prices and the opportunities for private landowners to engage in the scheme.
The inquiry is due to report in March 2022.
The key recommendation of Prof Samuel’s review of the EPBC Act was that the national environmental standards need to be strengthened but the federal government is refusing to adopt Samuel’s interim standards. It seems National Cabinet is the stumbling block.
On 16 June the environment minister, Sussan Ley spoke at the National Press Club about the release of ‘a pathway for reforming national environment law’. She said the government agreed with ‘the central pillars’ of Samuel’s 38 recommendations but did not respond to them individually.
The report states that:
The immediate priority is to implement single touch environmental approvals, underpinned by national environmental standards.
She stated that the interim standards will be used that reflect current requirements of the EPBC Act because this is consistent with the agreement of National Cabinet. These standards will provide greater clarity for proponents and the community, as thousands of pages of rules will be distilled into clear and concise requirements.
There are two issues here:
- The approval powers are being handed over to the states and territories whose resources for undertaking the requisite analysis are not proven.
- The current national environmental standards were heavily criticised by the Samuel Review. The interim standards will be not be reviewed for two years. Given political pressures that are inevitable any attempt to tighten the standards will be vigorously opposed by vested interests,
One plus is that the government has committed to establish of the Environment Assurance Commissioner later this year.
Critics of the government’s stance include three of the crossbenchers Rex Patrick, Jacqui Lambie and Stirling Griff, who wrote a joint letter to Ley in February calling for greater action. With Labor and the Greens opposed, the government needs the support of at least one of the three to pass its legislation. Speaking at the national press club, Ley said she was hopeful of reaching agreement, but the standards would not be strengthened before the legislation was passed.
The Morrison government is attempting to stare down the Senate over changes to conservation laws. Who will blink first?
Hope for More Action on Kosciuszko Feral Horses?
As a side note from the Press Club talk, Ley was asked about damage to the alpine environment in Kosciuszko National Park caused by feral horses. She suggested she may attempt to force the NSW government to change its management of the area. She was looking for ways to use the EPBC Act to prevent it.
The feral horse population in alpine parks has increased to about 14 000 over the past two decades. Three years ago the NSW government introduced legislation, at the behest of the deputy premier, John Barilaro, to prevent culling.
Since 2017 STEP has supported the Threatened Species Children’s Art Competition. The competition was instigated by Forestmedia Network, a non-profit organisation that raises public awareness of the importance of Australian native forests, woodlands and other ecosystems. It originally only applied to NSW.
In 2021, the Australian Conservation Foundation is partnering with Forestmedia to make this year's art competition for kids bigger than ever! It will be open for entries from Saturday 5 June, World Environment Day, to Friday 30 July. Children aged 5 to 12 from all states and territories are invited to unleash their creativity through art while learning about our incredible plants and animals, and the threats facing them.
Each child may choose one of Australia’s many threatened animals or plants to research, create, and write a short explanation of their work. The judges are not simply looking for works that display outstanding technical skills. The judges will be looking for surprising or interesting interpretation of compositions, and work that demonstrates an emotional connection with the species.
This information has been provided by the Willoughby Environment Protection Association, a member of the Powerful Owl Coalition. WEPA was alarmed to hear recently that the expansion works at Chatswood High School were an immediate threat to an active nest tree of a threatened species, the Powerful Owl. The nesting site has been in use from at least 2011 (except for 2019–20) and it is currently in use for the 2021 breeding season – chicks have been heard trilling. At least 11 chicks have successfully fledged from this nest over the last decade or more.
Fortunately, discussions on 1 July between Willoughby City Council staff, a Powerful Owl Project representative, project management and the Department of Education infrastructure personnel have led to an agreement that the nest tree will be retained.
The problem seems to have emerged because the Biodiversity Development Assessment Report did not identify that Powerful Owls were nesting on-site and the Tree Retention / Removal Report prepared for the Chatswood High School environmental impact statement unfortunately did not capture the nesting tree on its plan.
Powerful Owls are very particular about the nests they choose. They need large tree hollows (at least 0.5 m deep), in large eucalypts (diameter at breast height of 80–240 cm) that are at least 150 years old. Once the female chooses a nesting hollow the pair tend to return to it year after year.
We are extremely grateful to Dr Beth Mott, leader of the Powerful Owl Project in Sydney run by Birdlife Australia and the Wildlife and Bushland Officers at Willoughby City Council, who went into bat on a number of occasions to protect the owls and were prominent in this week’s negotiations. A shout-out as well to local Powerful Owl watchers who have collected data on the owls for the last decade or more.
It is an excellent result that this should happen on the grounds of a high school as the youth of today will have much to do to help retain our unique wildlife in an uncertain future.
WEPA has also written to the Premier and Minister for Planning suggesting that the protection of our native flora and fauna during state significant developments of this sort might be improved if there was a legislated obligation for those tasked with preparing environmental impact statements to make direct contact with local community and environmental groups and with the bushland / biodiversity staff in local councils. This would allow those with expertise in the area to share this local knowledge in order to protect our urban bushland and wildlife when development is considered. Frequently wildlife can be seen only during certain times of the year.
The Powerful Owl is a potent symbol in northern Sydney of the way in which urban Sydney can continue to coexist with our local flora and fauna – they are much admired and much loved. They are also apex predators essential to the maintenance of ecological balance. We appreciate that action has been taken to ensure that they continue to help our bush thrive and delight our community for years to come. It is hoped that new building will not disturb the viability of the tree and that the environment near the tree is maintained so the owls will continue to choose this nest.
In the Issue 209 we reported on the community concern about Ku-ring-gai Council’s determination to remove an illegal mountain bike tracks in North Wahroonga. Council staff met with the locals to discuss the issue. It turns out the young people involved are mainly interested in building rather than using the tracks.
Council decided to invite the local riders to give their ideas for a redesign of the Jubes Mountain Bike track that is in the same area. The aim is to rebuild the track to make it a more exciting experience for riders.
The mountain bike track is located at the back of Golden Jubilee Field in Wahroonga that has become badly degraded. There is also a Pump Track and Skills Track nearby.
The Single Track trail has been excavated in preparation for new jumps to be built. Large piles of clay and sandstone crush have been provided by council for track and jump building. Mountain bikers are being invited to help construct the new tracks once excavation is completed by joining council’s Trailcare program. It is expected to open in August 2021.
In return for the creation of this partnership, the mountain bike community have pledged to be responsible for caring for the local environment and agreeing not to construct illegal jumps in the area. Time will tell!
Birdlife Australia’s regular newsletters have a regular series of snippets about well-known birds.
Here are some about the Grey Fantail, a bird that is common in Sydney bushland. Their call sounds like a squeaky violin.
- Grey Fantails occur in pretty much every corner of the continent, inhabiting just about any terrestrial habitat you can name.
- While some populations of Grey Fantails are resident, others are highly migratory, undertaking regular long-distance, seasonal movements. Tasmanian birds even migrate across the waters of Bass Strait, defying their apparently weak powers of flight.
- The spectacular aerobatics performed by Grey Fantails while they are foraging involve such complex manoeuvres and flight sequences that they are impossible for any aircraft to replicate, even in theory.
- The Grey Fantail’s nest is one of Australia’s neatest, with a long, pendulous tail that makes it look like a wine glass with the base of the stem broken off.
- Although they are usually seen singly or in small numbers, Grey Fantails sometimes congregate into quite large flocks at the end of their migration, with dozens or maybe hundreds of birds gathering together. They also readily join mixed-species feeding flocks with other birds.
Staghorn ferns belong to a group of tree-dwelling plants known as epiphytes. Tree canopies are a challenging environment for plants to grow. Without access to soil, epiphytes are regularly exposed to severe water and nutrient stress.
Epiphytes have evolved several ways to mediate the lack of access to water and nutrients. Bromeliads grow cup-shaped leaves, while orchids have specialised root tissues. But staghorn ferns have developed a colony lifestyle to overcome the problem.
Staghorn ferns can be bought at many garden stores and will grow like any other pot plant. But in the wild on Lord Howe Island, we discovered individual plants collaborate, specialising in different tasks in the construction of the communal water and nutrient store, often at the cost of their own reproduction — just like social insects.
This radically changes our understanding of biological complexity. It suggests major evolutionary transitions towards eusociality can occur in both plants and animals. Plants and beehives aren’t as different as they might seem.
