Lee Point: protecting critical habitat and Darwin’s last wildlife corridor

“If we continue on the trajectory that we are on, the precious places, landscapes, animals and plants that we think of when we think of home may not be here for our kids and grandkids,” Ms Tanya Plibersek – Minister for Environment and Water – July 2022.

Lee Point and Casuarina Coastal Reserve have always been much-loved Darwin locations. In terms of number of bird species and visits each year they are similar to Kakadu National Park.

Lee Point supports wildlife, including small animals, to move along a habitat corridor. The significant number of large woodland trees (>35cm in diameter) at Lee Point provides critical tree hollows and food sources that encourage many species of wildlife to stay and breed there. In the 2022 dry season the endangered Gouldian Finch stayed in the Lee Point area (with some evidence of breeding) which attracted thousands of people including interstate and international visitors.

 The key points from this ecological assessment report are:

      • Lee Point is part of a 27 km northern corridor that runs from Casuarina Coastal Reserve to Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve.

      • Lee Point is about to lose the majority of its large woodland trees from an Australian Government housing development that removes critical habitat and seriously disrupts the wildlife corridor to Casuarina Coastal Reserve, the Territory’s most visited park.

      • A second corridor to the south of Darwin is fragmented, preventing the movement of land animals between Charles Darwin National Park and the Darwin rural area.

      • Darwin will achieve very few of the internationally agreed (23) Biological Diversity targets for 2030 due to the loss of critical habitat (large woodland trees) at Lee Point and subsequent disruption of Darwin’s last functional wildlife corridor.

    The plan to house thousands of people at Lee Point was undertaken without the involvement of the independent NT Planning Commission nor any collaborative consultation with Larrakia Traditional Owners or local community groups. The City of Darwin in October 2021 and the majority of NT candidates in the May 2022 federal election wanted the development paused and an independent assessment undertaken.

    Friends of Lee Point appreciate the national shortage of housing but doesn’t understand the need to destroy the richest area of biodiversity remaining in Darwin when there are other much more suitable housing locations available (e.g. Berrimah, Holtze, Weddell). The defence housing project should be located near defence jobs and public transport in line with the federal government’s Smart City Plan. Larrakia People and the Darwin community in general are calling on the Australian Government to build the housing elsewhere in the Darwin area.

    Protecting the rare old growth stands of savanna woodland at Lee Point is about protecting Darwin’s last wildlife corridor, Darwin’s biodiversity, and ultimately the quality of life of future generations.

    Figure 1. A map showing Lee Point (Darwin, NT) and the woodland wildlife corridor (yellow) with the cleared woodland from stage 1 clearly visible, the extent of planned clearing works (red border), the next stage 2 (red shaded), and a 50m buffer (offset) for the Gouldian Finch.


    Note: this executive summary is based on the attached paper plus these two POSTS:

    1. Lee Point; a special part of Darwin: https://saveleepoint.org.au/lee-point-a-special-part-of-darwin-nt/
    2. Planning for Lee Point: https://saveleepoint.org.au/planning-for-lee-point-darwin-nt/


    Executive Summary. i

    Overview.. 1

    Introduction. 2

    A case for protecting savanna woodlands. 3

    Savanna woodland. 3

    Habitat fragmentation and wildlife corridors. 5

    The outstanding biodiversity value of Lee Point 9

    Climate change and threats. 11

    The wellbeing of Darwin community and liveability of the city in future. 11

    Character of Darwin and financial gain. 11

    Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity 2030 targets. 12

    Reducing threats to biodiversity. 12

    Target 1. 12

    Target 2. 12

    Target 3. 12

    Target 4. 13

    Target 5. 13

    Target 6. 13

    Target 8. 14

    Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing. 14

    Target 11. 14

    Target 12. 14

    Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming. 15

    Target 14. 15

    Target 21. 15

    Target 22. 15

    Our observations. 16

    Conclusions. 16

    References. 17

    Acknowledgement of expert knowledge. 18

    Appendix A. 19

    Appendix B. 20


    This submission in June 2023 to Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water’s Post Approvals is provided by The Friends of Lee Point as the key community-based group concerned with conserving the natural beauty and biodiversity of Lee Point in the Northern Territory. Friends of Lee Point strongly support the call from the Larrakia people for housing not to be built at Lee Point and City of Darwin call for; a moratorium on the current DHA development until the (independent) NT Planning Commission has completed a comprehensive Area Plan for Lee Point.

