In the final article in a series on plans for an eco-lodge bordering Sydney's Royal National Park, JOE KONING investigates the potential environmental impact.
The eco-lodge proposal for Bournemouth St, Spring Gully, is a high-end tourist escape that includes six luxury yurts on a parcel of private land on the edge of the national park.
However, critics claim the ecological cost of building the lodge is too high with agressive clearing required to meet bushfire safety guidelines.
A unique stand of Bloodwood Mallee trees, Eastern Pygmy possums and Powerful Owls are all being slated as reasons to reject the proposal.
RVA Australia's Mr. Ron Van Ardenne owns the site and wants to develop a so-called 'paper road' called Sussex Street, based on his claims of right of way as the owner of the property.
Bordering the Royal National Park and the adjacent Spring Gully property, Sussex Street is currently covered in bushland, accessed by endangered Eastern Pygmy possums and lined with ancient bloodwood mallee trees.
Spring Gully is a trapezoid of coastal vegetation. The 5.6 hectares is a mixture of shrub, forest, and wetland.
It’s neighbour -- much more imposing in size -- is the second national park ever declared, pipped only by Yellowstone in the United.States. Three of the four edges of Spring Gully border the Royal National Park, while the last abuts the oceanside village of Bundeena.
Of Jibbon Hill, the Office of Environment and Heritage stated that the land had a 'suite of ecological values identified to support a World Heritage nomination for the Royal National Park'
For many years, Spring Gully was owned by Scouts Australia NSW, and like its neighbour, remained free of development. This changed in 2013 when the land was sold to RVA Australia, which has proposed clearing the area and constructing the eco-lodge.
For residents of Bundeena, the gully is an extension of the park. The line separating private land and national reserve only exists as a line on a map. It is unable to impede the ecological abundance which spills from the Royal National Park into Spring Gully, an ecology which was deemed worthy of preservation in 1879 by the NSW Government.
In 2015, an 8.5 hectare rectangle of land known as Jibbon Hill was offered to the Royal National Park as an addendum. This land now forms the southern border of Spring Gully.
This can be seen as a type of precedent: the land below Bundeena is worthy of conserving. Of Jibbon Hill, the Office of Environment and Heritage stated that the land had a “suite of ecological values identified to support a World Heritage nomination for the Royal National Park”.
Vegetation pervades Spring Gully. Coastal Sand Bloodwood Forest, Coastal Sand Bangalay Forest, Coastal Sandstone Heath-Mallee, and Coastal Freshwater Wetland are all present. Of these, the Bangalay Forest and Freshwater Wetland are classified as endangered.
Bloodwoods are by far the dominant vegetation. Corymbia gummifera is a native hardwood which is commonly seen in coastal areas in New South Wales and Queensland. The grove in Spring Gully contains thousands of trees, and provides food and shelter to an array of wildlife.
Sugar Gliders scratch their way towards veins of sap to feed. Older bloodwoods contain hollowed out branches where various animals roost, among them the critically endangered Eastern Pygmy possum.
As part of the development, over a thousand of these bloodwoods would be cleared, including 43 trees which bear hollows. The clearing of hollow bearing trees is considered a key threatening process according to the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
To counter this loss of habitat, the developer has offered to install 36 nesting boxes. In the case of RVA Australia Pty Ltd vs Sutherland Shire Council, in the Land and Environment Court of NSW, Dr Korbel, the ecologist for Sutherland Shire Council, said that these nesting boxes can be used by a variety of fauna other than the possums, and as such, possums tend to avoid them, preferring the safety of tree hollows.
These individuals, and the groves they live in, are the best of their kind in Australia and the world. They are of outstanding conservational significance
Dr David Robertson, the ecologist for the developer, assured the court that bloodwood forest isn’t the ideal habitat for Eastern Pygmy possum’s anyway, saying they prefer heath-leaved banksia, a tree that is widespread in areas outside the boundary of Spring Gully.
The Powerful Owl, a species considered vulnerable, may also find its habitat affected if the clearing goes ahead. A pair of breeding owls has been spotted in the area, though Dr Robertson claimed the owls were certainly not nesting in the area, as the bloodwood hollows are not large enough. He said the predatory area of such birds can spread over five kilometres, and as such he does not expect such a small development to impact the owls.
Though the bloodwoods as a species are in no imminent danger, there are features present in the trees at Spring Gully which are of ecological importance.
The bloodwood is a particularly expressive tree, and is capable of existing in a number of different plant life forms, depending on the surrounding environment. The stand at Spring Gully is unique in that it contains many different forms of expression, including small malee, malee with giant lignotubers, tall shrubs, woodland trees, and forest trees.
Robert Crombie, of the First National Park Committee, calls this collection a “marvelous example of evolutionary processes in action, of changes in genetic composition and expression as phenotype, and subsequent physical form”.
“These individuals, and the groves they live in, are the best of their kind in Australia and the world. They are of outstanding conservational significance.”
In the Land and Environment Court case of RVA Australia Pty Ltd vs Sutherland Shire Council, the ecological importance of the bloodwood was disregarded. The court stated that “according to Dr Robertson, the red bloodwood is one of the dominant trees in many coastal communities, and the fact that they are stunted in this location and have a woody root stock is not unusual when found in coastal areas.
Mr Crombie said that to consider the bloodwood as a species is to miss the point. "The real ecological significance lies in the unique adaptations found in this specific area."
“If properly protected, the area should continue to play a vital role in providing opportunities for adaptation and shifts in range for all native plant and animal species within it, allowing essential ecological and evolutionary processes to continue.”