The Native Vegetation Management Order

The Vegetation Management Order (NVMO) replaces the Tree Preservation Order. Its primary aim is to protect native vegetation on private land from unwarranted clearing. Under the NVMO, protection extends to other layers of vegetation such as shrubs and small trees, sedges, vines and groundlayer plants. In 2002/3 the Society ran a campaign to encourage residents to support this Council initiative. The Bushland Preservation Order was passed at the Council meeting of 5th August, 2003 after Mayor Angel used his casting vote.

Bushland Vegetation Order (June 2003)
The New Draft Vegetation Order (May 2003)
What still needs to be addressed?
How Can You Help?
What is the Draft Vegetation Management Order(VMO)?
What will the NVMO do?
History
Why Do We Need a VMO?
Why do we need to keep vegetation in the urban area?
The VMO and the World Heritage Area
Claims made by the Group Against VMO


Bushland Protection Order
(June 2003)
This would be a better name for the battered Native Vegetation Management Order. It would better reflect what it is intended to do and also sound different from the previous "Vegetation Management Order".

Why, in a City within a World Heritage Area, is there such vocal opposition to a Bushland Protection Order? Similar orders have been welcomed by communities in Sutherland, Kuring-gai, and several other Council areas - even Brisbane!

Opponents continue to spread furphies and fear, but the debate about adopting a Bushland Protection Order or not boils down to two issues:
The philosophical question. Do you believe that you should be able to do whatever you wish in your own backyard? Do you believe your neighbour should too? Do you think you should be able to light fires at any time of the year? Let off fireworks? Pour paint down the drain? Keep roosters? Slaughter goats?
There are restrictions on many things we can do in our backyard, usually for good reasons. Land ownership has never just entailed "rights"- there have always been "responsibilities". Australia is paying the price for the belief that everyone has a right to remove vegetation-it is salinity, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. Australia is currently the world leader in species extinctions. Our land and rivers are degraded.

There is the practical need for this legislation. This tool is needed to make existing legislation more workable.

Previous editions of Hut News have outlined the reasons why the Society is supporting the introduction of a BPO (or NVMO). The Society has been pushing for such an Order for many years.

Let our Councillors know you want something to protect the bush NOW. Tell them we must do more to provide a sustainable future for the city within a World Heritage area. If Sutherland Shire can protect their urban bushland, why can't we?
Councillors are expected to vote on the future of the NVMO at a council meeting on either 24 June or 10 July. Please let them know you support the idea of having a NVMO. Don't let the opposition drown us out.

The new Draft Native Vegetation Management Order (May 2003)

Some Questions (and the Answers)

Will the NVMO restrict activities in established gardens? The NVMO is not intended to restrict activities in existing gardens in any way . Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. For example, it is not meant to restrict removing an exotic "Robyn Gordon" Grevillea as some vocal opponents seem to suggest. It is true that there is some lack of clarity in the definitions and so it could be argued that there will be restrictions on the removal of a single remaining waratah in a garden. This is clearly not intended in the stated purpose or aims. Senior council officers have also stated at public meetings that the intention is to protect areas of bushland not isolated native plants.

The Society�s Land Use sub-committee has already suggested an improved definition to Council which will overcome this problem. Council should be commended on planning community meetings to allow such problems to be identified and solutions discussed. If there is any lack of clarity in the wording of the draft NVMO that causes any confusion on this issue, it must be addressed so that it is absolutely clear that the NVMO only applies to intact native bushland.

Will the NVMO prevent larger gardens being developed - for example, a new "Everglades" or "Sorensen" garden? The draft NVMO doesn't prevent these sorts of developments and it is simply wrong to say that it does. If a Sorenson garden is being planned in an existing exotic garden or cleared area, the NVMO will not effect it in any way. The NVMO only effects gardens being planned where bushland is to be removed and only if you want to go beyond the 500sq.m/35m limits. Only then do you need development consent from Council and to detail potential environmental impacts, etc.

This is exactly what is required now by law under the combined operation of the Local Government Act (for major structural engineering works such as retaining walls), Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and Threatened Species Conservation Act. The NVMO does not prevent another "Everglades" being developed. It makes it clearer as to when a STANDARD development application is required!

Does the NVMO form an important part of Council's strategic aim of "sustainable living" within a World Heritage Area? It is supposed to be a key part of it! We cannot possibly be living sustainably if we destroy all of the native vegetation and the habitat of the native animals which live in the Blue Mountains urban area. The best way to protect the World Heritage national park surrounding us is to retain a significant buffer of bushland around all edges and all creeklines. The other way to stop weeds moving into the Park is not to plant them and leave the local native plants in place.

At the recent public meeting in Katoomba, senior Council officers suggested that they might consider relaxing the proposed restriction on developments on slopes of 20% or greater. Removing vegetation from slopes greater than 20% creates a highly erodable situation. Loss of soil cannot be considered sustainable either for the land it leaves or the creeks it clogs up. Would relaxing the restriction on slopes of 20% or greater contradict Council's commitment to sustainable living? Yes! Do soil erosion guidelines set down by the Department of Land and Water Conservation set the limit at a 20% slope for many soil types in the mountains? Yes! Future generations would certainly not thank us for this legacy.

