A stand of ancient trees, some up to 4000 years old, is under threat by a proposed wind farm development by AGL at Mount Bryan.
The Eucalyptus bicostata trees, growing in a small circle, form the only known patch of this species in South Australia and west of the Murray-Darling drainage system, making them geographically unique.
Although these trees are widespread in Victoria and southern New South Wales, the age of the Mt Bryan stand is significant.
AGL has acquired the development rights to their third South Australian wind farm, planned for Mt Bryan, comprising about 30 wind turbines with a capacity of up to 90MW.
The company already owns two other wind farms in the area at Brown Hill (95MW) and Hallett Hill (71MW).
When fully operational AGL anticipate the Hallett 3 (Mt Bryan) wind farm will generate enough renewable energy to power about 43,000 average Australian households, avoiding up to 265,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
My Bryan, which gets snow most winters, has five distinct ecosystems, plus local springs which are important to the town, according to Hallett resident, artist and gallery owner Felicity Martin.
She said she believed a tree within the stand of blue gums may be one of the oldest in South Australia.
“… and provides an important link in the formation of this continent, with this tree providing a link to Tasmania,” Ms Martin said.
“It is now under serious threat due to a large wind turbine development, which is going to have one turbine placed right next to it.”
She said the consequent damage done by extensive earthworks impinging within 10-20 metres of the tree stand was also a significant issue.
Researchers from the University of Tasmania School of Plant Science visited the Mount Bryan site about eight years ago to study the trees. Rebecca Jones from the University visited Mount Bryan in December 2006 as part of her PhD work and supports the consideration of the significance of the trees by the wind farm developers.
“My PhD work (unpublished) has shown that it is genetically deviant from other populations and therefore of high conservation value,”she said.
She suggested care should be taken to minimise disturbance to the eucalypt population and the larger, older trees.
Democrats MP Sandra Kanck has gone to bat for the trees, which she says should be heritage-listed.
“As a species, it is not threatened, but as the sole South Australian survivor of the wetter climates of 35-50,000 years ago, this stand of trees is of immense scientific and cultural value,” Ms Kanck said.
She said AGL had written to her seeking further information that would help them protect the trees, saying they were unaware of their existence until the matter was brought to their attention.
“Their interest is good news but regardless of this, I will be writing to Minister (Gail) Gago (Minister for Environment and Conservation) asking for her urgent action to put these trees on the State Heritage Register.”
Ms Kanck has also asked Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett to step in and stop the project until it is assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
AGL spokesperson said the Mt Bryan (Hallett 3) wind farm was still in the early stages of development with an early public consultation process currently being made.
AGL will make detailed site assessments for an Environmental Impact Statement to accompany a development application to the local planing authority in June or July.
It was expected AGL would be able to avoid all areas of national significance in the final proposal, the spokesperson said.
16 April 2008
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