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Advocacy Campaigns Westleigh Park

Westleigh Park Bushland Under Threat

Hornsby Shire Council is considering sanctioning the network of mountain bike trails that have been illegally built through Critically Endangered and Endangered Ecological Communities at Westleigh Park.

Council’s recent consultation culminated in a 3-day co-design workshop focusing on the main stakeholders – mountain bikers, conservationists and residents.

This $50K consultation outcome report has been unanimously rejected by the non-MTB participants. They felt the bias was strongly in favour of the mountain bike groups. The final set of 16 workshop participants were carefully vetted by council, 50% were mountain bikers, 25% were local residents and 25% were conservationists.

Council hired an independent mountain bike track designer to present to the co-design workshop and despite repeated requests there was no independent ecologist to explain the fragility and significance of these critically endangered communities.

The initial workshops included the option of no trails in the bushland but the final co-design trail workshops narrowed the brief to remove this as an option.

Hornsby Shire Council purchased the land in 2016 from Sydney Water to cater for the needs of the whole community. Council staff identified pristine bushland with large intact areas of the rare Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest and Duffys Forest.  Most of the community had obeyed the Sydney Water signs and fencing excluding them from the area. But mountain bikers were not deterred and by 2017 had built 5km network of trails.

Hornsby Council did not effectively prevent the building of illegal trails and by 2020 ecological consultants warned council that “No education program has been provided to mountain bike community regarding the impact of their activities on ecological values (and human health through asbestos movement). The length, width and construction activity of trails has noticeably increased since acquisition of the land by Council. As a result, soil erosion, soil and seed translocation and vegetation damage has also noticeably increased. These key issues threaten the integrity of the native vegetation to a point that some areas are currently at risk of approaching an ecological threshold.”

They also confirmed the vegetation mapping which includes significant areas of Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest (STIF) Critically Endangered Ecological Community under NSW BC Act 2016 and Commonwealth EPBC Act and Duffys Forest which is listed as Endangered under the NSW BC Act 2016. The mountain bike trail network traverses through significant patches of STIF as well as populations of Darwinia biflora and Melaleuca deanei (EPBC Act, BC Act), Tetratheca glandulosa (BC Act) and habitat that supports the Square-tailed Kite (BC Act).

In 2021 Council produced a draft master plan for Westleigh Park which was the subject of a community consultation. Unable to agree on the master plan for a mountain bike trail network in the critically endangered forest, they then ran another consultation culminating in the co-design workshops.

Environmental and Community groups are joining together under Save Westleigh Park to fight for a fairer and broader community perspective.

 

Categories
Advocacy Environmental Education

WWF Living Planet Report

This year’s edition is the most comprehensive finding to date and provides a platform for the best science, cutting-edge research and diverse voices on the impact of humans on the health of our Earth. More than 50 experts from academia, policy, international development and conservation organisations have contributed. WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022 shows the scale of the challenge – and highlights what we can do, both here in Australia and around the world, to change the way we live.

The future of the planet is in our hands.

Key findings from WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022 include:

  • Global wildlife populations fell by 69%, on average, between 1970 and 2018.
  • Australia continues to have the most mammal extinctions in the world. The report tells a disturbing story of continual decline of more than 1,100 wildlife populations in Australia due to pressures from climate change, habitat destruction and introduced predators.
  • Populations of sharks and rays have dropped by 71% worldwide over the last 50 years due to fishing practices.There has been a 64% reduction in Australian sea lion pups born each year in South and Western Australia.
  • Combined koala populations have plummeted by 50% over 20 years in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Globally, landuse change is still the biggest current threat to nature, destroying or fragmenting the natural habitats of many plant and animal species on land, in freshwater and in our oceans.
  • If we cannot limit global warming to 1.5°C, climate change will likely become the dominant cause of biodiversity loss in the coming decades.
  • Australia must set strong nature laws, become a world leader in forest protection and climate action, and respect and acknowledge the stewardship of Indigenous Australians to care for Country. With the right conservation effort, commitment, investment and expertise, wildlife and wild places can be brought back from the brink.

The Living Planet Report includes the latest findings measured by the Living Planet Index, tracking 32,000 populations of 5,230 mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish from 1970-2018. This includes more than 1,100 populations in Australia.

Read the full report

Categories
Advocacy Campaigns Westleigh Park

Westleigh Park Consultation Outcome

The Hornsby Shire Council has released the report on the outcome of the latest round of workshops to co-design mountain bike tracks through the Critically Endangered Ecological Community (Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest) and the Endangered Ecological Community (Duffys Forest.)