Has the community been asking for protection of bushland or, as has been suggested by a few vocal residents, is Council �imposing the NVMO on residents�? Council's own surveys in 2000 and 2002 showed that the Blue Mountains community considers that bushland protection is very important. In 2000 over 94% of surveyed residents rated it in the category of the highest importance. In 2002 �protection of natural bushland� was again nominated by over 88% of residents, making it one of the top six concerns of residents out of a possible 46.

Since its inception in 1962 the Society has constantly heard from its own members and others in the community of their distress when bushland is destroyed and no action is taken by Council. We know Council also hears these complaints, but until now Council�s response has been that nothing can be done.

Will the NVMO impose restrictions on residents who want to remove or minimise a bushfire threat? No. The Rural Fires Act overrides any other conditions set in the NVMO. If residents wish to undertake hazard reduction works they need to abide by the guidelines under this Act. If residents wish to clear more bushland than is necessary for hazard reduction to create a lawn or landscaped area then that would come under the draft NVMO.

The draft NVMO attempts to make this clear. If it doesn't, then the wording needs to be fixed.

Perhaps more importantly, there is misinformation being put about that current Rural Fire Service guidelines for hazard reduction impose or require radical clearing of native bushland. They do not. In a designated Asset Protection Zone (APZ), these guidelines detail how to create gaps to slow fire runs in strong winds. They definitely do not say "bulldoze to bare earth" nor do they say "create a barren lawnscape". To suggest that the NVMO will interfere with the operation of bushfire safety works is simply wrong.

Is the NVMO needed if there is already State legislation to protect sensitive communities? All bushland is important as habitat for native animals. It is particularly valuable to keep large continuous areas. The bushland does not have to be threatened or special.

Hanging swamps are one example of a rapidly disappearing community. Bob Debus is proposing listing BM swamps as a Vulnerable Ecological Community under the recently amended NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act. However, under this Act a Vulnerable Ecological Community listing does not provide any protection by itself or trigger a need for consideration during the Development Consent process, or protect against incremental damage.

What still needs to be addressed?

BMCC has revised an earlier draft VMO and has incorporated many matters raised by BMCS. However, our Land Use Sub-committee has identified a few points that need to be addressed. First, the draft NVMO provides a definition of �pruning� that is open to too wide an interpretation and therefore potential abuse. �Pruning� can be carried out in unprotected vegetation without a permit.

Second, it proposes that no permit is required to remove understorey in Assest Protection Zones. However, there is no precise definition of an acceptable upper limit to permissible clearing of the understorey in an APZ. It appears possible that clearing to bare earth would be allowed under the wording of the draft NVMO!

Third, the protection of watercourses and riparian vegetation that isn�t covered by environmental protection zones and the like in existing planning instruments seems to be very loose in the draft NVMO.
Finally, the area that can be cleared without a permit can be up to 500 m2 as long as it is within 35 m of the house. These figures need careful consideration because they critically determine the scale of any impacts.

How can you help?
It is very important that the final NVMO is well-worded, and that land-holders have easy access to clear and appropriate information. Creating loop-holes through poor wording or leaving landholders without support and guidelines on acceptable practices could result in significant and avoidable damage to native vegetation, soil erosion, and impact on mountain streams. Please help us develop a Society response by sending your thoughts to Peter Wilson (4754 3038, email: peterbat@tpg.com.au) who is coordinating Land Use Sub-committee�s work on this issue. The Society has a brochure for distribution in the community to set out the important issues.

Public meetings
BMCC has announced two public meetings to be held on 19 March in Katoomba Civic Centre, and 9 April in Blaxland Civic Centre. Please come along have your say.


What is the Draft Vegetation Management Order(VMO)?
The Vegetation Management Order (VMO) will replace the existing Tree Preservation Order (TPO). It's primary aim is to protect native vegetation on private land from unwarranted clearing. Under the VMO, protection will extend to other layers of vegetation such as shrubs and small trees, sedges, vines and groundlayer plants. If the VMO is adopted the Blue Mountains City Council will be the first council in NSW , as far as we know, to protect all native vegetation, not just trees.

What will the NVMO do?

The draft Native Vegetation Management Order sets policies and procedures for managing all native vegetation not covered by environmental protection zones, significant vegetation communities and similar provisions of other planning instruments. Also, it sets out a series of conditions, that if met, mean that no permit is required to alter unprotected native vegetation within certain guidelines.

History
Residents have been calling on Council to protect native vegetation from clearing for many years. This matter was brought to a head when over 600 sq metres of Blue Mountains swamp was cleared late in 2000. Councillors voted unanimously for the preparation of a draft Vegetation Management Order, which was drafted by council officers and placed on public exhibition in January 2001. Some 22 comments were received from the community, most of which were in support of the draft VMO.

