SUBMISSION FROM BIG SCRUB LANDCARE ON THE DRAFT NSW BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION BILL AND ACCOMPANYING LEGISLATION AND CODES

ABOUT THIS SUBMISSION

  1. This submission by Big Scrub Landcare (BSL) is in three parts. Part A is a summary of the submission. Part B provides background information about BSL and lowland subtropical rainforest. Part C deals with major issues of concern to BSL.

PART A. SUMMARY

  1. BSL is one of the largest and most successful landcare groups in NSW. Established in 1992, it has more than 160 members and 660 interested registrants on it website and social media sites. It has spent 24 years, more than $2.5 million of government grants and substantial other resources achieving extraordinary outcomes in restoring critically endangered Lowland Rainforest of Subtropical Australia (LRSA) in the Big Scrub and surrounding areas in the Northern Rivers of NSW which are in the Border Ranges National Biodiversity Hotspot. BSL has carried out conservation management in 66 LRSA remnants in the Big Scrub with an aggregate area of 600ha and has facilitated the revegetation of more than 100 patches of lowland rainforest with an aggregate area of 250 ha. BSL implements more than forty recommended actions in the Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan, an Australian and NSW Regional Recovery Plan.
  2. The great biodiversity and conservation outcomes achieved by BSL, its members and partners are threatened by the Bill and related legislation and codes, which would facilitate the clearing by developers of remnant and revegetated patches of critically endangered rainforest that BSL, its members, partners and supporters have restored. Development pressure and the clearing risk will inevitable increase over time in our rapidly growing sea-change region.
  3. BSL has a number of other areas of major concern regarding the Bill and related legislation and codes. These include
  • Failure to provide absolute protection for other areas of high conservation value
  • Fundamental flaws in the native vegetation regulatory maps
  • Removal of the requirement to “improve or maintain biodiversity values” and the introduction of “serious and irreversible impacts”
  • Facilitation of broadscale clearing, which would adversely affect fauna habitat and degrade farmland through increased salinity and soil erosion. It will also lead to the degradation of waterways and water quality through erosion and siltation. It will jeopardise achievement of Australia’s carbon emissions targets
  • Facilitation of other unregulated or poorly regulated clearing of native vegetation, including regrowth vegetation, the definition of which would include all revegetated patches of lowland subtropical rainforest restored by our members and supporters. Some of these patches have and others will be classified as critically endangered as they reach the threshold for revegetated LRSA as set out in the listing advice under the EPBC Act.
  • Serious shortcomings in the Draft Biodiversity Assessment Method, including the use of “supplementary measures” and paying money into a fund in lieu of offsets
  • Lack of sufficient staff at North Coast LLS with the expertise and experience required implementing those provisions of the Bills and Codes for which it would be responsible.
  1. BSL therefore is very strongly of the view that the current Native Vegetation Act, the Threatened Species Conservation Act and related legislation and codes should be retained and the proposed Bills and codes abandoned because this would
  • Be in best interests of BSL’s members and supporters in continuing to achieve their mission of conserving and protecting critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest and its 70 threatened species in a National Biodiversity Hotspot and in implementing more than forty recommended actions in the Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan, an Australian and NSW Regional Recovery Plan
  • Would facilitate the conservation, protection and survival of other         critically endangered and endangered ecological communities in NSW and prevent an inevitable upsurge in their clearing that would occur under the proposed Bills and codes
  • Would prevent a major increase in broadscale clearing of native vegetation plus other unregulated or poorly regulated clearing that would occur under the proposed Bills and codes
  • Provide a reasonable balance between the biodiversity, social and economic interests of the NSW community generally

