Farmers fear for their land

GREEN GUARDIAN: Rex Harris on his property near Bangalow.
GREEN GUARDIAN: Rex Harris on his property near Bangalow. Digby Hildreth

UNHAPPY: Louise Savrda, Rex Harris and Alli Page all claim they will be badly affected by proposed changes in zoning laws. Digby Hildreth

REX Harris glows with pride and joy as he shows visitors around his 40ha farm just south of Bangalow.

He points to eagles' nests and owl shelters he has erected and he can name most species among the 60,000 native trees he has planted with the help of his four sons and their families.

Mr Harris also manages 18,000 macadamia trees - a business that is crucial to funding the kind of environmental restoration that has driven him since he bought the property in 1998.

Now he fears further development will be endangered by proposed changes in zoning laws in Byron council's draft environmental plan that is being studied by State Government officials.

The threat to property rights were a "sleeping giant", said his neighbour Alli Page, who is also a macca farmer.

Ms Page's property will halve in value under the proposed re-zoning, which places her entire farm under a wildlife corridor.

The trouble was, she said, the corridor went nowhere. It bends around through Mr Harris's farm then hits the border with Ballina Shire - and what they choose to zonethere is up to them.

Both farmers restored their properties from weed-infested grazing country and they say if continued management of the land is made too difficult or expensive, theirs and hundreds of similar farms in the shire will revert to camphor-laurel covered wastelands.

If either wanted to change a crop - or say give over part of the macca plantation to free-range chickens - they would now have to go through a DA process that would require them to engage an ecologist, a town planner and a farm planning consultant, Mr Harris said - "bureaucratic madness that would cost lots of time and money".

Next door to Mr Harris's place is another 50ha block, bought five years ago by Louise and Rowan Savrda.

The couple has set up a "holistic, biological, cell-grazing" cattle farm, which requires them to move their 76 beasts every day. The cattle eat everything in the paddock before they are moved on - meeting the Savrda's goals of improving the soil biology.

Not only will rezoning decimate the value of the farm - on which the couple have spent $250,000 on infrastructure and improving the soil - it will hamper their ability to farm as they believe they should.

"For example, if we decide to let it rest for a year, which is good practice, or plant a green manure crop, I don't know if we would need a DA, or that council would decide we have lost any existing use rights," Ms Savrda said.

"It's a farm. We bought it to produce food. If we had known there was a possibility of it being rezoned we wouldn't have bought it and invested everything we have in it."

Mr Harris said he felt sorry for councillors coming in who had to get their heads around the proposed LEP - and for council staff also, who had to make decisions based on "crap" maps and photographs, some dating back to 1991.

Mayoral candidate Simon Richardson said the proposals were in draft form and claims that most farmers would be adversely affected was "political scare-mongering". Farmers who disagreed with the mapping could have it redressed when the draft went on public exhibition, Cr Richardson said.

He said the changes were a result of council having to fit in with State laws.

Concerned landowners will hold a public meeting on the issue on September 6 at 6.30pm at the Bangalow Bowls Club.

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