    Given Friends of Lee Point extensive involvement over the past few years with Lee Point it has been tasked with providing critical evidence toward the immediate need for the protection and sustainable management of the unique biological assets of Lee Point. The unique biological assets at Lee Point are part of a bigger picture which are considered here. All field work and our assessment of the scientific literature has been reviewed and discussed with relevant experts in the scientific community (see Acknowledgement of expert knowledge).

    Our pressing case to protect and support the healthy and functioning biological systems of the Darwin region, including the proposed clearing of Lee Point (Darwin) for a housing development as a case in point, relates to

    • the need to properly value and conserve natural systems and the biodiversity they support in rapidly developing regional areas of Australia that have not seen the diversity and habitat declines of major cities,
    • protecting currently threatened species and ensuring no Top End species move to more endangered classifications in future,
    • ensuring ecologically significant areas of natural habitat and existing corridor systems are protected and preserved with appropriate land management and legal arrangements to provide adaptation and ecological resilience in a rapidly warming environment,
    • respecting the community’s valuing of natural systems for human health and wellbeing and the cultural connection to Country and voiced concerns of the Larrakia People as the Traditional Owners of the Darwin region.

    We state that members of the Darwin community (Friends of Lee Point), Larrakia People, the NT Environment Centre, Planning Action Network NT, NT Field Naturalists and BirdLife Top End, all highly value the biodiversity of the Darwin region and want to see open discussion relating to development plans with respect to biodiversity and habitat conservation to ensure there is no further loss of the biodiversity values of Darwin for the physical and mental wellbeing, and the cultural connection of the community and Traditional Owners.

    This document provides an overview of the ecological case for this application provided as follows:

    • This summary of urgent need for strong protection of the old growth savanna stands of the Darwin region.
    • A report based on the field assessment of Darwin’s large woodland trees: including the datasets collected during this assessment (provided with this document) and additional details (Large woodland trees survey, Sites 9-20).

    It assumes the defence housing development of 800 houses will be largely completed by 2030.



    During the 1990s some vehicle registration plates of the Northern Territory proudly stated “Nature Territory” as a salute to the amazing biodiversity and landscapes that Territorians are proud to call their home and continue to draw tourists from interstate and overseas to come and experience. Somewhere along the way the slogan changed to “Outback Australia” and the Darwin region has developed quickly along with concerns over the management and protection of the Territory’s natural systems. There is now community and expert concern that we are reaching the point where the wildlife and natural habitats we so value are under serious threat and we are close to losing these systems, where like other large cities, we will face the cost of trying to restore or replace local habitats.

    This document and the assessment of the woodland stands of the Darwin and Palmerston cities region is prepared by the Friends of Lee Point, on behalf of a large group of concerned Darwin community members (3,500 people on the mailing list and 4,500 people having signed the petition to halt Lee Point development without a full assessment) who value the natural assets of the Top End and especially the Lee Point area of Darwin City. We outline the reasons we are calling for the protection of the tropical savanna woodlands of the Top End and especially those in the greater Darwin area with an immediate cessation of unsustainable woodland clearing until more informed and transparent decisions regarding development can be made public.

    This summary focuses on environmental issues and is a companion document to other online publications made available to Post Approvals through the Save Lee Point website;

    1. Lee Point: a special part of Darwin – an overview of what makes Lee Point special: https://saveleepoint.org.au/lee-point-a-special-part-of-darwin-nt/
    2. Darwin’s large woodland trees: a preliminary study – a study on where the large trees are in Darwin and their future: https://saveleepoint.org.au/darwins-large-woodland-trees-a-preliminary-study/
    3. Lee Point Biodiversity Corridor: images of plants, fungi and animals: https://saveleepoint.org.au/lee-point-biodiversity-corridor/
    4. Planning for Lee Point – the social, environmental and economic benefits of housing defence personnel at another location plus urban planning issues: https://saveleepoint.org.au/planning-for-lee-point-darwin-nt/

    Figure 2. An example of Darwin’s savanna woodland providing large trees and a suite of understory plant species.


    A case for protecting savanna woodlands.

