Following almost three years of surveys and assessments, a development on Canberra’s doorstep became the first to receive Biodiversity Certification under the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act earlier this year.
The first significant release of land in Sutton for generations, Woodbury Ridge is billed as “an exemplary, ecologically-sensitive development” – and its certification is tangible evidence.
According to Capital Ecology senior ecologist Sam Reid, the certification process identifies areas that cannot be developed due to ecological sensitivity and stipulates how those areas will be protected, managed and enhanced in perpetuity.
“In other words, it balances conservation and development interests,” he says.
“By identifying which areas can be developed at the early stages of a project you account for potential impacts on biodiversity that might happen over time and can then offset the impact you have.
“That means developers benefit from a surety of what they can develop because once certified, everything has been considered upfront and mitigation has already taken place.”
The NSW Biodiversity Offset Scheme, which compensates for impacts on biodiversity, can be triggered by three factors – whether a development might impact any areas on the state government’s “Biodiversity Values Map”, require the clearance of a certain amount of native vegetation or has the potential to impact threatened communities and species.
Woodbury met the second and third requirements.
“If there’s a chance of major impact on threatened species or communities, you have to prove your mitigation plan,” Sam says.
“Often biodiversity certification is the best pathway to do that conclusively.”
He says the “mitigation hierarchy” is a vital part of the scheme.
“That is: avoid first, minimise second, mitigate third, offset last,” Sam says.
“In the case of the certification at Woodbury Ridge, that hierarchy was well employed.”
Following negotiations with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and Yass Valley Council, the process resulted in a design with clearly demarcated locations for development and areas to be protected by a biodiversity management plan.
The plan will ensure the preservation of 95 per cent of environmentally significant remnant trees, including the critically endangered ACT Box Gum Woodland, canopy cover for Superb Parrot nests and 77 per cent of a substantial Hilltops habitat for the endangered Golden Sun Moth.
This means future residents of Woodbury Ridge will be able to build their homes nestled among established trees and grasslands in a habitat of native Australian species.
“The protected areas provide a large habitat value to a wide range of species,” Sam says.
“They have hollows for nesting but also provide nectar and resources for foraging.
“By including some land for development but avoiding and protecting areas of significant biodiversity, these important values are protected in perpetuity.”
Beyond protection, the certification also guarantees the enhancement of certain areas.
Areas with significant biodiversity values will not only be siloed from development but benefit from the incorporation of four “biodiversity stewardship sites”.
More than half of the nearly 200-hectare plot will be preserved by these sites.
“Areas under stewardship are not only protected from development but a detailed management plan will be tailored for that land to ensure conditions are actively improved,” Sam says.
The stewardship will generate “credits” that, when needed, will help offset any impacts on biodiversity in the area.
“We feel Woodbury Ridge is a good example of how certification can be applied to an area with significant biodiversity values.
“The developer achieved a nice balance between land for development and maintaining a rural feel to the subdivision while putting strong measures in place to support biodiversity values of threatened species and ecological communities.
“All stakeholders will benefit from this certification, from the community to the developers and the NSW Government.”
The first opportunity to purchase within Woodbury Ridge will consist of 29 blocks to be sold by a ballot process. Registrations will be open from 26 September to 9 October. Visit the Woodbury Ridge website for more information.