For decades, scientists interested in eusociality argued for a strict definition — many felt the term should be reserved for only a select group of highly co-operative insects.
This perspective led to widespread scepticism about its occurrence in the natural world. Perhaps this is why it was overlooked for so long in one of horticulture’s most popular pot plants.
Evolution of biological complexity
Four billion years ago, life began as simple, self-replicating molecules. Today’s diversity arose from these simple origins towards increasingly complex organisms.
Evolutionary biologists think that biological complexity developed in abrupt, major evolutionary transitions, rather than slow and continuous changes. Such transitions occur when independent entities begin to collaborate, forming new, more complex life forms — such as, for example, when single-celled organisms evolved into multi-cellular organisms.
Another example is the transition from unspecialised bacterial (prokaryotic) cells to cells with an enclosed nucleus and specialised organelles that perform particular functions, known as eukaryotic cells.
Co-operation underpins the evolutionary origins of organelles — they likely evolved from free-living ancestors that gave up their independence to live safely within the walls of another cell.
There are eight commonly recognised major evolutionary transitions — and eusociality is the most recent. Eusocial animals differ from others in three fundamental ways:
- they live in colonies comprised of different generations of adults
- they subdivide labour into reproductive and non-reproductive groups
- they care for offspring co-operatively.
Our observations over the past two years on Lord Howe Island found staghorn ferns meet these criteria.
In highly eusocial species, caste membership is permanent and unchanging. But in primitively eusocial species, individuals can alter their behaviour to suit many roles required by the colony. Staghorn ferns probably fit under the latter category.
Our ongoing research will determine the staghorn’s position along this continuum of eusociality. But, for now, we know plants and animals share a similar evolutionary pathway towards greater biological complexity.
The Friends of Berowra Valley are sad to report the death of founding chair, Robert ‘Bob’ Salt OAM on Easter Monday at Bowden Brae Nursing Home.
Bob was largely instrumental in having the Berowra Valley Regional Park declared the Berowra Valley National Park in 2012. He contributed important sections to the Guide to Berowra Valley Regional Park published in 2004 and was involved in the production of the Walking Guide to Berowra Valley National
Park in 2014.
In a speech supporting the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Adjustment of Areas) Bill 2012 that led to the creation of the Berowra Valley National Park, Matt Kean said:
Sixty years ago, Bob Salt found this beautiful part of the world and set about fighting to protect it for future generations to enjoy. Bob has lobbied, fought, harassed and made this possible. He has been a wonderful advocate for this remarkable and special part of Sydney. Future generations will owe Bob a great debt. I know our community certainly does.
In 2011 Bob was awarded an OAM for service to conservation and the environment through a range of organisations in the North Sydney region (see photo). He has worked for the conservation and effective management of Berowra Valley bushland since 1962 to the present day.
We are pleased to announce that the recipient of the John Martyn Research Grant for 2021 is Erin Rogers. She has provided the following description of her work.
I have a keen interest in plant science and ecology and am particularly passionate about how plants respond physiologically to changes in environmental conditions. I have a foundational background in Environmental Biology, having completed my undergraduate degree at UTS at the end of 2020. I have also worked in bush regeneration within the greater Sydney region for over three years. This sparked my love of plants and my curiosity into understanding the many wonderful ways in which they survive.
Having started my master of research with the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University at the beginning of this year (2021), I was keen to explore how nutrients in the soil limit plant growth and function. Given that low phosphorus soils predominate across Australia and Sydney’s east coast, I aim to investigate phosphorus limitation on photosynthesis on a range of native plants with my thesis titled: The Rich and Poor: Plant Phosphorus and Photosynthesis Follow Soil Fertility.
Under the John Martyn Grant for the Conservation of Bushland I will investigate the effects of increasing fire severity and subsequent phosphorus liberation on the re-growth capacity of native plants. This grant will allow me to explore an area of phosphorus limitation that would otherwise not be examined under my master of research thesis. This research aims to provide a unique insight into species recovery and will give a snapshot of how quickly our native plants can respond to different levels of fire disturbance.
I would like to thank STEP and its members for this opportunity, and I am keen to get out in the field and start this research.
We have written about Hornsby Park and the Quarry several times in STEP Matters. Westleigh Park is another important bushland site in the Hornsby Shire. The land was owned by Sydney Water until 2016 when it was purchased by Hornsby Council with the main objectives of providing future recreational opportunities and for conservation purposes.
The site covers 34 ha and contains a mix of open space and bushland. The land has not been managed so mountain bikers have taken the liberty to construct 9 km of tracks over the site.
Hornsby Council has undertaken various studies of the site. Vegetation mapping has identified critically endangered ecological communities, Sydney Turpentine Forest and endangered Duffys Forest that council is obliged to conserve and protect. There are also other large areas of quality bushland and threatened plant and animal species.
Studies undertaken of the current unauthorised trails identified soil degradation, contamination and asbestos. The exposed asbestos is managed by monitoring and removal when required but there is buried asbestos that needs to be dealt with.
TrailScapes Pty Ltd, an international trail building company, undertook a study in 2018 of options for restructuring the mountain bike trails network. Their report summed up the current state of the trails as:
In its current form the trail network is unsustainable and not ‘maintainable’. The appropriate management of water is key to a sustainable trail network. A network that continues to erode and pool water not only contributes to erosion but also edge effects such as trail creep (widening) as riders trample vegetation by riding around erosion gullies, pooling water and deteriorating trail features.
In the draft masterplan the bike trails have been reduced considerably. They have been moved to the margins of the endangered ecological communities (EECs) rather than cutting through them. Some bushwalking tracks are proposed that will to go directly through the EECs. The management plan must prevent bikers using these walking tracks.
Clearly existing trails have to be shut down and rehabilitated. The mountain biking fraternity is up in arms fighting the proposal with many people signing petitions and commenting on Facebook. We need submissions to express the importance of fixing the damage and ensuring the bushland is preserved.
The masterplan includes three sporting fields with one proposed to have synthetic turf for soccer and AFL. This is another bone of contention – see Opposition to Synthetic Turf is Growing.
The two projects will be staged over several years with the Westleigh project being given lower priority. The rehabilitation of the mountain bike trails should be given a high priority.
A link track will be built between the two sites using existing walking tracks and fire trails but some new tracks will be required plus a bridge over Waitara Creek. Details are not clear at this stage.
The masterplan is full of glossy diagrams with huge file sizes. There are several precincts including the Old Mans Valley sporting field area, the crusher plant, the Higgins cemetery as well as the Quarry void area.
The environmental status of the precinct is crucial given the rare bushland vegetation that includes Powerful Owl nesting sites and its proximity to Berowra Valley National Park.
The park is close to the Hornsby residential area and many more apartment buildings are proposed. It is important that the park provides facilities for families as well as sporting groups.
STEP has several concerns about the plan in its current form. Some details are still to be worked out so there is currently plenty of opportunity to express our views and counteract the influence of the mountain bikers.
In brief our main concerns are:
- The existing mountain bike tracks in the Blue Gum Diatreme Forest and high-quality Blackbutt Forest should be closed down.
- There are few walking tracks and these conflict with the mountain bike trails.
- The only space for general informal community use is in the Quarry void where there appears there will be large open space with no trees. This would be very hot in summer.
- The sporting field in Old Mans Valley, close to the suburban area, will have synthetic turf surface. This makes it unsuitable for general public use and will be a bushfire hazard.
- It appears that extensive lighting is proposed that will impact on nearby nocturnal wildlife, particularly the Powerful Owls.
In the November 2020 issue of STEP Matters we outlined the current issues with proposals to install synthetic turf on Barra Brui Oval and Norman Griffiths Oval in West Pymble. There are some local issues relating to these fields but the use of synthetic turf has grown into a major concern all over Sydney.
Ultimately Ku-ring-gai Council decided not to proceed at Barra Brui. At their meeting on 30 June 2020, it was resolved to carry out preliminary design studies but they have not yet been seen. At the March 2021 meeting it was decided that there was insufficient parking space for this field to become the planned major hockey centre for northern Sydney; alternative venues are being assessed but may be hard to find.
Ku-ring-gai Council is proceeding with the detailed planning for the installation of synthetic turf at Norman Griffiths Oval. A community reference group was established, including representatives from the soccer club, local bushcarers, local residents and STEP. We hope to get details of the construction process and drainage measures.