    This section is designed to provide a high-level description and review of the case for protecting Top End habitats and particularly the valuable patches of old-growth savanna woodland, with large trees providing critical tree nesting and shelter hollows for a range of tropical wildlife (including endangered Black-footed Tree Rats and Gouldian Finches). We believe the remaining patches of this habitat should be offered the same status as the rare monsoon rainforest patches across the Top End during all development consent. This summary brings together the knowledge shared and gained in describing this system.

    Savanna woodland

    While the Open Eucalypt Woodland and Grasslands of northern Australia (savanna woodland, Hutley & Setterfield, 2008, Lehman et al., 2014) cover much of the north of Australia, their expanse does not provide immunity to the significant threats of land management practices, tree clearing, fire management and altered fire regimes, invasive weeds, water management, agricultural and mineral/energy development, and climate change (Sankaran 2019, Schieter et al., 2014, Ritchie & Murphy, 2016).

    Savanna woodland of the Darwin region

    The predominant vegetation type of the Top End and Darwin landscapes is the savanna woodland, the area of which has declined dramatically with the development of Darwin, maybe because it was always thought to be in abundance and clearing would not result in significant loss. However, the health and distribution of savanna woodland has declined with continued tree clearing for development, a lack of coverage of protected areas, invasive grasses, and increased fire frequency and intensity.

    Old growth woodland as a special case

    The species composition and appearance of the savanna is driven by changes in rainfall across northern Australia (Lehman et al, 2014, Murphy et al, 2015). Likewise, at a local scale; soil depth, exposure to cyclones, rainfall and water relations, the frequency plus intensity of fire all influence the size and species of savanna tree stands. A special case of savanna woodland is where conditions are right for the Eucalyptus miniata (Darwin Woollybutt), Eucalyptus tetrodonta (Darwin Stringybark) and various Corymbia spp. (Bloodwoods) to grow large and become a stand of old trees (over 200 years, based on measurement reported by Prior et al. 2004) of great conservation status. These old trees have broken branches and termite hollowing to provide tree hollows as essential habitat for a wide range of tropical savanna wildlife such as: Black-footed tree-rats, Gouldian Finches, Savanna Gliders, possums, lizards, owls, kingfishers, cockatoos, lorikeets and parrots.

    Old growth savanna woodland of Darwin

    We undertook an extensive survey of native woodland stands in the Darwin and Palmerston area to understand the current situation and predict the future of this habitat type that supports most plants and animals associated with The Top End and Darwin. The full assessment can be found in the companion document at https://saveleepoint.org.au/darwins-large-woodland-trees-a-preliminary-study/. This study confirmed that stands of large, old, hollow bearing savanna trees are becoming rarer and rarer around Darwin and Palmerston, and especially in the City of Darwin boundary where these have little appreciation of their value to the biological and human system. Lee Point (planned clearing area) and Charles Darwin National Park offer the last quality stands of old woodland trees, with the Lee Point native habitat corridor connecting the coastal and mangrove systems of Casuarina Coastal Reserve to Buffalo Creek and the internationally significant Shoal Bay. This suggests that suitable habitat for many species including the threatened Gouldian Finch and Black-footed Tree-rat is rapidly disappearing and there is high urgency to protect the remaining patches of ecological significant size and intactness.

    Approximately 1400 large woodland trees were measured in sites 1-8 (Figure 3). Most these trees occurred in areas where there was a high density of trees > 5 trees per ha with these areas only representing 14% of the total woodland area. The highest density of trees occurred at Lee Point (site 2), based on a two-hectare patch.

    Figure 3. A map of (a) the greater Darwin region where a field assessment was performed to locate all large savanna trees (>35cm DBH) across 20 with a detailed view of the two main old growth savanna forests remaining in Darwin at (b) Lee Point and (c) Charles Darwin National Park.

    Habitat fragmentation and wildlife corridors

    Savanna plants have evolved in the wet-dry tropical environment with boom periods when it rains and an extended annual dry period to survive. Many savanna fauna are highly mobile moving across the landscape following suitable conditions for breeding and the seasonal and often patchy food resources. This relationship makes the fauna reliant on relatively large areas and intact habitat for survival. Research by Rankmore (2006) recommends a minimum 20 km2 in every 50 km2 area of woodland (40%) needs to be preserved. Currently the total woodland area for the northern sites (Sites 1-7, 12-14 see Large woodland tree assessment) is 19 km2.

