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Maintaining Tree cover in Port Stephens

Maintaining Tree cover in Port Stephens

By Nigel Waters, EcoNetwork Port Stephens.

For most community environment groups, maintaining tree cover is a high priority issue. Whether it is from concern over loss of habitat for native fauna, appreciation of the value of trees for shade and cooling, as a carbon sink, or simply a recognition of the importance of trees for visual amenity. Ensuring that the net loss of trees is minimised is paramount.

Some loss of mature trees is inevitable where clearing is required for infrastructure works such as new roads or for infill housing, but many of us think that planning controls do not prioritise retention wherever possible, and that consent conditions that require replacement planting are too weak and not always enforced. Vandalism of trees, often to ‘improve’ views, is also a major problem.

Locally, the new Port Stephens Council Environment Advisory Group (EAG) has identified Biodiversity and Greening as one of three priority areas of work. The EAG was established in 2023 at the initiative of Councillor Leah Anderson who now chairs the Group. At its latest meeting on 21 February, the EAG heard from Council staff that amendments to the Tree Management chapter of the Development Control Plan will be brought to the Council meeting on 26 March. It will then go on public exhibition for comment. This will provide an opportunity to lobby for improvements in controls, community education and enforcement.

In the meantime, Council’s Biodiversity Technical Specification document and the Ecological Assessment Guidelines have been updated and are available online.

Support larger fines for illegal tree removal

Many of the weaknesses in controls over tree removal and land clearing are outside the control or budget of Councils, and the required improvements will need State Government action. A NSW Legislative Assembly ePetition has been launched calling for bigger fines for their illegal removal. It states that

‘Our urban forests are under threat. These acts also put a financial burden on already cash-strapped councils. It’s time to take stronger action against those who harm our environment.’

The ePetition seeks to ‘Increase Penalties for Urban Forest Tree Vandalism and Recognise Trees as Natural Assets in the IP&R Framework of The Local Government Act.’ If you are a resident of New South Wales, please sign this ePetition today.

We are also awaiting the State Government’s responses to a damning report on the operation of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and also to a review of the native vegetation provisions of the Local Land Services Act 2013 – both reports were made public in 2023. Read the reviews here.

Published: 8 Mar 2024