Environmental law refers to laws that aim to manage human impacts on the environment. Environmental law covers a range of matters and activities relevant to rural residential landholders. These include vegetation management, protected plants and animals, bushfire management, land use planning (eg development approvals), pollution, agricultural chemicals, heritage protection, and voluntary conservation.
This Chapter aims to help you understand your legal rights as a landholder and to manage your rural residential property as required under relevant environmental and natural resource legislation. Please note however, that this Chapter is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. If you are unsure of the particular environmental laws that apply to your property please contact your Local Council. If you have a legal issue, contact an appropriate legal professional.
Clearing Native Vegetation
The clearing of native remnant vegetation in NSW is regulated by the Native Vegetation Act 2003. If you want to clear native vegetation on your property you need to contact your local Catchment Management Authority (CMA) in regard to your legal obligations. You may also require permission from your Local Council under their Tree Preservation Order (see below). Lack of knowledge or awareness of the law is not considered a reasonable excuse for illegally clearing native vegetation.
Threatened Species and Communities
Native plants and animals are protected in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. Protected animals, plants and ecological communities can be described in a number of ways, including vulnerable, threatened, or endangered. Designation of these terminologies recognises that the long-term survival of the species or community is currently tentative, requiring the species to be protected by law. Damaging or harming listed native plants, animals and ecological communities anywhere, even on private property, is illegal.
Tree Preservation Orders
Many Local Councils have a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) which makes it an offence to remove, damage, or prune trees without a permit issued by the Council. Prescriptions for TPOs vary from Council to Council, so it is wise to check with your Local Council for more information.
Environmental Planning Instruments
Development Control Plans (DCPs) are developed by Local Councils and specify land use guidelines and requirements for different areas of the Local Government Area (LGA) as well as for different types of development. DCPs contain detailed information as well as including reference to other environmental planning instruments. Recent changes to planning laws require that only one DCP apply to any one area. However, the prevailing DCP can adopt provisions from other DCPs. DCPs include specifications on best management practices for various issues such as fence types, building height and possibly, restrictions on garden plants, domestic animals and livestock in ecologically sensitive areas.
Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) divide the LGA into land use zones, such as rural, residential, industrial, recreational, environmental protection and business zones. LEPs stipulate planning and management objectives for each zone, and specify the types of development that are permitted and prohibited in these zones. In a particular zone, some activities are allowed without consent, whilst others require a Development Application (DA).
State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) are produced by the NSW Government to provide planning protection to important issues of significance at a state level. Examples of SEPPs include: SEPP 14—Coastal Wetlands, SEPP 19—Urban Bushland, SEPP 25—Littoral Rainforests, SEPP 44—Koala Habitat Protection, and SEPP 71—Coastal Protection.
Taking Legal Action and The Land and Environment Court
You can report a breach of environmental law to the appropriate authority, such as your Local Council or the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. In certain circumstances, you may also be able to go to court to obtain a court order to remedy or restrain a breach of the law. The Land and Environment Court is the specialist Court which deals with cases relating to land, the environment and local government planning law in New South Wales.