Big penalty for eco vandalism

A CONTRACTOR for a controversial new township at Bilambil Heights who cut down more than 1200 trees – many of them threatened species – has been fined $135,000.

Farmhand Lance Rawson of Chillingham has also been ordered to complete 200 hours of community service – including planting trees on public land.

Rawson had been contracted by Godfrey Mantle and his company Terranora Group Management Pty Ltd which is planning a $1.3 billion township for 4500 known as The Rise development to clear camphor laurel and privet.

But the NSW Land and Environment court was told last week Rawson went much further, cutting down and poisoning 1279 trees of seven different threatened species.

Mr Mantle’s company had also engaged environmental consultants who identified hundreds of threatened species on the land and marked them with pink tape.

When the consultants later returned they discovered threatened trees, including many marked with the pink flagging tape, had been cut and poisoned.

Rawson did the work by hand using a chainsaw and poison.

In character references handed to the court he was described as a hard working, community-spirited, volunteer rural firefighter, a dedicated family man, and respected citizen.

However chief judge of the Land and Environment Court Justice Brian Preston said there was “a need for the court to recognise the harm done to the environment, and to the community, by reason of Mr Rawson’s offending conduct”.

“The conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind,” Judge Preston said.

Rawson was convicted of seven charges and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service, pay fines totalling $135,000 as well as professional costs by the Land and Environment Court after he pleaded guilty to destroying the plants.

Judge Preston found Rawson had cut down and poisoned 1279 trees, of seven different threatened species between December 2005 and September 2006 as part of land-clearing works intended to improve pasture for cattle grazing.

While he was not satisfied Rawson knew that the trees he cut and poisoned were threatened species, he found Rawson’s actions were deliberate and that he acted in reckless disregard of advice from one of the environmental consultants as well as warnings from a Tweed Shire Council officer.

Restoration works on community land, including planting of trees, are to be a component of the community services works Judge Preston ordered Mr Rawson to do.

NSW Department of Climate Change and Environment director-general Lisa Corbyn said the court’s decision sent a clear message to anyone involved in land clearing that the community expects NSW environmental protection laws to be upheld.

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