11 May 2020

NCA's embassy ambitions will destroy important bird corridor, says Curtin resident

| Ian Bushnell
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Richard Allen

Richard Allen has recorded 170 bird species in the North Curtin Horse Paddock. Photo: Supplied.

Plans to turn most of the North Curtin Horse Paddock into a diplomatic estate for new embassies would knock out an important corridor for migratory birds, according to a local birdwatcher and member of the Canberra Ornithologists Group.

Long-time Curtin resident Richard Allen, who trained as a chemical engineer and spent 32 years with the patent office but now works on environmental field studies here and interstate, says that over the years he has recorded 170 bird species in the paddock, some of which are considered vulnerable in the ACT.

”I think it’s a little gem of Canberra,” he says.

Richard bought into Curtin 26 years ago, and the 30 hectare agistment area was one reason why. But now after a controversial land swap with the ACT Government, the Commonwealth has acquired 70 per cent of the site and the National Capital Authority is preparing to develop an estate plan, although any actual work is at least two years away.

He says the area is a ”crossroads”, with Yarralumla Creek providing a natural corridor leading to Molonglo in the west and Red Hill to the east.

”One thing that struck me here is the diversity of birds that seem to come through,” Richard says.

“There’s something about the location, not just the habitat. This is a natural passage way, you probably don’t want to fill it in.”

Richard says there are lots of micro-habitats that attract smaller migratory birds that feed on insects and caterpillars coming out of the paddock, then move on into other suburbs.

”So even though it looks like just a horse paddock, it does provide shelter and passage,” he says.

He fears for the birds and other animals when an important part of the network is taken out, especially if the remaining area near the light rail route is given over to medium density housing, resulting in fewer species in other parts of Canberra.

North Curtin Horse Paddocks

The portion of the North Curtin Horse Paddocks handed to the Commonwealth for a diplomatic estate. Image: File.

Richard also supports the original National Capital Plan idea of green buffers between the suburbs, providing recreational space for horseriding, walking, running and cycling.

The paddock itself is part of a decades-old network of trails and agistment areas, and many are unaware of its potential, believing that they are not allowed in.

”Certainly there are ways that places like this could be exploited more,” Richard says.

He believes the paddocks are a good marriage between the environment and the urban lifestyle, with the rotation of grazing horses reducing fire hazard, something that NCA may not have thought through when it takes control of the land.

Many trees planted in the 1980s are likely to be lost as well. “It’s the wrong direction – they don’t have to develop the whole lot,” Richard says.

While Richard’s focus is on the birds, the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth is also a visitor and likely to prompt environmental objections to any development applications.

The usual way to deal with this is to offer an offset but Richard calls this approach a crime. “It doesn’t benefit those moving through the area if you put an offset 50 kilometres away,” he says.

Richard remains concerned that Canberrans won’t even benefit from the land swap.

”If it’s valuable real estate, the ACT Government has managed to give away something for virtually nothing,” he says.

Richard is being urged to post his extensive records on the Canberra Nature Map so the NCA can be directed to see for itself the bird activity in the paddocks.

If development cannot be avoided he hopes something can be salvaged to maintain the corridor.

The land swap blindsided the ACT Equestrian Association whose members use the paddock, and which is attempting to negotiate with the ACT Government on a new agistment.

The NCA’s consultation on a draft amendment to the National Capital Plan, which will pave the way for its plans for the paddock, is imminent and will run for 30 business days.

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George Watling1:34 pm 06 Jun 20

Is there actually a need for more embassies? Has there been a sudden rush of new countries needing embassy accommodation in Australia? Seems to me all the foreign missions in Australian already have accommodation. This land should become a mixed use public open space. It’s full of native trees, plants, and wildlife. Black-shouldered kites and other birds of prey hunt there.

It seems like a way for the ACT government to get what they want while trying to shift public outcry towards the Feds. For the ACT government it is Win Win Win!

The ACT government knows that if they developed the area people would complain and it might contribute to them being voted out. By giving the land to the Feds they get their first win as the blame will be shared.

Win number 2 is that the ACT government now has control of more of the West basic foreshore, presumably an area with much more potential.

Win number 3. the ACT government keeps control of the section facing Yarra Glen. This would be greatly desired as they can build apartments on there that are very close to the Light Rail.

Wet lettuce from Shane Rattenbury this afternoon. He was in charge of the process. “I asked them to keep the horse owners informed” , said Rattenbury this afternoon after NCA Chief Sally Bafnes told us high-handedly that it was a fait accompli. What guarantee do we have that, if the various countries supposedly planning large embassy footprints (in this era of digital diplomacy) change their minds, Geocon won’t be in like Flynn?

A new embassy precinct in Curtin will go nicely with all the new apartments to be built just across the road at the Yarralumla brickworks. Bit by bit across Canberra they flog off our green spaces. Too bad about the birds, trees, walking trails and natural beauty we lose. The cosy Labor/Greens/Geocon consortium and their sycophantic cheer squad of loyal party cadres, property developers and real estate agents just love urban infill.

This isn’t part of our “greenspace”, it’s mostly grass paddocks used by a tiny minority of privileged horse owners.

There is plenty of actual green space that we should try and protect, this area doesn’t come close, it’s actually ideal to develop.

Please.

There’s almost certainly going to be at least the same amount of trees once the area is developed if not more. Take a look at the above aerial photo and look at the amount of trees vs grassland areas.

And regardless of any development, the green belt through Yarralumla, the golf course and through the woolshed will remain.

The headline could simply have been written “NIMBY opposes development”.

Don’t bring facts into it.

They will be howled down as comments from a sycophantic cheer squad of loyal party cadres, property developers and real estate agents just love urban infill.

Never mind those who throw those stones don’t have any solutions to the core issue of housing people.

If only there was a political party that cared about the birds.

But with our local Greens more deserving of the title “Green Space Eradicators”, they certainly won’t be speaking up for the birds.

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