Port Stephens Landcare groups are stepping up their fight to protect rainforest areas and stop tree clearing and vandalism by residents seeking more desirable water views.
And they have the support of Port Stephens Council, who this week reminded residents that fines for tree vandalism range from $3000 to $6000 plus remediation, with heavier penalties if the vandalism can be escalated to the NSW Land and Environment Court.
A recent incident which has members of the Soldiers Point-Salamander Bay Landcare group concerned relates to damage to trees on Cromarty Bay Road.
Rean Lourens, the council's natural systems coordinator, said that council had undertaken an investigation and soil samples were sent to a lab for testing to determine if the trees had been poisoned. The results from this testing were inconclusive.
"Council sent communications to local residents and placed signage on site to encourage reporting of any unusual activity. We request that anyone with any evidence of tree vandalism contact council immediately."
Kathy Brown, secretary of the landcare group, said that volunteer members were also concerned about the future of the nearby Littoral Rainforest in Soldiers Point - an area they have looked after for 30-plus years.
"The area from Pearson Park through Green Play Point to Yachett Point Reserve and Stoney Ridge Reserve is very familiar to us. Our work bees consisted mostly of pulling garden rubbish out of the bush, getting rid of invasive species like agapanthus and morning glory and planting rainforest species," Ms Brown said.
"Over many years members have reported incursions into the bush from locals that have included vegetable gardens on public land, dumping of garden refuse and other rubbish such as tyres, and property expansion through mowing into public land. Whenever we planted, many of the young plants were trampled. We were disappointed that the working bee planned for October 27 was cancelled by the council."
Ms Reams said the decision was made to cancel the work after it was determined that council staff could manage the planting due to the small size and scope of the active regeneration area.
"Council plans to continue to work with the community to manage the ongoing rehabilitation of passive regeneration zones across the Littoral Rainforest ... this is to ensure compliance with legislation and the protection of the rainforest."
Ms Reams said that Littoral Rainforests were listed as 'critically endangered' due to a reduction in area, reduced genetic diversity, reduced plant and animal numbers.
"Council has identified and mapped four Littoral Rainforest patches across the LGA, and through revegetation and regeneration and aims to increase the footprint by linking the existing fragmented pockets.
"As part of the NSW Government legislation, council is required to implement actions to stop the decline and support the recovery of the unique coastal rainforest."
In 2018, Port Stephens was successful in receiving a $100,000 Environmental Trust grant over three years to protect and enhance the Littoral Rainforest.
"Funding was used to engage a consultant to develop a management plan (we actually used our own funds) and implement a number of actions to protect and support recovery of the rainforest. Council has worked and engaged with residents and key community groups to finalise the Soldiers Point Plan of Management."
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