North East Link an ‘ecological misadventure’, says expert

September 1, 2020
The endangered Matted Flax-lily.

Vice president of the Warringal Conservation Society, James Deane, detailed the devastating ecological impact of the North East Link tollway project to an online forum hosted by Sustainable Cities on August 27.

Deane said that around 26,000 trees will be chopped down and that about 180 large native trees, which are greater than 80 centimetres in diameter, will be lost. These larger trees contain hollows and are important wildlife habitat. Thousands of smaller native trees will also be destroyed.

Included in this destruction will be the endangered Studley Park Gum, a rare natural hybrid between the River Red Gum and a Swamp Gum. The Simpson Barracks in the north eastern suburb of Watsonia contains the largest and probably last viable population of this species. This is likely to be eliminated by the construction of the North East Link.

The Simpson Barracks also has one of the largest known populations of the small blue Matted Lax-lily, an endangered species. Its estimated plant population is between 1400–2500 and 83 of these are within the North East Link Project (NELP) area.

The habitat supporting these rare lilies will also be destroyed. The lilies themselves will be removed with the aim of replanting them at an as-yet-undetermined site, but with the loss of their habitat, their future is uncertain.

The Banyule municipality and surrounding area provides habitat over winter for the critically endangered swift parrot, a beautiful, bright green bird that spends summer in Tasmania.

It is believed that less than 2000 birds still exist in the wild. It needs a choice of habitat to cope with seasonal variation in foraging opportunities. However, tree clearing in NELP will be a major contributor to the cumulative loss of indigenous tree cover, that is reducing local foraging opportunities for the swift parrot.

The area is also home to the powerful owl, another threatened species. The powerful owl is an apex predator that eats possums and requires a large territory. The North East Link Project will impact upon its hunting and breeding territory and will reduce the chance of this species being able to persist in the area. 

Residents and environmentalists are concerned that the environmental assessments have been incomplete and superficial. Furthermore, the poorly defined and inadequate mitigation strategies that have been planned do not properly compensate for the damage that will be caused. 

While the bushfires at the start of the year killed nearly 3 billion animals — mammals, reptiles, birds, and frogs — the Worldwide Fund for Nature estimates that tree clearing killed 87 million animals in New South Wales alone between 1998 and 2015, and this figure is rising.

If we want to preserve the uniqueness and beauty of our environment we have to stop tree clearing and projects which destroy it. Preserving the environment is necessary to stop global warming. NELP will not solve transport congestion, public transport will.

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