Citizen scientists deliver welcome koala news

The National Parks Association of NSW applauds today’s release of a landmark citizen-science survey of a ‘bearly’ known population of Koalas in Heathcote National Park.  The survey, involving more than 600 hours of field survey by respected local naturalists Steve Anyon-Smith and Tom Kristensen, photographed 32 individual koalas and suggests a total population of a least 100 koalas in Heathcote National Park.

NPA has written to Environment Minister Matt Kean asking for the Heathcote Koalas to be declared as an Asset of Intergenerational Significance.  This is a new legislative measure designed to guarantee the protection of highly significant areas of biodiversity value within protected areas. 

‘We really didn’t expect to find a substantial koala population in a national park with only a handful of historic records’ stated report co-author Steve Anyon-Smith.  ‘Early on we wondered whether it was just a few wanderers from the better known colony near Campbelltown, but once we saw that first female with a joey we knew it was much more’. 

NPA Executive Officer, Gary Dunnett noted ‘The future of koalas hangs in the balance because of continuing habitat loss, development, unsustainable forestry and the devastating impacts of the 2019/20 fires.  This report of breeding koalas right on the doorstop of Sydney should bring a smile to everyone’s face.

‘This report is a testament to the power of citizen science.  The results are only possible because of the hundreds of hours they spent in the field, which has given us a standard of coverage that most researchers could only dream of.  These two citizen scientists have provided the National Parks and Wildlife Service with detailed information worth tens of thousands of dollars at absolutely no cost. 

‘The Heathcote National Park koalas need all the help they can get if they are going to survive into the next century.  They will need protection from disturbance and domestic dogs and keeping their habitat in the best possible ecological condition.  A major challenge will be making sure their habitat trees aren’t damaged by too-frequent fire’. 

‘There is every reason to feel hopeful about the future of the Heathcote koalas, even if they have gone largely unnoticed to date’ Gary Dunnett continued.  ‘The next big challenge is to protect other ‘at risk’ koala populations.  The time has come for the NSW Government to adopt NPA’s proposals for the Upper Georges River National Park in southwest Sydney and the Great Koala National Park on the mid north coast’ Dunnett concluded.  


Media Contact: NPA EO, Gary Dunnett: (02) 9299 0000

Copies of the report Anyon-Smith, S. and Kristensen, T (2021) Observed distribution and numbers of Koalas Phascolarctos cinereus in a habitat survey of Heathcote National Park July to September 2021 below

Royal National Park, Heathcote National Park and Garawarra State Conservation Area Draft Plan of Management and Draft Mountain Biking Plan

Southern Sydney Branch has made a comprehensive submission objecting to both these planning documents. The proposed changes amount to a major shift in the balance between conservation, recreation, and commercial operations. You can read more in the submission.

The NPA submission followed months of deliberations by a dedicated team of members who undertook field surveys, met frequently, and reviewed published papers.

The primary concern was that minimal information of new visitor facility proposals was provided and no detail was given to their likely heritage impacts. The reserves are within easy access of millions of greater Sydney residents yet no attempt at determining sustainable carrying capacities was undertaken. Instead more visitor facilities are proposed including ‘serviced’ camping with car-based sites allowing for campervans in expanded recreation zones.  

Of concern was that the draft plans state that proposed new visitor facilities will be subject to future NPWS environmental assessments for which the NPWS has a policy of not making publicly available. Related to this is that comprehensive flora and fauna surveys of the reserves are decades old.

NPA had to seek additional mapping from the NPWS to show that the proposed mountain biking networks crossed over areas of mapped endangered ecological communities, while statements in the plans said that such outcomes would not be allowed.

According to the draft plans, a 2002 trial that allowed mountain biking to occur on 6km of track in addition to the 150km of allowed management trails, has resulted in at least 104km of additional illegal tracks, half of which NPWS now propose to formalise. Recent work by NPA has shown that in some proposed mountain bike areas, the actual length of existing illegal tracks is 50% greater than that listed in the draft plans. This brings into question the ability of the NPWS to apply legislation that clearly make such actions an offence.

NPA proposed that mountain biking in the reserves be restricted to the existing management trail network, and that Government look for opportunities on other lands to meet demand. A number of mountain bike discussion papers have been produced by the NPWS which when accessed show that mountain bike riders represent less that 0.8% of all visitors, however large parts of the reserves are to be zoned for mountain biking, incorporating the grading of tracks to meet international standards and allowance for national, regional and club events.

The NSW Government recently announced a major $80 million funding boost for a visitor facility expansion in the reserves. Therefore there are proposals in the draft plans for new facilities that have no assessment of impacts, the NPWS has not yet considered community input on those draft plans, the Minister has not signed off on a new plan of management, and yet proposed new facilities are already funded.

Full submission is available here