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Byron Shire
May 18, 2021

Groups at loggerheads over nature zones

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Two new groups of local residents are going head to head on the issue of local environment zones on private land.

A new alliance of north coast environmentalists says the E2 and E3 zones recently ‘excised’ from Local Environment Plans (LEPs) by the state government are essential for the protection of forests, wetlands, wildlife habitats and corridors.

But the other group, representing rural landowners, says much of the mapping and overlays for the new E2 and E3 environmental zones in the draft Byron LEP is inaccurate.

Yesterday, the alliance of environment and conservation groups called Save North Coast Nature launched its website and campaign to prevent what it says is the government’s plan to ‘remove essential environmental protection from nearly 60 per cent of the far north coast’s forests, wetlands and wildlife habitats’.

The Byron Rural Action Group, which welcomed the government’s recent intervention to remove the zones from the LEPs of Byron, Tweed, Ballina, Lismore and Kyogle councils in order to review them, will hold its third public meeting on the issue tomorrow at 6.30pm at the Bangalow Bowls Club.

And Byron Shire Council will hold a workshop on the issue on Saturday, November 17, at Mullumbimby Civic Hall from 2.30 to 5.30pm.

Save North Coast Nature spokesman Andy Baker said the alliance’s campaign aims to unite environment groups, local government, tourism and the community ‘to demand our region keep the same environmental protections available to the rest of the state’.

‘Our region’s remaining natural areas already face enormous pressure from massive residential and tourist developments along the coast and emerging industries such as coal-seam gas extraction and private forestry further inland,’ Mr Baker said.

‘Yet, in the face of these threats, NSW minister for planning and infrastructure, Brad Hazzard, wants to make it easier for damaging activities to be approved in our most sensitive and vulnerable natural areas.’

But landowners group spokesman Rex Harris said that Council’s objective to ‘obtain improved ecological outcomes doesn’t simply materialise by the rezoning of land’ but relied on the ‘goodwill, financial and physical resources of landowners’.

Mr Harris said that many farmers were already protecting the environment by regenerating their land and were inspired to do so rather than be ‘whipped by Council to do it’.

The Bangalow macadamia farmer said he had planted 60,000 rainforest trees on his 200-acre property, installed nesting boxes and other wildlife attractions. But Mr Harris said the draft LEP showed ‘there’s a wildlife corridor overlay right through my property’, yet some of that land was ‘wall to wall in macadamias’.

He says his farm was ‘already’ a wildlife corridor with the work he’d undertaken but was now devalued by the new zonings. He said the ‘great big track right through the Shire called the Pacific Highway’ was more a problem for wildlife as it prevented interconnection of wildlife corridors.

Byron Council’s acting general manager Ray Darney agreed, saying the highway is ‘the biggest impediment to wildlife corridors’ and a ‘major impasse’. He said there were ‘two competing interests’ in drafting the new LEP, with planners trying to ensure that rural farms were productive and for koala and wildlife corridors to be protected and enhanced.

He said vegetation cover in the Shire was ‘very important’ and while some farmers were ‘fixed on’ whether some vegetation such as camphor laurel was protected, it was deemed a weed.

‘But just removing camphor laurel doesn’t mean it [the zoned land] should revert to agricultural land, as a lot of the understorey of camphor has emerging rainforest and other species in it,’ Mr Darney said.

Mr Harris said of the six far north coast councils, only Byron Council was using wildlife corridor overlays in its draft LEP. ‘Wildlife won’t go trotting along the wildlife corridors Council has mapped out,’ he said.

He said he and his farming neighbours had ‘removed all our fences, there’s no need the for them, they’re a nuisance’.

Mr Baker said removal of the zones ‘threatens to leave 45,000 hectares of the region’s environmental assets vulnerable to inappropriate development’.

‘Save North Coast Nature aims to have environmental zones and other protections restored to far north coast LEPs. We’ve protected our forests, wetlands and wildlife habitats for 25 years, but now they’re at risk of being stripped of that protection to make way for development.

‘Unless the community now stands up to the state government and speaks out for protection of our environment, the natural values for which our region is best known won’t stand a chance,’ he said.

‘The majority of the far north coast community treasures its natural environment and doesn’t want to see it whittled away by short-sighted development, and this campaign aims to galvanise the community to take this message directly to the minister.’

For more information on the alliance, visit www.northcoastnature.org.au.

The campaign is supported by organisations including the North Coast Environment Council, Byron Environment and Conservation Organisation (BEACON), Ballina Environment Society, Friends of the Koala and the North East Forest Alliance.

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  1. The current arguments being advanced for excising environmental (E2, E3) zones from Byron’s LEP in rural areas of the Shire are disingenuous. Such zonings would have little effect on restricting farming and other traditional rural land use practices. Existing use rights, the Native Vegetation Act with its Routine Agricultural Management Activity regulations together with a raft of other legislation allow a wide range of such activities to proceed without hindrance. The opponents of environmental zones appear to be mainly landowners intent on maximizing the economic potential of their land, freeing it from any encumbrances to facilitate future development.
    The application of environmental zones in rural areas is crucial for achieving ecologically sustainable development across the Shire, an outcome that should be supported by the entire community. Who wouldn’t want to ensure the maintenance of ecosystem services such as the provision of clean water, clean air, productive soils, waste recycling and the pollination of plants.
    But environmental zoning in Byron Shire is about more than providing direct benefits to the local human population. The Shire, at the centre of the wet subtropics, is a critically important area for biodiversity conservation at a national level. It comprises part of one of only two refugia for the old Gondwanan rainforest biota in the continent. With Tweed Shire, it supports the highest complement of endangered species of any local government area in the State. It is also of major importance for over-wintering migratory and nomadic birds from higher latitudes and elevations.
    We have a national responsibility to sustain this biodiversity for future generations, which can only be achieved by protecting, maintaining and reconnecting the remaining high conservation vegetation across the Shire. This is one of the primary purposes of environmental zones, to identify such vegetation and restrict inappropriate development that can irretrievably damage these systems, resulting in local extinctions.
    The designation of environmental zones in rural areas of the Shire in Byron’s new LEP should be concerned with redressing the inappropriate zoning of high conservation value vegetation that occurred with the 1988 LEP. Many stands of such vegetation were zoned for rural development (1(a)) or for investigation of development potential (1(d)) at this time, which has resulted in past losses and degradation. However, their biodiversity values are now well established and a failure to recognize these values by environmental zoning in the new LEP will result in further loss and degradation. It will also perpetuate many of the land use conflicts that have marked the Byron community over past decades,
    To advocate removing environmental zoning from rural areas simply because some mapping of vegetation in the new LEP is inaccurate is an over-reaction and illogical. Such glitches can be readily corrected during the LEP public exhibition and consultation stages. Similarly the call to remove wildlife corridor planning guidelines is ill-informed as these do not restrict rural activities but rather provide an indication of the most effective areas for maintaining and restoring native vegetation should the landowner wish to achieve this. The presence of a potential wildlife corridor over land should be viewed as an asset rather than a devaluation, its restoration perhaps assisting in obtaining development approval for other areas of a property.
    With the broad-scale watering-down of environmental legislation by the current State Government, including the proposed scrapping of State Environment Planning Policies that provide protection for wetlands, littoral rainforest and Koala habitat, the retention and strengthening of environmental zoning in LEPs is one of the few effective mechanisms remaining for maintaining biodiversity and all its benefits across the landscape.


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