PART B: ABOUT BIG SCRUB LANDCARE AND LOWLAND SUBTROPICAL RAINFOREST

  1. Big Scrub Landcare (BSL) has since its establishment in 1992 has focused on the restoration and ongoing conservation management of critically endangered lowland subtropical rainforest in the Big Scrub and surrounding areas in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. BSL is one of the largest and most successful Landcare Groups in NSW. It has more than 160 members and operates at a landscape scale between Grafton and the Queensland border, It was awarded the NSW Landcare Gold Award for Nature Conservation in 2001 and was a finalist in the NSW Landcare Group Awards in 2015. BSL has just received the United Nations Australia 2016 World Environment Day Biodiversity Award.
  2. BSL’s President and CEO since 1993, and the signatory of this submission, Dr Tony Parkes, received NSW Landcare’s Individual Landcarer of the Year Award in 2001 and 2015. He was Deputy Chair of the Richmond Catchment Management Committee and President of the Richmond Vegetation Management Committee that produced the draft Richmond Catchment Management Plan in 2001. He had a successful career in business and investment banking from 1955 to 2008. He moved to his family small farm near Bangalow in 1989. Lowland subtropical rainforest has been restored on a third of the farm and is protected by a Property Agreement and a VCA. Great progress has been made in restoring soil fertility and productivity on the remainder of the property via biological farming. This has lead to substantial improvements in pasture growth and quality. The family is currently pioneering the development of a new business for this region: buffalo dairying and the on-farm production of mozzarella cheese and yogurt.
  3. Lowland Rainforest of Subtropical Australia, which has the richest biodiversity of any terrestrial ecosystem in NSW, covered only c 200,000 ha in NE NSW and SE Qld at the time of European settlement. 93% has since been cleared. The Big Scrub, between Byron Bay, Ballina and Lismore was the largest area of contiguous forest, covering 75,000. Almost 99% of the Big Scrub was cleared, leaving some 100 remnants scattered across a fragmented landscape with an aggregate area of less than 1000ha. Other mainly small remnants occur from the Clarence Valley to the Qld border. LRSA provides habitat for 77 threatened species in NSW
  4. BSL’s activities cover the rehabilitation and ongoing management of remnants of lowland subtropical rainforest, a critically endangered ecological community (CEEC), the re-establishment of lowland rainforest on lands from which it has been cleared, and community engagement and education. Its rainforest restoration work is focussed on the Big Scrub. BSL implements more than forty recommended actions in the Border Ranges Rainforest Biodiversity Management Plan, an Australian and NSW Regional Recovery Plan
  5. BSL has achieved outstanding outcomes in each of these activities. It has successfully completed more than 40 projects funded by $2.6million in grants, including 13 grants totalling more than $1million from the NSW Environmental Trust. These grants have been supplemented more than $3 million expended by BSL and its members, donors, partners and supporters, including NSW NPWS, Rous Water, three local councils and more than 60 other landholders. BSL and its members have done or financed restoration work at more than 80 remnants with a total area of 740 ha , and has facilitated the planting of more than 1 million rainforest trees that has revegetated more than 250 ha of land from which the rainforest had been cleared.
  6. BSL’s community engagement and education program has been outstandingly successful. The highlight has been the annual Big Scrub Day that has been presented by BSL with the help of many supporters for the past 17 years and has attracted more than 23,000 attendees. BSL produced manuals on Subtropical Rainforest Restoration and Subtropical Rainforest Weed ID and Control that have been standard reference works for a decade. It has published 48 editions of a highly regarded Newsletter and operates a website and facebook page on which 660 people have registered their interest.
  7. BSL has always been totally committed to scientific best practice in all of its activities and has achieved high standing in the ecological science community. BSL got together a group of eminent ecologists to develop and assist in the assessment of the nomination that led to the listing of Lowland Rainforest of Subtropical Australia (LRSA) as a CEEC under the Commonwealth EPBC Act. BSL also lodged the nomination that led to the listing of Lowland of Rainforest of the NSW North Coast and Sydney Basin Bioregions as an endangered ecological community under the NSW TSC Act.

 

PART C. MAJOR CONCERNS WITH THE DRAFT BILLS AND RELATED CODES

(a) Protecting endangered ecological communities

  1.    The clearing of endangered ecological communities is permitted under land management codes and the key four key elements of the new approach to identifying and protecting threatened species and areas of outstanding biodiversity value fails to explicitly include EECs and CEECs. These are critically important areas of outstanding biodiversity value by definition and by virtue of their intense assessment via the listing process. it is unnecessary, inappropriate, costly and time-consuming to have to go through the process of identifying and protecting patches of critically endangered and endangered ecological communities as areas of outstanding biodiversity value; it could take years and could expose these communities to increased risk of clearing until their designation as areas of outstanding biodiversity.

 

           BSL submits that (i) the Government’ “modern approach to protecting threatened plants and animals across NSW” should be expanded to include EECs and CEECs , which should continue to be listed, protected and targeted for ongoing conservation management. (ii) Clearing and development in EEC’s, CEECs and Critical Habitat should be prohibited and not able to be offset by biodiversity credits or payment to the new Biodiversity Fund.

 

  1. The Saving our Species (SOS) program appears not to include saving our CEECs and     endangered ecological communities (EECs), despite the fact that CEECs and EECs are by definition areas of outstanding biodiversity value and frequently provide habitat for a number of threatened species. Providing active, appropriate and ongoing conservation management those CEECs and EECs (i.e. saving those EECs) would help to save their threatened species at a landscape scale. For example, remnants of Lowland Rainforest of Subtropical Australia (LRSA) provide habitat for 45 threatened flora species and 24 threatened fauna species. BSL’s rehabilitation and ongoing conservation management of Big Scrub LRSA remnants not only enhances the condition and resilience of this CEEC vegetation but enhances the habitat values for threatened and all other fauna. It pays particular attention to identifying all individual threatened species plants – carefully controlling weeds and threats posed by adjacent native vegetation in their vicinity, monitoring their condition and recruitment. This is a very cost-effective approach to conserving this EEC and its 45 threatened plant species but also helping the conservation of its 24 threatened animal species.

           BSL submits that the Saving our Species program should be specifically include EECs and CEECs and should provide funding for their restoration and ongoing management.

