Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine land up for sale and locals are looking to buy

James, Archie, 3, and Andrew Pursehouse are part of the three generations working the family's farmland, which would have been surrounded by Shenhua's Watermark coal mine. Photo: Billy Jupp
James, Archie, 3, and Andrew Pursehouse are part of the three generations working the family's farmland, which would have been surrounded by Shenhua's Watermark coal mine. Photo: Billy Jupp

The sale of a mining company's land in north west NSW signals the return to agriculture from mining but it will be a complex process.

NSW Farmers vice-president Xavier Martin farms about 25 kilometres away from the Shenhua Watermark land and said the 13 years of uncertainty had a profound impact on the district.

"For a start, there's a backlog of capital improvement across the landscape," he said.

"Farmers have been putting off building that new silo or replacing fencing.

"They didn't know what the future held in terms of quantity and quality of groundwater."

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Neighbour to the Breeza aggregation Andrew Pursehouse still expects plenty of local interest and his family is likely to make an offer for a portion.

"Some is pretty rough - a local politician calls it billy goat country but I wouldn't - right down to some prime black soil farming country and a lot of slope country that grows oats and pasture," he said.

"The prime black soil grows babies if you want to." Mr Pursehouse thought the mining giant had little chance of recovering its investment despite the surge in land prices.

"You'll think I'm exaggerating but Shenhua paid five to 10 times what the land was worth," he said.

On the other hand, Tony Clift won't make an offer on his former farm.

"Once I sold the land to them, I basically moved on," he said.

"We were probably one of the last landholders to sell and, once we did, we moved closer to Gunnedah, so it didn't really have too much impact on me at all."

While Mr Clift described some of the land as "only really good for growing pine trees", selling hadn't been easy.

"It was a hard decision to move off the land in the first place because generations of my family had been there, but I didn't want to have one foot in and one foot out, so I sold," he said.

Mr Clift hoped local farmers secured the quality black soils but expressed some concerns.

"If I was a neighbour around that area [where 6400 hectares of high-biodiversity land will be managed by Local Land Services], I'd be a bit worried because they don't have the greatest track record when it comes to managing noxious weeds and feral animals," he said.

Caroona Coal Action Group chairwoman Susan Lyle agreed.

"The land itself is in appalling order at the moment and the LLS really has to step up to look after the noxious weeds, feral animals, the koala population and the indigenous sacred sites," she said.

This story Hopes neighbours can reclaim former Shenhua mining land first appeared on The Land.