BirdLife Top End – support letter

Re: Support for the Save Lee Point campaign

BirdLife Top End shares some concerns about the development of Lee Point with the Save Lee Point campaign, and supports calls for a comprehensive management plan for the area.

As advocates for birds and their habitats, BirdLife Top End, a branch of BirdLife Australia, is concerned about the potential impact of 800 new homes in the proposed Lee Point Darwin development on migratory shorebirds and woodland birds that call the Lee Point region home.

Lee Point is an internationally important site for the Critically Endangered Great Knot, the Endangered Red Knot and the Vulnerable Greater Sand Plover, as well as a nationally important site for the Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew and the Endangered Lesser Sand Plover. These species are listed as such under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) due to
observed population declines. Buffalo Creek beach (1.4km northeast of the proposed development site) at Lee Point is a nationally important site according to commonwealth legislation for migratory shorebirds ref 1, and is the most important high tide roost in the Darwin Harbour region for thousands of other shorebird species.

The Lee Point area is already subject to multiple forms of human disturbance. The presence of both leashed and unleashed dogs, including in the dog exclusion zone near Lee Point, is a common and particularly invasive form of disturbance for shorebirds. The proposed Lee Point Darwin housing development indicates that a minimum of 1500 additional people will be moving into the area, which will impose significant additional disturbance pressure on shorebirds at Lee Point and Buffalo Creek, especially at high tide and during the NT wet season when shorebird numbers are at their highest.

Coastal development and disturbance are the biggest threats to migratory shorebirds. Global wetland habitat has declined by 35% over the past 40 years, which puts approximately a quarter of wetland dependent species, including migratory shorebirds like the Critically endangered Great Knot or Eastern Curlew, at risk of extinction, ref 2. Analysis of data from Australia has revealed that 12 of 19 migratory shorebirds species have declined significantly since the 1970’s, ref 3. Coastal habitat loss in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is well-accepted as the primary driver of declines. Remaining intact coastal habitat where large numbers of shorebirds are found, as is the case of Lee Point, is therefore critically important for supporting migratory shorebird populations. At high tide, when much of Darwin Harbour’s tidal flats are inundated by seawater, shorebirds have limited habitat options and may waste valuable energy if forced to move between roost sites as a result of disturbance. This can be particularly harmful in the lead-up to their long annual migrations, which commence around February-April.

Furthermore, incremental loss of green space and remnant vegetation in urban environments leads to reduced abundance and diversity of woodland birds ref 4, ref 5. In 2019, the endangered Gouldian Finch was recorded in the Lee Point area, which has recently been followed by a sighting of juveniles on 30th May 2021. This suggests that there may be breeding activity in the area by this species, of which was not specifically considered in the initial Environmental Impact Statement. This new information about an endangered species warrants careful consideration and further investigation, to ensure the proposed development at Lee Point Darwin does not have a significant impact on a threatened species without planned avoidance mitigation.

Here in Darwin, we are very lucky to have access to remnant vegetation in our urban areas, such as the bushland at Lee Point. This provides opportunity for those living in an urban environment to interact and connect with our environment through recreational activities like bushwalking, birdwatching and bike riding. Connection to our environment through such activities increases the likelihood that people will engage in conservation-directed behaviour ref 6, while also benefiting peoples’ physical and mental well-being ref 7. Loss of a significant sized area of native vegetation in the urban environment will likely strike a blow to those that frequent the area for both physical and mental well-being.

Given the concerns we have regarding migratory shorebird disturbance and incremental green space loss, we would like to see a comprehensive management plan for the Lee Point area developed in consultation with all stakeholders. This plan should carefully consider the impacts that this or future developments would have on coastal and woodland habitats, and consider the strategic importance of the area for both Darwin residents and threatened species,  including specific acknowledgement of the special regional importance of the area for shorebirds. A plan such as this would serve to maximise the physical and mental benefits from access to natural habitat for people across Darwin, including in any new development, ensure the best outcomes for the various threatened species that might be impacted, and would ensure that strong environmental management in the area can continue long into the future, for future generations to benefit from.

We welcome the opportunity to work with any organisation committed to ensuring positive outcomes for shorebirds and woodland birds in the Lee Point area, and the wider Top End of the Northern Territory.


Kind Regards,
Brittany Hayward-Brown
Conservation and Advocacy Officer, BirdLife Top End

4th July 2021


1 NT Environmental Protection Authority. (2018). Assessment Report 88 Lee Point Master-planned Urban Development: Defence Housing Australia.
2 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. (2018). Global Wetland Outlook: State of the World’s Wetlands and their Services to People. Gland, Switzerland: Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
3 Clemens et al. (2016). Continental-scale decreases in shorebird populations in Australia. Emu. Vol. 166: 119-135.

4 Threlfall, C.G., Williams, N.S.G., Hahs, A.K. & Livesley, S.J. (2016). Approaches to urban vegetation management and the impacts on urban bird and bat assemblages, Landscape and Urban Planning, 153: 28-39
5 Palmer, G.C., Fitzsimons, J.A., Antos, M.J. & White, J.G. (2008). Determinants of native avian richness in suburban remnant vegetation: Implications for conservation planning, Biological Conservation, 141(9):2329-2341
6 Geng L., Xu J., Ye L., Zhou W. & Zhou K. (2015) Connections with Nature and Environmental Behaviors. PLOS ONE 10(5): e0127247.
7 Mardie Townsend, M. (2006). Feel blue? Touch green! Participation in forest/woodland management as a treatment for depression, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 5(3): 111-120,