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Byron Shire
December 8, 2022

Vegetation key to minimising landslip risk

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Fijian Army building steps into a landslide. Photo Sama Balson

The impacts of landslides have been a little lost in the conversations around the devastating floods that took place in the Northern Rivers in February and March this year, but it is essential that we recognise the impact they have had, and will continue to have.

There still isn’t an appreciation of the damage landslips did,’ Dr John Grant, who is a specialist in soil, land degradation and rehabilitation at Southern Cross University, told The Echo.

‘The landslips had a significant impact on our land and our biodiversity. It was such a massive event. There is a lot of complexity within the landscape that we can’t see by eye.’

Housing pressure

Dr Grant highlighted the fact that increasing pressure for housing on councils and state government has opened up bushfire, agricultural and landslip sites for development, which then leads to negative outcomes in the longer term.

‘Landslide prone areas should be zoned as non-residential, but as happens with bushfires, when the fires and landslides are not in current memory there is significant pressure to move people onto these sites.

Negotiating landslides in Wilsons Creek to get home. Photo Sama Balson

Trees essential for stability

Any reasonable slope means there is the potential of a risk of landslip, but this increases as trees are removed, the slopes are undercut for roads and house sites etc.

‘Every tree is sucking hundreds of gallons out of the soil every day through transpiration, which decreases the water content of soils and the trees’ roots help bind the rocks and soil to reduce landslip.’

Isolated trees are not sufficient to stabalise slopes against mass movement of soils.


‘At the moment we have general rules in relation to landslide risk and we need to be more specific so there is a landslip assessment with developments and building,’ explained Dr Grant.

‘I live in a landslip prone area and I am really careful about removing trees and looking at where water is being focussed; for example from your house, retaining walls, and roads. If water gets focussed [into a particular area] that can initiate a landslip event.’

Dr Grant said that it is important that people get landslip assessments and that will give people a clear idea of how a particular site can be managed into the future.

‘Assessing landslips needs more attention and assessment. It does happen but not with sufficient detail and study,’ he said.

‘Once you’ve got that type of landslip assessment we can build houses to reduce landslip risk.’

If you have a house that was affected by a landslip you may be able to get assessment and assistance through the Resilient Homes Program being run by the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation. Find out more online at www.nsw.gov.au/regional-nsw/northern-rivers-reconstruction-corporation.

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  1. “Every tree is sucking hundreds of gallons out of the soil ..” not to mention the litres. Mr PhD should understand we’ve been using the SI system in Australia since 1970.
    Unfortunately trees can also cause landslides through the loosening of boulders etc. and the trapping of ground water. It’s a complex area – get yourself a geotechnical engineer before you start the earthworks.

  2. I think every local farmer, arborist and grazier knows only too well the problem of “Greasy-Back” landslips – caused by over-clearing on slopes over 15 degrees.
    I don’t think they need the SCU to tell them that. But perhaps newbies to our area since 1970s could benefit greatly from Dr Grant’s wisdom and publicity on this matter.


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