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June 26, 2024

Tweed Coast sports field won’t be revegetated

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The sports field at Black Rocks stands out from the air. Photo Tweed Shire Council.
The sports field at Black Rocks stands out from the air. Photo Tweed Shire Council.

Luis Feliu

Tweed shire councillors have brought to a head the controversy surrounding the future of the Black Rocks Sports Field south of Pottsville by voting to keep it as a public open space rather than revegetate it for koala habitat.

They also ditched a plan to survey locals about it, backing their staff which had seen it as ‘unnecessary and inappropriate’.

A majority of councillors at last night’s meeting voted also to back the staff recommendation to upgrade the entrance of the field with an automated vehicle gate and retain the existing site for the approved Pottsville Men’s Shed, both bones of contention in the past year.

The decision was praised afterward by Cr Barry Longland, who had long championed the field to be kept for locals’ recreation.

He was backed by pro-development bloc Warren Polglase, Carolyn Byrne and Phil Youngblutt. Deputy mayor Gary Bagnall voted against .

Mayor Katie Milne, who had long pushed for protection of surrounding koala habitat from the isolated sport field and its activities, remains absent due to illness.

Cr Longland told Echonetdaily the decision brought to a closure the long debate and that council’s ‘highly respected environmental scientists, ecology professionals and recreation services staff’ had made ‘a compelling assessment to support that decision’ in their report.

He said the local koala population, according to council’s plan of management for the animal, was stable and would not be impacted by the continued use of the site as a sports field or for a men’s shed.

He also claimed there had been ’mounting calls from the people of Pottsville asking that council take a stand against the potential loss of the field’ and attacked opposition as the ‘seemingly desperate attempt by a few to garner support for the re-vegetation of the field’.

Cr Longland said opponents to the field had launched an on-line petition ‘almost entirely involving input from Europe and North America’, which had prompted him to put forward the plan to survey ‘those most affected by the loss of this facility so the “silent majority” could be given a voice’.

‘This decision now dispenses with the need for such a survey,’ he said.

‘The survey always had the potential to further divide the community and provide a platform for this small group to spread confusion, misinformation and fear, and, for this reason, I am greatly relieved that this can now be avoided.

‘Essentially, what this group proposes is that Council purchase and clear four hectares of bush land on the lower Tweed Coast, at great expense to ratepayers, so that the four hectares of the current sports field can be re-vegetated.

‘This seems to me to be an absurd proposition which is highlighted in the council report.

The koala/dog proof gate is always open during the day, allowing motor-vehicle hoons, unleashed dogs and other koala-impacting activities to take place there.
The existing vehicle entrance gate to the Black Rocks sports field with pedestrian access to the left. However the koala/dog proof gate allows motor-vehicle hoons, unleashed dogs and other koala-impacting activities to take place there.

‘The decision also provides a much more practical and safer treatment for the entry to the sports field: an attractively landscaped entry with a self opening gate will, once and for all, satisfactorily address both koala protection and public access needs.

‘Thankfully, the debate is now concluded and, hopefully, the people of Pottsville and the lower Tweed coast can accept the decision of Council, based on the recommendations of their experts, and move on in a spirit of co-operation and community,’ Cr Longland said in his statement.

But one of the moves’ staunchest opponents, Blacks Rocks resident David Norris, says the staff report is flawed and that council had to date been unable to stop activities there impacting on koalas such as roaming dogs, motor cycling, golf  or anti-social behaviour and hooning.

Mr Norris, who helped for the Threatened Species Conservation Society to campaign against the urban impacts on the local koala habitat, said the ‘only effective koala protection measure’ was to buffer koalas from these activities such as revegetating the field and locking the gates currently there.

He also said it was questionable whether Black Rocks Sports Field needed to be replaced as there were three other sports fields in Pottsville already.

He said koala expert Dr Steve Phillips was of the view that revegetating the field would create ‘an ecologically important habitat block that will make a meaningful contribution to the recovery needs of the Tweed Coast koala population’.

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  1. Thank goodness common sense has finally prevailed and Cr Longland’s concocted and very biased survey didn’t go forward. Concerned environmentalists who have fought long and hard to retain gates at the Sports Field and upgrade protection against stray dogs entering to threaten koalas are celebrating a major victory. Cr Longland’s motion to replace gates with a grid has finally been defeated and automatic gates represent a major improvement for the safety of the koala population.

