Peat Mining


Peat mining at Wingecarribee was argued to be unsustainable because it:

threatened endangered plants and insects
rate of mining far exceeded the rate of renewal of peat
peatlands are fragile ecosystems


Threat to endangered plants and insects:

According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS):

Changes in water regimes in the swamp as a result of milling potentially also threaten the continued existence of the small populations of endangered plants listed on Schedule I of the Threatened Species Act, and if mining continued at increasing rates of extraction, physical destruction of the populations could result within the term of any renewed leases.

Emerald Peat, who mined the peat at Wingecarribee, argued that two of the endangered plants, the leek orchid and the gentian:

grow in a narrow band on the margin of the swamp between the dryland and wetland plant communities. Peat extraction will not occur on the margins of the swamp. Operations will leave a buffer area of at least 50 metres between extraction and the ecotone area in which these plants may occur. Thus there will be no direct effect by the mining on either of these plant species." The only possible effect could be as a result of downdraw of water from the ponds. However the downdraw effects are likely only for a distance of 20 metres (Exhibit 112: Robertson), and hence both species will be unaffected by the proposed future mining...

The proposed minepath will clear about 700,000 individual Yellow Loosestrife plants from a total of more than 6.3 million plants in Wingecarribee Swamp....

Yellow Loosestrife is common in the Northern Hemisphere and may have been introduced into Australia by birds or Chinese herbalists or their devotees (Exhibit 57: Robertson). The listing of this species as a threatened native plant appears questionable at the least.

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Rate of Mining Exceeded Rate of Renewal of Peat

The NPWS argued that peat grows very slowly, around 10cm or 650 cu.m per 100 years, whilst it is being mined at approximately 38000 cu m per year, which far exceeds the renewal rate. They claimed that peat was not being regenerated at Wingecarribee at all because of the mining activities.

The NPWS also recognises the potential for greatly increased peat extraction capacity and the desire of the company for an approximate 10 fold increase in production from the current 38000 tonne per annum (as stated by the company). This would greatly exacerbate the degradation of the swamp ecosystems and could result in all the stated extractable peat resources being removed within the term of any renewed leases, if they were a standard 21 year DMR lease.

However Emerald Peat responded:

Peat is being extracted from Wingecarribee Swamp at a faster rate than it is being created there. That is a feature common with almost all mining operations, such a coal, oil, iron and gold etc. If that was the test of whether mining was permitted then there would be virtually no mining in Australia. Such a proposition is a distortion of the concept of ecologically sustainable development which is a pattern of development that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes upon which life depends.

And the DMR argued:

Peat is classified as a mineral, that is it is subject to the regime set down for non-renewable resources. However peat is partially renewable. World-wide it is generating much faster than it is being utilised.

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Peatlands are fragile ecosystems

According to Dr Geoffrey Hope, ANU:

[Swamps] are fragile, representing an equilibrium between vegetation growth and stream erosion which is easily disturbed by drainage, fire, trampling or catchment clearance. These can lead to accelerating gully development which can erode and de-water the entire peatland.

Emerald Peat responded:

As there is only one operating peat mine in NSW, none of the numerous other peat swamps are affected by mining, and all of these are potentially available for conservation. Advice was given of a Department of Mineral Resources policy to confine peat mining to Wingecarribee swamp and not to issue mining leases over other peat swamps. The fundamental issue is whether a balanced approach to conservation and development is to permit one mining operation in part of one swamp or whether balance is achieved by absolutely no mining of any peat swamp anywhere in NSW.

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National Parks and Wildlife Service, Submission to the Mining Wardens Inquiry into Possible Renewal of Mining Leases for the Extraction of Peat from Wingecarribee Swamp, 1997, Exhibit 23, pp. 8-12.

Geoffrey Hope, Senior Fellow, ANU, Submission to the Mining Wardens Inquiry into Possible Renewal of Mining Leases for the Extraction of Peat from Wingecarribee Swamp, 1997, Exhibit 34.

Minter Ellison, Summary of Submissions by Emerald Peat Pty Ltd, 1997.

Department of Mineral Resources, Submission to Inquiry into Renewal of Mining leases 567 and 568 at Wingecarribee Swamp, 1997.

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