• Tony Bosworth

Bilpin four applaud Council for opting in to RBCC and urge Libs to stick to their guns

The stakes are high when it comes to the Rural Boundary Clearing Code, currently sitting in the opt-in tray at Hawkesbury Council after Liberal Mayor Patrick Conolly used his casting vote to get it there.

Greg 'Cocka' Gascogne and Lionel Buckett give a thumbs up to the Council for opting in

This coming week, independents, Greens, Shooters and Fishers, and Labor were set to attempt to bring the RBCC back to Council in another attempt to have it open to consultation with experts, as well as to seek information on geospatial mapping tools.

But the Mayor has brought that attempt forward to this evening by calling an Extraordinary Meeting in an effort to see the RBCC stay where it is – opted into.

The RBCC allows landowners in some rural areas to clear 25m around their boundaries as a fire mitigation measure.

Hawkesbury Council staff said in a report to Council that could - in a worst case scenario - see 15,800 hectares of the Hawkesbury cleared, some 5.7% of our region's landmass.

Four Bilpin residents, who are local landowners and who were threatened, and in some cases directly impacted by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20, are pushing hard for the RBCC to be kept – 2 of them addressed Council at the last full meeting.

“You can only clear 25 metres inside your boundary fence in land zoned RU2 which is rural landscape and if the slope of the land is not greater than 18 degrees, which prevents soil erosion,” says Martin Tebbutt, a pumpkin farmer whose 100-acre property was affected by the fires.

“If the App says you’re eligible, and you can print out a copy as evidence to present to council officers if needed,” he says.

Pumpkin farmer Martin Tebbutt applauds Council opting-in to the RBCC

At the moment there is no RBCC map for the Hawkesbury because although Council has opted in to the Code, that move has not been signed officially yet by a Minister.

Council staff have also pointed out they do not have the resources to police any potential illegal land clearing under the Code.

“You can’t clear any vegetation within the 25 metres that is endangered, or supports wildlife that is endangered, such as grey gums that koalas like to eat,” says Lionel Buckett who owns land at Mountain Lagoon and Berambing, and who has previously addressed councillors on the RBCC issue.

“I live in Mountain Lagoon which has a significant koala colony and it’s exempt from boundary clearing under the Code. During the fires we found 2 koalas burnt to death because they didn’t make it to shelter in the open paddocks around the Lagoon – it was horrible ” says Mr Buckett.

Businesswoman Lichell Maris (pictured left) who lives in Bilpin also supports the RBCC and says, “residents want to thank Council for passing a resolution to identify and map other koala colonies in the Hawkesbury and particularly councillor Eddie Dogramaci for offering to donate his annual salary received for being a councillor to aid koala preservation if any other councillors would do the same.

“We are disappointed that none agreed to put their money where their mouth is,” says Ms Maris who adds she is “a koala lover whose property was partly destroyed by fire”.

Dr Billy Gruner of Mt Tomah wants the Council to map all endangered habitats in the Hawkesbury, not just koala habitats.

"It's great that the Council has taken the first step with koalas, and now we need to extend it to all species. Climate change means we need urgent action now to protect what remains after the devastating fires in 2019. I was left covered in pink after a fire fighting plane dropped fire retardant on my house just before the fire struck. While I survived, every living thing that wasn't pink was incinerated."

According to Dr Gruner there’s an opportunity to harness the knowledge and resources of local residents to act as citizen scientists to photograph vegetation and wildlife on their properties. He says these images could be used to create a fauna and flora map of the rural area and provide baseline data for measuring the impact of our changing climate.

Dr Billy Gruner wants to see all fauna and flora mapped and supports the RBCC

"Contrary to the view of our suburban dwelling Council administration we live in rural Hawkesbury because we are nature lovers,” he says.

“We do not have rednecks and we do not want to destroy what makes our properties valuable to us. So let's stop trying to stymie implementation of a government policy formulated after NSW-wide consultations, and the input of State and national expert bodies.

Let's put aside ideology and political point scoring in this election year. Together we can seize the moment to do something that will benefit our children and future generations," he says.

Greg 'Cocka' Gascogne whose house burnt down in the fires agrees. "I have three kids and I want them to inherit a property that continues to be rich in diversity of plants and animals. It would be great to have kids involved in recording this."

The RBCC comes up again this evening at 6pm before a full Council. The Extraordinary Meeting will be screened live.

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