The Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has been urged to intervene to save a group of endangered Goldian sparrows due to the defensive development in Northern Territory.
The first phase of a clearing to allow defensive housing development in the savannahs of Lee Point, in North Darwin, has already taken place, having been approved in 2019.
A campaign to stop the second phase of dredging has won the support of residents and citizen scientists after more than 100 colorful sparrows were spotted in bushland identified for impending removal.
“We feel this is a world-class and undervalued area,” said Ian Redmond, a member of the Friends of Lee Point conservation group. “Hopefully [the minister] Development will be paused until this can be properly investigated.”
Lee Point is home to hollow-bearing trees that provide a nesting and breeding habitat for a range of species, and are also used by migratory birds. Spottings of the Golden Finch in the area were rare until 2019 when a handful of juveniles were observed.
The Gouldian finches are native to northern Australia. Their numbers plummeted in the 1990s and early 2000s due to changing fire regimes, livestock grazing, and infection from air bag mites. The largest known population is found near Catherine.
As the birds recover, scientists believe they are returning to their ancient habitat, including around Darwin.
In May, citizen scientists observed more than 100 birds at Lee Point and believe they are now breeding there.
They have documented the sightings and have sent records and a letter to Plibersek, who are calling on them to reconsider the previous government’s decision to approve the development of Defense Housing Australia.
Under Australian environmental laws, the Minister has the power to change consent if she receives new information about potentially significant impacts on a nationally listed species.
“What happened seemed like magic,” said Kirsty Howey, co-director of the NT Environmental Centre, who wrote to Plibersek on behalf of the concerned residents.
Howey said the clearing will “wipe out” a lane connecting one side of Lee Point to the other.
“People hope development will be paused and impacts assessed.”
Australian Jess Abrahams keep The foundation said it hoped the minister would review the development in light of species that “against odds, are making their way back from the brink.”
Stephen Garnett, a professor of conservation at Charles Darwin University, said Lee Point’s value extended far beyond the population of sparrows.
“The clearing of a new site in 2022 on the fringes of an urban area seems very short-sighted,” he said.
“There are more degraded sites that can be opened for defensive housing.”
A spokesperson for the Federal Environmental Administration acknowledged the “significant increase” in Goldian sparrows at the site, and said it was studying new information provided, including records provided by community members.
“The Department understands that the next phase of this development is due to begin in the coming weeks and is actively working with Defense Housing Australia to assess the implications of the project,” a department spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Housing (DHA) said the agency took its environmental responsibilities seriously and conducted a robust assessment at Lee Point.
They said the DHA continued to work with experts and the government “in connection with the project, which will provide much-needed accommodation for Australian Defense Force personnel and their families”.