    It’s unclear what is meant by statements about revegetation not proceeding, as Council has never seriously considered revegetation. Nor is there any logic to claims about the Men’s Shed, as Council have clearly approved that development, despite the fact that it is absurd and irresponsible to locate such a facility in an isolated location where vandalism has proved a major problem. It’s also a grossly unsuitable location from an access viewpoint, being at the extreme southern end of the member catchment area. And it is deeply disturbing that some $60,000 of public money is likely to be wasted on a temporary building when a more suitable permanent location is available.

    Whatever this Council thinks it may have achieved, what needs to be remembered is that we are only 6 months out from a Council election, and there may be major changes in store to both policy and policy-makers.

  2. Debate is not over Barry. If you had done the survey of Pottsville you would have been forced to revegetate the sports field. You know it and the staff know it and that’s why it was canned. Our own surveys and interaction with the locals in addition to community groups confirm that there is tremendous support for koalas In Pottsville.


    Koala expert Dr Steve Phillips has given his wholehearted support to a proposal to relocate the Black Rocks sports field to the Dunloe Park urban development at minimal cost in an already cleared area. This proposal will have far less impact on koalas and remove the Black Rocks sports field from the middle of the koala corridor. Its revegetation would create an ecologically important habitat block that will make a meaningful contribution to the recovery needs of the Tweed Coast koala population. As council staff is in the process of discussing this proposal with the developer, there is no closure on the issue of revegetation of the Black Rocks sports field.

    The Tweed Coast Koala Habitat Study 2015 (not council’s plan of management) stated that ‘activity levels have remained relatively stable in the Koala Beach, Pottsville and Black Rocks areas when compared to those recorded in 2010’ (page 15). In 2010 koala numbers on the Tweed Coast were so low that an application for them to be listed as ENDANGERED was triggered, for which there is now a Preliminary Determination by the NSW Scientific Committee.

    Dr Steve Phillips is a highly credentialed leading ecologist and koala expert who is also very familiar with the plight of the Tweed Coast koalas, having been engaged by council to direct the Tweed Coast Koala Habitat Study 2011 which formed the basis for and informed the Tweed Coast Koala Plan of Management 2015.

    The online petition [ http://www.tinyurl.com/4koalas ] has gathered over 107,000 signatures from all around the world calling for what this highly respected ecologist has recommended and are horrified that our iconic species is facing localised extinction. 8 known Black Rocks koalas have been affected by stress-related disease and/or death in the last 2 years (6 are dead). Dr Phillips (24/2/2016) states that even the loss of 1 or more individuals each year from the Pottsville Wetlands – Black Rocks koala population should be avoided if ongoing population decline is not to be accelerated, and that photographic and veterinary evidence compiled by the local community indicates that koalas in the vicinity of the Black Rocks sports fields already have higher levels of clinical expression of disease than do their counterparts in other population cells in the Tweed Local Government Area east of the Pacific Highway.

    The group has never called for council to find another 4ha in the southern Tweed area that would have to be cleared but rather has questioned whether it needs to be replaced as, based on current demand statistics in the Tweed Shire Sports Fields Strategy, there is a 3.39ha oversupply of sporting infrastructure in the southern precinct, which includes Pottsville.

    The following is the Curriculum Vitae for Dr Steve Phillips as at 30 December 2015:-

    Bachelor of Science (Honours) – UNE
    Doctor of Philosophy (Science) – SCU

    Professional Awards:

    Laureate Smithsonian Institute (World Finalist: 1998 Computerworld/Smithsonian Awards – Category of Environment, Energy and Agriculture. Project: Koala Habitat Atlas)

    Professional Affiliations:

    Senior Lecturer(adjunct): School of Environment, Griffith University

    * Australasian Network for Ecology & Transportation
    * Joint Regional Planning Panel (Northern NSW)
    * Australian Mammal Society
    * Environmental Futures Centre
    * National Koala Research Network

    Areas of Expertise:
    Koala ecology and population assessment; flora & fauna monitoring techniques and survey design; threatened species management; GIS/spatial modelling; vegetation mapping/ management; nature conservation and environmental planning legislation.


