A respected field naturalist who received an Order of Australia medal this year says she was “extremely distressed” to learn what she knows as the Westbury Reserve will be razed in favour of a second Tasmanian prison.
- Sarah Lloyd has been visiting the land for about 15 years, and has spotted several threatened species on the site
- The Tasmanian Government wants the first stage of the prison completed within five years
- Field naturalists will lobby the Government to find a new site
Sarah Lloyd has been visiting the Birralee Road site, about five kilometres from the northern township of Westbury, for about 15 years.
She has documented more than 30 species of bird, including endangered species such as grey goshawks, wedge-tailed eagles and masked owls.
“It has dead and dying trees, it has a lot of fallen branches and logs on the ground, and it has really messy understorey,” she said.
“So, while most people might think it’s degraded forest it’s actually really important for a lot of bird species.
“I must admit I was extremely distressed to hear that they were building a prison on what I regard, in fact what I’ve always known, as the Westbury Reserve.”
Instead, Attorney-General Elise Archer said the $270 million project would be situated on thickly forested Crown Land just three kilometres further away from the town centre and without access to water, sewage or gas.
The original plans drew the ire of vocal Westbury residents worried about the potential impact on house prices and the township’s reputation.
They have this week indicated they were opposed to the new site too.
Speaking on Tuesday, Ms Archer said the Government was now doing its due diligence on the new site with plans to have the first stage of the Westbury prison up and running by 2025.
“This vital project alone will support more than 1,000 jobs and deliver an economic boost of $500 million to the region, according to the recently completed and independently conducted Social and Economic Impact Study,” Ms Archer said in a statement.
Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff wants the Government to go back to the drawing board.
She noted the land was listed on the Government’s own records as purchased under the Tasmanian Private Forest Reserves Program, suggesting it was once assessed as having conservation values.
“There is no way this site is appropriate for a prison,” Dr Woodruff said.
“It’s appropriate to be protected as the reserve land it is already protected to be … it’s meant to be there for perpetuity.”
An Environment Department spokeswoman said the land had been reassessed about 10 years ago and found it was not needing protection.
“The site has been surveyed several times in the past decade … a preliminary assessment was conducted by DPIPWE prior to the announcement and no impediments have been found that would prevent the building of the prison on this site,” she said.
Ms Lloyd, a prominent member of the Central North Field Naturalists, said she and other members of the group would lobby the Government to find a new site that wasn’t “this special bit of bush”.
“We know based on other surveys around northern Tasmania that these birds are declining,” Ms Lloyd said.
“I just couldn’t believe that they could point their finger at a bit of Crown Land and probably not regard it as having any value at all.”