Westleigh_Engagement_Outcomes_Report

The report reflects the position of both groups however as predicted it is very difficult to reach a consensus when you have two diametrically opposing views.

Background

The council hopes to develop Westleigh Park into a range of sporting and other recreation uses to address the predicted sportsground shortfalls in the Shire. Westleigh Park will be a multi-purpose facility with three sports platforms. The latest round of consultations was to co-design mountain bike tracks in the special bushland in the area.

The Issue

We can no longer afford to ignore the damage being done to our bushland at a local level.

The Hornsby Council’s End of Term report outlines the failure of council to protect our threatened plants, animals and waterways.  Business as usual is no longer good enough.

What Can We Do?

Friends of Berowra Valley have highlighted our concerns at a local and state level. The next stage of our campaign for common sense is for community groups to join forces and work out a strategy moving forward – this is now happening.

If you want to be really depressed watch this video from the Environment Defenders Office on the NSW environmental legislation.

There is also a state election coming up next year and we need a fresh perspective with a government prepared to look after our environment. Not one that just documents the decline and watches on the sidelines as we lose our unique flora and fauna.

 

 

 

Categories
Advocacy

When They Stopped the Bulldozers

We recently nominated our Treasurer, Ken Fox, for the 2022 Treasurer Awards. Ken has always been the quiet achiever and has been an asset to all of the following community groups:

  • United Residents Action group 1990 – 2016 (26 years)
  • Berowra and District Community Assoc 2005–current (17 years)
  • Hornsby Conservation Society 2008 – current (14 years)
  • Association for Berowra Creek 2012 – current (10 years)
  • Friends of Berowra Valley 2018 – current (5 years)
  • Probus Club of Berowra 2020-current (2 years)

Ken has been an advocate for the environment for many years. His most outstanding achievement is his involvement with the United Residents Action Group  where in May 1997 members of URAG blockaded the bulldozer at Chakola Av to prevent the start of the Landcom development. To further show residents commitment, URAG held a protest march and street rally in Hornsby in June 1997 which included guest speakers Jeff Angel from Total Environment Centre and Ian Cohen from the Greens Party and a MLC.

As a result of this and supported by John Muirhead (Mayor HSC) Stephen O’Doherty (State Member), Landcom agreed to enter mediation June 97. The mediation group consisted of Landcom, URAG and Council. As part of the mediation Total Environment Centre was selected to oversee the project of determining what portion of the land should be developed based on Environmentally Sustainable Development.

Four studies were commissioned:

  • Study 1 State of the Environment
  • Study 2 Ecological Sustainable Development planning framework
  • Study 3 Application of the ESD framework
  • Study 4 Management of the Land

In December 1999 Total Environment Centre tabled its recommendations and of the of approximate 580 building sites only 45 odd sites were deemed suitable for development. Landcom agreed to the recommendations and agreed to transfer the land deemed unsuitable for development be transferred to the NPWS for inclusion into the Berowra Valley Regional Park. However to date, due to Aboriginal Land Claims being placed on most of this land apart from one parcel at Chakola Ave Hornsby Heights have not been included into the park.

A sincere vote of thanks Ken, for the work that you have done for the environment and community and for the work that you continue to do.

 

Categories
Advocacy Campaigns Westleigh Park

Open Letter to Matt Kean

Dear Matt,

I would have like to have spoken to you personally but somehow my emails for meeting requests go unanswered.  I get it, you are a busy man but during this workshop your influence loomed large.

As a participant in the recent Westleigh Park Co-design Mountain Bike Trails Workshop I would like to share my experience. 15 people were involved with approximately half representing the mountain biking community and the other half representing the environmental side including groups such as the Westleigh Progress Association, Friends of Berowra Valley, STEP, ANPS (Australian Native Plant Society) and others.

Each side have their own ideology and it is this ideology that feeds their position.

Mountain Bikers

  • Love the bush
  • Love riding
  • Find it therapeutic
  • It is a great exercise
  • Introduces their kids to the bush
  • Elements of the track that are important include, shade, trees and shrubs, topography, locality.
  • Need tracks that have a direction and a track head to avoid collisions.

Environment Participants

  • Want to protect EEC(Endangered Ecological Communities) and CEEC(Critically Endangered Ecological Communities)
  • Want to protect the whole ecosystem, trees, shrubs and groundcovers and all of the animals that rely in these as habitat
  • What to see the bushland handed down to future generations intact
  • Want to be able to walk through the area at a slow and gentle pace. (While walking the tracks it became clear that once the area is designated as a track, this will not be possible. You will be in the way.)

