Catherine StewartNSW, have your say about the 10/50 tree clearing code!

The truly frightful NSW 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Rule Code is up for review. While we all worry about bushfires near our home, the results of this new code have been indiscriminate tree clearing at an alarming rate. If you care about preserving our tree cover, HAVE YOUR SAY!

syd-wongaburra BUSHFIRE 2013[1] copyThe Rural Fire Service (RFS) NSW 10/50 Code of Practice allows home owners living within 350m of a bushfire zone to clear any trees on their property that are within 10m of their home without the usual local government approvals. It advocates the clearing of all vegetation within 50m of the home as well. As most house blocks are 600-800 square metres, that can equals a garden completely denuded of all plants.

And the tree loppers have been working overtime throughout much of Sydney as home owners quickly take advantage of these new laws to get rid of trees that the local council would never have given permission to be removed.

photoI live in northern Sydney on the south-eastern side of ridgeline and, although there’s never been a bushfire within a bull’s roar of my place, I can chop down 3 of the 5 trees on my block. Every week there’s been a new business card in my letterbox advertising a tree lopper/remover/land clearer. Over the past months I’ve heard chainsaws and chippers most days, as they worked their way through our quickly diminishing local tree canopy. Some of them were giants – historic 50m tall Sydney blue gums and red gums that give our bush-surrounded city its distinctive character, and even its smell.

There has been so much public outrage at the tree removals that the RFS has been forced to alter the Code rules in some areas. As of 30 September 2014, in some very small parcels of bush or where the nearby native vegetation poses a lesser bushfire risk, eg rainforest, the 350m rule has been replaced with a 150m rule. (See RFS press release) And the Code will be reviewed from October 2014, with community input.

But my house is still part of the 10/50 clearance zone, and so the chainsaws carry on.

How does this clearing code fit with an overall goal to increase urban tree canopies to reduce the heat island effect, protect the habitats of native animals and birds and provide much-needed carbon-reducing vegetation?

I am full of admiration for our bushfire fighters, both professional and volunteer. They do an amazing job and frequently risk their lives to protect people’s properties, many of whom have been negligent in preparing and managing their land against bushfire threat. Houses on and above north and west facing slopes are real danger areas, and I can understand bushfire fighters wanting some cleared areas from which they can defend these properties.

But the current NSW 10/50 Code goes way too far, and includes many areas that are not bushfire threatened at all. Councils in northern Sydney (Willoughby, Ku-ring-gai, Lane Cove, Hunters Hill, Ryde and Hornsby) are each estimating that hundreds of trees have already been chopped down in their municipalities, many of them now gone from homes that never have and are extremely unlikely ever to be threatened by bushfire. Some councils estimate that only about 5% of the trees removed posed any bushfire risk and that most trees have been chopped down for views, convenience, to facilitate development, or through unfounded fear. That equals several thousand trees all up, destroyed for no community or bushfire benefit.

Other problems with the current code include:

– the perception by home owners that if they clear trees that are 10m or closer around their homes that they are then safe from bushfire danger without other more important preparations, such as cleaning out gutters.

– no discrimination between fire-prone vegetation and fire-retardant vegetation

– no proper evaluation of the real bushfire risk to individual properties

You can have your say about the NSW 10/50 Code Review by sending an email to 10.50@rfs.nsw.gov.au by 14 November 2014. You may also wish to send copies to your local MP and also the NSW Minister for Emergency Services, Stuart Ayres. (office@ayres.minister.nsw.gov.au)

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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Original creator of GardenDrum. South Coast NSW.

4 thoughts on “NSW, have your say about the 10/50 tree clearing code!

  1. Thank you for talking about 10/50. Like you I live on a bushland interface [national park] and strongly oppose 10/50. Have recently obtained a spreadsheet of submissions to its review from RFS under GIPA [freedom of information]. 97% of respondents call for moratorium/repeal of legislation and still the govt does nothing.

  2. Dear Catherine ,
    I live in East Killara and the rate of destruction of our bushland amenity is devastating. Looking East from Parnell street. at bare roofs and facades of newly revealed houses previously screened by trees ,mostly endemic is heartbreaking. I spent three (3) years as Community Representative on Planning for Bushfire Protection Review Panel. This document published and gazetted in 2006 supports the role of garden trees in promoting fire protection, as trees deflect fire winds and filter embers that would otherwise impact on facades of dwellings . Trees also absorb some of the radiant heat that would impact people and property. There is no new science to support tree removal as fire hazards. In fact most Fire scientists state categorically that the science in regards to the role of trees is far from settled, is not definitive and most certainly not resolved. The State Government ordered the RFS to Review the 10/50 Code. The submissions received were 3, 759 -of which 3,454 demanded either an instant moratorium or the repeal of the legislation. There were 8,229 concerns registered for the welfare of the environment. The Government while spruiking that they are listening to the community are completely stone deaf when it comes to Code 10/50. If they fail to listen to bushfire communities and fail to demonstrate any Duty of Care to people or environment, prior to an election what will we be left with after another term .

    • Oh yes I share your despair. I think that successful litigation against rural fire services elsewhere in Australia has driven this sort of government reaction. It seems that someone must always be to blame, rather us accepting that we live in a very fire-prone country and love to settle near bush. And totally agree re the current research on suburban trees as a bushfire mitigating, rather than exacerbating, factor. Their role in reducing ember attack is well-documented. What’s most dangerous for fire spread is poor home and garden maintenance and lack of proper preparation prior to the bushfire season. And there’s plenty of that still going on! Instead of this unwarranted tree removal, perhaps everyone within the designated bushfire zones should have to sign up online (as we do for the swimming pool fencing laws), and commit to a garden and home maintenance regime?

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