Investigations underway into clearing of Macintosh Reserve by excavator

The clearing goes down to within a metre of the creek bank, creating a massive danger of erosion with any decent downfall of rain.
The clearing goes down to within a metre of the creek bank, creating a massive danger of erosion with any decent downfall of rain.

A group of Kurrajong residents and bush regenerators was appalled to discover that a small reserve on Little Wheeny Creek at Kurrajong had been cleared by a nearby landowner. 

Resident Janet Fox said the clearing of Macintosh Reserve was done with an excavator “and the damage was excessive and extensive”, in what is deemed a core koala and powerful owl habitat. Both species she said are listed as vulnerable.

“Clearing this large section along Little Wheeny Creek has created a weak link in an otherwise almost intact riparian zone,” she said, explaining that riparian zones (areas along waterways) form corridors which are vital to species which are highly mobile.

Plant species the group had identified as having been cleared were Cabbage Gum, Grey Gum, Paperbark Grey Myrtle, Parramatta Green Wattle, Hairy Clerodendrum, White Sally Wattle’, Mock Olive, Rough-fruit Pittosporum, Guinea Flower, Spiny Mat Rush, Saw Sedge and Weeping Meadow Grass, and some ground cover species.

The group reported the clearing off the end of Oswald Park Place to Council on September 20 and were gratified a compliance officer came out on the same day. 

However they said the officer had no experience of bush regeneration and his advice to the resident who’d done the clearing to just mulch the debris and distribute it over the site, was incorrect. They contacted the officer, who agreed to stop the mulching order, on September 25.

In consultation with other bush regenerators and an environmental scientist, they said the best option would be to distribute the debris back onto the site in the form of “brush-matting” which involves laying intact branches in a woven effect to stop run off and provide habitats.

Ms Fox said Council wasn’t doing enough to deter landowners from undertaking such clearing.

“Although the land in question will repair over time (decades) we are greatly disturbed by Council’s response,” she said. “The landowner has managed to achieve his aim of grassland under large canopy trees that is in keeping with his own property. His intention is to continue mowing the area to create a large clear area for people to walk their dogs. A minor penalty of being told to mulch the debris is not good enough.

“An additional concern is now that the mulching order has been rescinded, the debris remains in large piles across the 200 metres, the land has been left exposed and the debris is a potential fire hazard.”

The residents have urged Council to make the landholder pay for restoration of the site by a registered bush regenerator and continued monitoring for up to five years, and to educate landholders of the ecological value of these protected habitats.

When the Gazette contacted Council, its manager of environment and regulatory services Emmanuel Isbester said the officer who went out there said it appeared “only under-scrub clearing had taken place and there had been no tree removal”. 

“Further investigations conducted by Council officers confirmed that the site was within an area under the control of the Office of Environment and Heritage and that the works constituted a breach of the Biodiversity Act 2016,” Mr Isbester said. “The Office of Environment and Heritage is working collaboratively with Hawkesbury City Council to investigate this matter.”

He also said the OEH had the responsibility for enforcement of the legislation, and remediation of the affected area.

When the Gazette asked the OEH if it would be prosecuting the landowner who did the clearing, a spokesperson replied “As this matter is part of active investigations, it is not appropriate for OEH to comment further”. 

Part of the cleared area near the creek.

Part of the cleared area near the creek.