WRAP - No prison in Westbury

Land clearing for proposed Northern Regional Prison could harm endangered species, field naturalist fears

By Adam Holmes
The Examiner
24 June 2020

Birds documented on the proposed prison site include (clockwise from top-left) the grey goshawk, masked owl, brown goshawk, a wedge-tailed eagle nest on neighbouring property, golden whistlers and spotted pardalote (2018), mostly recorded in a series of surveys in late 2006 and 2007. Pictures: Sarah Lloyd
A Northern Tasmanian field naturalist will write to the federal environment minister to raise concerns about two endangered birds she has documented either in or near woodland proposed as the site for the $270 million Northern Regional Prison.

Sarah Lloyd OAM has previously sighted masked owls on the land, and has documented evidence of a wedge-tailed eagle nest on the neighbouring property.

Both species are classified as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The grey goshawk - classified as endangered under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act - has also been documented on the land by Ms Lloyd.

They were among more than 30 bird species she has recorded on the land, along with rare plants the handsome hook sedge and blue pin cushion.

The government last week announced a proposal to build the prison using 15 hectares of the 70-hectare parcel of land, relocating the proposed site from the Westbury industrial estate following community backlash.

Ms Lloyd said land clearing in recent decades had further constrained the habitat for Tasmanian birds, and this would be added to that list.

"This is what's happening all through Tasmania where so much remnant bush is being cleared, we're seeing paddocks resulting in more clearing, it's death by 1000 cuts," she said.

"My fear is that any activity in the site is going to have an impact, particularly on the wedge-tailed eagle which has such a large foraging range. The prison will have really strong lights at night that will have an effect on the fauna, and will effect everything from moss to birds to mammals.

"All of this bushland is fast disappearing and this is a very important piece in its own right."

The land is bordered by farmland to its south, a mixture of farmland and forest to its north, and its western side has previously been logged. A eucalypt plantation on the other side of the road was recently logged and replaced with a pine plantation.

The matter was raised in Parliament on Wednesday over concerns the land had previously been bought at part of the private forest reserve program and would have had conservation value, but Attorney-General Elise Archer dismissed this.

"A preliminary investigation has been conducted by DPIPWE and it is understood there are no eagle nests, covenants or records of threatened wildlife on the block. Further due diligence of the Crown land site is currently underway," she said.

"The site does not contain the values for which it was originally purchased by the government, and indeed, for more than a decade, consideration has been given to allowing the land to be sold, with the intention of allowing a portion of the land to be cleared for a residence."

Wilderness Society urges greater care and consultation

The Wilderness Society claimed the latest concerns over the new prison site indicated an unwillingness by the government to engage with local communities before making decisions.

Spokesperson Tom Allen said the construction stimulus package needed to have the support of communities.

"If the Gutwein Government ignores local people and ignores environmental assessments during the COVID recovery period, it will find itself embroiled in community conflicts across the state," he said.

"The solution is community collaboration and undertaking professional, timely and thorough environmental assessments.

"Biodiversity is not disposable and what local people value matters."

Naturalist Sarah Lloyd was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia this year for her conservation work. She has raised concerns about the new site of the Northern Regional Prison. Picture: Neil Richardson

 

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