We are concerned about the design of the field. The level of the field will be 0.5 m higher than its current level. At this stage, cork is to be used as the infill product rather than tyre crumb. Fencing will be required to maintain the higher surface. Will fencing limit the use of the field for the local community for informal sports and dog walking?
Major reworking of the drainage system is required as the field is a stormwater detention basin and Quarry Creek flows under the existing field then flows into the Lane Cove River.
The impact of these works on the Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest and other native vegetation surrounding the field and Quarry Creek, is unknown.
Issue throughout Sydney
Many other councils are at various stages of planning to install synthetic turf and there is strong opposition from local communities. Some contentious projects are:
- In the Bayside LGA, the Friends of Gardiner Park in Banksia went to the Land and Environment Court to try to stop work on the installation as no consultation with residents had been carried out.
- Lane Cove Council received a $3.6 million grant from the NSW government to provide facilities for the anticipated large growth in population. They want to go ahead with installing synthetic turf at Bob Campbell Oval in Greenwich despite strong opposition being expressed by local residents in a petition and at the council meeting.
- In Hunters Hill, a decision in relation to Gladesville Park was deferred but several councillors are keen to spend a $2 million grant from the government.
- In Hornsby, the draft master plan for Westleigh and Hornsby Parks, which includes provision for synthetic turf fields, will be strongly opposed by environment groups.
Opposition to installation of synthetic turf is becoming stronger as evidence is shared by groups all over Sydney about environmental and health impacts.
The NSW government is also aware of the issue. In March Planning Minister Rob Stokes asked his department to investigate sustainable alternatives to synthetic turf amid growing concerns about its impacts, saying:
I am sufficiently concerned about the environmental impacts ... and will ask the Department to examine what alternative technologies or techniques exist to maximise the use of community sporting facilities without hurting our environment.
Reasons for the demand for use of synthetic turf
A study prepared for the Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils predicted that councils will need to increase the capacity of sportsgrounds by over 40% up to 2036 (through a range of initiatives and new facilities) to cope with existing and future population growth.
Local councils in northern Sydney have strategies to install synthetic turf in a number of existing playing fields. The argued benefits include that these fields are not affected by weather, both wet and dry, and can be used for many more hours than natural grass fields, particularly in winter.
With population growth there is increasing demand for playing fields, particularly for organised sports like soccer. If organised sport were concentrated on fields with synthetic turf, then other fields would be available for other sports and informal recreation. It is also argued that synthetic turf, once installed is cheaper to maintain than grass.
The planning legislation (Part V of the Planning Act) facilitates the installation of synthetic turf as councils can proceed without public consultation provided the council satisfies themselves that the environmental impacts are not significant or can be mitigated. Government has been offering grants in association with soccer clubs, who, naturally, are all in favour of the prospects of much improved facilities.
Many of the council strategies were developed several years ago before experience in the use of synthetic turf fields identified several issues.
Arguments against synthetic turf
David Shoebridge, the Green Upper House MP organised a webinar on 22 April that provided insights into the latest research and experience in the use of synthetic turf.
When the air temperature is over about 30ºC, the surfaces become excessively hot (over 60ºC) making the field unusable. In winter this may not be an issue but fields should be usable for other sports such as cricket and general recreation.
Tyre crumbs are widely used as infill to stop the grass blades flattening and these leach heavy metals that are harmful, particularly for children.
The plastic grass fragments and tyre crumb can end up in waterways unless carefully filtered. The crumb infill, which washes out from the field, has to be regularly replaced. New research by the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project with Northern Beaches Council, funded by NSW’s Environment Protection Authority, has found in areas with synthetic turf fields, 80% of the waste entering stormwater drains was black crumb and microplastics from synthetic turf. In areas without these playing fields this is only 5%.
In addition to particles coming off the field, chemicals which are required to clean the field, require treatment.
The proponents of synthetic turf argue that the product is a good way of reducing waste from old tyres going to landfill. But after about ten years the turf needs to be replaced and so the tyre waste it ends up in landfill anyway and is more difficult to recycle as it is mixed up with plastic.
Many fields have been built on flood-prone land that was unsuitable for housing development. With synthetic turf additional drainage measures are required to control extra water that flows from the hard surface that cannot soak into natural ground.
The use of synthetic turf will lead to loss of natural areas that provide foraging area for birds and space for soil organisms.
Is there a better alternative?
The webinar organised by David Shoebridge included case studies where playing fields with natural grass have been upgraded using composted soil and appropriate grass species. These fields have proven to be more cost effective over a 20-year life cycle than a synthetic surface.
For example, the fields on Middle Head withstood a high level of usage over winter and remained in good condition. Also, the soccer players gave very positive feedback when comparing the playing experience with the synthetic surface.
Large amounts of green waste are composted and it is argued that using anerobic processes reduces the emissions of methane from land fill. Currently compost producers are having trouble finding buyers of this product.
If you have concerns about synthetic turf, please let your local MP and councillors know.
We have just found out about a proposal for an 18-storey office tower to be built on the Eden Gardens nursery site on Lane Cove Road, on the edge of Lane Cove National Park.
This would be the only high-rise building between Lane Cove National Park and the M2. It would also be the only tall building on the eastern side of Lane Cove Road. All other commercial buildings on this side of Lane Cove Road are further south on the other side of the M2.
Naturally, as it is bushfire prone land there will need to be a wide Asset Protection Zone. How much bush will be cleared to accommodate that? This building will stick out like a sore thumb over the treed skyline of Lane Cove National Park with light spill into the park that will impact on the nocturnal animals living in the park. More details will be on our website as they come to light.
Picture this: you’re in your backyard gardening when you get that strange, ominous feeling of being watched. You find a grey oval-shaped ball about the size of a thumb, filled with bones and fur — a pellet, or ‘owl vomit’.
You look up and see the bright ‘surprised’ eyes of a powerful owl staring back at you, with half a possum in its talons.
This may be becoming a familiar story for many Australians. We strapped tracking devices to 20 powerful owls in Melbourne for our new research, and learned these apex predators are increasingly choosing to sleep in urban areas, from backyard trees to city parks.
These respite areas are critical for species to survive in challenging urban environments because, just like for humans, rest is an essential behaviour to conserve energy for the day (or night) ahead.
Our research highlights the importance of trees on both public and private land for wild animals. Without an understanding of where urban wildlife rests, we risk damaging these urban habitats with encroaching development.
One owl, one year, 300 possums
Powerful owls are Australia’s largest, measuring 65 centimetres from head to tail and weighing a hefty 1.6 kilograms. They’re found in Australia’s eastern states, except for Tasmania.
These owls have traditionally been thought to live only in large old-growth forested areas. However, Victoria has lost over 65% of forest cover since European settlement, and because of this habitat loss, the owls are listed as threatened in Victoria.
Their remaining habitat is extremely fragmented. This means we’re finding owls in interesting places — from dry, open woodland to our major east coast cities. This is likely due to the high numbers of prey, such as possums, that thrive alongside exotic garden trees and house roofs.
Powerful owls usually eat one possum per night, or 250 to 300 possums per year — mostly common ringtail and brushtail possums in Melbourne. They’re often seen holding prey at their roosting spots, where they’ll finish eating in the evening for breakfast.
This has ecosystem-wide benefits, as powerful owls can help keep overabundant possums in check. Too many possums can strip away vegetation, causing it to die back, which stops other wildlife from nesting or finding shelter.
Tracking their nocturnal haunt
But powerful owls are extremely elusive. With low populations, locating owls and researching their requirements is very difficult.
Over five years, we deployed GPS devices on 20 Melburnian owls to find how they use urban environments. These devices automatically record where the owls move at night and rest during the day.
We learned they fly, on average, 4.4 km per night through golf courses, farms, reserves and backyards looking for dinner and defending their territory. One owl along the Mornington Peninsula travelled 47 km over two nights (possibly in search of a mate). Another urban owl called several golf courses in the Melbourne suburb of Alphington home.
Choosing where to sleep
After their nightly adventures, the owls usually return to a number of regular roosting (resting) spots, sometimes on the exact same branch. The powerful owl chooses roosts that protect them against being mobbed by aggressive daytime birds, such as the noisy miner and pied currawong.
We found the owls used 32 different tree species to roost in: 23 were native, and nine were exotic, including pine and willow trees. This shows powerful owls can adapt to use a range of species to fit their roosting requirements, such as thick foliage to hide in during the day.
