Protests mount over tree-felling slated for Witchcliffe Forest Estate

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
A community campaign is mounting focused on the new Witchcliffe Forest Estate.
Camera IconA community campaign is mounting focused on the new Witchcliffe Forest Estate. Credit: Ray Swarts

The region’s forest activists are gearing up for a new campaign focused on a contentious housing project in Witchcliffe billing itself as a “forest estate,” despite plans to remove scores of old-growth trees.

More than 60 people turned out at Witchcliffe Forest Estate off Redgate Road last weekend to inspect the trees, which are a habitat for native birds.

They will rally again at Witchcliffe’s Druids Hall on Sunday at 10am to film a plea to the developers after the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River said its hands were now tied.

The Times understands historic approvals for the subdivision gave permission to clear the established trees for the sake of internal roads and house sites.

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But in an information sheet, the developer said the proposed density was greatly reduced from the number of lots approved for the site in 2010.

Former Nature Conservation Margaret River Region inaugural chair Boyd Wykes was among last weekend’s protest against the “zombie” approval.

Also the founder of Margaret River Owl-Friendly Region, the keen ornithologist posted videos expressing disbelief at the perceived damage to native habitat.

“(It is) seemingly unstoppable as one of many ‘zombie’ historic approvals for which the current (Shire of Augusta-Margaret River) administration accepts no responsibility despite there apparently having been no requisite fauna impact assessment,” Dr Wykes said.

Witchcliffe activist Anu Grace was worried about the impact on flora and fauna.

“Witchcliffe is under major development stress and we feel this is just the start of major ingress into our small remaining wildlife and habitat corridors,” she said.

“Other than buying back these five (key) forest blocks relieving the need for any access road, there may be little we can do at this 11th hour.

“However, we want to bring urgent attention to the whole area and all the other 1001 cuts that will be, and work with council to mandate true accountability.”

Tony Anderson from Arbitrage Projects, representing the developer, said 98 trees in total would go, with hundreds to remain.

“The proponents of this project have made a very strong commitment to the retention of trees and where possible the road and infrastructure design, drainage etc., will accommodate, where it can, existing trees,” he said.

“For example, the gentle weaving of the road or the realignment of drainage to avoid trees is being implemented in the engineering design.

“It is worth noting that the forest area is currently not a conservation zone, but private land.

“It will only become a defined conservation reserve and therefore protect the area for future generations as a result of the development proceeding.”

The Times understands the Witchcliffe Community Association and Margaret River Regional Environment Centre were backing the campaign.

Other Witchcliffe residents said, despite existing approvals, common sense could dictate changes to reduce the loss of old-growth trees, reinforced by the estate’s “forest” name.

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