Saturday 27 May 2017


The proliferation of white netting and plastic covered igloos that are springing up across the region is hard to ignore as the flourishing blueberry industry takes off.

Bringing “jobs and growth” to the North Coast, this type of intensive horticulture is receiving strong support from governments at all levels. However, the industry is almost totally unregulated, allowed to clear what is termed regrowth forest, build enormous dams, and transform rural landscapes into a 'sea' of plastic without the need to seek any approvals whatsoever.

The problem is, blueberries are largely grown hydroponically, and so are highly dependent on water, hence the huge dams to capture the 10% of rainfall run-off that each landowner is entitled to.

Last year an international consortium purchased a large grazing property adjoining the Orara River and announced their intention to set up Australia's largest blueberry farm, 850 hectares. They are entitled to capture 90 megalitres (ML) of rainfall run-off and have applied to extract an additional 66 ML/year from the Orara. However, blueberries require between 2 and 3 megalitres of water per hectare annually, so already they have an annual water shortfall of close to 2,000 ML.

Since declaring their plans for the mega-plantation, the same consortium has reportedly purchased another property of similar size nearby, and are currently preparing that land for planting. We also have other blueberry farms starting up at Glenreagh, Kremnos, Halfway Creek, Kungala, Lanitza (north and south), and Qwyarigo, all within the Lower Orara catchment area.  Nobody appears to be giving any thought as to where the necessary water will come from, or what impact the damming of all first and second order streams will have on flows in the river itself.

The current total available water for irrigation from the Lower Orara is under 800 ML annually. You don't need to be a mathematician to see the problem.

Councils need to take control, and change their LEPs to require commercial intensive horticultural ventures to seek approval via a development application, along with and a comprehensive water management plan.

            - John Edwards

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on April 17, 2017.   

Monday 22 May 2017


Keen birdwatchers Eric and Margaret Wheeler enjoyed a birdwatching experience in Norfolk Island last November.

Last November Margaret and I attended Norfolk Island Week which was hosted by local identity Margaret Christian, author of "Norfolk Island - the Birds ", and Derek Ball, CEO of conservation organisation "Wildmob".

The Birdwatchers                              Photo: E Wheeler

During the week the 50 birdwatchers roamed the tracks in the rainforest, attended talks on the island's wildlife, visited seabird colonies, went on bus tours and boat excursions and enjoyed social occasions.

Norfolk Island, like most islands, has a sorry history of bird extinctions but much work is being done now to prevent further losses. The many sightings we had of Norfolk Parakeets were a sign of a conservation success. This once common parrot was reduced to fewer than 15 pairs in the 1980s but now there are about 250 birds. This is mainly due to protection of nesting hollows from cats, rats and introduced Crimson Rosellas.  During this year it is planned to establish another population of Norfolk Parakeets on nearby Phillip Island on which a massive re-vegetation program has occurred.  Another bird coming back from near extinction is the Norfolk Island Morepork (Boobook) which is now up to 32 birds.

Norfolk Parakeet           Photo: E Wheeler    

Pacific Robin    Photo: E Wheeler
In the forest we saw Norfolk Island species and sub-species such as Norfolk Parakeet, Norfolk Island Gerygone, Pacific Robin, Slender-billed White-eye, Emerald Dove, Sacred Kingfisher, Grey Fantail and Golden Whistler in which the male and female are brown but with golden underparts.

Golden Whistler     Photo: E Wheeler

Seabirds included Great Frigatebird, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy and Grey Ternlet. Nesting in the grounds of Margaret Christian's house were numbers of Masked Booby, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Black-winged Petrel.  For this to occur, she and her neighbours are diligent in rat and cat eradication.

Black Noddy          Photo: E Wheeler

Black-winged Petrel        Photo: E Wheeler

We stayed in the very comfortable Endeavour Lodge where, besides lovely ocean views, we overlooked a breeding colony of White Tern and Black Noddy in the Norfolk Pines.

Further information on the plan to re-locate 30 fledgling Tasman Parakeets (Norfolk Is. Green Parrots) to Phillip Island to establish another population of this endangered bird:   A crowd-funding appeal has raised $86259 from 699 donors in 3 weeks to finance this ambitious project. We will up to date on the progress of the re-location.

                    - Eric and Margaret Wheeler

Saturday 13 May 2017


The 2017 ReWeavers of the Tapestry Awards will be presented at a dinner in Grafton on Friday June 2.  These awards are presented annually on the Friday evening closest to World Environment Day. This year is the tenth awards presentation.  Information on past ReWeavers' Awards

The ReWeavers awards are hosted by three Clarence Valley based environment groups - the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition, the Clarence Valley Branch of the National Parks Association and the Clarence Environment Centre.

The Tapestry is a metaphor for the Earth and the ReWeavers are people who have been restoring its torn threads.

Following the dinner three people will be honoured for the major contribution each has made to the welfare of the Earth. The stories of each of these ReWeavers’ contributions  to the environment will be followed by the presentation of the award certificates on which is written the philosophy of the event.

This reads: “Individual Australians, inspired by a sense of wholeness, motivated by love and concern, sustained by perseverance and guided by knowledge, have greatly enhanced the tapestry of our Earth Community by reweaving green threads of sustainability back into its living fabric.”

The ReWeavers’ names are also embroidered on a banner beside an image from the natural world.

The three people being honoured this year are Bill Noonan and Phil Redpath of Grafton and Bob Friederich of Canberra (formerly of Grafton).  The certificates will be presented by the Clarence Valley Mayor, Councillor Jim Simmons.

Everyone is welcome.  Those attending are encouraged to bring food to share.

If you would like to attend, please indicate your interest to Stan Mussared on 66449309 or by email to the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition  ( )

Saturday 6 May 2017


Photo: G Eggins
At dusk on 23 May 2014 a male koala was released into a red gum tree on Mulligan Drive, Waterview Heights. He climbed awkwardly, gripping the tree with one hind leg instead of his foot, bringing doubts about his survival chances in the wild and the decision to release him.

This koala first came into WIRES' care in October 2013 after a tangle with a dog. Named after the owner who promptly called WIRES then helped to get him out of his garden shrub, Shane was an 8 kg 6 year old with a few bites on his rump and a broken hind foot from the fray. X-rays later found he also had a previously broken tibia, but otherwise was in good shape

Once captured Shane was given painkillers and antibiotics at the Clarence Valley vet clinic, and next morning was in surgery at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital, where his crushed toe was amputated and he spent the next seven months undergoing treatment and therapy.

As a dominant male Shane could only be returned to his home territory, as close as sensibly possible to his pick-up site. And so, after many further hours confined in a basket returning to Grafton, a travel-weary, grumpy Shane was finally freed into the favoured food tree some 400 metres from where he was found.

With so much effort and hundreds of dollars spent in getting Shane safely home, the only thing to do now was wish him a safe and trouble-free rest of his life and leave him to his own devices. The rest was up to him - and luck.

Now photos taken by resident Gary Eggins of a big koala who regularly visits his property, wearing an orange ear tag with the word WIRES and number 1177, have positively identified Shane, alive and well and in great condition. 

Photo: G Eggins

Shane now is old for a wild koala, so residents are asked to watch for him, to keep him safe while he happily lives out the rest of his time in the area he grew up in.

- Patricia Edwards

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on April 24, 2017.