Owls will generally roost in damp, dark areas during summer, and in open roosts in full or dappled sunlight during winter to help regulate their body temperature.
Our research also shows rivers in urban environments are just as important as trees for roosting habitat.
Rivers are naturally home to a diverse range of wildlife. Using trees near rivers to rest in may be a strategic decision to reduce time and energy when travelling at night to find other resources, such as prey, mates and nests.
Rivers that constantly flow, such as the Yarra River, are a particular favourite for the owls.
The urban roost risk
These resting habitats, however, are under constant pressure by urban expansion and agriculture. Suitable roosting habitat is either removed, or degraded in quality and converted to housing, roads, grass cover or bare soil.
We found potentially suitable roosting habitat in Melbourne is extremely fragmented, covering just 10% of the landscape because owls are very selective about where they sleep.
Although there might be the odd suitable patch (or tree) to roost in urban environments, what’s often lacking is natural connectivity between patches. While owls are nocturnal, they still need places to rest in the night before they settle down in another spot to sleep for the day.
Supplementing habitat with more trees on private property and enhancing the quality of habitat along river systems may encourage owls to roost in other areas of Melbourne.
Powerful owls don’t discriminate between private land and reserves for roosting. So, conserving and enhancing resting habitats on public and private land will enable urban wildlife to persist alongside expanding and intensifying urbanisation.
So, what can you do to help?
If you want powerful owls to roost in your backyard, visit your local indigenous nursery and ask about trees local to your area.
Several favourite roost trees in Melbourne include many Eucalyptus species and wattles. If you don’t have the space for a large tree, they will also roost in the shorter, dense Kunzea and swamp paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia).
Planting them will provide additional habitat and, if you are lucky, your neighbourhood owls may even decide to settle in for the day and have a snooze.
This article was published in The Conversation on 1 March 2021. It was written by Nick Bradsworth, John White and Raylene Cook from Deakin University
The devastating fires over the Black Summer in the Blue Mountains have produced one remarkable display, the pink flannel flower (Actinotus forsythii). These flowers have been seen in burnt out areas from Katoomba to Lithgow and north to Newnes. The huge number of sightseers has caused the national parks rangers to institute traffic and parking control measures at easy access places like Narrow Neck.
The Pink Flannel Flower is special because of its ephemeral nature. It only germinates after conditions of fire and then good rainfall. It is believed that they germinate in response to bushfire smoke rather than heat.
Researchers at the University of NSW Centre for Ecosystem Science are aiming to find out more about the species, including how long their seeds can remain between fire events in a ‘deep dormancy’ before germination.
The smoke-derived chemical karrikinolide is the active ingredient to trigger the plants’ emergence. Lab tests involved creating so-called smoke-water infused with the chemical to prompt germination.
Left: View near State Mine Gully Road (Jill Green). Right: Narrow Neck close up (John Martyn)
Arguably there are fewer animals in the world that are feared more than sharks. But the reality is that they pose little threat to humans. Our innate fear of them is heightened by a potent mix of Hollywood portrayal and media hype. The vast majority of the 1,050+ shark and rays in the world pose no risk what-so-ever, many of them are benthic, don’t have pointy teeth and will never interact with humans. But they are all tarred by the same brush.
Shark attack data
The top three ‘killers’ (white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks) collectively kill around one person per annum in Australia according to the Shark Attack File maintained by Taronga Zoo. More people are killed by bees or horses than are killed by sharks. Far more people are killed by falling branches. So, we really need to take a reality check on the risk sharks pose to humans. More importantly, we need to be sure our shark management policies are driven by scientific reality rather than irrational fear. Shark management policy need not be a hyper-political issue, the numbers simply don’t warrant the attention they get let alone the budget expenditure.
Sharks are grossly misunderstood. Unlike crocodiles, sharks do not eat people. They are naturally inquisitive and tend to explore the world with their mouths. Unfortunately, if a white shark takes an interest in a person in the water, the exploratory bite can be fatal.
Of the 28 or so encounters each year, on average one is fatal (ca 5%). The injured person will likely die from blood loss if they do not get immediate medical assistance. The key to saving lives is to stem the bleeding as quickly as possible. This means that while the number of encounters each year remains much the same, the number of fatalities can vary, largely due to luck; Where on the body was the person bitten, how far from shore are they, how quickly does help arrive, can the blood flow be stopped? Most years we have no fatalities, but some years there are several. 2020 was particularly bad with eight fatalities; the highest recorded for 90 years.
Sadly, our misplaced fear of sharks means that our ability to conserve and appropriately manage them is hindered by our prejudice against them.
Many sharks are at risk of extinction
The IUCN suggests that a quarter of all sharks and ray species in the world are at risk of extinction. They are among the most threatened group of animals in the world.
The main reason sharks and rays are so vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts is that they have slow life history traits: They live for a long time, take a long time to reach maturity, have few young each year, often skip breeding season and have long gestation times (many are longer than humans). Collectively this means that their reproduction capacity is very low and they simply can’t rebound from impacts quickly enough.
Netting does not only kill sharks
Apart from overfishing (ca 50 million sharks are killed by the fin trade each year alone), the next greatest threat to many shark species is ‘shark control’. Many state governments have bather protection programs that involve a mix of management strategies. Sadly, many of them are lethal to sharks and other collateral species. Perhaps the most widely used and grossly inappropriate management action is shark netting. Contrary to popular belief, shark nets are simply a fish net suspended in the ocean off popular beaches. They do not act as a barrier, rather they catch animals indiscriminately.
Data from the 2017 shark netting program in NSW showed that not a single target shark (white, tiger or bull) was captured but 65 other animals were, including endangered species such as turtles, hammerhead sharks, grey nurse sharks and devil rays. 77% of the animals where dead by the time the nets were checked. Data from the 2019–20 season were much the same but on a larger scale. 480 animals ensnared, 90% of them non-target species, 284 of them dead, including dolphins.
These shocking statistics has led to wide-spread criticism of this program and many local councils are announcing bans on shark nets on their beaches. Of course, it’s likely that all these dead animals stuck in the nets actually attract sharks, many of whom are happy to take a free lunch.
Drum lines are another management approach. These are effectively hooks with bait on the end and of course they are equally indiscriminate. Some have argued that the baits actually attract sharks rather than deter them. The trouble with this system is that someone has to physically check the hooks. Often by the time they are checked, whatever has been caught has long since died. This may further attract sharks to the area.
There has been a shift towards ‘smart drum lines’ which are basically the same thing as a regular drum line, but they are fitted with an alarm. When an animal is hooked, the alarm goes off and prompts someone to check the line. This does improve the likelihood that the animal will survive the encounter.
What happens to the shark that is caught by drum lines is also controversial. In some instances, if the animal is a target species, it is simply shot. In other cases, it is moved offshore and released (with or without a tag). The trouble with both approaches is that many of these target species, particularly tigers and white sharks, move incredible distances and are mostly unpredictable. So, moving a shark offshore is only a short-term benefit from a swimmer safety perspective, till that shark or another one swims back again. Because these animals literally roam the ocean, shooting or removing sharks has no locally discernible impact either on shark numbers or shark bite statistics. In other words, it’s largely a political stunt that has no basis in science. The only benefit is that if the shark is tagged, that data makes a contribution to our understanding of shark movements and behaviour.
There are smarter alternatives
We already have the capacity for more common-sense approaches to managing human-shark relationships. Part of the solution is education. People need to realise the risk is small, but exists none-the-less. We need to take responsibility for our behaviour and the decisions we make. A shark is just being a shark when it bites a person, they are not being malicious. We humans are entering their environment and we need to be respectful.
A useful comparison is our laws regarding jay-walking. It’s illegal to randomly walk across a busy road or highway within 20 m of a pedestrian crossing because it’s dangerous; You could be killed by a car. If an incident does happen, its largely the pedestrian’s fault not the driver’s. The same common sense applies with entering the ocean; there are risks and if you get bitten by a shark, it’s not the shark’s fault.
Our understanding of shark behaviour also means that we can be a little smarter about when and where we go swimming. Dawn and dusk are periods of high shark activity, thus the risk at these times is slightly elevated. Obviously, one should not swim close to seal colonies, or near big schools of fish. River mouths after rainfall event should also be avoided. Swim with a buddy and tell people when and where you are going.