Why Do We Need a VMO?

The Blue Mountains Conservation Society regularly hears from members of the community concerned about the clearing of bushland on private property. Unchecked clearing of bushland is a problem. All bushland is important and needs protection - it provides valuable habitat and food sources for native animals and is an integral part of the Blue Mountains ecology. There needs to be a clear, legally enforceable policy that can protect native vegetation on private land. The draft VMO brings us a step closer to this goal.

At the present time, Council regulates vegetation removal through the Development Consent process and through its Tree Preservation Order (TPO). However the individual Local Environment Plans generally do not provide control over removal of significant vegetation outside the Development Consent process unless the land is zoned Environment Protection. There are many sites that contain sensitive vegetation communities that are not afforded that protection. Whilst legal opinion sees �clearing� of any bushland as an activity that requires development consent, Council does not. There is a legitimate difficulty in that there are no clear definitions about what constitutes clearing when it is only small scale. A Vegetation Management Order is a means of providing that protection.

Why do we need to keep vegetation in the urban area when there are all those trees out there in the national park ?
Each animal has its own territory, they can't just move down the slope into the National Park, as that territory may belong to another, or it may not have the right food; the same applies to plants some only live on the ridges.

The VMO and the World Heritage Area
As the only city within a World Heritage Area National Park, we must consider the impact that we have on our surrounding environment. The VMO's focus is on retaining native vegetation within our World Heritage Area (WHA). Important native vegetation communities such as heathlands and hanging swamps occur outside the National Park - these are special places that will be protected from the negative effects of irresponsible land use and development under the VMO.

Removal of identified environmental weeds and dangerous trees in our World Heritage Area is another issue addressed by the VMO. The World Heritage Area suffers from weed invasion all around the edges. We need to retain as much good native vegetation in the city area as possible as it serves as a buffer for the rest. Weeds can take over and destroy the National Park - the VMO allows for removal of identified environmental weeds so that they do not invade and degrade the National Park. This is an important step to take if we don't want our Park to look like Barrington Tops, where 10 000 hectares of it is dominated by Broom.

Claims made by the Group Against VMO
A group of residents called the Group Against VMO, has publicly opposed the draft VMO. Some of the main concerns raised by this group are addressed below.

Myths & Facts

Myth 1 An application will be required under the VMO to prune trees & shrubs by more than 20%.
Fact 1: This only applies if severe pruning of shrubs and hedges is carried out. It does not apply to selective pruning of branches overhanging a dwelling etc .

Myth 2: An application will be required under the VMO to prune hedges by more than 20%.
Fact 2: Only hedges that are to be either reduced by more than 20% of height and/or width or reduced to below 1.5m in height will require approval. Hedges classified as environmental weeds (eg privet, cotoneaster, cherry laurel) are exempt and may be pruned at will.

Myth 3: An application will need to be made to transplant and move trees around your garden under the VMO.
Fact 3: No Change to current Tree Preservation Order (TPO). The current TPO requires approval for transplanting mature trees,that is, trees over 4m in height or girth of more than 350mm (1m above ground level). The same rule applies in the VMO.

Myth 4:An application will need to be made to remove trees even if they are bumping into each other under the VMO.
Fact 4: No Change to current Tree Preservation Order (TPO). The existing Tree Preservation Order requires approval for removing mature trees; ie trees over 4m in height or girth of more than 350mm (1m above ground level). This will be carried on into the VMO but is not a new requirement.

Myth 5: In certain circumstances, an application will need to be made to remove dead, hollow trees & branches from your garden under the VMO.
Fact 5
: No Change to current Tree Preservation Order (TPO). Special consideration is given in the current TPO to protect native trees that are likely habitat for native animals etc. This requirement will continue under the VMO.

Myth 6: In certain circumstances, an application will need to be made to remove fire hazard plant material from your garden under the VMO and that the VMO will significantly restrict your ability to reduce fire hazards.
Fact 6: The VMO specifically allows for the removal of vegetation in Fire Protection Zones, for emergency access and where there is imminent danger from bushfires.

Exemptions under the Draft VMO

The situations which are exempt, and therefore do not need council approval, are far reaching. The following situations are exempt:
  • removal of non-native vegetation from an allotment of less than 1500 square metres in the urban area

  • removal of any vegetation within 25 metres of an approved dwelling in an area not greater than 250 square metres
  • removal of vegetation in Fire Protection Zones, in emergency situations where danger is imminent, including the removal of any vegetation which is a bushfire hazard.
  • removal of environmental weeds (as listed by Council)
Approvals

Proposals to remove or damage native vegetation in the following situations will require approval under the Draft VMO:
  • environmentally sensitive vegetation communities (as defined in an LEP), eg heathlands and swamps
  • areas zoned Environmental Protection or designated as Environmental Constraint
  • areas of steep land where the slope is greater than 20%.
  • native vegetation along creeklines or other watercourses.