    Our field assessment of the wider Darwin and Darwin Rural regions considered the connectivity of woodland stands with continuous connected woodland habitat still providing corridors for movement between Darwin and other woodland areas, but we predict many of the trees contributing to this connectivity will be lost by 2040 (Table 1). We also show that half of the 883 trees offering connected habitats between Darwin and the Rural Area in 2040 will be in or near Robinson Barracks and the Shoal Bay defence areas. We cannot find any information on future development in Department of Defence areas and as the landowner of many important woodland stands, we would consider a conservation and protection policy is urgently required, including for Lee Point.

    Table 1. The number of large, old woodland trees (>35cm diameter at breast height, DBH) found during an extensive field assessment in the Darwin and Darwin Rural Area with the number of trees currently considered isolated and predicted to be isolated by 2040.

    Location and isolation of large woodland trees in Darwin and Rural Area (area 187 sq km)



    Total trees in 2023 (all 20 sites)



    Trees isolated from rural area (sites 1-8)


    Includes Charles Darwin NP

    Trees isolated from rural area (sites 9-20)


    Includes Darwin airport site

    Trees connected to other stands in 2023 



    Predicted trees lost between 2023 and 40 (sites 1-8)


    Lost from Lee Point

    Predicted trees lost between 2023 and 40 (sites 9-20)


    Lost from Palmerston sites

    Trees remaining in connected habitats by 2040



    * Trees in sites 1-8 were located and measured, while the numbers reported at sites 9-20 were estimated from the field experience gained, limited site visits and using aerial photography to compare with measured areas.

    The fragmentation of the savanna woodland through clearing, road networks and building the infrastructure of a growing region reduces the suitability and quality of the system and makes any substantial areas of savanna woodland remaining of high conservation value. While not ideal, when this habitat is made up from a series of patches, the patches should be larger than 10 hectares and connected by a minimum of two corridors at least 100m wide and preferably have habitat the mammal can live in (Rankmore, 2006). A northern wildlife corridor currently exists from Rapid Creek to Lee Point and across to Shoal Bay. Lee Point is integral to the success of this wildlife corridor and to Casuarina Coastal Reserve. The wildlife corridor in the south no longer functions as a wildlife corridor.

    Our woodland assessment also shows that a significant number of trees will be lost from the North Darwin Wildlife Corridor due to the Lee Point development (Table 2) with an additional assessment of the trees in the next closest high quality stand of savanna woodland at the Howard Springs Hunting Reserve/Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve (see Figure 3). 

    Table 2. The number of large, old woodland trees (>35cm diameter at breast height, DBH) found during an extensive field assessment in the north Darwin wildlife corridor and Lee Point and an including the next closest large stands including high quality savanna at Howard Springs Hunting Reserve/Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve.

    Location and predicted loss of large woodland trees in North Darwin Wildlife Corridor (area 27 sq km)



    Total trees in 2023 (sites 1-8)


    615 trees with adjacent areas

    Total trees in 2023 (sites 9-20)


    605 trees with adjacent areas

    Corridor 3.5 km eastern extension


    270 trees with adjacent areas

    Predicted loss during 2023-40 (sites 1-8)


    Lost due to Lee Point development

    Predicted loss during 2023-40 (sites 9-20)


    Unable to forecast

    Total large trees in the corridor in 2040 



    * Trees in sites 1-8 were located and measured, while the numbers reported at sites 9-20 were estimated from the field experience gained, limited site visits and using aerial photography to compare with measured areas.


    Box 1. Our assessment of regional wildlife movement

    We believe connected, natural habitats, and especially the savanna woodlands, play an important role in allowing native species to live in and move through the Darwin urban environments and offer refuge. In the past there have been relatively large intact stands of trees offering habitat and unimpeded movement, the very reason Darwin has supported such a diverse range of animals, plants and insects. We see this situation changing rapidly with development and clearing to the point that critical access to areas may no longer be assumed and the biodiversity we consider part of the city may not be present into the future as we see with rare species decline today.

    This figure, refer top map 2023, shows the current ability of wildlife to move in and out of Darwin concentrating on some key species with the line thickness reflecting ease of movement. This already shows points where the size and quality of habitat patches constrict movement, but our estimation of the situation, refer bottom map 2040, shows where woodland will be lost resulting in important places of high biodiversity becoming isolated with likely declines in biodiversity.