I have no problem with the mountain biker’s ideology, in fact I applaud each and every element.  I am almost certain that the mountain bikers would have no problem with the elements of our ideology.

So why are we being pitted against each other?

During the workshop it became clear through the many presentations of the professional track designer that he can create tracks that meet the needs of mountain bikers anywhere. Give him a blank canvas and he can create a masterpiece.

It is an easy fix to the demand of more mountain bike tracks to destroy more of our bushland.  But Matt, you said that you cared for our environment and you want to protect our wildlife and their habitat. Stop wasting public money on pointless consultations and find a genuine sustainable solution that we can all be proud of.

Yours sincerely

Karen Benhar

President Friends of Berowra Valley

Categories
Advocacy Campaigns Westleigh Park

Westleigh Park Bushland Furore

We need to protect our remaining bushland in Sydney before it is lost to future generations. The area surrounding Westleigh Park has been home to 694 plant species, 14 mammal species, 134 bird species, 14 reptile species and 8 amphibian species according to the Atlas of Living Australia.

Hornsby Shire Council has created a draft master plan to develop Westleigh Park. Overall the area to be developed includes 36ha of land with 10ha already cleared. Most of the cleared area will be redeveloped into 2 sporting fields (1 likely to be synthetic) and 1 athletics field.

Categories
Advocacy

Water Management in Greater Sydney  – We Can Do Better

Water management has traditionally been about supplying clean drinking water however there is a growing expectation in the community that water management is more than that, it is about having healthy waterways without pollution and thriving with life.  So how do we adapt to this new expectation?

Categories
Advocacy Environmental Education

Do you know the threatened species in your electorate?

A collaboration between conservation scientists and interaction designers has resulted in a great website to help know about the threatened species in your electorate.

Check out this web app called Threatened Australians that identifies all of the threatened species in an electorate.

Berowra has 26 threatened animals and 36 threatened plants within its boundaries. Put pressure on your state MP Matt Kean and Federal MP Julian Leeser to ensure that there is a Recovery Plan in place.

Categories
Advocacy Campaigns Westleigh Park

Westleigh Park Mountain Bike Madness Continues

The Hornsby Shire Council are running an oxymoron consultation.  The purpose of the consultation is to co-design a mountain bike trail network while protecting the high value biodiversity at Westleigh Park.  We have gone to great lengths to point out that mountain bike trails destroy bushland.

To be clear we are not talking about shared tracks that allow for bikers and walkers to co-exist. We are talking about tracks that cannot have walkers as they would be in the way.  They are to be purely designed for mountain bikes to rip up the soil, destroy vegetation and ensure native animals cannot exist in this landscape.

To make matters worse the area in question contains Critically Endangered Ecological Communities and Endangered Ecological Communities.  These areas are protected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 which declares that a person who damages declared areas of outstanding biodiversity value is guilty of an offence with the penalty being monetary penalty or imprisonment.

We have attended a workshop, webinar and sent a letter to Mayor and Councillors and have been ignored. The next stage of the consultation is now open and they are calling for Expressions of Interest (EOI) to take part in a series of co-design workshops in June.  To express interest in participating in the co-design process please complete the form on the Westleigh Park web page.

The EOI process opens today, Tuesday 26 April, and will close in two weeks at 5pm Tuesday 10 May. Selected participants will be notified by Friday 20 May.

Participants are required to be available to attend all the sessions as the activities are progressive.

The sessions will be held:

  • Sunday 5 June on site at Westleigh Park from 10am – 4pm (in the event of rain, workshop will be postponed to Sunday 12 June).
  • Tuesday 21 June at Pennant Hills Bowling Club, 5.30 – 9pm
  • Thursday 23 June Hornsby RSL (TBC) 5.30 – 9pm

The workshops are designed to include approximately 20-30 participants who will serve as representatives of the various stakeholders, groups and communities interested in this project.

Categories
Advocacy Campaigns Westleigh Park

Mountain Bike Trails at Westleigh Park Consultation

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

Friends of Berowra Valley are deeply concerned by the biased nature of this consultation. The purpose is “to involve the environmental and mountain biking communities in developing a co-designed concept plan of mountain bike trails at Westleigh Park while protecting the high value areas of bushland.” The fundamental issue here is that your purpose is impossible. Mountain bike trails exclude protection of bushland.

Your own environment consultants have laid bare the extensive damage already done.

From the Westleigh Natural Area Assessment by EcoLogical dated July 2020 page 87.

