2000 conservation volunteers sign up to investigate land clearing

Eric Barker, 21/11/2023

CONCERNS have been raised about the approach of the Australian Conservation Foundation after a letter was sent to a New South Wales producer enquiring about some “potentially illegal” land clearing.

As first reported in The Australian, ACF volunteers detected the clearing on a satellite and sent a letter to the producers asking if had a permit for it. The farmer said it was part of a vegetation plan to control native invasive species.

The letter was part of new program the ACF undertaking with 2000 volunteers signing up to scan through satellite images looking for significant changes in vegetation cover and checking for permits.

“If we identify potentially illegal clearing, we do not turn a blind eye to it,” ACF national nature campaigner Jess Abrahams said.

“We gather as much information as we can to understand the issue, including by reaching out to landowners, who can in some cases allay our concerns. This is something ACF has done for a long time.”

Mr Abrahams said the volunteers have scanned more than 3.3m hectares of “at-risk native habitat.”

“Where we identify land clearing, our team undertakes a rigorous analysis of threatened species records, satellite imagery, vegetation mapping and we consult the register of EPBC approvals, before contacting the landholder,” he said.

“In June we found 250 hectares of Regent honeyeater habitat outside Armidale in NSW had been bulldozed and a further 30 hectares of woodland had been prepared for clearing.”

ACF not aiming for enforcement power

The idea of third party enforcement of environmental laws was put to the Federal Government last month by the Queensland Conservation Council, who said community groups were on the ground more than Government agencies.

It prompted lobby-group Property Rights Australia to warn of a potential “green militia” on landowners. PRA posted The Australian’s article on Facebook, labelling it vigilantism.

“This type of third-party enforcement should be illegal,” it said.

The ACF says it is not trying to head down the path of third-party enforcement, it was more about frustration with a lack of enforcement from Governments.

“The Federal Government has failed to stop the destruction of threatened species habitat by the agricultural industry. If we want our kids and grandkids to be able to see koalas, pink cockatoos and bilbies, we have to stop knocking down their homes,” Mr Abrahams said.

“Most farmers want to do the right thing and most can see the value of hosting native species habitat on their land. But many landowners we contact are completely unaware of their responsibilities under the national environment law, demonstrating the need for much greater awareness raising by the government.”

Call for a review of ACF charitable status

Nationals Leader David Littleproud has also objected to the letter saying it was “intimidatory” and has called for a review of its charitable status.

“A registered charity must always act in responsible manner with care and diligence in all its activities,” Mr Littleproud said.

“I believe the ACF’s conduct now needs to be reviewed, to ensure it is meeting its behavioural responsibilities as a charity. The interference of the ACF should not be tolerated by ordinary Australians.”

Mr Littleproud said vegetation management laws and their enforcement was already strict.

“Australia already has some of the world’s strictest native vegetation protection laws, set through state governments, that had been internationally recognised and credited for meeting our Kyoto commitment.

“The states already impose strict vegetation regulative frameworks on farmers through punitive vegetation protection laws. Farmers are in fact among the most nurturing people of all when it comes to the environment. ACF’s bullying is an overreach and must be stopped.”






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  1. Paul ziviani, 24/11/2023

    Thankyou Acf for keeping an eye on the ever diminishing native bushland. As a long term resident of the Proserpine ,Whitsunday region, for more than 35years I have watched the clearing of land for cattle ,sugar cane and development proceed unhindered by councils or any other government department. I know there are many land holders out there doing the right thing but with such large acreage holdings in rural Queensland many acts of land clearing seem to slip through the radar. So a diligent watch by acf members should be welcomed unless you’ve got something to hide. Queensland’s land clearing record is up there with the worst of them and the government underesourced to police illegal clearing ,so for all the wildlife that doesn’t have a voice the job being done by the Acf is extremely important and appreciated.

  2. Graham Barns, 24/11/2023

    No mention of hundreds of acres being cleared for wind turbi nes!!!

