$300,000 penalty for iIl­le­gal land clear­ing

Mer­ri­jig op­er­a­tion to buy veg­e­ta­tion cred­its after il­le­gally clear­ing 180 acres for farm­ing land

Mansfield Courier - - FRONT PAGE -

A LO­CAL farm op­er­a­tion has been or­dered to pay costs of $300,000, and ded­i­cate 148 acres to a na­ture con­ser­va­tion, after il­le­gally clear­ing more than 180 acres into farm­ing land.

Buxi Pty Ltd, the busi­ness in­volved in the case, has reached an agree­ment with the Mansfield Shire Coun­cil after clear­ing the land, without a per­mit, over a two year pe­riod.

To off-set the na­tive veg­e­ta­tion loss, Buxi Pty Ltd has agreed to pur­chase na­tive veg­e­ta­tion cred­its from within the Goul­burn Bro­ken catch­ment re­gion.

They will also en­ter into a Trust for Na­ture Con­ser­va­tion Covenant, which is a legally bind­ing agree­ment placed on a prop­erty’s ti­tle, to pro­tect 148 acres of bush­land.

It is thought to be one of the largest cases of il­le­gal veg­e­ta­tion clear­ing in the state.

The prop­erty in ques­tion is one of the last free­hold ti­tles lo­cated along But­ter­cup Road at Mer­ri­jig, and is now run as a com­mer­cial sheep op­er­a­tion.

“There are limited tools avail­able to coun­cils un­der the Plan­ning and En­vi­ron­ment Act 1978, to deal with large scale na­tive veg­e­ta­tion re­moval,” Mansfield Shire Coun­cil’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Alex Green, said.

“A ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment that re­sults in no net loss to Vic­to­ria’s bio­di­ver­sity val­ues was the best out­come.”

Ini­tial in­spec­tions of the site were con­ducted jointly by the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment, Land, Wa­ter and Plan­ning (DELWP) of­fi­cers and coun­cil staff.

Eco­log­i­cal con­sul­tants, en­gaged by Buxi Pty Ltd, rec­om­mended that a combi- na­tion of pro­tec­tion of other veg­e­ta­tion on the site and pur­chas­ing of na­tive veg­e­ta­tion cred­its.

“Clear­ing like this is against the leg­is­la­tion,” Mr Green said.

“Our res­i­dents value our lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment and move to ar­eas like Mansfield be­cause of the bush­land; it’s im­por­tant that we do ev­ery­thing we can to pro­tect it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“Unau­tho­rised na­tive veg­e­ta­tion re­moval can be an expensive ex­er­cise.

“I’d al­ways en­cour­age peo­ple to dis­cuss veg­e­ta­tion re­moval ap­pli­ca­tions with their lo­cal coun­cil in the first in­stance ... but we’re happy with the out­come achieved through the agree­ment with Buxi Pty Ltd.”

Poppe Davis, who is a life mem­ber of the lo­cal Land­care group, said it was im­por­tant that all land own­ers un­der­stood their le­gal and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties “to man­age prop­er­ties re­spon­si­bly and sen­si­tively.

“It is their re­spon­si­bil­ity to make them­selves aware that their ac­tiv­i­ties will im­pact the land for gen­er­a­tions into the fu­ture and have long term im­pact on land health and bio­di­ver­sity,” she said.

How­ever, not every­one is pleased with the out­come.

A Mer­ri­jig lo­cal be­lieved the clear­ing had shown a bla­tant dis­re­gard for the en­vi­ron­men­tal laws.

“We all just as­sumed they had per­mits,” the lo­cal res­i­dent, who wished to re­main anony­mous, said.

The res­i­dent be­lieved the clear­ing had sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased the land’s prop­erty value, well in ex­cess of the amount the own­ers had been pe­nalised.

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