Drones are a better idea
New technology is also coming to our aid. Busy beaches can be monitored by drones. Drones connected to blimp-like balloons can stay afloat for long periods of time. They can stream images direct to a ground station and artificial intelligence can identify and track sharks in real time. Bathers can be warned that a shark is in the area and they should leave the water. We would be far better investing in this kind of approach than continually wasting time (and lives) on shark nets and drum lines that just don’t work.
Using our smarts and taking responsibility for our actions will go a long way towards harmonious human shark relations.
Prof Culum Brown gave us a fascinating talk about his research into shark behaviour. He has kindly sent us a summary of his talk
Glyphosate, most commonly marketed as Roundup, is extensively used as a herbicide in agricultural areas and bushcarers know how effective it is in controlling weed invasions in native vegetation woody weeds such as privet and ground covers such as Ehrharta. In recent years its safety has been called into question.
Glyphosate was developed by Monsanto and came onto the market in the 1970s. In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate may be capable of causing cancer, but did not specify the circumstances, since that was beyond the IARC remit.
This decision led to three court cases in the US where huge damages were awarded to people who developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In each case they found that Monsanto had not provided adequate information about the risks of using glyphosate-based products. The people involved had repeatedly come into direct contact with the chemical and were not aware of the need to take the precautions.
The response to these events has been a ban of its use in some countries and in some council areas in Australia. This is despite the announcement by the European Food Safety Authority that glyphosate ‘is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’. Similar conclusions have been reached by regulatory authorities in Australia, the US, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
How does it work?
Glyphosate is absorbed through foliage and transported to growing leaves. It interferes with the shikimate pathway used to produce some amino acids. Animals and people lack this pathway so they are not harmed by the presence of the chemical in the food they eat.
Earlier this year at the AGM of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators, Tim Low gave a talk on glyphosate. Tim is author of the best-selling book Feral Future, he helped found the Invasive Species Council and recently wrote an assessment for them called Glyphosate: A Chemical to Understand. The following information gives a brief summary of this very detailed paper.
Tim explained that the danger posed by a chemical can be assessed in two ways:
- a hazard assessment simply asks if a substance is capable of causing harm
- a risk assessment asks if it can cause harm under conditions of exposure
The IARC determined that glyphosate may cause cancer but so does exposure to the sun, eating salami or drinking wine. The risk is determined by the circumstances and level of exposure.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is an independent statutory authority that is responsible for testing the safety of pesticides. They commissioned a report from the Office of Chemical Safety. This review led the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to restate a previous finding that glyphosate is safe to use if the safety instructions are followed. The safety instructions include advice to wear the likes of ‘safety shoes, overalls, gloves, safety glasses’ when using concentrates and ‘wear gloves and wash hands after use’ for home garden mixes.
The opinions expressed by other experts quoted in the paper vary and are often qualified by the context of frequency of use and observation of exposure precautions. Some still say it should be avoided.
Are there any effective alternatives?
A pesticide expert at the University of Sydney, Professor Ivan Kennedy, says that ‘any’ replacement is likely to be more damaging to human health, and a herbicide expert at the University of Adelaide, Dr Chris Preston, says that glyphosate is safer than the alternatives, and better for the environment because there is no residual toxicity. This long persistence in the environment can impact on waterways, seagrass and algae.
In some cases, new chemicals appear to be better because there is less research on their impacts. Glyphosate has been studied far more intensively than the current alternatives. For example, Atrazine has caused tumours in female rats but the significance for humans is unknown because, the IARC decided, too little is known about atrazine to assess its carcinogenicity.
Most of those who argue against glyphosate do not acknowledge the chemical world we live in. One Guardian article noted that glyphosate ‘traces are commonly found in our food and even our bodily fluids’ but this is the case with many other chemicals.
Experience with non-chemical methods
Byron Shire Council moved to ban glyphosate in 2013 when councillors passed a resolution aspiring to end pesticide use in highly frequented public places. Council officers tried slashing and brush cutting instead but roadside weeds increased in diversity and spread, and potholes formed where weeds undermined the road. Current policy is to use herbicides to control priority weeds on roadsides, and strive to replace weedy roadside grasses with low-growing desirable plants.
Byron Council has largely eliminated herbicide use in urban areas. The council purchased a steam weeder but it will only kill annual weeds, so is unsuitable for most environmental weeds. Steam has to be used carefully because of the risk of burns, and only suits areas with vehicle access.
Hobart City Council trialled steam with disappointing results. Many weeds needed repeated treatments. It was estimated that the city-wide use of steam would cost more than ten times more than the use of glyphosate.
In Perth one council trialled alternative methods on clovers and other small weeds growing beside a gravel trail, achieving some success with mulch, steam, pelargonic acid, pine oil, and salt and vinegar. There was no suggestion that these methods will work against larger weeds. Trials are ongoing.
Weed control becomes as much more labour-intensive process if herbicides are not used. Non-chemical methods of control, especially steam spraying, can be used against some very small weeds in city parks and ovals. They do not kill larger weeds in parks, nature reserves and on farms.
Current opinions of the use of glyphosate
The National Farmers’ Federation has said farming cannot survive without glyphosate, presumably because of poorer weed control from other herbicides (and lower yields under organic farming). The president, Fiona Simson, also pointed out the environmental benefits of glyphosate. Farmers can spray the weeds that emerge in bare fields rather than killing them by tilling, which disturbs soil structure and soil biota, increases soil erosion and loses moisture. Defending glyphosate, Simson said:
New practices like low- and no-till cropping have radically reduced our greenhouse gas emissions, improved the quality of our soils, and taken water use efficiency to new heights.
Glyphosate is the main herbicide used against bushland weeds, and a ban would undermine environmental goals. After the American court cases the president of the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators, Dr Tein McDonald, said that bush regenerators:
… do not want to discard a highly important tool from our conservation toolbox without sound justification.
Adam Muyt in his book Bush Invaders of South-eastern Australia (2001), states that, of the many methods to control weeds in bushland reserves (which include fire, mulching, slashing, grazing and scalping), herbicides:
… offer the only really effective treatment for removing many of the more tenacious and aggressive invasive species.
Unlike on farms, glyphosate is usually applied in a discrete and targeted way, with stem injection or a cut-and-paint application to individual plants. Admittedly, on large scale weed invasions, it is sprayed on foliage and some spray drift can then occur. Methods like cut and paint avoid the need to disturb the ground to dig up weeds, creating bare ground that invites further weed germination and can cause erosion.
On a larger scale glyphosate is often the most effective means of controlling weeds of national significance such as gamba grass in the Northern Territory. This grass was imported as cattle feed but areas that are not eaten create hotter fires. Around Darwin fire-fighting costs have increased significantly.
Tim Low (2020) Glyphosate: A Chemical to Understand (Invasive Species Council, Fairfield, Victoria)
Adam Muyt (2001) Bush Invaders of South-East Australia: A Guide to the Identification and Control of Environmental Weeds Found in South-East Australia (RG and FJ Richardson, Meredith, Victoria)
It is 20 years since the Grey-headed Flying-fox was listed as a threatened species under NSW and Commonwealth legislation. This legislation requires that a recovery plan is prepared and implemented. Getting the Australian government and the states (Victoria, NSW and Queensland) to agree on the plan has been frustrated by political pressure many times.
In 2017 there was a serious attempt to delist the flying-foxes. Fortunately, the Australasian Bat Society prepared a strong submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry set up to address the issue of flying-foxes.
Finally, the national recovery plan is no longer a draft and it came into effect under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act on 19 March 2021.
The plan is written clearly and contains useful summaries of the biology and ecology of the species. The actions will need pressure from the community to ensure they are implemented.
Flying foxes are critical to the pollination of eucalypts, in particular, throughout Australia. It is probably not accidental that most eucalypts on the East Coast are white flowered so their blossoms can be seen at night. Even Turpentines, which have a much higher flow of nectar at night, provide a ‘high octane fuel’ needed for these blossom-feeding mammals.
In many areas of Ku-ring-gai people living near bushland have been busy constructing bike tracks for their family and neighbours to use. We are aware of these tracks in North Turramurra, East Lindfield and North Wahroonga and there are many more.
This is illegal! You cannot go onto public land and do what you like. That is just like setting up a coffee shop at the front of your neighbour’s house and then dumping the rubbish in their garden.
