Protestors launch fresh offensive at mine site

AS A legal tug of war looms over the Leard Forest, protesters have launched a fresh offensive near Boggabri.

About 50 people were apprehended, fined and led out of the forest after a mass dawn march on the proposed mine site yesterday.

A lone protester was still taunting police, suspended in trees after two days dangling in the forest's canopy.

Thirty-six-year-old Sakyo Noda, braved near-freezing conditions last night to mark 60 hours of protest in the tree tops, while bulldozers were still clearing just a few hundred metres away.

It comes as Maules Creek residents seek an injunction against Whitehaven Coal in a desperate bid to stop alleged "unlawful" tree clearing in the Leard State Forest.

The Maules Creek Community Council (MCCC) has begun civil proceedings against the mining company in the NSW Land and Environment Court.

The stakes were raised over the weekend after about 100 people from Sydney joined those already on the ground at Maules Creek, near Boggabri, to protest.

Last month Whitehaven Coal working with the Office for Environment and Heritage amended its management plan to provide for clearing during winter.

Deforestation activities in the colder months are usually avoided as hibernating animals, such as endangered bats and owls, are more likely to be killed by the bulldozers.

Nevertheless, the Department of Planning and Environment is allowing the clearing to go ahead, providing it is "limited to 350ha" and "supervised by qualified ecologists".

The decision has sparked a fresh wave of protest activity in the past fortnight, including blockades, tree sits and a rally in Sydney, resulting in a number of arrests.

The Leard Forest Alliance said more than 50 of its supporters had defied government-imposed exclusion zones on the public and entered the forest yesterday to plant native tree saplings.

MCCC spokesman Phil Leard said the group believed Whitehaven Coal was in breach of the

Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

He said that Planning Minister Pru Goward’s refusal to intervene and stop the clearing meant residents had no choice but to begin legal proceedings.

“We believe the clearing is unlawful and we are seeking to have the case heard quickly so that no more irreparable damage is done to this unique forest environment and the animals that live in it,” he said.

“As a local community, we feel that we have been forced to take this action because the NSW government has failed in its responsibility to uphold the law and protect the environment of NSW.”