  3. Bill Burrows, 23/11/2023

    I see that Dr Peter Ridd has just released a short insightful video in his Reef Rebels series that gives a great perspective of tree and woodland thickening in Northern Australia, back to referencing the observations of Captain James Cook, Joseph Banks etc. See: . In May 2022 Beef Central kindly cited an essay I wrote on the topical subject of ‘Net Zero’ in which I included a Table detailing very clever studies that pointed out that the Australian land mass was an annual net carbon sink – even after deducting all the carbon contained in fossil fuel sourced emissions and cement manufacturing etc. I have since updated that data Table as new studies came to hand. See: . This has the effect of further increasing the size of the nation’s net annual land sink. This sink can only come from the continent supporting a larger vegetation biomass (while noting that the studies evidenced in Table 1 encompass both El Nino and La Nina weather cycles). On the matter of managing our forests and woodlands it seems to me that the ACF and its ilk, as well as most politicians and bureaucracies are suffering from the same complaint – “they can’t see the forests for the trees”!

  4. Ian Stanley, 23/11/2023

    I fully endorse the ACF to be vigilant and make enquiries to farmers about land clearing.
    I recall living on a property at Tamworth in a lovely bushland area, and a neighbour was cutting down old growth trees to make fence posts. The trees were all on a gradient of around 30°, radically increasing the erosion risk.
    That was also a limited habitat area for a specific parrot.
    That’s the sort of reckless nonsense that needs to be stopped by vigilance, regulation, & the law.

    • Joanne Rea, 23/11/2023

      @Ian Stanley. What ACF is doing is vigilantism. It is not regulation and the law. That is the business of government. They have no authority to ring people and interrogate them about whether they have a permit or not.

  5. Glynn Crosby, 23/11/2023

    Mr Littleproud is correct, vegetation management laws are already strict. If they are properly enforced they are effective. In agriculture whether land clearing is legal or not is fairly straight forward thanks to satellite imagery. Anybody who illegally clears will be caught under the state and federal system of enforcement. It is debatable whether punitive measures are always appropriate.
    Everybody has the right to report potential illegal clearing, and should do so. Harrassment is not appropriate and is not about enforcing the law but is about enforcing an agenda or targeting a particular group.

    The ACF has the right to report suspected illegal clearing to authorities and to attempt to contact the landholder. Anybody who believes the contact is harrassment should report it so a possible case of misconduct can be established.
    There should be no requirement for a landholder to respond to the contact since the ACF is not an enforcement body.

    I believe AFC’s real agenda is to target rural Australia by using the reported 2000 volunteers to collect data on all legal and illegal tree clearing and any land and pasture degradation due to recent drought. This evidence will then likely be hand picked to put forward a biased and emotive argument for even harsher sweeping legislation on agriculture.
    The ACF is wasting valuable and good intentioned resources if it is actually looking for illegal tree clearing. If they are interested in habitat destruction, endorsed and ignored by the majority of Australians, look no further than the non-native plants (weeds) sold in nurseries, grown in almost every backyard garden and escaping into the environment permanently changing it, or the terraformed new housing developments destroying even the micro-organisms.

    Welcome to Australia’s “not my back yard” culture. Due to an apathetic and misguided public, the environment we know today will not be sustained into the future.

    I live on a working cattle property with substantial remnant vegetation and native wildlife. It has been in the family for over 100 years. Many people comment on how lucky we are to live here in this ‘beautiful place’. They are partly right. I didn’t buy it but it didn’t happen by luck. It happened by my family’s choices. A lot of farmers have made similar choices. GIVE THE THE FARMERS WHO MADE GOOD CHOICES THE CREDIT AND SUPPORT THEY DESERVE TO HELP MAINTAIN OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT FOR EVERYBODY. It is hard and costly work.

  6. Lloyd wegener, 23/11/2023

    3rd parties spying on land holders ,reminds me of communist countries where people were to report their friends and neighbours to the state police if they done anything against the state ??

