750 hectares of the nation’s most significant waterbird breeding habitats has allegedly been cleared by a Moree farmer.
News sources, including ABC Online, are suggesting that the case may turn out to be one of the worst since legislation was introduced in 2003 to protect native vegetation
Aerial shots of the clearing have been broadcast on national television with both state and Federal Ministers weighing in. NSW Environment Minister Phil Koperberg said his department is investigating and that potentially big fines may be involved if the case is proven. Malcolm Turnbull has his Federal department also investigating to see if any Commonwealth legislation has been breached.
If the reports of land clearing are confirmed then the Gwydir case will be the first big test of the State Government’s resolve to halt broadscale clearing since it handed native vegetation management to the Department of Environment and Climate Change. Thus far, the landholder has declined to comment.
A river and waterbird expert at the University of NSW, Richard Kingsford, said that in the mid-1990s more than 100,000 birds had bred at the property. These included egrets, several species of ibis and a variety of native ducks.
Professor Kingsford was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald explaining that:
“It’s the death knell of this colony. Firstly there hasn’t been enough water allocated to allow them to breed and now their essential nesting habitat has been destroyed.
“These birds faithfully return to the same place to breed but when the next flood comes they will have nowhere to lay their eggs and keep their nests out of the water.
“I am shocked at the scale of the clearing and the fact that it had occurred on one of the most important waterbird breeding sites in Australia.”
Kingsford speculated on television that it would take decades or longer for the system to recover if ever.
There have been previous prosecutions over clearing of Gwydir Ramsar wetlands: http://www.environment.gov.au/epbc/compliance/judgements/index.html