Stretching out along the coast of the Western Port Bay lie some of Victoria’s most unique landscapes, home to an abundance of plant and animal life – but in recent years, the fragile ecosystem has come under threat. Sand mining and forest clearing in the region has local communities and activists worried, but now more and more people are joining the cause and letting their voices be heard before it’s too late. GABRIELLA PAYNE reports.
In an ever developing world, it’s important to protect and preserve our natural environment – and that’s exactly what a group of passionate locals are doing.
Formed in 2020, the Save the Western Port Woodlands group have been working hard to put a stop to forest destruction in this unique part of the world once and for all, and are now ’drawing a line in the sand’ when it comes to mining in the area.
Winding along the coast from Lang Lang down to South Gippsland, the Western Port Woodlands corridor is home to many threatened and endangered species (like the southern brown bandicoot and regent honeyeater to name a few) but in recent years, this habitat has been under increasing threat due to a “surge“ in sand mining activity.
Tim O’Brien, a spokesperson from the Save the Western Port Woodlands (SWPW) group, said that it was alarming to see large chunks of forest being cleared for proposed sand mining purposes in the Grantville area – something that he and the group were vehemently against and campaigning to stop.
In early January, the SWPW group alerted the Bass Coast Shire Council to the removal of two large strips of forest on the proposed sand mining site, as they believe this forest clearing has already “destroyed hundreds of mature trees and a swathe of forest habitat“ and could have detrimental flow on effects for native animals.
According to the group, the site in question has had two large clearings “carved into both northern and southern boundaries“, and Mr O’Brien said the group hoped to see council look into the matter further.
“We have asked the council to investigate this clearing of forest,“ he said.
“We do not allege any wrongdoing by the sand mine owner of the site, but we are totally appalled by its actions.
“This is nothing short of a bloody-minded disregard for the environment and of Bass Coast community wishes.
“We have made an official complaint to the council and asked it to clarify if this operator had approval for this destruction of woodland habitat, a total loss of at least eight to 12 acres of forest, extending to the Bass River waterline,“ he said.
After conducting their own extensive research on the issue, Mr O’Brien and other members of the SWPW group said they wanted a thorough investigation to be undertaken by the relevant authorities.
“It is our understanding that while the site is shown as pending a Work Authority, there is no Work Authority in place,“ he said.
“We note that the council has referred the matter to the Earth Resources Regulator (ERR), which sits under the Minister for Resources, Ms Jaala Pulford.
“Our understanding, however, is that if a Work Authority is not in place, this matter falls under the council powers relating to the protection of native vegetation under the Planning Scheme.
“The Save Western Port Woodlands group has also written to Melbourne Water to investigate if this operator has breached Victorian statutes relating to Crown Land (streamside) and riparian vegetation.
“The destruction of forest extends to the edge of the Bass River, and, prima facie, would appear to have strayed onto crown land, which would constitute a breach.
“We call on the Minister Jaala Pulford to put a stop to this nonsense,“ Mr O’Brien said.
“We remain totally opposed to this destruction of vulnerable coastal forest and of such fragile disappearing habitat. The (state) government must act.“
The SWPW group, which has continued to grow in strength and numbers over the past year, said that they would continue to fight for the environment and oppose sand mining in the region.
In the long term, the group’s dream is to “see the entire forest corridor become a Western Port/ Bass Coast national park“ – but until then, they would not stop raising their voices and standing up for the protection of the fragile landscape.
“If those sand miners operating in this last corridor of Western Port coastal forest think the community is going to stand idly by while they continue degrading that disappearing forest habitat, they are mistaken,“ Mr O’Brien said.
“We will fight them at every step, from every direction, and we will not give up. That’s our promise.“
For more information on the group and their campaign, head to savewesternportwoodlands.org/