August 30 - September 5, 2020: Issue 464


Environmental destruction Growing In Pittwater - Bush Reserves Being Destroyed by Illegal bike tracks, Fauna once present now Gone through off-leash dogs being where they Shouldn't be

The Pittwater area has experienced a recent round of negligence, carelessness or couldn't-care-less in its bush reserves and along its beaches with the result that wildlife habitat has been lost and bushcare volunteers are ready to quit sites, while at places where shorebirds or tiny coastal heath birds once were abundant, with many species living there or visiting, they are no longer present. 

From Narrabeen to Scotland Island and Newport, illegal bike tracks made through reserves are destroying the Pittwater Spotted Gum Forest, an endangered ecological community listed with the state government. Over many years a number of initiatives have focused on working to improve the state of these reserves. This includes decades of Council funding, local groups seeking grants to restore waterways and connectivity and the ongoing work of bushcare volunteers in pulling out weeds and planting native species to make these places for wildlife and residents.

Unfortunately, the creation of tracks, cubby houses, and any clearing of bushland have major impacts on the health of this bushland ecosystem. 

Last weekend recreational activities at Elizabeth Park on Scotland Island and Crescent Reserve at Newport caused severe damage. At Newport a bushcare group has worked on this reserve for 20 years doing voluntary service for 4 hours each month and all their work for the bush and animals is wasted when we don't value these places and protect them and the wildlife that lives there.

Crescent Reserve damage - image supplied

Crescent Reserve damage - image supplied

The Hon. Bronwyn Bishop would often refer to the beauty of this place and how lucky we all are to live here. This would be followed by ‘with great privilege comes great responsibility’ – and this applies to every single person who lives here, as an individual, and as a community - we must be responsible for how we step through this place and aim, at all times, to conduct ourselves responsibly.

At 1pm on Thursday August 27th 2020 a dog owner was photographed taking a dog for a walk off-leash on Station Beach, with the dog running wherever it wanted, even into Palm Beach golf course, and onto the also listed as endangered seagrass. The dog was one of four seen, with only one of these on a leash. 

Council's website states that for this 12 month trial;

'Dogs are allowed on-leash on Station Beach during these days and times: 5:30pm to 10:30am, Monday to Friday (daylight savings time). 4pm to 10:30am, Monday to Sunday (non-daylight savings time). Dogs prohibited on Station Beach outside these days and times. '

Where once there was a prolific amount of birdlife on Palm Beach’s Station Beach there is none now present – no pelicans, no cormorants, not even seagulls. None. If this has occurred in just 8 months - how does that reflect on what will happen for extended periods or if more areas where wildlife live are opened to those who are not responsible pet owners?

The only birds spotted, a pair of terns with breeding plumage, were perched on posts offshore of the beach – both with beaks open, trying to alleviate the heat stress symptoms they displayed. Let's hope their nest isn't nearby. 

What will happen if the shearwaters land here - as they have in years past for at least 100 years on record - their exhaustion after flying thousands of miles will make them easy prey to offleash dogs whose owners are enjoying watching sailing on the estuary and not what their pet is doing.

Even with people around birds will still be there – to show you what they do and how they do it, to be seen it would seem sometimes – with dogs around they will not be – for then they are ‘prey’.

Dogs love chasing things; balls, a length of knotted rope, other animals. In the film Dean Spanley Sam Neills’ soliloquy about being a dog chasing sheep to whom the fear in that being chased is an elixir is just one more on record translation of a dogs’ behaviour.

However, we don’t need stories and films to tell us about our dogs natures. It is a well known fact that dogs are hunters, there are dog breeds that are ‘hunting dogs’, and any wildlife that moves, furry, feathered, scaled, is prey, and will be hunted.

This has been known for generations, recorded in numerous places outside of films and books and in scientific studies – current studies measure the impact dogs are having on wildlife and finds Australia is among the places, worldwide where this is causing the destruction of wildlife in a big way - another black eye for Australia internationally. These are irrefutable facts, knowledge that stretches back to wolves.

Working with and working on dogs recalls one of the ugly aspects of dogs hunting – perhaps not readily seen or known of by people who live in urban settings. A short sharing nonetheless; 

A mid-Winter rural night, bright and starry with a crescent moon – air so cold your breath shows on it – my Grandmothers’ brothers are leaving the farmhouse to meet with other farmers from the district to go out and hunt, and shoot, a pack of wild dogs that are killing sheep up and down the valley and then hiding in the bush verges. They are going out to kill dogs – to shoot them. These silent stolid men, usually asleep then so they may rise at dawn and do the work, must gather in the middle of the night and move through the paddocks over which snow wind soughs, at midnight, to kill dogs.

