In the last WEPA NEWS I raised concerns over destruction of part of the Blue Gum High Forest remnant bush care site on the grounds of Chatswood High School. My comments were in response to seeing the removal of trees and bulldozing of vegetation along part of the west boundary of the site (along De Villiers Avenue – see picture above). I was particularly anxious about the impact of the clearing as the large trees in this area have hollows – increasingly rare in the area – which attract local birds and animals to nest.
Willoughby Council was quick to respond and I had a very informative meeting on site with staffers Holly Cowdery and Chris Williams. They pointed out that the area disturbed by Council was not within the current boundaries of the Council Bushcare site (the sign in the photo above was apparently placed on the fence line for better visibility and does not denote the current bush care site).
The changes Council has made on the school site have been to upgrade an existing car park (formerly tennis courts) to provide off-street parking for the increase in activity expected to follow from the upgrade to the school oval. The trees around the car park have been pruned for safety reasons after examination by an arborist. Trees were removed along the fence line so that a large water retention tank could be installed to stop run-off from the car park and surrounding area entering the adjacent Blue Gum High Forest. The trees will not be replaced on the fence line due to the proximity of the tank but large tangles of timber will be left on the ground as potential habitat and the area planted out with native grasses.
A small number of dead trees have also been felled to the side of the car park (on the bush care site) by Department of Education arborists and the area underneath cleared to locate an existing retention pit.
I was pleased to hear that Council has clearly put a lot of consideration into the works around the car park, is prepared to remediate the disturbed areas adjacent to the bush care site and remains committed to bush care in that area.
Protecting Blue Gum habitat
I continue to harbour some concerns about the clearing of part of the canopy and the increased use of the car park on this site – which can have negative impacts on local birds and animals – particularly if the oval will be in use until 10pm at night.
In addition, the decision to replace the natural grass on the oval with synthetic turf may over time impact on the Blue Gum habitat to its side. This requires close monitoring. Natural grass offers habitat for insects, plants, and other organisms and provides food for birds. It also absorbs and breaks down organic and inorganic products that fall into the grass. Synthetic turf does nothing to enhance biodiversity and does not contain microorganisms that can break down pollutants. In addition, synthetic turf can, on a hot day, be up to 40% hotter than a natural field as it absorbs rather than reflects sunlight and can contribute to the urban heat island effect.* I have not seen the environmental plan associated with the move to synthetic turf but am hopeful that these issues have been addressed.
The Blue Gum High Forest remnant in the grounds of the school is part of a critically endangered plant community which is quite precious to the local community. Members of the school, parents, students and the local community have worked tirelessly over the past 20 years to protect this site. I hope that, with the support of the Council and community, it will still be enhancing our lives and supporting local biodiversity in the years to come.
My thanks again to Holly Cowdery and Chris Williams for making their time available to me for the site visit.
Meredith Foley, Hon. Secretary, WEPA
* WA Department of Sport and Recreation, Natural Grass vs Synthetic Turf Study Report, 2011