    2000 – Managing Director/Principal Research Scientist* Biolink Ecological Consultants

    2000-05 Lecturer in Ecology/Conservation Biology – School of Environment, Griffith University.

    1993-99 Principal Biologist Australian Koala Foundation

    1992-93 Senior Principal Conservation Officer (Wildlife Management) QLD Department of Environment and Heritage

    1983-92 Scientific Officer – Naturalist – Ranger – Project Manager – Senior Ranger – Natural Resources Coordinator NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

    * includes a two year appointment (2007 – 2008) by the NSW Attorney General as a
    Commissioner of the NSW Land & Environment Court.

    Theses & Publications


    1. Phillips, S. (1980). ‘A Consideration of the Genus Austrelaps (Squamata: Serpentes: Elapidae)’. B.Sc.(Hons) Thesis. Zoology Dept., University of New England.

    2. Phillips, S. (1999). ‘Habitat utilisation by the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) – towards a new approach for effective long term management and conservation’. Ph.D Thesis. Southern Cross University.

    Book Chapters

    3. Phillips, S. (1987). The Koala and Mankind. In: Koala – Australia’s Endearing Marsupial. (ed. L. Cronin) pp 111-127. Reed Books Pty. Ltd., French’s Forest.

    Conference Proceedings
    4. Phillips, S. (1990). (Ed). Rainforest Remnants. Proceedings of a Workshop on Rainforest Rehabilitation held at North Coast Agricultural Institute, Wollongbar, 17-19 November, 1988. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

    Book Reviews

    5. Phillips, S. (1989). Australia’s Reptiles – A Photographic Reference to the Terrestrial Reptiles of Australia. Australian Zoologist 25, (3).

    6. Phillips, S. (1993). Australian Snakes – A Natural History. In: Herpetology in Australia – A Diverse Discipline (Eds. D. Lunney and D. Ayers). Surrey Beatty and Sons Pty Ltd, Chipping Norton NSW.

    Peer-reviewed publications

    7. Phillips, S. (1988). Observations on a mass stranding of Pseudorca crassidens at Crowdy Head, NSW. In: Marine Mammals of Australia – Field Biology and Captive Management. (ed. M. L. Augee) pp 33 – 41. Royal Zoological Society. NSW Sydney.

    8. Phillips, S. (1989). Cetacean strandings – a perspective for future management. In: Recreational Animal Welfare. (eds. J. Reilly and D. Auer) pp 19-25. Australian Veterinary Association (Qld).

    9. Phillips, S. (1991). A New South Wales record for Aipysurus duboisii Bavay, 1869 (Hydrophiidae). Herpetofauna 21(1).

    10. Milledge, D., Parnaby, H., and Phillips, S. (1992). Recent records of the Hoary Bat Chalinolobus nigrogriseus from New South Wales. Australian Zoologist 28 (1-4) 55-57.

    11. Phillips, S. (1993). Aspects of the distribution, ecology and morphology of Ingram’s Brown Snake Pseudonaja ingrami (Elapidae). In: Herpetology in Australia – A Diverse Discipline (Eds. D. Lunney and D. Ayers) pp 349 – 352. Surrey Beatty and Sons Pty Ltd, Chipping Norton NSW.

    12. Phillips, S. (1993). Conserving the herpetofauna of Queensland – a look at the Nature Conservation Act 1992. In: Herpetology in Australia – A Diverse Discipline (Eds. D. Lunney and D. Ayers) pp 377 – 381. Surrey Beatty and Sons Pty Ltd, Chipping Norton NSW.

    13. Phillips, S. (1997). Some issues associated with the relocation of koalas Phascolarctos cinereus. In Challenging the Boundaries – Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Australian Association of Veterinary Conservation Biologists. (Ed. A. Tribe) pp 187 – 193. Australian Veterinary Association, Brisbane.

    14. Sharp, A., and Phillips, S. (1997). Koalas, Science and Conservation. In: Saving Our Natural Heritage: The Role of Science in Managing Australia’s Ecosystems (Eds. C. Copeland and D. Lewis) Halstead Press Publishers Pty. Ltd, Rushcutters Bay, NSW.

    15. Lunney, D., Phillips, S., Callaghan, J., and Coburn, D. (1998). Determining the distribution of koala habitat across a shire as a basis for conservation: a case study from Port Stephens, New South Wales. Pacific Conservation Biology 4(3), 186 – 196.

