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.