The regent honeyeater, a bird under threat of extinction, has been found in the Burragorang Valley which environmentalists say will be inundated if the proposed raising of the Warragamba Dam for flood mitigation goes ahead.
Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) discovered 21 birds and seven nests in the area late last year, publishing their findings in a report released last week.
“The Burragorang is a really important piece of the jigsaw for the Blue Mountains population,” said lead researcher Ross Crates.
“The birds are so restricted in where they will breed. They need trees in blossom to breed.”
Being chased away by bigger birds also made breeding problematic.
Australia-wide, only between 200 to 500 regent honeyeaters remain, Mr Crates said.
“If we are to have any chance of saving regent honeyeaters from extinction, we must act now. We must protect all existing breeding habitat, restore lost breeding habitat and protect nests.”
Mr Crates and his colleagues from ANU’s Difficult Bird Research Group surveyed more than 5000 sites between 2015 and 2017 to locate this rare species.
In addition to the new breeding site found in the Burragorang Valley, another new site was found in the Severn River in northern NSW.
The birds were also found in the Capertee and Goulburn River valleys near Mudgee, the lower Hunter Valley near Cessnock and near Barraba in the Northern Tablelands.
The researchers intend to do further surveys in the Burragorang Valley this year and would like to introduce targetted measures to help the birds breed more successfully.
Dean Ingwersen of BirdLife Australia said: “The fact is regent honeyeaters are literally one step from disappearing. We only have small pockets of known breeding habitat left along the east coast of Australia.”
Meanwhile, the ABC has reported the Department of Environment and Heritage had rejected advice from ecologists that the government needed to do additional studies into the birds found in the area before accepting the dam wall raising proposal.
Colong Foundation for Wilderness campaign manager, Harry Burkitt, said: “While it is disgraceful the NSW government is considering flooding a world heritage site, it would be scandalous if the NSW government is intentionally covering up the severe ecological impacts of such a large infrastructure project with viable alternatives.”
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlining the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the dam wall raising is currently being developed by the NSW government and will go out for public comment in 2019.
An Infrastructure NSW spokeswoman said all likely occurring threatened species, including the regent honeyeater, had been included in the scope of the surveys and biodiversity assessment and would be analysed and presented in the EIS.
“In large floods, areas within the national park and world heritage area upstream of Warragamba Dam flood now. With flood mitigation, upstream areas may be temporarily flooded for a longer period, such as days, to one or two weeks. The extent of this increase in temporary inundation will depend on the size of the flood,” the spokeswoman said.
It’s proposed to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 metres to reduce ﬂood risk in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley.