THERE’S no shortage of frustration for farmers sifting through government’s draft land clearing codes, but stakeholders have particular concern over restrictions on land deemed ‘too steep’.
Government’s release of the draft codes and settings for the new native vegetation regime was met with mixed reaction last week.
Many in the farm sector say the proposed rules are confusing and will keep landholders wrapped in red tape, while Green groups and state Opposition have maintained outright disagreement.
NSW Farmers fear producers in New England, the tablelands and coastal zones will be excluded from the reforms altogether if the rules for ‘steep and erodible land’ go ahead.
The Association’s native vegetation working committee chairman Mitchell Clapham acknowledged that thinning, continued grazing, and management of native invasive species will now be allowed on land sloping greater than an 18 degree gradient. But he said it was wrong to automatically exclude ‘vulnerable’ land from further clearing.
“People might think vulnerable land should be protected, because the description says ‘steep and highly erodable’ but land over 18 degrees is not steep. You’ve only got to get your kids’ protractor out and sit it on the table to see that,” he said.
“Thirty degrees is getting steep - but there is a lot of land between that range is stable and quite productive and should be able to be utilised.
Mr Clapham said it should be up to the landowner, an LLS officer, “and possibly someone with soil conservation expertise” to consider vulnerable land on a case-by-case basis.
Government maintains 18 degrees is a well-recognised threshold above which clearing risks greatly increase. It said risks include eutrophication of waterways and estuaries, mass land slippage, loss of topsoil and other serious and irreversible erosion.
Under the draft LLS Code on display, landholders will be able to uniformly thin vegetation on vulnerable land, clear invasive native species and regrowth, and undertake existing rotational farming practices. They will be able to seek approval to clear Vulnerable Land under a clearing consent measure.
Mr Clapham said the Association would continue to lobby for a more farm-friendly regime.
“We were expecting a gush of water out of this pipe, but we’ve only got a few drops,” he said.
Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair sad government would continue to listen to the feedback and make changes to the drafts if appropriate.
“I think what we’re seeing at the moment is issues over interpretations and definitions and that’s what we’re working on,” he said.
Property Veg Plan transfers ‘unfair’
Farmers also say it is unfair “the door has been shut” on those who have played by the rules in fully-actioning their Property Vegetation Plans before the reforms come into play.
As it stands, clearing already undertaken under a PVP won’t be adapted retrospectively to the set aside area ratios and conditions in the new Codes.
The draft Code would let landholders with a partially-actioned paddock tree or broadscale clearing PVP to extinguish it in exchange for a set-aside area. That set-aside area would be established at the average offset ratio provided for in the PVP, and imposed on a pro-rata basis, relative to the proportion of clearing undertaken. The new Code ratios would apply to any further clearing.
While clearing of a PVP offset area is not permitted under the draft Code, landholders will be able to seek approval under Division 6.
The Land understands this position is endorsed by the Independent Biodiversity Panel.
NSW Farmers said “it doesn’t pass the equity test”.