Community group in court to save critically endangered bird

A Hunter Valley community group’s legal challenge to save the forest habitat of a bird species on the brink of extinction from clearing for an industrial development, is set to commence in the Land and Environment court today.

29 October 2014 

Update Oct 30: A third hearing date in the case has been set for 3-6 Feb 2015.

EDO NSW is acting for community group, Friends of Tumblebee, in a challenge to Cessnock City Council’s approval of a steel fabrication workshop and distribution facility in an area of forest which is habitat to the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater.

The development site contains about 3.2 hectares of habitat for the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera Phrygia), which will be cleared for the development. The Regent Honeyeater was elevated in 2010 from endangered to critically endangered, under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, which means it faces an ‘extremely high risk of extinction’.

A scientific paper recently published in the journal Australian Field Ornithology will be presented as evidence to the court. It reveals that the Hunter Economic Zone (HEZ), where the development is proposed, contains one of the most important breeding habitats left for this extremely rare bird.

Friends of Tumblebee will argue that the proposed development should have been accompanied by a Species Impact Statement (SIS) so that Council had a comprehensive understanding of the significant impacts the development would have on the bird.

The case comes before the Court as the NSW Government undertakes a review of legislation designed to protect biodiversity.

“It is high time that biodiversity laws make it an offence to cause the extinction of a species and actually prevent species from being pushed to and over the brink of extinction,“ said EDO NSW Principal Solicitor Sue Higginson. “The US Endangered Species Act gives this sort of protection, to prevent extinction and related habitat destruction.”

Nationally the Regent Honeyeater is listed as endangered. The Commonwealth Department of Environment says of the bird: “The Regent Honeyeater, with its brilliant flashes of yellow embroidery, was once seen overhead in flocks of hundreds. Today the Regent Honeyeater has become a 'flagship species' for conservation in the threatened box-ironbark forests of Victoria and NSW on which it depends”. It is no longer found in South Australia and records from Queensland are now uncommon.

The case is set down for a two day hearing beginning tomorrow in the Land and Environment Court in Sydney.

Contact: EDO NSW Jon Walter 0404 647 842