These tracks can do tremendous damage to bushland, for example:
- erosion and compaction of the soil that damages root systems and destroys micro-organisms that plants depend on, particularly orchids
- destruction of plants and animal habitat including threatened species
- introduction of weeds and fungal pathogens
- changing stormwater flow causing erosion
- disturbance to wildlife that are nesting or foraging nearby
The authorised Warrimoo track was constructed after detailed research into the appropriate route and suitable materials.
Ku-ring-gai Council is actively implementing its Recreation in Natural Areas Strategy which includes the closure of these unauthorised tracks. Council has the power:
- to issue a notice to stop work
- to issue fines
- to recover the cost of remediation works
- to take legal proceedings to restrain the unlawful activities
But it seems that some people think they are entitled to do what they like in the bush.
There is an online petition circulating at the moment trying to gather community support to persuade Ku-ring-gai Council to stop closing and taking down illegal bike tracks and rehabilitating the bush.
[Please also see update at end of story]
The introduction to the petition demonstrates the gall of the proponents:
Waterball Enduro Mountain bike trail has been in construction for over a year, has not damaged the beautiful surrounding bushland in any way and has brought together so many kids in the local community in its construction and use. It has had many hundreds of hours spent in its building, design and maintenance.
These photos clearly demonstrates the damage they are doing to the ‘beautiful bushland’. Actually it is blatant vandalism.
UpdateThe damage two bushland caused by the track builders in North Wahroonga has now been remediated by Ku-ring-gai Council. There is still a lot of work to be done in other sites.
The North Connex Tunnel that is a direct link between the Sydney Newcastle Expressway (now called the M1) and the M2 was finally opened in December 2020. The occasion has caused several STEP members to reflect on the prolonged and passionate campaign that was undertaken to prevent the horrifying alternative proposals of freeway/s through the Lane Cove Valley bushland. The stories sent to us by Elaine Malicki, Pat Stewart and Caron Morrison are copied below, but firstly some background.
A corridor had been marked on maps by the DMR since the 1940s for roads through the Lane Cove Valley between Pearces Corner and Fig Tree Bridge. Government attitudes at the time were that urban bushland was just vacant space available for utilitarian purposes. In the 1980s the word was out that plans were under active consideration for a freeway. The STEP committee was immediately on the case.
The August 1984 meeting minutes record a plan to alert residents, prepare a position paper and write to the Premier Nick Greiner. A sub-committee was formed that joined with other local groups. Walks were undertaken with photographers to illustrate what could be lost.
In early 1987 the NSW government’s intentions became clearer with the publication of a report called Roads 2000. A freeway along the valley seemed to have been abandoned but a link from Pearces Corner to North Ryde was still a possibility. This road may have been at least 10 years away but serious action began to try to nip this in the bud.
John Burke wrote a position paper that refuted the arguments for more freeways as well as highlighting the damage to bushland and neighbourhoods. On receipt of the paper Nick Greiner wrote a statement that that there was no intention of building a freeway.
But a change of government can change previous undertakings! Late in 1988 the prospects of a freeway became more serious when possible routes for a link were published by the RTA in a North West Sector Road Needs Study. The map shows the possible routes, dubbed the B2 and B3, that would have destroyed the tranquillity and environment of Wahroonga and South Turramurra.
Community groups were established such as the Coalition against Lane Cove Freeway (CALCVF) chaired by Elaine Malicki. The 1989 president’s report lists the massive amount of work carried out: public meetings, meetings with politicians, information papers, letters sent to media and politicians, members asked to write
Finally, in July 1995, the freeway corridor was abandoned.
That was not the end of the story as a further study by Sinclair Knight Merz on linking the F3 and M2 was made in the early 2000s. STEP employed a project officer, Kate Read, who wrote a paper that was submitted to SKM by STEP. It demonstrated that a link road would be a short-term fix unlikely to solve the transport problems in the longer term. This was followed up with lots of lobbying. The outcome was the recommendation for the tunnel that was built.
The South Turramurra land that was in the B2/B3 corridor (Chisholm St) is now a residential area and other parts remain as bushland. The land between Eastbourne Ave and Fox Valley Road parallel to Lucinda Ave is still in government hands. Most is zoned as E2 and can’t become residential. Some near Fox Valley Road is zoned as E4 but has Blue Gum High Forest vegetation so we hope it can be maintained as green space.
My documentation has been passed on to historical groups but would like to share what I see as the reasons for the strength and success of this campaign.
The initial meeting was called by the oldest community group in the area, the Kissing Point Progress Association. The meeting was held at the Kissing Point Sports Club and was very well attended, with representatives of the Kissing Point Progress Association, Ku-ring-gai Ratepayers Association, STEP (as it was then), a range of sporting groups, scouts and guides, local P&Cs, churches, kindergartens and environmental and bushcare groups. The Fox Valley area was involved as well as parts of Wahroonga, South Turramurra and West Pymble.
As locals we were very committed to opposing the plans for every freeway option.
At CALCVF’s initial meeting I was elected president and Tony Morrison was to be secretary, with a bevy of committee members from many different groups and this network became an essential part of our communication strategy and provided an army of helpers. My role as secretary of the Ku-ring-gai Ratepayers’ Association meant I had strong links with Ku-ring-gai Council (which opposed the freeway options) and the media.
Meetings were frequent and well attended. We resolved to provide regular newsletters to inform the community, and to seek and encourage media attention at all levels to both inform and pressure politicians. Community appeals for donations kept us in stationery and paid postage. We kept strong records and researched as much as possible. Every available document was scrutinised and contacts cultivated within the various departments involved with the decision-making as well as National Parks and Ku-ring-gai Council who were the custodians of most of the land involved.
Politicians were approached both en masse using Greg Bloomfield’s Votergrams, and through frequent letters to every MP. Every response was followed up and as many politicians and media as possible were asked to join us for a bushwalk to view the valley or to receive a briefing.
Public meetings were held at critical times to muster support and were open to all. It became our practice to invite any other freeway action groups who quickly became part of our network, e.g. LEN (Less Expressway Noise) from the vicinity of the newly opened F3 Freeway commencing at Wahroonga.
We shared information, supported and demonstrated for other groups and ultimately were similarly supported. I think it is fair to say
that CALCVF initiated this intense networking concept and it was highly successful.
Committee members worked to their strengths and the energy was extraordinary. Availability varied and people stepped up to fill gaps or to provide expertise or information or help. I resigned in 1991 to become a council alderman and my role was taken over wonderfully by Pat Stewart with Tony Morrison’s wife, Caron, becoming a linchpin of the group. The research and networking were second to none and persistence, knowledge and accuracy were central.
Bob Carr announced in 1995 that the B1, B2 and B3 freeway corridors were to be abandoned. It had been a long, intense and successful community campaign with a core of inexperienced mums and dads whose dedication saved the Lane Cove Valley for the future.
We worked together so well, with such a strong common objective, and we had fun too! This was the greatest achievement of my life (family excluded!) and I am sure many of the others felt the same. To have been part of saving our special valley for future generations was a marvel to me. It mattered ...
Elaine Malicki and Pat Stewart
I was president of CALCVF from 1991 until 1995 when the plans for the freeway were abandoned. Many people had worked hard and played an important part in the establishment of CALCVF before I joined the group and it was, indeed, a vital energetic group.
My most vivid memory of the long journey was the amazing committee that I worked with. The dedication of the people involved and the knowledge and skills that they possessed as well as their willingness to be called upon (often at short notice) to walk with, and talk to, politicians and other officials about what would be lost if the freeway went ahead. It was a privilege to know them.
I lived in Leuna Ave at the end of The Broadway Wahroonga, a historic roadway. This fascinated me. I began to clear sections using hand tools and I researched the style of road building and realised it was a Telford road. There are very few Telford roads remaining in Sydney. Further research revealed that it was part of a roadway planned by John Bradfield to join the northern roadway area to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I also found that John Bradfield had been president of the Lane Cove River Trust and he wanted to retain the natural beauty of the area so I felt that should he be alive – he would find an alternative solution to the freeway.
When I became president I decided to focus on making all members of the NSW parliament aware of what would be lost if the freeway went ahead. I was lucky that Caron Morrison agreed with me and was prepared to work with me. Caron was familiar with the ins and outs of politics – she knew who we should focus on and she was prepared to keep them up-to-date with matters pertaining to our cause. Caron would regularly go into Parliament House to talk to parliamentarians personally.
