Last Wednesday the environment program Understory on RTRfm radio interviewed WWF’s Southwest Australia Policy Officer Katherine Howard about a land clearing proposal at Perth Airport in Jandakot . The Airport’s owner Jandakot Airport Holdings (JAH) is the second owner of a 50 year lease since privatisation a decade ago . Their clearing proposal is detailed in Jandakot Airport Expansion – EPBC Reference 2009/4796  and includes bushland home to three endangered species:
- Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, (Calyptorhynchus latirostris)
- Grand Spider Orchid (Caladenia huegelii)
- Glossy-leaved Hammer Orchid (Drakaea elastica)
While 40% of the proposed area is designated for a fourth runway and extension of the other runways, the other 96ha is earmarked for Jandakot City, a development which would be largest homewares complex in the southern hemisphere  (they must want to compete with the biggest ikea in the southern hemisphere that killed my fav swamp). WWF provide a simple breakdown of the areas proposed for clearing . JAH have previously cleared 79ha of banksia woodland for a commercial precinct and there is dispute whether this was done with appropriate authority and permission. Currently 90% of this development is vacant .
The majestic Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo is a casualty of our excessive clearing of the Wheatbelt and Swan Coastal Plain, where Perth is situated . The banksia woodland surrounding the Airport provides jarrah and marri roosting sites for Perth’s iconic black cockie and plentiful food from banksia and hakea . Last year at the June meeting of the Northern Suburbs Branch of the Wildflower Society of Western Australia Eddy Wajon from the WA Native Orchid Study and Conservation Group (WANOSCG) talked about the work he and WANOSCG have been doing saving orchids when land is cleared or proposed to be cleared. One of these areas is Perth Airport, where the two declared rare flora orchid species grow .
JAH doesn’t allow access to their bushland, but some conservation groups have been able to wrestle a gander, Eddy Wajon being one of the lucky few as a representative of WANOSCG and the Friends of Ken Hurst Park. The Airport’s uncleared land is one of the largest areas of contiguous bushland in the region and is in very good to excellent condition, being recognised as regionally very significant through listing as a Bush Forever site .
JAH propose to manage:
- Ken Hurst Park to the north of the Airport,
- a conservation area of uncleared land within the Airport, and
- a revegetated sand mine
under a conservation management plan, with corridors between Ken Hurst Park and the conservation area on Airport land. JAH learnt of the importance of uncleared corridors connecting areas of bush from meetings with WANOSCG and the Friends of Ken Hurst Park . Management of Ken Hurst Park by JAH is unlikely as the City of Melville, the owner Ken Hurst Park, has refused to enter into discussions with JAH regarding the matter .
A part of JAH’s proposal is to revegetate and manage for up to 10 years a former sand mine of 90ha to the north of the Airport which is almost devoid of vegetation. The land is owned or managed by the City of Canning and JAH have costed this venture at $7million, with no cost to the City, so Canning has given in-principle approval to JAH. The revegetation of 90ha of totally degraded land as an offset to clearing 167ha of bushland is inadequate (with an offset ratio of 4, at least 668ha would be required). Revegetation would take much longer than 10 years to reach the condition of the bushland surrounding the Airport and disturbances such as off-road vehicles which access the former sand mine could destroy young plants and animals as they return .
Although not included in the current land clearing proposal, Five Mile Swamp in the southern part of the Airport’s bushland includes habitat suitable for the critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise (Pseudemydura umbrina) . There are less than 50 mature individuals and loss of habitat through land clearing was and still is a critical cause of decline in numbers of Western Swamp Tortoises. Their long life and slow reproduction rates, combined with highly specialised habitat requirements, compound the problem . In 1970 a single juvenile was found at Five Mile Swamp. This was the third remaining locality of Western Swamp Tortoises. No further evidence has been found indicating the presence of a population at Perth Airport, despite extensive surveying . In 2000 a third population was established at Mogumber Nature Reserve and with only three current populations, suitable habitat should not be cleared because the tortoise could potentially be reintroduced in the future.
There are also many WA Christmas trees (Nuytsia floribunda) in the bush surrounding the airport which you can see in all their orange glory if you catch a plane in December.
For all these reasons JAH should not be allowed to clear any of the 622ha of bushland surrounding the Airport, especially as more than half of their current proposal is for the company’s commercial gain, not aviation purposes. WWF’s proposal that the Federal Government permanently protect this nationally important bushland would be farsighted . Right now JAH has the preliminary decision from the Department of the Environment for their comment and the final decision will be released on 3 February .
The public comment period has closed, but I’ve written a letter to Environment Minister Peter Garrett and attached a copy for anyone to amend and send your own letter before 3 February 2010. I sent my letter by snail mail and although email is quicker, I’ve heard snail mail makes more of an impact with politicians, although a greenie like Minister Garrett may not like the waste of paper. So many proposals for clearing are received by the Federal Department of the Environment and on Understory Katherine Howard said it’s difficult to justify not clearing land zoned urban, but the bushland of Perth Airport is Commonwealth land, so it may have more of a chance of being saved . Hopefully our endangered species and their beautiful bushland home will be preserved for future generations and the plan for more shops where we can waste more money buying more things we don’t need will be forestalled.
Grand Spider Orchid near Toodyay by Tom Carter, Mt Vernon Floragraphics
- Understory (2010, 13 Jan) RTRfm Community Radio
- Wajon, Eddy (2009) “The Role of the WA Native Orchid Study and Conservation Group (WANOSCG) in Orchid Conservation” Wildflower Society of Western Australia Northern Suburbs Branch Meeting, 23 Jun
- Jandakot Airport Holdings (2009) Jandakot Airport Expansion – EPBC Reference 2009/4796
- WWF Australia (2009) Permanent protection needed for Jandakot Airport bushland, 16 Dec
- Wajon, Eddy (2009) WANOSCG Conservation: Jandakot Airport Proposals
- Stojanovic, Dejan (2009) “Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo” Landscope vol.24, no.4, p.16-23
- Commonwealth Department of the Environment (2007) Pseudemydura umbrina (Western Swamp Tortoise)
- Burbidge & Kuchling (2007) “The Western Swamp Tortoise: 50 Years On” Landscope vol.22, no.4, p.24-29
- Stevens, Nicole (2009) “Countdown to land decision” Fremantle-Cockburn Gazette, 22 Dec