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14 Mar 2016

Win for Critically Endangered Australian Regent Honeyeater in Court Decision

Regent Honeyeater - photo from BirdLife Australia
By BirdLife Australia

BirdLife Australia is celebrating a landmark court decision to protect the Critically Endangered Regent Honeyeater.  In a desperately needed win for the Critically Endangered bird, the NSW Land and Environment Court has found in favour of a challenge to the approval of a development which would have destroyed its habitat. In the decision, it was recognised that the Regent Honeyeater is in “grave peril” and that Cessnock City Council acted improperly in approving a Development Application for a steel fabrication facility in Regent Honeyeater habitat in the Hunter Economic Zone (HEZ) in the Lower Hunter Valley, NSW.

Friends of Tumblebee, represented by community legal center EDO NSW, claimed that a Species Impact Statement (SIS) should have been carried out to properly assess the impacts of clearing for the development on Regent Honeyeaters. The Court agreed, concluding that in the absence of an SIS, the approval issued by Council is invalid. The Court added:  “Preservation of this area is therefore of vital importance to the long term survival of the species. Habitat destruction is a primary reason for its imperiled status.”

The Regent Honeyeater may number as few as 350-400 birds in the wild.

The decision also recognises the important contribution BirdLife’s Regent Honeyeater data made to informing the decision, a testament to the huge amount of effort our volunteers put into searching for this elusive species each year.

BirdLife Australia is well aware of the significance of the HEZ for Regent Honeyeaters. In 2007/08 one of the most significant known Regent Honeyeater breeding events of the last decade (approximately 20 nests and up to 100 individuals) was recorded within the HEZ. Dean Ingwersen, BirdLife Australia’s Regent Honeyeater Recovery Coordinator, said “the Lower Hunter Valley is one of only four known core areas for Regent Honeyeaters and the HEZ site is possibly the most important part of these lowland forests for the species.”  Dean added, “the biggest threat to the species is loss of habitat, so this is a common sense decision in the conservation of these birds.  Further to the breeding event in 2007/08, this site has been one of the most consistently used in NSW in the past decade and is likely to be an important refuge under drying climatic conditions in the future.”

The HEZ is situated on one of the largest wooded remnants in the Hunter Valley and was rezoned for industrial purposes by the NSW Government in March 2002 after minimal ecological investigations. Since rezoning occurred, numerous ecological studies have shown that the HEZ contains a remarkably large range of threatened flora, fauna and ecological communities, including being one of the most important single sites for Regent Honeyeaters.

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The Lower Hunter Valley Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) was recognised as one of five “IBAs in Danger” across Australia in a report by BirdLife Australia in 2014, due mainly to the threat posed by the broader HEZ development. The decision is welcome by BirdLife’s Woodland Birds for Biodiversity Project Coordinator, Mick Roderic; ”from the start this proposal failed to consider the ecological impacts the development would have on a range of threatened species.  The ruling supports our long-held view that loss of these woodlands would imperil the Regent Honeyeater, a species our organisation and volunteers work tirelessly to save.”

The decision also demonstrates that cumulative impacts of smaller proposals within larger “staged” developments need to be properly considered by consent authorities.