 

  1. Clearing of threatened species and high conservation native vegetation including endangered and critically endangered ecological communities will lead to more habitat loss, a major cause of Australia’s dreadful record of animal extinctions, and reduce the survival prospects of its many threatened plant and animal species and its many endangered and critically endangered ecological communities

           BSL is implacably opposed to all provisions of the proposed legislative package and to recent changes that will facilitate broadscale clearing of native vegetation and clearing of threatened species and high conservation value native vegetation, including endangered and critically endangered ecological communities .

 

(b)   Native Vegetation Regulatory Map

16     Use of the Native Vegetation Regulatory Map to “underpin the new land management framework” is highly problematic because of the inaccuracy of the maps, particularly at the property scale. It is impossible to accurately map small areas of native vegetation and identify the vegetation type. Byron Shire Council, for example, has spent decades and very large amounts on money to map and in some cases ground-truth vegetation across the relatively small area of 36,000 ha covered by the Shire. The maps have greatly improved over the past 15 to 20 years but continue to have errors and omissions. This mapping exercise is far too costly to be replicated across NSW.

           BSL submits that, because it is impractical to identify all patches of Category 2 and Category 3 land, including patches of EEC and CEEC vegetation, on the Regulatory Map, landholders should before clearing any native vegetation have the obligation to determine whether that vegetation is or may be Protected Regrowth or an EEC, a CEEC or an area of outstanding biodiversity value.

 

(c) Deemed regrowth vegetation

  1. It is our understanding that patches of regrowth vegetation will be identified by comparing current or recent air photos or satellite images with 1990 (1983 for western NSW) air photos: any patch of vegetation on a current map that did not show up on a 1990 or 1983 map will be deemed to be regrowth and may be cleared without consent. This presents a major problem in our region, where a significant areas of lowland subtropical rainforest has been restored for biodiversity conservation via planting and natural regeneration on land from which rainforest had been cleared. We estimate that in the Big Scrub alone more than 250 ha of ex-rainforest land has been revegetated by the planting of more than 1 million trees at a cost of c $10million. Although landholders financed much of this, government funding programs contributed substantial sums. Many of these older restored areas such as those on my family’s farm have evolved into well developed rainforest that meets the threshold for critically endangered lowland rainforest of subtropical Australia as set out in the listing advice for that EEC.

         BSL submits that: (i) Any revegetated area that has been restored for biodiversity conservation with or without the use of public funds or is subject to a conservation agreement should be deemed Protected Regrowth and its clearing should be prohibited except with the consent of LLS, provided that such consent shall only be granted in exceptional circumstances. (ii) Appropriate constraints should be developed to prevent the clearing of patches of regrowth EEC or CEEC vegetation.

 

(d)    Increase in clearing of native vegetation generally

  1. The proposed new Biodiversity Conservation Act and the accompanying legislation and codes of practice will inevitably lead to substantial increases in broadscale clearing as well as the clearing of high conservation native vegetation including endangered and critically endangered ecological communities
  2. Broadscale clearing will adversely affect farmland through increased salinity and soil erosion. It will lead to the degradation of waterways and water quality through erosion and siltation. It will release carbon, making it more difficult for Australia to meet its carbon emission reduction targets. (Big reductions in broadscale clearing in Qld and NSW prior to the recent legislative changes in Qld were the major reason why Australia will better its emission target for 2020). Broadscale clearing of native vegetation does not accord with internationally accepted definitions of ecologically sustainable development.
  3. The removal of the existing legislative requirement to “ improve or maintain biodiversity values” and its replacement by “serious and irreversible impacts” will further facilitate o more clearing of significant native vegetation.

         BSL considers that any weakening of the existing legislation and codes that leads to more clearing of native vegetation is contrary to the conservation of biodiversity in NSW and to the activities and achievement of Landcare in NSW

 

(e) Fostering conservation on private lands

  1. We understand that that the government will provide funding of $240 million over five years for conservation on private land. This falls well short of the amount need to fund necessary work on properties with existing conservation agreements, let alone the amount required for setting up new agreements and carrying out works pursuant to those new agreements.

         BSL hopes the NSW government will respond to the self-evident need and provides additional funding for the conservation of biodiversity on private land in NSW

 

(f) Definition of core areas of remnant vegetation

  1.    The wording of S 5.2 (5) (a) of the draft Bill refers to “large remnants” and does not take into account largely cleared vegetation communities of small remaining total area such as lowland subtropical rainforest, the remnants of which are small in absolute area but whose “management will contribute the greatest benefit to the conservation of key State and regional biodiversity values within a region”

           BSL submits that that S 5.2 (5) (a) should be modified along the following lines:

 

         S 5.2 (5) (a) Core areas— remnant native vegetation the area of which is significant in the context of remaining remnants of that vegetation community and whose management will contribute significant benefit to the conservation of key State and regional biodiversity values within a region, and

 

Tony Parkes BSc, PhD

President, Big Scrub Landcare

 

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