Residents gathered today in South West Rocks to voice their concerns over the loss of wildlife habitat due to development.
The 'Hoot for Habitat' rally was organised by the Voices of South West Rocks Community group and was in response to the recent and ongoing clearing of land in the coastal town.
Residents called on the Local, State and Federal Governments for greater protection of bushland for wildlife corridors.
Spokesperson for the group, Corrinne Boon, said the speed and total flattening of trees at the Settlers Ridge Development site has shocked residents.
"The land will be totally flattened and no one in the community even knew this was happening until the fence went up on Monday," she said.
"We're not against development, but it should be sustainable and include consultation with the community."
South West Rocks resident Cherry Muddle said the wildlife at South West Rocks should come before development.
"This is destroying the last remnants of coastal bushland and off the back of the 2019 bushfires, it should be protected," she said.
"Australia has the fastest extinction rate and the State and Federal Governments aren't doing anything about it."
Kempsey Shire Council's Manager of Development and Compliance Graham Snow said there has been community consultation in regards to the Settlers Ridge development site.
"The site is a State Government approved development which is a lengthy process. It included consultation and the awareness around the site should be fairly broad," he said.
Council has also released a document on their website detailing relevant information for the development site, which states: "The development area at Settlers Ridge was approved at a State level and is to be developed in stages."
However, the felling of trees at the site has raised concerns with local FAWNA members.
"There are a number of animals living in the bsuhland, including gliders, birds and koalas," FAWNA Macropod Coordinator Annette Tang said.
"A lot of the ground dwelling animals won't be able to escape because of the fence.
"We get calls to this area all the time so we know that there is wildlife where they are cutting down trees."
Annette said clearing the trees in stages would give animals more of a chance to escape.
"If they did some of the clearing before opening the fence and letting animals relocate, it would result in less deaths," she said.
"FAWNA wasn't contacted and didn't know this was going to happen, so we had no time to do anything about it."
Mr Snow said the developer has reports by the State Government that they must comply with in regards to wildlife and habitat.
"They do need to follow those reports in regards to vegetation and koala habitat," he said.
A large area neighbouring the development site has also been established as a biodiversity stewardship site by the NSW State Government under the previous biodiversity stewardship scheme and involves the landholder agreeing to conserve native vegetation and threatened species across their property in return for ecosystem credits (given for protecting vegetation communities) and species credits (given for protecting threatened plant and animal species).
"In this case the biodiversity stewardship site takes up 28.8 hectares out of the total 40.4 hectares of the total site," Mr Snow said.
As a declared biodiversity stewardship site, it will not be cleared or developed upon, with the exception of some Asset Protection Zones along the residential boundary which will be cleared to reduce fire risk.
Residents also believe there has been a lack of consultation with Indigenous Elders prior to machinery moving in.
Community Elder Aunty Cheryl Blair said there are stories about the land that is being developed that have been passed down through the generations.
"The site does hold cultural significance and the area needs to be protected," she said.
"There are stories that haven't been recorded that hold significance for us and this land."
Mr Snow said there has been significant Indigenous consultation throughout the entire process.
"There was a Cultural Heritage Assessment report prepared by archaeologists and provided to the State Government in 2011," he said.
Council has stated in a document on their website that the Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council (KLALC) has been involved in the application process during the developer's negotiations with the State Government.
"The State Government also reached out to 10 local Indigenous groups and KLALC were involved in the heritage assessment," Mr Snow said.
As part of the conditions of consent, a representative from the KLALC went over the ground rules with council representatives and developers on the first day of works beginning on tree removal. This included discussion of any matters of cultural heritage on or near the site, council said in a statement.
"There will be an officer from the KLALC on site who will be there if anything of cultural significance is uncovered," Mr Snow said.
The Settlers Ridge proposal involves the clearing of 12.35 hectares overall and plans allow for a 138 lot development.
South West Rocks is expected to experience the most significant growth within the shire.
According to the most recent surveys and projections, the population of South West Rocks is estimated to grow by 2575 residents by 2036, nearly a 50 per cent increase on the current population. This population growth would require an estimated additional 1200 new dwellings or increased housing density.
Locals can find out more about the development on council's website.
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