Shoot them because they have not been looked after with love, with care – they have become a pack of hunter killers.

During the day, on this same farm and its surrounds, a childhood of being surrounded by working dogs; dogs that are stuck to their farmer owner sides and ignore you, because they are working dogs, and take their work seriously – that is their purpose - but will still ‘patrol’ these little human visitors and guard them. Again and again the memory of being surrounded by them and then surrounded by much calmer sheep rises – that and a sense of being quietly enfolded into their working dog pack, of being ‘guarded’, persists. 

The really ugly part of this story shows in the loss of our local wildlife – the absence of marsupials and birds in places where they could once be seen – by residents, and by the millions of visitors who come here for these reasons – the beautiful environment and its wildlife.

Setting aside the NSW Laws currently in place that have evolved from our species wish to do it better and proclaimed in the Environment and Companion Animal Acts, although seemingly not applicable just in this LGA alone, the wildlife is an essential part of the environment. 

Those little Welcome Swallows that have all but disappeared from the North end of Avalon Beach feast on the kelp flies found on seaweed washed up along the coast. We need to stop expecting Council to clean it up soon after it appears during the cold times because during the warm months these little divas of the coastal air feast on flies, including midges, mosquitoes and blowflies, small beetles and moths. 

Did we have far more flies, mosquitoes and moths last Summer? Did they persist well into Winter with the first ever alert for Ross Fever in Pittwater? Yes we did.

Where has the line of Welcome Swallows photographed in 2011 all along the electric line over the entrance to North Avalon Beach gone?

Last week a lady who has persisted for years in ensuring the last pair of Welcome Swallows nest in the gentleman's toilet is left alone by cleaners found that it has been destroyed. Once again, a gap in knowledge becomes apparent and its result - the male and female Welcome Swallow build small cup like mud nests spending days making it from scooping up and transporting the mud in their mouths from nearby waterways and thickly line the nest with grass, animal hair and feathers to soften it for their chicks. These little mud nests are built vertically on cliff walls, hollow trees, under bridges, and with urbanisation often in open sheds, under eaves in shops and houses - and in the Gents at North Avalon Beach car-park.

That line at North Av in February 2011

Photo taken on Monday August 24th, 2020 - the destroyed Welcome Swallow nest

Photo taken on Monday August 24th, 2020 - the Welcome Swallow perched calling on same wire

They lay 4 – 6 eggs and from hatching of the eggs to fledgling/flying it is only 2-3 weeks. They only use these nests during the breeding season when they have chicks to raise. 

How many new Welcome Swallows did we lose last week?

After requests to investigate a sole Welcome Swallow was found perched on the same wire, calling in distress tones for its mate.

But is the dogs whose owners are not conducting themselves responsibly that are causing damage.

In the most recent Council Meeting Agenda questions asked by Councillor De Luca and answered show that dog attack complaints in the LGA have risen to 88 in the Quarter to June 2020, making this area far in excess of all NSW LGA’s in the dog attack statistics, even areas with 2 or 3 times more dogs.

The answers show that council staff state ‘’Dog attacks are investigated, and in cases where serious incidents occur and/or involve dogs that which are declared as menacing or dangerous, prosecution action is pursued, where, in addition to fines imposed by the Court, orders sought can also include custodial sentences and dog destruction orders.’’

Of the 58 dog attacks officially recorded in the March 2020 quarter 15 fines were issued.

This is out of kilter with community expectations. People take seriously dogs rushing at their child and causing distress – dog-fright in children, when they have a bad experience at an early age, persists. Only pursuing serious incidents or those that involve breeds deemed menacing or dangerous, is letting down all the smaller and younger citizens of this place and their parents are justified in being outraged that more is not being done to ensure such incidences and their owners of these dogs cease and desist.

Dogs reported off-leash in the Quarter to June 2020 were 305 but only 34 fines were issued. And that’s the dogs reported, as we all know, most aren’t. Many have ceased bothering as there is a perception that the only message coming out of Council is that they will ‘work with peak organisations’ (dog lobbyists or 'Advocates) to address these problems.

When asked this week why he placed these queries on the record, Councillor Vincent De Luca OAM stated,

“I asked for the statistics for transparency purposes and to support my calls for greater education and compliance action against irresponsible dog owners.”

Cr. De Luca's bringing up transparency brings up the outrage and calls for transparency that greeted a Motion in the Meeting of July 28th, 2020, where the Pittwater Councillor representatives' proposal to allow dogs onto more beaches was tabled. 

Residents are fed up with having Motions for such Proposals sprung on them and passed at two minutes to Christmas or tabled and forwarded without speaking to all residents. There is a belief in the community that Council and Councillors should be required to publish, in a readily accessible place, alike that required at state government level wherein Department Chiefs and Ministers that may be targeted by lobbyists (‘Advocates’) have these Meetings recorded where the public may sight them.

