Hunter Region biodiversity under pressure

Under pressure: A section of the Great Eastern Ranges in the Upper Hunter which is under environmental pressure.  Photo: Ian Pulsford

Under pressure: A section of the Great Eastern Ranges in the Upper Hunter which is under environmental pressure. Photo: Ian Pulsford

Biodiversity offset schemes in the Hunter are adding extinction pressure to the very species they are meant to protect, a new Nature Conservation Council report has found. 

The schemes allow developers to clear bushland if they buy, protect or improve bushland elsewhere. 

Biodiversity offsets have been a central plank in the establishment of the Hunter green corridor project that extends from the Watagan mountains to Stockton Bight. 

However, the Nature Conservation report:Paradise Lost, the weakening and widening of biodiversity offsetting in NSW, found the areas set aside are often poorer quality or a different type of habitat than that being destroyed. 

There are also numerous ‘loopholes’ that allow developers to simply pay into a fund or pay for research rather than find a suitable offset area. 

“The use of dodgy offsets is a new form of greenwash that gives extremely harmful developments a veil of environmental credibility they don’t deserve,” Nature Conservation Council chief executive Kate Smolski said. 

“In theory, offsetting is supposed to ensure there is no loss in biodiversity values, but in practice it is pushing threatened species towards extinction.”

The report examined eight case studies in NSW where offsets have been used in association with major developments.

It found that offsets resulted in ‘poor’ or ‘disastrous’ outcomes for wildlife in 75 per cent of cases.

Adequate outcomes were achieved in 25 per cent of cases. None resulted in good outcomes for nature.

The three Hunter-based case studies – Huntlee, Warkworth extension project and the Mount Owen continued operations project resulted in poor outcomes for biodiversity.

“Nature in the Hunter is being hit harder than other regions because dodgy offsets are used here so often to permit coal mines that destroy large areas of bushland,” Ms Smolski said. 

“Many species in the Hunter, including quolls and the regent honeyeater, are dying the death of a thousand cuts as each coal mine chips away at another chunk of habitat. 

Ms Smolski said biodiversity protection in NSW would be further weakened by new land-clearing laws. 

“The Berejiklian government is planning to bolt on a new offsets scheme to the biodiversity and land-clearing laws it passed last year,” she said.

“Rather than closing the loopholes in existing schemes, as many experts have advised, the government’s proposed scheme will open them even further, with potentially disastrous consequences.