  7. Karen Kirk, 23/11/2023

    What are you doing about the the clearing of hectares and hectares of native bushland so wind farms can be built??? We are killing our planet to save it. Must be something better. What do we do with all the solar panels and wind vanes when their life expectancy finishes. Land fill?

  8. Brian Sayers, 23/11/2023

    Are these “Volunteers” checking the intense clearing of natural habitat for wind farms and massive solar arrays?
    Why do they pursue-our food producers?
    Many of these destructive green projects are approved automatically, is this really right when ordinary hard working farmers are selectively victimised?

  9. Owen Smith, 23/11/2023

    So basically property owners think that people, via the ACF, should not be looking at what they’re doing? Why not? Why should they have a right to be exempt from scrutiny? And why does it bother them if they’ve nothing to hide??

    • Joanne Rea, 23/11/2023

      @Owen Smith, the “what’s the problem if you have nothing to hide” argument is so simplistic it does not deserve an answer. Government covers every inch of agricultural land regularly. They are in a much better position to know if land disturbance is illegal or not. Vigilantism is not acceptable in our society.

  10. Rohan Peek, 23/11/2023

    I guess if you’re doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about. They should just pass the info on to Govt for them to take action on the illegal clearing though

  11. William Baker, 22/11/2023

    Urban sprawl, lack of public transport including access to an ever diminishing railway freight network putting more and more trucks onto the roads is a far greater threat to the environment than farming. Then there is an immigration surge also. Bigger cities, bigger environmental damage.

  12. John Armstrong, 22/11/2023

    If the ACF is in part attracting any Govt. funding and is also working against the processes of Govt., that fundng should cease forthwith.

  13. Joanne Rea, 22/11/2023

    The ACF has well and truly overstepped the mark.
    They have no authority to ask landowners if they have a permit or not. They should be sent on their way.
    They are also offering unsolicited legal advice which is incorrect at this moment in time.
    Just because the ACF and other environmental “charities” would LIKE all development, including vegetation management to be referred to the EPBC, it is presently required only under certain conditions. Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek could change that under the influence of such groups. They are also requesting third-party enforcement.
    What ACF are doing is indeed third-party enforcement regardless of their claims.
    Their 2000 volunteers will in no way have the skill of the very small, highly specialised group of scientists who compile the Qld SLATS report for example.
    No individual details of landowners should be available to these vigilante groups.

  14. John Coe, 22/11/2023

    I agree totally with David Littleproud. The ACF is aggregating power well beyond its original ‘founding’ charter.

  15. Vern Ezzy, 22/11/2023

    Why is the ACF not calling out Urban Property Developers and Renewable Power Developments that continue to destroy remnant vegetation and endangered species habitat to build houses, solar farms and wind farms??

  16. Bill, 21/11/2023

    These vigilanties for the environment are living in the worst disaster areas for vegetation distruction. Major towns and cities. Are they doing anything to help transplant green spaces and keep property developers and councils in these areas in check. Most likely no as they wish to target easier targets which they mostly have limited knowledge about.

    Have they offered to come out and help remove weeds and or plant trees and native plants. No

  17. Peter F Dunn, 21/11/2023

    The paragraph “The ACF says it is not trying to head down the path of third-party enforcement, it was more about frustration with a lack of enforcement from Governments”, exposes the absolute hypocrisy, dishonesty, ideological obsession and misguidance of the ACF.
    If the ACF was genuinely not pursuing third party enforcement, it would not be sending letters to producers.
    If the ACF genuinely felt the Government was short on enforcement, it would be totally focussed on attacking the Government on that front.
    But hey, the ACF does not see the Government as the enemy, the producers are the enemy.
    David Littleproud is correct to question the charitable status of the ACF, as would be the questioning of any taxpayer funding of the ACF, either directly or indirectly.

  18. Fred Wehl, 21/11/2023

    I see this as straight vigilante tactics and should be called out for what it is.
    I agree with David Littleproud that it should be challenged.

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