Recommendations by an ecologist to save deteriorating trees in a Brunswick Heads holiday park – some thought to be 400 years old – are unlikely to be adopted by managers NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (NSWCHPT).
The Byron Shire Council-commissioned report by Dr Robert Kooyman will be tabled at this Thursday’s council meeting and supports what residents have said over many years about the Coastal Cypress pine trees in the southern end of the Terrace Reserve Holiday Park: specifically, that camping in the area degrades the vulnerable species and they should be left alone to recover.
Dr Kooyman says to ensure the long-term survival of the trees and protection of their heritage values, all camping should cease and infrastructure be removed.
But a Greens-led decision at council’s September meeting supported the NSWCHPT’s intention to allow existing camping and developing the area for further camping.
Council staff have recommended in the upcoming agenda that council discuss the report with NSWCHPT ‘with a view to achieving their agreement to implement [the recommendation].’ Yet that appears unlikely; when asked by The Echo, NSWCHPT CEO Steve Edmonds only referred to their vegetation-management plan ‘that prescribes the required actions which the Trust have implemented and continue[s] to do so.’
Trust decimated trees
Longtime resident and vice-president of the town’s Progress Association, Sean O’Meara, said the protected trees were decimated eleven years ago, when NSWCHPT took control of the parkland from council.
O’Meara says the trees in the southern section of the reserve had all their branches below around 4m cut off to allow large caravans and boat trailers into the reserve.
‘Their own environmental report said the trees had very sensitive root structures and no vehicles should be driven or parked within 5m of the trunks, yet straightaway they were parking huge caravans right up against the trees.
‘As there is no drainage in the park, these caravans would then run their detergent-ridden waste hoses directly onto the trees. Campers also regularly tie their tent ropes and hammocks to the trees, effectively ringbarking and killing them.
‘This has been going on for years now, and though continual complaints have been made, North Coast Holiday Parks does nothing to stop the poisoning and vandalism of the trees.
‘Over this time many of these protected trees have been cut down by NSWCHPT as they claimed they were a danger to people camping below.’
O’Meara lives opposite the Terrace Reserve and believes that from his observations over the last few years that NSWCHPT is slowly and purposely killing and clearing these trees to increase tourist space and their revenue.
‘This report blatantly informs them they are not only breaching Crown Land legislation but could now be prosecuted under the NSW Threatened Species Act 1995.’
While the mayor did not reply to The Echo’s questions, fellow Greens councillor Sarah Ndiaye said, ‘It’s fantastic to have these two reports that provide more thorough and detailed information about both the cultural and historical significance of the Cypress Pines in and around the Terrace.’
‘In all resolutions passed, we have advocated for the recognition of both and these reports give more concise information than has previously been available.’
‘Given that staff undertook to get this information following a response from minister Stokes in March 2015, I’m not sure why it has taken so long to be available in the public domain.
‘Yes, it would have been great to have had it earlier, however this now becomes part of the ongoing discussions between council and NSWCHPT around the management of the area. In 1.b) of the most recent resolution 17-418 (September, 2017) it states that, ‘camping practices in the Southern Cypress Pine precinct will observe and protect structural root zone of the Cyprus Pines as part of an ongoing monitoring program.
‘As part of the most recent resolution, NSWCHPT has already undertaken to have 5m protection zones around the root systems of the trees, appropriate planting and soft camping only. They also are required to plant 10 more Cypress Pines for any that die.
‘This information indicates even further restrictions may be required to protect and replenish this area so that all needs to be taken into consideration. Any plan of management (POM) requires the Trust to comply with all legislation including the Threatened Species Act 1995 through OEH administration.
‘The fact that some of these trees are estimated to be up to 400 years old is extraordinary and hasn’t been a part of any of the information presented to us previously. It debunks many of the assertions that have been made, however it doesn’t make them any less significant; I’d argue more.
‘The report shows people camping in the area right back in the 1920s, the licences for camping go back through the council’s management period and after the takeover. Hopefully this new information will allow the area to be re-evaluated by all involved as to what significance it holds.’
Fast track approval not Greens fault
She said, ‘Please remember, the acceleration of the process around approvals was not brought forward by me or any of the Greens. It was sped up by actions taken by Cr Coorey and supported by Cr Spooner. Had it been left to evolve through the processes that were in place it’s most likely all this information would have been available when important decisions were being made.’
‘I will be interested to see how NSWCHPT responds to this information and whether it will adjust its plan of management accordingly. I imagine it will. Once the POM goes on exhibition the community can make submissions to the minister through the submissions process, especially given that the information became available after the council resolution to support the plan in its current form became available.’
