Around 300 native trees and shrubs blocking multi-million dollar views along one of Australia’s most expensive streets have “mysteriously” vanished.
The devastated council told Yahoo News Australia regenerating the Sydney Harbour waterfront strip took hundreds of hours over an eight-year period, but flattening it took perpetrators just days.
“There’s nothing left on the ground, they removed every single part of the tree.” Lane Cove Council general manager Craig Wrightson told Yahoo News Australia. “It’s not just a straight culling of trees.”
Theory emerges about silent removal of trees
Lane Cove Council investigators suspect hand tools were used to silently saw down trees to the base. But how the massive branches and stems of between 100 and 300 plants were hauled onto the street and trucked away without anyone noticing is perplexing.
“The question is, how did they do that?” Mayor Scott Dennison asked while speaking with Yahoo News about what he called a "devastating" act of destruction.
The trees were felled across the leafy suburb of Longueville, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, and their loss was initially noticed by a dog walker last week.
The area is known to be home to native mammals including possums, microbats, sugar gliders, wallabies and possums, as well as dozens of species of bird. Dennison says the “extremely selfish” actions were committed by people with a lot of money who “just don’t care” about the wildlife or the rest of the community.
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Why tree killers don't care about being fined
Illegal tree removal remains an ongoing problem across Sydney's waterfront suburbs. A week ago, Yahoo reported on a separate tree poisoning in Darling Point.
President of Lane Cove Bushland and Conservation Society, Shauna Forrest, said tree killing is a “large and ongoing problem” and a nearby reserve at Tambourine Bay had around 50 trees including Moreton Bay figs and Sydney red gums poisoned.
She said prosecution of tree destruction usually goes unpunished. “Unless someone films, the only thing really left is shame. You have to shame the people who did it with larger signs so it’s obviously who’s killed the trees.”
Referring to the Longueville incident, Mayor Dennison said council believes it has identified persons of interest and it plans to prosecute them to the full extent of the law.
“We need the judicial system to set an example and impose the maximum fine,” he said. Noting that homes on the street have sold for over $7 million, he believes people in the area have the money to pay a penalty in excess of $1 million.
“People just take a punt and say, I’ll pay $200,000, what does that matter if I improve my view size,” he said.
At least 139 bird species living in area
The council is continuing the enormous task of documenting the destruction of the trees at Longueville. Many were prime habitat trees for wildlife including casuarinas and mature Angophora eucalypts.
Environment campaigner Nat Pelle from Australian Conservation Foundation described the destruction of so many trees as “pure greed”.
“It denies other members of the public access to nature in the city, which is important to our health and wellbeing. But these small pockets are havens for really rich wildlife, and so many of our threatened species live in cities with us,” he said.
The location is mapped as being Sydney coastal enriched sandstone forests. And there are records of glossy black cockatoos which are listed as vulnerable to extinction less than 5km from the site. Sadly, the casuarina trees which were destroyed are a species that are relied upon by the birds.
BirdLife Australia records indicate at least 139 species of bird live in the Lane Cove local government area. They include high-profile species including tawny frogmouths, osprey, swans, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and even lyrebirds.
A spokesperson for the group, Andrew Hunter, told Yahoo that with so many species present, illegal clearing in the district is "highly concerning".
"We have been advocating for stronger nature protection laws at a national and state level," he said.
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