    A map indicating the ability of wildlife to move across the Darwin region and access key areas of natural value for the community highlighting important pathways for some key species such as shorebirds (SB), Black-footed Tree-rats (BFTR), Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (RTBC) and Gouldian Finches (GF).

    Figure 4. A map indicating the ability of wildlife to move across the Darwin region and access key areas of natural value for the community highlighting important pathways for some key species such as shorebirds (SB), Black-footed Tree-rats (BFTR), Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (RTBC) and Gouldian Finches (GF).


    Box 2. Darwin’s wildlife corridors

    This section presents the remaining natural habitat that wildlife, particularly terrestrial species such as small mammals and reptiles, can currently use to access reserves/parks in Darwin when moving to and from the Darwin Rural Area. One pathway is the northern corridor while the other offers the last possible access to Charles Darwin National Park past the City of Palmerston (southern corridor).

    Figure 5. The northern and southern Darwin wildlife corridors (yellow) providing connected natural woodland habitat between Darwin and the Rural area.

    Northern corridor

    The major threat to the northern corridor is the planned defence housing development at Lee Point that will remove the majority of large woodland trees in the area and destroy the connection between the highly valued Casuarina Coastal Reserve (most visited reserve in the Territory) and Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve. It is believed that Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve has the largest area of protected woodland within 50km of Darwin.

    While there is additional habitat north of the corridor it is comprised of lowland salt flats, mangroves and sparse woodland that we do not consider suitable to support many species moving across the landscape.

    Southern corridor

    The remnants of a once continuous savanna woodland habitat along the southern boundary of Darwin and Palmerston cities are in danger of being further fragmented by development causing serious chokepoints that limit movements. The corridor is disrupted by three major roads and significant development including large cleared open areas two kilometres from Charles Darwin National Park that provide little or no shelter to protect mobile wildlife such as small mammals and birds from predators. This fragmentation and the lack of any policy to preserve woodland habitat above the 14m contour above sea level leaves Charles Darwin National Park isolated from both the rural area and other woodland habitats in the north of the city.

    The outstanding biodiversity value of Lee Point

    Lee Point is located on the northern fringe of Darwin City surrounded by internationally recognised beaches and mangrove lined creek systems used by migratory shorebirds. While neglected by the current government landowners, this 500-hectare area has largely escaped heavy development and supports a high diversity of Top End plants, animals and habitats while offering a natural setting for the Darwin community to enjoy for health and wellbeing and providing Country with high cultural significance for the Larrakia people.

    Our discussions with senior Larrakia have provided a Traditional Owner perspective on the cultural significance of Larrakia Country and the special connection to Lee Point as seen in a current CSIRO and Darwin Living Lab project survey (https://research.csiro.au/darwinlivinglab/darwin-biodiversity-values-survey/). It is clear from the hurt that this development is causing Larrakia that there was never sufficient consultation to determine whether this development was in the interest of the Larrakia People who are strongly opposed to any further destruction of Lee Point and other Larrakia Country.

    If we are to address the current decline in biodiversity in northern Australia and especially that of small mammals (Woinarski et al, 2011) areas that currently support high diversity must be protected.

    Images of birds, other animals, fungi and plants from the Lee Point Biodiversity Corridor can be found at the following site: https://saveleepoint.org.au/lee-point-biodiversity-corridor/

    Threatened species

    The fact that Lee Point and the rare patches of old growth mature savanna woodland still support threatened species is testament to its significant size, ecological function, and healthy state. Black-footed Tree-rats (Mesembriomys gouldii) are known to inhabit this area and were reported living in the old mature eucalypt habitat cleared for stage 1 housing development and assessed in the development proposal. The area also acts as a dry season feeding and breeding habitat for a number of local and mobile bird species including the Gouldian Finch (Chloebia gouldiae) which we have seen breeding in the abundant tree hollows offered in the area. As noted previously, the natural protection Lee Point offers to the beach system makes it a suitable resting place for migratory birds on annual migrations, many of which are now threatened.


    For a relatively small area of 27 square kilometres of mixed habitats on the doorstep of Darwin suburbs, Lee Point and adjacent corridor sites host a huge diversity of birds. With 291 species recorded on Lee Point and adjacent corridor sites (Table 3) this area outperforms Kakadu National Park in bird diversity with a fraction of the area. With only the terrestrial habitats considered, ignoring shorebirds and other coastal species, the best quality Lee Point woodland supports a staggering 105 species per hectare (recorded over the last five years). This explains why this area is a favourite place for birdwatchers and nature photographers and a drawcard for tourists travelling specially to see a Gouldian Finch.