I wrote letters to all parliamentarians addressing each individual letter and signing them personally. I invited them to come and see the area for themselves and members of our committee would meet them and talk to them and take them for a walk along part of the proposed route of the freeway. Quite a few parliamentarians and bureaucrats accepted the invitation.
Neroli and Harry Lock who lived in Leuna Ave would take us on a short walk to a large rock that gave a view over the valley and from there it was possible to see how much bushland would be lost.
We also kept the local people informed about the situation with letterbox drops and information tables at the local shopping centres.
We needed money from time to time to cover expenses. Our fundraising activities were kept to a minimum but one that still brings a smile to my face was one initiated by Neroli Lock. Neroli used her creative ability to print ‘money’. The ‘money’ was a larger size than the legal tender but it was an ‘investment in protecting the bushland of the Lane Cove Valley’. There were $2, $5 and $10 notes. These notes were different colours. When the idea was suggested to me, I went to her house to see what she was actually meaning and there – hanging on the clothesline were all these ‘notes’. ‘Laundering money’ certainly took on a new meaning.
All ‘investments’ (donations) were given with a chuckle. (I kept mine for many years.)
When it was announced that the freeway was not going to be built, we were elated. All the efforts of all the people involved had been worthwhile!
Although the announcement had been made, we knew that we had to continue our efforts to ensure that subsequent governments could not reverse the decision. It was not until the official
notice was published in the Government Gazette that we relaxed and felt that the group had really achieved an amazing result.
In summary, it looks like it was a simple easy thing to do – in reality it took a lot of effort by many people. It consumed years of my life.
Personally, I only fully relaxed when the tunnel was officially opened. It had been a long journey for many. John Burke, Elaine Malicki, Bruno Krockenburger, John Martyn, Neroli and Harry Lock all played a major role in this quest.
Stopping the building of the Lane Cove Valley Freeway was absolutely a magnificent accomplishment. Congratulations to everyone involved.
Psychologists say that the promises you make to yourself, especially when you are a child, are the most important commitments of all.
In 1964 my family moved from the centre of Sydney to the wilds of South Turramurra. After a life of traffic and bustle it was a strange and exotic land, full of the promise of adventure and mystery. Almost simultaneous with my arrival I witnessed the earth scarring destruction of the valley for the construction of the Comenarra Parkway. Whilst watching the intruders going about their business I made a silent vow that if I was ever in a position to prevent another road being built, I would do whatever I could.
Making this decision settled my mind but I can honestly say that I never really thought I would be in the position of having to act upon it. By several twists of fate however, I found myself as a young parent of four boisterous sons living once again on the edge of the valley and in 1989 the unthinkable happened. The NSW government decided, after decades of inertia, to build another massive road to connect Ryde Road with Pennant Hills Road and I was driven to almost manic levels of activity.
Since then, I have often wondered whether that level of activity was necessary, or whether I was just acting out following my childhood experiences but I genuinely believe that nothing short of a super human effort is required when you are up against the full might of government.
It would be easy to say that the period between the government announcement to build in 1989 and the decision not to build in 1996 was completely awful, but I value the opportunities to meet and work with some fascinating people in ways that I think led to great outcomes, even if I was ridiculously tired and stressed most of the time. I am incredibly proud to have been able to contribute in some way to the preservation of this unique treasure.
In the November 2020 newsletter we explained concerns about the proposed change to land clearing regulations that would allow landowners to clear within 25 metres of boundary fences without obtaining consent. This could lead to large areas of peri-urban rural land on smaller blocks being cleared. This was not a recommendation of the bushfire enquiry.
After lobbying by concerned residents Hornsby Council passed a resolution to write to the government requesting an exemption for rural-zoned land in the council area. Mayor Philip Ruddock said that the rural boundary clearing code could potentially result in the clearing of 1035 hectares, or half the vegetation on rural-zoned lands within the local government area.
In response, the NSW government agreed to exclude Sydney's councils from new land-clearing rules that would have given residents much greater freedom to cut down trees on their properties.
The final details of the code are being discussed. It is understood that Matt Kean and Planning Minister Stokes are pushing for curbs to avoid the destruction of endangered ecosystems, including koala habitat. We don’t want to see the indiscriminate clearing that is still occurring under the 10/50 code.
In November 2020 we were alerted by residents of North Turramurra that the Glengarry Girl Guides site was up for sale. The site covers 8.1 hectares and is zoned RE2, private recreation.
From the Miowera Road access the site is fairly level with a large hall, commercial kitchen, accommodation, multi-purpose cottages and rooms as well as outdoor recreation spaces. The rest of the site is high quality bushland on a steep slope that is bordered by the popular Glengarry fire trail and Darri walking track.
The bushland portion contains significant habitat elements such as hollow bearing trees, rocky outcrops, major creek lines and riparian zone that would cater for a diversity of native fauna species including threatened species such as the Powerful Owl. Walkers in the area have observed Lyrebirds, numerous small birds and seasonal visits by Goshawks. As the land has been privately owned there has not been any detailed ecological survey.
This land was donated to the Girl Guides in the 1930s for community use. They own two adjoining blocks to the north that were also donated to the Guides and are held under a Reserve Trust. They are zoned E2 and link to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The whole sequence of blocks is part of the Cowan Creek Reserve of high biodiversity value.
In December the Girl Guides announced that:
The Board has approved the purchase of Glengarry by the preferred party and contracts have been exchanged. The purchase exhibits benefit to our Association, residents, and the community at large and includes a licence agreement of six years’ access for Guiding.
The purchaser is a community organisation. Their identity has not been disclosed. There's a big risk the purchaser may try to rezone the land for housing. (This happened to other Girl Guide owned land in Miowera Road in 2010.)
In STEP’s view any increase in population should not occur in this bushfire prone and high risk bushfire evacuation area. It could also be used for recreational purposes that would be detrimental to the ecology of the bushland.
We will be watching developments closely. Please alert us if you hear anything.
The Mirvac development of the old IBM site next to Cumberland State Forest in West Pennant Hills was fast-tracked by the NSW government in June. The project is now proceeding at full speed. STEP is a member of the Community Reference Committee that has been set up by Mirvac. We are able to receive the details on the evolution of the project.
The DA for demolition was submitted to the Hills Council in December. This confirms that over 1,200 trees will be removed to make way for the residential development site including Blue Gum and STIF vegetation. This is the tree destruction that led to the huge level of opposition from the local community.
The next stage is the submission of the Concept Masterplan DA for the apartment and house developments. The original plan was for 600 dwellings, 400 apartments and 200 houses. This has been reduced to 450, 280 apartments and 170 houses in response to the Department of Planning requirements for Asset Protection Zones and protection of sensitive vegetation. This may change when the DA is submitted.
The number of apartment blocks has been reduced from nine in the original plan to alternative options with seven or four larger blocks. There is the possibility of some sections being up to nine stories. This exceeds the usual height limits. The argument is that the sight lines to the forest will be improved. We await the detailed DA for more information.
The forest area to be dedicated to the management of NSW Forestry as part of Cumberland State Forest has been increased to 10 ha. Mirvac will contribute some of the management costs. This will not occur until the DA has been approved and the subdivision process completed. It is still not known what will happen to other E2 (conservation) zoned areas.
The final report on the review of the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act headed by Prof Graeme Samuel was released by the Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, in January, 3 months late. The report gives a scathing assessment of the implementation of the current Act. It ‘is not fit for current and future environmental challenges’. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the government’s response does not provide promise that decisive reform will happen.
The main recommendations are for:
- strong, outcome focussed national environmental standards to guide decision making
- independent oversight by an Environment Assurance Commissioner and audit by an Office of Compliance and Enforcement to build confidence that the Act and the national environmental standards are working
- a mandated, rigorous compliance and enforcement regime to ensure compliance and enforcement of environmental approval conditions
- outcomes-focused law, which will require the capacity to effectively monitor and report on environmental outcomes
- adequate funding for species recovery and an environmental database such as mapping of habitat for threatened species to underpin decision making
- harnessing the knowledge of Indigenous Australians to better inform how the environment is managed
- recognition that environmental protection under Regional Forestry Agreements is insufficient and the need for immediate reform and Commonwealth oversight – a critical element to the ending of logging in the habitat of endangered species like the Swift Parrot
One controversial recommendation is to hand over approval powers to the states but subject to observance of agreed environmental standards. This proposal was included in the interim report released in August.
