BY KAREN BENHAR

There are those moments in time when you can do something truly remarkable for a vulnerable species. Or you can turn away and lose yet another native species to the area.

Here we have a remarkable property that contains the perfect habitat for Powerful Owls and in fact, has resident owls and a development which ticks all of the boxes and is even going to preserve a part of the site, but the likely outcome will be another loss of prime Powerful Owl habitat.

A Development Application is currently being considered by Hornsby Shire Council concerning the Marymount Mercy Centre at 36 David Road Castle Hill. For more than 60 years the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta have been caretakers of an 8ha site which includes a Heritage Listed Critically Endangered Sydney Turpentine- Ironbark Forest. The Sisters have long committed to living gently on the land. Under their care, the forest has tripled in size and is now home to many birds and native animals, including the vulnerable apex species, the Powerful Owl.

As their Congregation ages the sisters are no longer able to maintain the property. The sisters wish to influence future development of the site and ensure the protection of the forest by gifting the Turpentine-Ironbark forest to Hornsby Shire Council with funds for maintenance in perpetuity.

The development proposal is to remove 234 trees and the convent buildings and sub-divide to create 60 500sqm lots on 5ha of the site and leave most of the critically endangered Sydney Turpentine- Ironbark Forest.

We admire the Sisters wish to preserve the forest. But the question has to be asked will all of this development mean that you save the forest but lose the Powerful Owls?

Currently, you have a habitat so good that there are resident Powerful Owls. It is ideal habitat due to the close proximity to Pyes Creek, with plenty of open areas attracting Powerful Owl prey species such as magpies and with low disturbance. This healthy functioning ecosystem includes trees which give us oxygen and store carbon and the landscape cleans the water as it slowly seeps through to Pyes Creek.

This development will create 60 households with potentially 60-120 cars as well as more than 200 people next to the forest. A road will be created through the middle of the forest. Not only will this fragment the Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest (STIF) but the increase in traffic and night light will have a significant impact on the Powerful Owls.

Surely the historic value of the buildings should be considered and possibly repurposed to provide sorely needed community resources such as a library, art gallery, theatre or meeting rooms. The website of the local MP Hon Ray Williams MP says “it is important the unique nature of this area is preserved for future generations.”

So we call on the Hon Alex Hawke MP for Mitchell and the Hon Ray Williams MP to work together to save this truly remarkable site.

If you ever wonder how we lose our threatened species then this DA is how it all happens. You develop intensely next to their habitat and the disturbance causes them to disappear or stay and not breed. With only 120 pairs of breeding Powerful Owls left in Sydney this is a disaster. ~ Karen Benhar, President of Friends of Berowra Valley

Bushland in urban areas provide essential habitat for Powerful Owls but unfortunately developments with the removal of trees, foraging habitat and green corridors means that these areas are fast becoming less suitable. The bushfires of 2019-20 destroyed a huge proportion of their habitat and as a consequence urban habitat has become even more important. ~ Robin Buchanan of the Powerful Owl Coalition