Eastern grass owl habitat at risk from Sunshine Coast urban sprawl, conservationists say

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A leading conservationist and birdwatching enthusiast says further development on the Sunshine Coast flood plains could destroy the natural habitat of a rare species of owl.
Greg Roberts was instrumental in pushing governments to buy up former sugarcane land along the Maroochy River — a portion of which makes up the Yandina Creek wetlands on the northern side of the Maroochy River.

Mr Roberts said good work to protect wetlands and species like the eastern grass owl had to be extended to the southern side of the Maroochy River as well, or a number of species’ strongholds could be at risk.
The Yandina Creek wetlands to the north of the river are a central part of the Sunshine Coast Council’s Blue Heart Project, which locks up wetlands in the flood plain to sequester carbon, filter water and support biodiversity.

It is a collaboration between the council, Unity Water and the state government to buy up large tracts of land on the north side of the Maroochy River.

Mr Roberts said the wetlands and grasslands south of the Maroochy River on the flood plain were a significant stronghold for the eastern grass owl as well and deserved the same protection.
“The Sunshine Coast has long been one of its strongholds, so it’s a pretty special iconic bird of the area,” he said.

“The eastern grass owl is genuinely quite a rare bird in Australia.

“It’s a spectacular looking bird with big, long, strong legs, and it’s restricted to grassland areas.

“When I first first started studying these birds back in 2009 it was a healthy population.”
“There are a whole lot of interesting grassland birds like tawny grass birds and different water birds like Lewin’s rail and lots of things, swamp rats, mammals as well, butterflies,” Mr Roberts said.

He gave the council credit for buying properties to help protect thousands of hectares of wetlands and grassland on the north side of the river.

“Unfortunately, south of the river, the story is not so rosy,” Mr Roberts said.

“The council is allowing subdivision of sugarcane farms and people are able to buy houses down there, and essentially the grasslands are being carved up.”

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