”The existing trail network has been constructed without environment assessment and without collaboration with landowners. No education program has been provided to mountain bike community regarding the impact of their activities on ecological values (and human health through asbestos movement) The length, width and construction activity of trails has noticeably increased since acquisition of the land by Council. As a result, soil erosion, soil and seed translocation and vegetation damage has also noticeably increased. These key issues threaten the integrity of the native vegetation to a point that some areas are currently at risk of approaching an ecological threshold.
The current condition is not acceptable as a baseline for future management decisions. The baseline should be zero trail disturbance. However, current conditions need to be documented to form the basis of monitoring and evidence to inform ongoing management decisions.”

Yet the entire consultation has assumed that just because mountain bikers have taken over the area that this destruction of bushland should be accommodated.

We were shocked that Council’s webinar allowed time for a mountain biker to present his position but not one local expert was allowed to make a presentation on the ecological importance of this particular site or the damage being caused to the critically endangered forests

Nowhere in the webinar was research evidence of recreational damage to natural areas, and in particular endangered ecosystems, properly presented. We were hoping the professional researcher would explain these impacts in a non-combative, unemotional manner to all present in the webinar. For whatever reason she chose not to. Our objections to use of this area is not based on emotional ideals but on solid evidence, evidence supported by their declaration as threatened ecosystems, in particular the 2019 reclassification of the Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest from  an endangered ecological community (EEC) to a critically endangered ecological community (CEEC). The webinar was therefore in our opinion, heavily slanted towards the mountain bikers point of view. Given that the Mayor and Councillors attended the webinar, it should have presented both points of view which it did not do.

As stated on page 87 of the Westleigh Natural Area Assessment of July 2020 “some areas are currently at risk of approaching an ecological threshold” i.e. there is a risk that the conservation status of the endangered ecological communities may be downgraded because of the damage being done to each of the vegetation stratum by the mountain bikers. Yet this was not even mentioned at the webinar. HSC purchased the land with the desire to provide for the recreational needs of the entire community.  Just because one group of people have commandeered the area for themselves means nothing. In a few years time this important, rare and endangered forest will just be a stand of trees as it will have been effectively destroyed by this group who will then again be clamouring for more bushland.

There is a Better Way

As one of our workshop participants said “Let’s take a step back” and not just listen to one highly vocal and organised group of people and think about what is important for the whole community and for the area itself. In NSW walking is the number 1 recreational activity, cycling comes 5th and mountain biking is a small subset of the overall numbers of cyclists.

The bushland in this area is incredibly special because it contains critically endangered and endangered ecological communities as well as threatened species of flora and fauna. It has an intrinsic value not only for the local community but also at a State and Federal level.  Council must not let a small group of people blind it to the potential to create a park that conserves our endangered forests, protects our threatened species and considers all of our native flora and fauna  now and into the future.

Our Position

FoBV do not support recreational activities that lead to a degradation of environmental values. FoBV believes no mountain bike tracks should be allowed in Endangered Ecological Communities, habitats for threatened species, biobanking sites or Aboriginal and Heritage sites. Mountain bikes should be confined to park edges, for example asset protection zones, permitted on management trails and any new trails should be confined to edges and highly degraded sites with low resilience.

The recent State Government Draft Cycling Strategy stated that there are over 30,000km of maintenance trails in the National Parks of NSW alone. These provide ample opportunity for children and families to engage in mountain biking close to where they live. Additional family-friendly trails do not need to be sanctioned in the most ecologically sensitive areas of Westleigh Park to fulfil a need that is already adequately fulfilled close by.

Initial Consultation – Elton Consulting

We are concerned that this consultation process has been high-jacked by the mountain bikers who are highly motivated to hang on to the area that they have helped themselves to. Other consultations i.e. Hornsby Quarry Park released the postcodes of the people surveyed but we have been unable to get this information from Elton Consulting. The area is publicised as a mountain bike hub and has therefore attracted mountain bikers from across Sydney and further afield.  Providing the results of an online survey without publishing the postcodes of the respondents provides no indication of the actual local demand for the Westleigh tracks.

Our Recommendation

Mountain biking is destroying bushland throughout the whole state and there needs to be a state-wide strategy to deal with this problem.

We are aware that Council has received advice from the State Government that the $3.6 million grant for the link track and Westleigh trails can be used to purchase another site and built a purpose built mountain bike park, one that does not impact on critically endangered ecological communities and threatened species. This money could be used to build a purpose built mountain bike park on  a large block of privately owned non-residential land that has been cleared or partially cleared, or a mining site that needs to be rehabilitated. Not within endangered ecological communities or threatened species habitats such as Westleigh Park.

Kind regards,

Karen Benhar

President – Friends of Berowra Valley