    Observations of abundant and diverse fungi populations through Lee Point is also an indication of a healthy below ground community and some of the ecological function behind supporting the range of birds, animals, reptiles and insects found.


    Table 3. The number of bird species recorded in the BirdLife Australia database for various national parks around the Top End with Lee Point habitats and the broader northern woodland corridor provided for comparison of the diversity of species supported per square kilometre.


    Approx. area (km2)

    No of bird species (all records)

    No of bird species for last 5 years

    Species per km2

    Source – for links refer to References

    Kakadu National Park





    Data link

    Marrakia/Black Jungle/Fogg Dam/Harrison Dam Reserves





    Data link

    Garig Gunak Barlu (Coburg) National Park





    Data link

    Charles Darwin National Park (land area)





    Data link

    Litchfield National Park





    Data link


    North Darwin Wildlife Corridor (NDWC)





    Data link

    NDWC – Lee Point





    Data link

    NDWC – Holmes Jungle





    Data link

    NDWC – Lee Point Bio-corridor (inc. shorebirds)





    Data link

    NDWC – Lee Point Bio-corridor woodland only (inc. stage1)





    Data link


    The loss of critical weight small mammals from across northern Australia is startling given the belief that the north is pristine, untouched wilderness by some Australians. Clearly the current threats and contemporary management practices of northern Australia have resulted in a system that is no longer suitable for these incredible Australian mammals and the systems in which they live. Returning to land management practices of the Traditional Owners is a good start and surely, we should be listening to the Larrakia People of Darwin in how they would like us to share their Country. It seems this voice is not being heard by many in the development decision process. Any area that currently supports small mammals must be protected and more research undertaken into maintaining and reintroducing populations must be a priority.


    The reptiles fill an important top order predator role in northern Australia whether in the marine and freshwater systems (saltwater and freshwater crocodiles) or on land (monitor lizards and snakes, G. Sawyer, personal communication). The monitor lizards have faced significant challenges around Darwin with increasing density and speed of vehicles using the road network and the arrival of cane toads leading to high mortality. Monitor lizards are still found in the natural habitats of Darwin and surrounds especially the savanna woodlands with tree hollows and are seen at Lee Point.

    Climate change and threats

    Climate change is likely an existential threat to the natural systems and our way of life in northern Australia. Intact natural systems offer huge value in a warming climate offering cooling shade from trees. Intact healthy systems are going to be the most resilient and able to adapt. Maintaining connectivity will be critical in allowing animals to move and cope with increasing temperatures, allowing movement from inland toward the cooler coastlines or cooler southern regions.   

    Carbon stores

    While not as dense and tall as southern forest systems the savanna woodlands and coastal mangrove systems still store significant amounts of carbon, especially when we consider their expanse. The old-growth patches of savanna are also important carbon stores with all the old hollow bearing trees  counted in our study estimated to represent 979 tonnes of carbon storage in above ground biomass and an additional 11 tonnes of carbon sequestered each year (based on savanna tree allometry of Cook et al, 2015, see Appendix B for site breakdown). When we include the evidence of the significant underground biodiversity and soil function known to store carbon, we must place high value on these carbon stores if the Northern Territory and Australia are to meet emission reduction targets. Fire and weed management in the savanna woodlands around Darwin also needs to consider the loss of carbon through tree deaths.  

    The wellbeing of Darwin community and liveability of the city in future.

    In order to continue to connect people with nature (GOAL 1, Australia’s Strategy for Nature), we need to ensure intact natural places are readily accessible to the community. These places need to be managed for the biological system as well as the wellbeing of those enjoying the system now and into the future.

    This application stems from the community’s care for nature and all its diversity (GOAL 2, Australia’s Strategy for Nature) with no clear indication that the voice of concern has been acknowledged.

    The Friends of Lee Point and other related community groups (Friends of Casuarina Coastal Reserve, Landcare NT, BirdLife Top End, NT Field Naturalists) aim to share and build knowledge of the wonders of Lee Point, including the deep connection to this country by the Larrakia People. We believe that this message must be heard as the loss of more systems across the Top End is not acceptable.

