Managing native vegetation

The clearing of native vegetation on rural land is not effectively regulated and managed according to a report released today by the Auditor-General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford. The processes supporting the regulatory framework are weak and there is no evidence-based assurance that clearing of native vegetation is carried out in accordance with approvals. 

The report examined how Local Land Services and the Office of Environment and Heritage regulate and manage the clearing of native vegetation in rural areas following legislative reforms introduced in August 2017. It also examined the progress of the Biodiversity Conservation Trust in implementing the Biodiversity Conservation Investment Strategy as a counterbalance to land clearing.

The report found that unexplained land clearing can take over two years to identify and analyse, making it difficult to minimise environmental harm or gather evidence to prosecute. Despite around 1,000 instances of unexplained clearing, over 500 reports to the environmental hotline each year and around 300 investigations in progress at any one time, there are few prosecutions, remediation orders and penalty notices for unlawful clearing.

While significant effort has been applied in developing a native vegetation regulatory map to guide landholders on which land they can and can’t clear without approval, the map’s release has not been approved. Not releasing the map has made it harder for landholders to identify the portions of their land that are regulated and ensure they comply with land clearing rules.

Systematic processes are in place for assessing applications and issuing approvals for land clearing. However, there is limited follow-up or capacity to gauge whether landholders are complying with the conditions of approvals and effectively managing areas of their land that have been set aside for conservation. 

The Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code, which contains conditions under which clearing can be approved on regulated land, is intended to allow landholders to improve productivity while responding to environmental risks. It may not be achieving this balance. The Code allows some native species to be treated as ‘invasive’ when they may not be invading an area, provides little protection for groundcover and limited management requirements for land set aside for conservation. 

The report makes 11 recommendations to improve the regulation and management of rural land clearing.

Further information

Please contact Barry Underwood, Director of the Office of the Auditor-General by email or on 9275 7101 or 0403 073 664