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Byron Shire
August 15, 2022

Illegal tree feller happy with $11,000 fine

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An Upper Main Arm property owner fined $11,000 after pleading guilty to illegally removing 220 trees said he’s happy to have cut them down as it dramatically reduced his fire risk.

Christopher Langton, a well-known local architect and musician, was fined in Mullumbimby Local Court last Thursday on a charge of removing the trees without consent, brought against him by Byron Shire Council under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW).

Council’s governance manager Ralph James said the fine would send a message to other property owners thinking about felling trees illegally and that Council was ‘committed to ensuring land in the Byron Shire is used in a sustainable way’.

But Mr Langton told Echonetdaily he decided to fell the mostly gum trees around the downside slope of his house after the lethal Victorian bush fires two years ago.

He said some fire experts had suggested to him he fell the trees to minimise the fire risk and doing so would give him an ‘asset protection zone’ around his home.

‘But basically, I didn’t get a DA (development application) for it. In the context of a big property with around a million trees here, we’re only talking about a few trees around the house,’ he said.

‘When I first moved here 25 years ago, there were no trees; it’s all now regrowth. In that 25 years there’s been a large amount of forest grow around here because people don’t slash or put cows in paddocks.

‘Since I took the trees down, there’s now a huge amount of rainforest trees so I’m very happy to have taken them down. It’s an absolute boon in terms of fire survival.’

Mr James said, ‘the law does not allow individual property to remove trees arbitrarily. The court noted that this was a serious example of this kind of conduct, given the scale of the tree removal and the property owner’s knowledge that consent was required for such an action,’ he said.

‘The court’s view is reflected in the fact that when Council’s ecologist visited the property, the 220 trees removed included species used as koala habitat.’

Mr James said the law relating to tree removal was designed to prohibit unsustainable practices while giving flexibility to property owners.

‘There is ample scope under Byron Shire Council’s tree preservation order to remove trees that are deemed undesirable. This list contains more than 40 species. And there is no prohibition on pruning or maintenance of trees as part of regular gardening work,’ he said.

Mr James encouraged residents to contact Council if they had questions about tree removal.

Image: Happy… Chris Langton.


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