    16. Phillips, S., Callaghan, J., and Thompson, V. (2000). The tree species preferences of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) inhabiting forest and woodland communities on Quaternary deposits in the Port Stephens area, New South Wales. Wildlife Research 27, 1 – 10.

    17. Phillips, S. and Callaghan, J. (2000). Tree species preferences of a koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) population in the Campbelltown area south-west of Sydney, New South Wales. Wildlife Research 27, 569 – 575.

    18. Phillips, S. (2000). Population Trends and the Koala Conservation Debate. Conservation Biology 14 (3), 650 – 659.

    19. Phillips, S., Coburn, D., and James, R. (2001). An observation of cat predation upon an Eastern Blossom Bat Syconycteris australis. Australian Mammology 23, 57 – 58.

    20. Burley, A., Phillips, S., and Ooi, M. K. J. (2007) Can age be predicted from diameter for the obligate seeder Allocasuarina littoralis (Casuarinaceae) using dendrochronological techniques? Australian Journal of Botany 55, 433 – 438.

    21. Phillips, S. (2011) Development of a lightweight, portable trap for capturing free-ranging Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus. Australian Zoologist 35(3), 747 – 749.

    22. Phillips, S., and Callaghan, J. (2011). The “Spot Assessment Technique”: a tool for determining localized levels of habitat use by Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus. Australian Zoologist 35(3), 774 – 780.

    23. McAlpine, C. A., Lunney, D., Melzer, A., Menkhorst, P., Phillips, S., et al. (2015). Conserving koalas: a review of the contrasting regional trends, outlooks and policy challenges. Biological Conservation 192, 226 – 236.

    24. Phillips, S. (2016). Aversive behavior by free-ranging koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) during the course of a music festival in northern NSW, Australia. Australian Mammology.

    Submitted manuscripts

    25. Phillips, S., Phillips, B. and Coombes, K. From poo to roo: population size and fine-scale distribution inferred from faecal pellet counts of a cryptic arboreal folivore. Austral Ecology.

    26. Pereoglou, F., and Phillips, S. Developing optimal sampling strategies for rare plants: a case study using Acacia baueri ssp. baueri in SE Qld, Australia. Austral Ecology.

    27. Phillips, S., Hopkins, M., and Warnken, J., Modelling koala population structure across the landscape in order to provide greater certainty for conservation and management purposes. Landscape and Urban Planning.

    28. Phillips, S., Differential mortality rates in two concurrently radio-tracked koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) populations. Australian Journal of Zoology.

    Honours and Research Higher Degree Supervision

    Burley, A. (2003). The application of dendroecology to Allocasuarina littoralis(Salisb.) L.Johnson to establish stand structure and elucidate disturbancehistory at three sites in south-east Queensland. 1st Class Honours. School ofEnvironmental and Applied Science, Griffith University.

    Pereoglou, F. (2003). Conservation biology of a rare plant – the Tiny WattleAcacia baueri at Tugun in south-eastern Queensland, 1st Class Honours.School of Environmental and Applied Science, Griffith University.

    Lechner, N. (2004). Comparison of two pit-fall trapping techniques foramphibian, reptile and small mammal survey purposes. 2(A) Honours. Schoolof Environmental and Applied Science, Griffith University.

    Doak, N. C. (2005). Phylogeography, dispersal and movement of Fleay’sBarred Frog Mixophyes fleayi. Ph.D Thesis, School of the Environment,Griffith University.

    Sullivan, K. (2005). The use of predator scats to ascertain ecological impactand establish baseline data for monitoring purposes. 1st Class Honours.School of Environmental and Applied Science, Griffith University.

    Oost, M. (2007). Impacts of visitor feeding on the structure and biodiversityof avian communities in national parks. Ph.D Thesis, School of theEnvironment, Griffith University.

    Gregory, C. J. (2011). A Systematic and Taxonomic Review of two Australo –Pacific Snake Genera (Elapidae: Oxyuranus and Pseudonaja). Ph.D Thesis,School of the Environment, Griffith University.

    Shelton, M. (current). Aspects of the Ecology & Conservation Biology of the
    Pale-headed Snake Hoplocephelus bitorquatus (Serpentes: Elapidae). M.Sc.
    Thesis, School of Environment, Southern Cross University.


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