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Byron Shire
January 28, 2021

Snail habitat loss not so bad says Byron Shire Councillor Lyon

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The impact of the Byron bypass on the critically endangered Mitchell’s rainforest snail is being investigated by the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy.

How the bypass will actually improve prospects for the Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail

Cr Michael Lyon

Back in 2001, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) published a recovery plan for the critically endangered Mitchell’s Rainforest Snail (MRS) that informed the Department of Environment and Energy’s (DoEE) estimated numbers of remaining individuals for the species at less than 500.

Although we still do not know the full extent of the habitat for the species, we know much more now than we did in 2001. Dr Jonathan Parkyn published a PhD in 2014 that suggests that the estimate of remaining individuals is more likely to be approximately 5,000. He also acknowledged in his studies that a colony in Broken Head alone supports a population of approximately 500 individuals.

Throughout the preparation of the referral to DoEE under the EPBC Act, Council engaged expert snail consultant, Dr Stephanie Clark, to review Council’s submission relating to the MRS and the assessment of significance, likely habitat area for the local population, and the pre-clearing protocol for the snail.

Throughout this process and during another meeting with DoEE, Dr Clark indicated that her opinion was that there are far more than 5,000 individuals. This is based on her expert knowledge of the species and invertebrates in general, the more recent work and findings and the likely (previously unknown) habitat distribution in the Northern Rivers.

Council’s referral, supported by Dr Clark, estimates the habitat for the local population of the MRS being approximately 216 hectares (the local population being the colony of snails that occurs within and beyond the bypass area, south to Lilli Pilli and west to Skinners Shoot Road).

Likely but unknown

The bypass directly removing 1.5ha of this area means that the bypass would be responsible for the removal of 0.7 per cent of the local habitat area. It is worth noting that this ‘local habitat area’ does not include the significant known colony at Broken Head, nor any other areas throughout the Northern Rivers, which include Stotts Island, Kingscliff/Cudgen, Nightcap National Park, Lennox Head, Ballina and other areas that are likely, but currently unknown.

It was also acknowledged by Dr Clark on a site visit with Council staff and DoEE to the Lilli Pilli offset site that ‘…this is the best habitat for this species that she has ever seen’. The improvement and further protection of this area under the Biobanking arrangements will ensure that this local colony is protected and can thrive.

Snail relocation

Before the clearing takes place, Council’s ecologist team will scour the site and firstly remove any micro-habitat for these snails into adjoining vegetation sections in the local habitat area, subsequently undertaking further searches immediately prior to and during clearing to also relocate any MRS individuals into this habitat.

Council also has plans to improve and protect further areas above and beyond the Biobanking requirements and is awaiting feedback from the Biodiversity Committee on this. This is all part of Council’s commitment to ensure we give back more than we take with this vital project.

Council was aware of and relied on Dr Parkyn’s PhD throughout the Bypass approvals for Biobanking and the environmental impact statements and is confident that this information is best placed to inform the department in making their decision on whether or not the referral should be deemed a controlled action.

It would be little surprise, given what we know above, if the Bypass soon gets the go-ahead to proceed.

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  1. All well and good AFTER the event.
    Since Council is soooo confident and had produced sooo much good work already, why avoid the legal processes and referrals in place for so many years? And why wait until now to publish this information? It’s not everyone else’s fault. You and Council stuffed it up. Sometimes an admission of error and a little humility might help? It’s only now starting to look good from the perspective of the snail now, not previously. At least this time you’re not trying to tell us what wonderful bunch of meticulous caring consultants GHD are!

  2. So would the destruction of any other threatened species habitat be OK?
    Or only OK if we can catch & relocate some to another area?
    Or should we just make them all zoo exhibits?
    Ever heard of incremental loss….. of habitat, and of populations?
    Should we only protect & conserve a few cute & popular species? Or those that might offer economic benefit?
    Hardly seems like part of established Greens Policy.
    Is it really the recommendations of a respected authority in the field of conservation biology, or merely yet one more of Cr Lyons “pragmatic” decisions? Notable when only two new populations have been discovered since the NPWS 2001 Recovery Plan, although numbers appear to have been conservatively underestimated…..


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