In response, the government rammed through legislation to implement this proposal. Attempts by independents, such as Zali Steggall, to make amendments for the crucial new standards were ignored. It is now up to the Senate to improve the situation.
The centrepiece of Samuel’s report is the proposed new national environmental standards. These would provide clear grounds for drawing a line in the sand on environmental damage. Any new developments would need to be in places where environmental damage is avoided from the outset, with offsets only available if they’re ecologically feasible and effective. One of the many failings of Australia’s environmental laws is there has never been a point beyond which no further impacts are acceptable. This requires consideration of cumulative impacts in a regional context.
The proposed standards say there should be ‘no net loss’ of vulnerable or endangered species habitat, and ‘no detrimental change’ to listed critical habitat of a species or ecological community. But the data has not been updated for 15 years so who knows what the correct baseline should be.
The proposed standards were leaked on 12 February. According to the Sydney Morning Herald they are no different to the existing clauses in the EPBC Act and obviously don’t meet the recommendations of an independent review. For example:
- demands for ‘best available’ information becomes a requirement only for ‘adequate’ assessments
- the need to address detrimental cumulative impact is missing
- plans that ‘must be prepared and implemented to monitor and evaluate outcomes of actions’ is also absent
We hope that the states refuse to accept these standards. Matt Kean has already stated he wants the strongest environmental standards enforced with a strong environmental watchdog.
The federal environment minister can make decisions with little requirement to publicly justify them. They must be open to public and robust scrutiny and explain how their decisions might affect environments and species.
Species recovery actions
The review report explained the initiatives that are needed and why. Basically, the evidence shows our biodiversity is in dire straits and lip service is being paid to calls for action. Australia has more than 1,900 listed threatened species and ecological communities, and most don’t even have active recovery plans. Ecologists will need to collect, analyse and interpret new, up-to-date data to make biodiversity conservation laws operational for most threatened species.
A report in the journal Conservation Letters in November 2019 found that annual spending on targeted threatened species recovery is around $122 million which is around 15% of what is needed to avoid extinctions and recover threatened species.
Regional forestry agreements
Many reports have been written about the shortcomings of the Regional Forest Agreements. Currently they do not ensure protection of threatened species and their habitats. Any reforms will be hard fought by the forestry industries and locally affected communities.
Prof Samuel noted that:
… governments should avoid the temptation to cherry pick from a highly interconnected suite of recommendations.
But this is exactly what the Morrison government is doing.
There has been much relief that the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has ruled against the expansion of the Dendrobium Mine near Wollongong. The mine is under the Sydney water supply catchment metropolitan Special Areas where longwall mining has already caused subsidence in the surface above with significant environmental damage.
The extension would have allowed the proponent, South32, to extract an additional 78 million tonnes of coking coal from two new areas near the Avon and Cordeaux Dams during the period 2024 to 2048. The mining would have comprised 21 ‘long wall’ panels, 18 of which would have been more than 300 m wide. Most of that coal would be used in steelmaking here and overseas.
In summary the IPC’s ruling is that the proposed longwall mine design introduces uncertainty regarding the extent of environmental impacts in the Metropolitan Special Area and the Applicant’s ability to adequately manage those impacts and ensure their statutory purpose is achieved; that is providing a supply of clean drinking water.
Some more detailed reasons for the decision were:
- the risk of significant subsidence that would degrade 25 watercourses and swamps and lead to the potential instability and fracturing of up to 40 cliffs located above the proposed longwalls
- the cracking of the surface could lead to significant surface water losses into the groundwater system with detrimental impacts to threatened ecological communities such as upland swamps, and Aboriginal cultural artefacts and values
- the fracturing of rocks could contribute to increased concentrations of metals in water flowing into the dams that are part of Sydney’ water supply
- the impact of past and existing longwall mining in the catchment is estimated at 3billion litres per annum – the extension is likely to increase this loss
- uncertainty around managing mine water inflow (surface waters permanently diverted underground) after mine closure
The level of risk posed by the project has not been properly quantified and, based on the potential for long-term and irreversible impacts particularly on the integrity of a vital drinking water source for the Macarthur and Illawarra regions, the Wollondilly Shire and Metropolitan Sydney – it is not in the public interest.
The IPC noted the applicant has offered mitigation measures for remediation of selected key stream features, financial offsets for water losses and water quality impacts and an upland swamp offset site; however, a number of these measures have not been considered acceptable by the responsible statutory agencies. How can it be possible to quantify the cost of irreversible and continuing loss of water or the value of a threatened upland swamp that cannot be replaced? How much more desalinisation capability would be required?
The Planning Department had recommended approval but as usual, they did not take into account cumulative impacts when added to the impact of the existing mines.
The Deputy Premier John Barilaro condemned the decision claiming a massive loss of jobs and investment uncertainty. One of the IPC’s considerations was that the bulk of this coal is primarily destined for other markets beyond the Illawarra Region, so we can’t take Barilaro’s scaremongering seriously.
The NSW government is ploughing ahead with plans to build the Northern Beaches tunnel link at great expense estimated at $14 billion. The massive EIS was released in December, just in time for Christmas. Submissions close 1 March. Click below:
The Beaches Link and Gore Hill Freeway Connection project, its full title, comprises a new motorway tunnel connection across Middle Harbour from the Warringah Freeway and Gore Hill Freeway to the Burnt Bridge Creek Deviation at Balgowlah and Wakehurst Parkway at Killarney Heights. The total tunnel length will be 5.6 km.
The crossing of Middle Harbour between Northbridge and Seaforth would involve three lane, twin immersed tube tunnels. The project also includes a surface upgrade of Wakehurst Parkway from Seaforth to Frenchs Forest and upgrade and integration works to connect to the Gore Hill Freeway and Reserve Road at Artarmon (see map at the bottom of the page).
The project will have major impacts on reserves and golf courses that will be used as construction and tunnel dive sites. Filtration vents will be close to schools. Then there will be all the traffic disruption over more than 5 years as the links are constructed and the tunnel waste is removed.
We have changed our ways of living and working in response to the COVID pandemic. As is happening all over Sydney, population increases are planned for the Northern Beaches but how many of these new residents want to commute to the city? Will they work within the northern beaches peninsula or want to travel west via Mona Vale Road?
The increased traffic along the proposed road will spill out near the Northern Beaches Hospital. Then what? Increases in congestion along Warringah and Pittwater Roads no doubt. The project will only encourage more road use as well as many longer term consequences.
There will be increased traffic along Wakehurst Parkway because it will lead directly into the new tunnel. But that road floods frequently. Will there be pressure to extend the widening of the Parkway? Yet this road goes through more high quality bushland.
So do we need to rethink this massive road project? Tolls will have to be increased to help pay for all this. Are there better alternatives? What about boosting public transport instead!
The Willoughby Environment Protection Association has discussed in detail whether public transport options have been given adequate consideration.
Another group, called Viable Transport Solutions has lots of information on their website.
Once again bushland is deemed to be expendable. The Wakehurst Parkway from Seaforth to the Northern Beaches Hospital would be widened to two lanes each way with most of the bushland clearing occurring on the Manly Dam catchment side. Garigal National Park on the west side will also be affected, especially during construction. Could there be a viable alternative of extending the tunnels to reduce the damage to the bushland?
The current proposal entails the clearing of 15.44 hectares of native vegetation, much of which is threatened species habitat, adjoining Manly Warringah War Memorial Park that protects the waters of Manly Dam. This includes about 2,000 mature trees.
1.38 hectares is consistent with the Duffys Forest Ecological Community in the Sydney Basin Bioregion (listed as endangered under the Biodiversity Conservation Act). A large area of Duffys Forest was also removed for the road widening around the Northern Beaches Hospital. More cumulative impact being ignored!
Overhead ladders and some tunnels will be built to provide wildlife corridors across the Wakehurst Parkway. Funding will be needed to observe their effectiveness.
The EIS says biodiversity offsets for native vegetation would be provided for the project. Of course they can never make up for what will be lost. Where can suitable offsets come from? They can’t be in national parks.
The list of other negative environmental impacts is long; for example, pollution entering water courses and groundwater that will affect water quality in Manly Dam, Aboriginal heritage along the Engraving Track, air pollution from traffic and tunnel emissions.