    People are a critical component of natural systems. This is especially true of the Larrakia people of Darwin who have very strong cultural connection to the Darwin area and especially Lee Point (refer to Darwin Living Lab project links on page 12)

    Casuarina Coastal Reserve and Lee Point are highly utilised by the Darwin community for recreation, exercise, bush food, with the natural assets being highly valued for nature-based engagement (bird watching, bush and beach walking). Over half of Casuarina Coastal Reserve is in Lee Point. Casuarina Coastal Reserve recorded 1.45M visits in 2021:  https://depws.nt.gov.au/parks-and-wildlife-commission/parks-and-wildlife-statistics-and-research/park-visitor-data

    Character of Darwin and financial gain

    The natural assets of the Top End have always been a drawcard for tourists, and we believe eco-tourism is an undercapitalised income stream for the Northern Territory economy. The combination of natural and cultural experiences on Darwin’s doorstep highlights the services that the natural systems and Darwin community can offer. But this all relies on valuing and protecting these natural assets.

    Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity 2030 targets

    We refer to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (Convention on Biological Diversity, https://www.cbd.int/gbf/) to consider how the Top End of the Northern Territory (including Darwin and Palmerston) are progressing with respect to the agreed to 2030 Targets (Section H Global Targets for 2030, https://www.cbd.int/doc/decisions/cop-15/cop-15-dec-04-en.pdf).

    Reducing threats to biodiversity

    Target 1

    Ensure that all areas are under participatory, integrated and biodiversity inclusive spatial planning and/or effective management processes addressing land- and sea‑use change, to bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity, close to zero by 2030, while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

    We believe it is falling upon community groups and non-profit organizations around Darwin to raise the community awareness of the value of biodiversity and the steps needed to conserve natural systems. We see no evidence of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities being respected in decisions we believe directly destroy areas of high biodiversity importance.

    Target 2

    Ensure that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and marine and coastal ecosystems are under effective restoration, in order to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, ecological integrity and connectivity.

    The savanna woodlands of the Top End are experiencing rapid rates of clearing with the treatment of invasive plants in these modified environments of highest priority. While restoration for degraded systems is critical, we are in the fortunate position where loss prevention of the remaining natural, biodiverse, tropical systems must be foremost in our planning process.

    Target 3

    Ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas, and of marine and coastal areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognizing indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable, and integrated into wider landscapes, seascapes and the ocean, while ensuring that any sustainable use, where appropriate in such areas, is fully consistent with conservation outcomes, recognizing and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, including over their traditional territories.

    The field research undertaken for this application shows no evidence for any decline in the loss of natural habitats, especially old-growth savanna woodland, around Darwin. Without stopping further tree clearing there is no chance habitat loss will be reduced to zero until all habitat is lost or heavily modified. We show that there are few natural habitat areas of ecologically suitable size remaining in Darwin with degradation and fragmentation leading to the loss of Darwin’s biodiversity.

    Preserving ecological significant areas of biodiverse, natural habitat and the corridors of suitable habitat connecting these areas is the basis of this application. We see no evidence of any target, let alone 30%, protection of savanna woodlands. When critical components of such systems such as monsoon rainforest and old growth woodland patches are considered, we believe it is vital that these habitats and the surrounding areas they support and rely on remain intact given what has already been lost.

    We see little evidence for any commitment from states and territories, and believe this application is a clear case for implementing this target in the Northern Territory.

    Target 4

    Ensure urgent management actions to halt human induced extinction of known threatened species and for the recovery and conservation of species, in particular threatened species, to significantly reduce extinction risk, as well as to maintain and restore the genetic diversity within and between populations of native, wild and domesticated species to maintain their adaptive potential, including through in situ and ex situ conservation and sustainable management practices, and effectively manage human-wildlife interactions to minimize human-wildlife conflict for coexistence.

    We believe all wildlife has the right to coexist in our urban areas and should be supported and protected avoiding any further decline toward extinction. Threatened species known to be using the last available high-quality habitats should be respected and protected. Any habitat that supports a wide variety of native species, including those threatened with extinction, should be protected and carefully managed. These species cannot be treated with such little consideration that offset areas of questionable financial value are provided as a trade-off for removal of prime habitat. Even if such offset habitat was suitable, little consideration is given to the individuals already living in this habitat. Full ecological understanding and community values must be implemented in all future development plans.

