Byles Creek tree massacre

Why the protected home of Mikey the Powerful owl is threatened by unapproved building work.
Why the protected home of Mikey the Powerful owl is threatened by unapproved building work.

Developers outraged the local community when it felled protected trees in the Byles Creek Valley, home to a protected powerful owl.

Now they’re calling on the Council to buy the land back.

Located in a Heritage Conservation Area, it’s one of only a few breeding areas for Powerful Owls across the city as well as home to the last breeding population of Critically Endangered Gang-gang cockatoos here.

Hornsby Council is considering whether to prosecute the developers of 79 to 87 Malton Road Beecroft after they cleared land before getting the approvals needed. The development site has already attracted considerable public opposition to the five residential lot subdivision of the one hectare plot.

A Land and Environment Court ruled in 2016 that the building could only go ahead subject to strict conditions being met – including bushfire and fauna plans, and construction and subdivision certificates. However workers took down around 20 trees despite the conditions not being met.

Following a tip-off to the council by resident Trish Brown, Hornsby Council rushed to slap a stop- work order on the site, saying in addition to the conditions not being met, it appeared no environmental safeguards were installed or precautions taken to check for wildlife or protect significant trees identified for retention, a severe breach of the court ruling.

Angered residents then organised a community meeting at which they called on Hornsby Council to buy the land back and heavily fine the landowners. Fines for illegal land clearing include $3300 for individuals and $5500 for corporations under the Native Vegetation Act. If the matter goes to court, the maximum penalty is $1.1 million.

Hornsby’s Mayor Steve Russell said: “We have referred the matter to our solicitors to see if they recommend that we prosecute the developers – we are spending ratepayer’s money and we have to be careful how it gets used.

“But the land is not for sale and we don’t have the money nor the political will to buy it.”

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