By Brian Purdue
Brian Purdue is a conservationist and Coordinator of the Green Corridor Coalition, an alliance of more than 50 conservation and community groups in the Lower Hunter working to secure a protected green corridor linking the Hunter River estuary to the Watagans, which is supported in part by UON’s Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment.
The Green Corridor Coalition is a great example of how cooperation and collaboration between people, organisations and government can bring multiple benefits to community and the environment.
The importance of biodiversity corridors, when considered in the light of our society’s environmental impacts, cannot be overstated.
As development and accompanying infrastructure continues to spread relentlessly through the landscape, the environment is being fragmented into ever-smaller pockets of unsustainable habitat for fora and flora species that are critical to the functioning of ecosystems.
Corridors of undeveloped and rehabilitated land has long being recognised as essential to retaining torrential connectivity between isolated ecosystems. We allow the loss of these species and ecosystems at our peril.
Biodiversity corridors are found at a continental, regional and local scale; the 60 kilometer-long Stockton Bight to Watagans corridor being regional, passing through four Lower Hunter local government areas.
This corridor had long been identified, and by good fortune had remained intact but unprotected. This was tenuous because of its location on the edge of rapidly expanding city urban areas, which makes the land extremely valuable.
Fifteen years ago, this good fortune appeared to run out when a large housing subdivision was about to be approved on the Tank Paddock at Minmi. The Tank Paddock was in the narrowest part of the corridor, and also unique because it represents the last forested area on the edge of the internationally recognised Hexham Swamp. A five-year battle ensued that resulted in the development being stopped, but the 147 hectare site remained unprotected.
It was then realised that the only way the whole corridor could survive long-term was to gain this protection, and to gain maximum protection it must be in the national parks estate.
Buoyed by the Tank Paddock success, the Green Corridor Campaign began in November 2003 with its launch at the Hunter Wetlands Centre. Then the intense and unrelenting lobbying began, with regular meetings being held to coordinate the campaign. In June 2004, a presentation was made to Parliament of NSW which high-profiled the corridor.
During the following two years the campaign went into top gear, which included writing to politicians and government departments, attending a large number of meeting and workshops, attending public activities to get petitions signed, make PowerPoint presentations to a variety of organisations, organise extensive radio, TV and print media coverage, set up a website, produce explanatory maps and display material, car bumper stickers, T-shirts, Christmas cards, calendars, computer mouse mats featuring an aerial photo of the corridor, postcards printed and signed that were presented at parliament house and organised walks in the corridor. The campaign won awards for this work and more.
Various planning strategies identified the importance of the corridor, and during 2006 the NSW State Government finalised the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy [PDF]. The unremitting lobbying and public actions paid off because the green corridor was made the cornerstone of the conservation component of the strategy. In quick succession around 16,000 hectares were passed by Parliament for inclusion in the National Parks estate. On 1 July 2007, a dedication ceremony and celebrates were held on Mt. Sugarloaf, this prominent landmark also being transferred to National Parks.
One large gap remained in the corridor that was owned by Coal & Allied, which included the Tank Paddock. This 2,500-odd hectare privately-owned parcel of land was also part of the regional strategy, with an offset agreement being signed that would see the land transferred to National Parks. Little did we know this would take a further eight years to complete. So in total it took 15 years to save the Tank Paddock.
With the inclusion of 4,000 hectares of existing national parks and other government-owned lands being transferred to national parks, the green corridor now comprises 23,000 hectares of National Parks, with a further 1,500 hectares being pledged.
The following ecosystems are now joined because of the Green Corridor National Park Campaign:
Beach & foredune, coastal heath, forest & swamps, coastal saltmarsh, floodplain wetlands & forests, footslope forests, dry ridge forests, mesic gully forests and rainforests.
The Green Corridor National Park Campaign has exceeded all of our expectations but there are still unresolved issues and key parts of what have been protected, including the Tank Paddock, are under threat from high-impact infrastructure.