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Editorial – Clinging onto biodiversity

The endangered Mitchell’s rainforest snail.

Hans Lovejoy, editor

In case anyone missed the memo, there’s almost no housing, let alone affordable housing, available in Byron Shire.

With so many people escaping the cities, Byron Shire is under enormous pressure with its infrastructure, which includes roads and sewerage etc.

And one of the reasons everyone is flocking here of course, is because it is such a special and unique area.

A Council press release from October 23 points this out: ‘With 23,300 hectares of high ecological value vegetation the Byron Shire is one of the most biologically diverse regions in Australia’.

It reads, ‘It is home to more than 600 native animals and 1,500 native plants, including 305 threatened animal and plant species’.

The most obvious way to preserve such a special place is, of course, through regulation.

While it’s perhaps an unrealistic expectation that the public can keep up with complex planning laws that will inevitably affect them, here’s another: Council are now exhibiting a new Development Control Plan (DCP), tailored for biodiversity.

As part of the toolkit for planning, DCPs sit below state planning laws such as the EP&A Act 1979 and Council’s two LEPs.

And as we have seen with the West Byron residential proposal, for example, DCPs carry less weight and are less effective than the laws that sit above them.

Anyway, Shannon Burt, Director of Sustainable Economy and the Environment, said this new DCP specifically looks at minimising the impact of new development on the ecological values of the Shire.

She writes, ‘With the Byron Shire attracting more and more tourists, as well as people who want to live here, there is no doubt that our natural environment is under pressure and Council’s challenge is to make sure it is retained, preserved and protected for future generations’.

‘This DCP for Biodiversity is an important planning control as it defines, and spells out, how to avoid and minimise the impacts of development on important vegetation and wildlife habitats’.

Unlike Council’s sparse and ambiguous Unauthorised Dwelling Policy 2020, the 49 page draft DCP biodiversity chapter has a lot of detail.

It includes koala habitat mapping, ecological setbacks and statutory considerations for DA applications, just for starters.

Within the introduction, it states, ‘Byron Shire comprises 43 per cent High Environmental Value vegetation (including National Parks and Reserves), hosting 145 threatened plants, 160 threatened animals and 1,750ha of fragmented coastal koala habitat. However, two federal reports (2019; 2020) state that Australia is ranked second in the world for extinction and on-going biodiversity loss, and further, that our federal legislation, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (currently under review) has failed and is ineffective’.

‘Recent changes to NSW legislation, such as the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Local Land Services Act 2013, have likewise failed to halt the decline of threatened species, their habitat and ecological communities, where koalas are now predicted to be extinct before 2050’.

Creating clarity with such documents, or ‘instruments’, is key so that the community can feel confident that the laws are applied equitably and without favour. As we have seen over recent years, Council have not entirely met that mark.

It remains to be seen how this policy will work, given it’s within the DNA of the Liberals and Nationals to decimate the environment and fast track development without Council approval.

News tips are welcome: [email protected]


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3 responses to “Editorial – Clinging onto biodiversity”

  1. Alison says:

    Thank you Hans for the focus on biodiversity and our Byron’s bottom line,nature.
    Whilst the biodiversity document is detailed and heavy what is needed is practical governance to protect biodiversity and collective revenue from our visitation to support this.
    It is clearly not adequate. We need some way of capturing more from day visitors and ensuring that areas are protected.
    For example:
    Fires are routine at Taylor’s Lake a which is environmentally and culturally significant.

    Lack of management traffic plan for Broken Head is leading to cars parking in areas they shouldn’t be and then bush bashing into The Broken Head Nature Reserve.
    This happens on the dunes and still with dogs in areas with wildlife.
    The car is still dominant in areas which could be car free if Council were bold enough to look at alternative strategies.
    We have an opportunity to look at new forms of technology to manage areas like Automatic Vehicle Recognition Software. It is 2020 and this is what is being used. You car is charged as you pass by the station entry. No meters needed and no vandalising or need for rangers to siege hours returning to spots using fuel and time.
    They can’t keep up with the visitation it is like Christmas on steroids.
    It can’t make sense to have 2 rangers sitting in traffic as they go across the Shire having to physically be in attendance to book people.
    The problem is Byron is having guests stay for free daily. Day trippers routinely pay no more than a coffee and lunch to enjoy world class biodiversity, beaches and enjoy healing and artisan foods.
    At present we are trashing our areas and risking the biodiversity,
    It’s shameful how many wallabies, koalas, birds and snakes are killed on our roads. This occurs next to our biodiversity hotspots.
    If we actually got on top of managing our visitation and looking at ways of ensuring that we are getting paid for it we could invest money in biodiversity and In turn creating jobs for locally
    Fires are routine still in Nature Reserves and beaches that could threaten entire areas of forest and yet nothing is being done at night to address this. Carparks are still abused as camp grounds.
    Parking has been free at Broken Head and mist of the time meters aren’t working so we are literally having guests stay for free. Rangers don’t get time to check do we are not only having guests visit fir free we are picking up the tab on waste, water and then locals or other visitors can’t get a park so we are not turning over our tables when we could be.
    All these issues seem unrelated to biodiversity but actually they are deeply and holistically connected.

  2. Stefanie says:

    Very true, Alison. Let’s work out the ‘how & the when’.

  3. Robyn B says:

    I agree Alison…. Well said…

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