Not satisfactory: Cr Coorey
Meanwhile Cr Cate Coorey says leaving it up to the Trust to protect the trees is not satisfactory.
‘I don’t have the same confidence in the Trust as Cr Sarah Ndiaye,’ she says.
‘The Trust knew back in 2010 that they should protect them. There were further reports in 2014 that said the same thing.
As for threats of legal action against council should it not do what the Trust wants, Coorey says the Trust would have ‘stomped all over council a long time ago if it had that power.’
‘The relevant legislation — Section 68 of the Local Government Act 1993 — supports the position that has been held by council for several years, until this recent council changed that position and conceded to pressure from Crown Lands to expand into community land.’
‘Council holds the legislative and regulatory power to give the caravan parks Approval to Operate (ATO) and to determine the operational boundaries of the parks. Unfortunately Crown Parks has consistently endeavoured to take illegally encroached lands into their operational area by dismissing and ignoring council’s legislative and regulatory power.’
Resident Patricia Warren told The Echo, ‘Recommendations to protect the pines were made in their 2010 plan of management (POM) and then again in the 2014 POM. Nothing happened.
‘At the stakeholder meeting in June 2017, I asked that the strategy to protect the trees been put into practise now – ie a radius to be kept free of all things within the drip zone. They adamantly refused on the grounds that it couldn’t be done.’
Full statement by NSWCHPT CEO Steve Edmonds
‘While the Trust are very disappointed that this report was generated without consultation, we will take it and its findings under due consideration.’
‘The Trust relies upon expert assessment and advice in this field and cannot dismiss its previous advice and approved Vegetation Management Plan.
‘However, we can and will give any new credible information due consideration. The Trust has also undertaken to implement further protection of the trees by removing sites which encroach critical root zones, introducing mulch gardens in the CRZ to prevent vehicle access and increasing vigilance in enforcing its policy of small vehicles only in the southern precinct.
‘The Trust has a Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) in place for Terrace Reserve Holiday Park. The VMP guides how the Trust manages and cares for the vegetation (including the Cypress Pines) in this area. The Terrace Reserve Holiday Park VMP, which was prepared by independent environmental experts commissioned by the Trust, has been published on the Trust website since 2014, and was on public exhibition at the same time as the park’s adopted Plan of Management (PoM) as it is referenced within the PoM. Section 6.4 of the Adopted PoM discusses the Environmental Management of the park and lists a number of strategies to ensure vegetation and the natural environmental features of the Holiday Park and the Reserve are managed in accordance with sound ecological principles. Section 3.4 of the VMP prescribes the required actions which the Trust have implemented and continue to do so.’
The approved Vegetation Management Plan (VMP) and Vegetation and Threatened Species Assessment Report for Terrace Reserve Holiday Park are available on the Trust’s web site at: http://nswchpt.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Terrace_Reserve_Holiday_Park_Plan_of_Management_April_2014.pdf
(Found in Appendix C of the Adopted Plan of Management for Terrace Reserve Holiday Park)
Plans ignored: O’Meara
In reply, Sean O’Meara said, ‘I am very aware they have a vegetation management plan. The only problem is they don’t follow it at all.’
‘Their initial vegetation plan stated that the trees have a very sensitive, critical root structure and that compression of the soil around the trees will kill them. The stated action in their vegetation management plan is no activities that cause soil compression within 5m of the tree trunks. Despite this for the last eight years, NSWCHPT have denuded the trees of all branches below 4m so large caravans and campervans can be driven and parked over the critical root structure.
‘In peak times, 90 per cent of the trees have a large caravan or numerous vehicles parked over their critical root structure. Even the continual occupation for five months of the year by large groups camped in tents on top of a trees root structure would also seriously compress the soil around these trees.
‘Considering how close the trees are together, this renders most of the park “out of bounds” for any tourist occupation. The Ecologists report agrees with this and says that holiday park use and the survival of the trees is simply not compatible. (Option 1 in his report).
‘Most alarming is the policy that if any tree looks slightly in danger of dropping a branch then it is cut down as it is perceived a danger to park guests. This is a ridiculous policy and also why, for 50 years before NCHPs took over the reserve the southern end, was it only used by a very small number of primitive campers (i.e. no power or plumbing) over Christmas and Easter only (about five weeks of the year). These people would only place their tents in safe areas and normally away from and between the trees. The trees are a protected Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) and NSWCHPT are in breach of the NSW Threatened Species Act. The latest council commissioned ecological report clearly states this.’