Locals urge protection for Lake Macquarie woodlands

September 24, 2011

The group “Conserve West Lake Macquarie Now” is working with local government and lobbying the New South Wales government and a coal company to gazette the woodlands of West Lake Macquarie on the NSW central coast as a State Conservation Area.

The area is Crown land, some of it leased by local coal company Centennial Coal. This land will provide the final links for a “green corridor” from the Watagan Mountains to the shores of Lake Macquarie.

This idea of conserving West Lake Macquarie is not new. The National Trust of Australia proposed establishing the Awaba Nature Reserve there in the early 1970s.

Unfortunately, nothing came of the proposal.

In 1994, Lake Macquarie City Council asked SWC Consultancy to produce an “Ecological Assessment of Proposed Awaba Nature Reserve”. Again, it recommended the area be conserved. Again, nothing came to fruition.

In 2005, the area was under threat by a proposed open-cut coalmine but was defeated by strong community opposition.

This opposition caused the NSW government to prohibit open-cut coalmining in the area in 2007. The need to conserve the area became more obvious in the government’s 2009 “Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan”.

It is now 2011 and still “the powers that be” have not protected this important site of significant biodiversity, home of many threatened species.

Threatened species include: the nationally threatened plant Tetratheca juncea; a significant population of Squirrel Gliders and Lake Macquarie City “iconic species” of the forest, the Powerful Owl.

The threats to this bushland include illegal dumping (even though the Awaba Waste Facility is only minutes away), “unmanaged leisure pursuits” such as trail bikes and 4WD vehicle use, greenfield development and population growth.

The threat of open-cut mining is still very real as the 2007 decision is not gazetted as a Bill but only as a State Environmental Planning Policy, which can be easily changed.

State MP for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper tried to have a private members bill — the Surface Coal Mining Prohibition (Lake Macquarie) Bill 2009 — carried by parliament but was unsuccessful.

Piper says on his website: “Our environment underpins our quality of life. Population growth planned by the state government must only come with the proper environmental safeguards.

“This includes not only shared funding for environmental projects but also protection from the impacts of inappropriate mining. Steps need to be taken to implement the Lake Macquarie sections of the Lower Hunter Regional Conservation Plan.”

The Conserve West Lake Macquarie Now group, with the support of The Wilderness Society and Newcastle’s Our Green Corridor, published a new report this year.

It explained the value of conserving the area. They have also developed a website supporting the report.

Toronto Tidy Towns also supports the proposal. The group has sponsored it for state recognition in the Keep Australia Beautiful, Tidy Towns Environmental Awards 2012, held in November.

Local ecologist Chris McLean has identified five woodland areas that are of high conservation value near Awaba, Blackalls Park, Eraring, Toronto and Wyee.

The report also includes the significant wetlands at Dora Creek and Toronto.

The first step of the campaign is to get the Awaba Nature Reserve officially gazetted, so it becomes part of the green corridor, extending the corridor from Sugarloaf State Conservation Area to the Lake Macquarie State Recreation Area.

In the current political environment it seems feasible that the local and state governments can seriously consider and act on the report’s findings.

Conserve West Lake Macquarie Now is presently working with Lake Macquarie City Council’s environmental planners to move the proposal forward.

The group also hopes to work with Centennial Coal to conserve the land, especially as it is one of companies the federal government identifies as a major carbon polluter and the provisions of the state government’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme.

This is a great opportunity for not only Centennial Coal, but Lake Macquarie City Council and the NSW government to been seen to do something positive and proactive in the protecting biodiversity and reducing greenhouse emissions.

[For further information please visit www.conservewestlakes.com .]

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