These quarterly disclosure summaries from each Minister or Department Chiefs, contain who they have met with, when and why.

What was sought (the purpose of the Meeting) or what may have been agreed to look into further, and the work by government staff that may have to be done to meet any requests made and who is footing the bill for that, can be elusive, but at least a requirement to register as a lobbyist ('Advocate') and a requirement for the public to be able to access a log of those Meetings exists.

Is the call by residents for a similar mechanism for Council Staff Meetings and Councillor Meetings to be made available and kept up to date unreasonable – should such Meetings and their Purpose remain out of sight?

A Motion such as this is, to allow dogs onto beaches where it is know wildlife lives or seeks refuge is, effectively, eviction notices for all wildlife in these places as dogs are predators and wildlife, in these circumstance and settings, is prey.

This is not the penultimate Urban Kangaroo wherein people and their pets co-exists in harmony in the environment and all else that lives in that environment.

Council states in their answers to Cr. De Luca's question that;

'‘A proactive enforcement program was undertaken over a three week period in June 2020, which saw some 45 hours of patrol time targeted to companion animal enforcement, and which resulted in 14 fines and 2 warnings being issued. 

In addition, other action includes distributing educational material on responsible pet ownership through local pet shops and vets and local media, publicising successful court actions, and networking with other agency stakeholders such as the RSPCA and Police and other councils.

Council will also review the current provision of dispensers/ bins to dispose of waste in parks to ensure enough facilities are available for dog owners to dispose of animal waste.

Council records indicate that there are 66458 dogs in the Northern Beaches LGA; the vast majority of dog owners are compliant and responsible.‘’

But if 3 out of 4 are off-leash and where they’re not meant to be on a Thursday, at lunchtime –  and this is happening anywhere you look at anytime of the day or night… why aren't Council's Rangers seeing this too? Another gap there too somewhere...

This is a Good, Bad and Ugly story - what has been got wrong and done wrong is evident in the results now - the loss of wildlife where it once was in such a short time, the destruction of bush reserves where decades of work done for free has been destroyed.  

And in seeing where or when we got it wrong we can also see a way to make it right. We have trespassed (taken a wrong step), and can return to the opposite.

This could be viewed as a great opportunity -  let’s have our Urban Kangaroos, Wallabies, Bandicoots, Bats, Birds and Bees  - and let’s ensure those who come after us have this too. All that is required is growing ourselves so as individuals and as a community we are or become greater Keepers and Custodians.

The Good comes in and through those who are residents of this place; every single individual – we who have come here or stayed here because it is beautiful, because you may find a small patch among the bush reserves or on the beaches where you may have a moments’ peace in glorious surroundings, whatever the season, whatever the weather, and that that is, irrefutably, very good for you. 

Not every place in the Sydney Basin is so blessed, although great and good plans are being scoped to make this so. 

In the meantime the community’s individuals are all the 21st century custodians of here, right now, and although we can all find selfishness in us and do the wrong thing just to please ourselves at any given time of the day or night, fostering more selflessness in ourselves works better in any community setting. 

We all want to do it better and leave this place as we found it or restored to its better state – more fauna, more flora, more pristineness, better communications, correct transparency.

There is great Good in all we who love our bush reserves and love our dogs, and we're all pretty clever to be being here – and this cleverness would include being able to freely admit when something that has been decided and acted on is wrong, has caused destruction and broken laws, and needs to be changed or abandoned, and another way found.

So, not our usual blast around this subject - but on the record for all those who have sent in their 'diary notes' of bearing witness to these events nonetheless, for all of you who are completely fed up and demanding change - now.

I'm off to take our dog on her morning 'Tour De Block' - where she will sniff all the posts and patches of grass to check on her mates, where I will greet those I have met as members of our Community of Neighbourhood, where those of us who love our dogs and others greet each other every morning, as our dogs do too; their furry mates, and share a ‘nice morning isn’t it’ or ‘cold today’ and sign off with a ‘have a great day’ and ‘nice to see you’.

The Good is also present in the Dog Bag Lady met this week; her pint sized dog had just done its business, number 2’s on the grass verge, and she had no bag and disappeared into the nearby shops, seemingly distressed. The Dog Bag Lady then reappeared around the dog do post on the grass verge, and seeing us approach asked if I had a bag – of course I did! Her relief was obvious, and a second bag as a backup welcomed.

We have to work on this as individuals and as a community - we have to look after our children, our bush, our furry, scaled and feathered wildlife - wherever and whenever we meet it - right here, right now - and stay standing upright in the certainty that we are not compounding ignorance with arrogance - that we know, with great privilege comes great responsibility.