    We are extremely concerned about the extinction of known threatened species and recognise little is being undertaken to ensure their conservation status has been improved or sustained. We note the wide scale decline in small mammal species across northern Australia including Black-footed Tree-rats around Darwin, and the shifting distribution of savanna species to find new suitable habitat (Gouldian Finches).

    Target 5

    Ensure that the use, harvesting and trade of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal, preventing overexploitation, minimizing impacts on non-target species and ecosystems, and reducing the risk of pathogen spill over, applying the ecosystem approach, while respecting and protecting customary sustainable use by indigenous peoples and local communities.

    Loss of habitat through clearing for development reduces both access to, and availability of, species used by Traditional Owners as bush-food. Areas with high cultural value must be respected and managed to ensure access to bush-food production is restored and sustainably managed. Traditional owners need greater input into management of remaining woodland habitats and woodland restoration approaches.

    Target 6

    Eliminate, minimize, reduce and or mitigate the impacts of invasive alien species on biodiversity and ecosystem services by identifying and managing pathways of the introduction of alien species, preventing the introduction and establishment of priority invasive alien species, reducing the rates of introduction and establishment of other known or potential invasive alien species by at least 50 per cent by 2030, and eradicating or controlling invasive alien species, especially in priority sites, such as islands.

    While there is evidence of some current management of invasive weeds starting to work, we do not believe all landowners around Darwin are controlling and eradicating even the identified and prioritized alien species (e.g. Gamba grass, Andropogon gayanus) with strong implications for fire management and biological systems. Other invasive threats to savanna biodiversity such as feral cats and cane toads are not considered in management plans. We know with concerted effort and suitable levels of funding invasive weeds and cane toads can have reduced rates of invasion and increase, especially on a peninsula such as Lee Point with natural coastal and saltwater creek systems providing protection.

    Target 8

    Minimize the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity and increase its resilience through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions, including through nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem-based approaches, while minimizing negative and fostering positive impacts of climate action on biodiversity. 

    Recent publications (Xu, 2020) describe an extremely difficult future climate for all life to survive in the tropics with novel future environments not seen anywhere to date. Protecting the largest intact habitats will provide the best change for biodiversity to adapt to this change and provide sanctuaries for other mobile species forced to move towards the coastline where cooler temperatures are offered. Forested systems will also provide valuable refuge for outdoor activities for the community where dense development such as housing estates are now the hottest areas in cities.

    Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing

    Target 11

    Restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people, including ecosystem functions and services, such as the regulation of air, water and climate, soil health, pollination and reduction of disease risk, as well as protection from natural hazards and disasters, through nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem-based approaches for the benefit of all people and nature.

    The natural character of Darwin is an important aspect of the city’s liveability with the coastal areas of Darwin highly used by the community for a range of leisure activities supporting mental and physical wellbeing. Key species such as Barramundi and birds like Red-tailed Black Cockatoos provide important parts of people’s lives. This all requires healthy terrestrial habitats to continue to support these species.

    Target 12

    Significantly increase the area and quality, and connectivity of, access to, and benefits from green and blue spaces in urban and densely populated areas sustainably, by mainstreaming the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and ensure biodiversity-inclusive urban planning, enhancing native biodiversity, ecological connectivity and integrity, and improving human health and well-being and connection to nature, and contributing to inclusive and sustainable urbanization and to the provision of ecosystem functions and services.

    The high visitation rates of the remaining natural savanna areas and adjacent coastal systems (Casuarina Coastal Reserve Management Plan, 2016) shows how important they are to the community. Given these systems, adjacent to the city’s residential zones, have often been poorly managed and do not provide suitable infrastructure to assist all the community to experience them, and yet are still highly utilised while continuing to provide high biodiversity value, suggests they have been undervalued by planners. The introduction of self-guided bird watching attracted thousands of people visiting the area in 2022, half of them tourists. There is strong demand for safe locations close to the cities for people to connect with nature. Recent exclusion of the public from previously accessible places to walk in the savanna woodland in the cooler mornings and afternoon was met with holes cut in fences as an indication of the value residents place on access to these natural places.

    Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming

    Target 14

    Ensure the full integration of biodiversity and its multiple values into policies, regulations, planning and development processes, poverty eradication strategies, strategic environmental assessments, environmental impact assessments and, as appropriate, national accounting, within and across all levels of government and across all sectors, in particular those with significant impacts on biodiversity, progressively aligning all relevant public and private activities, and fiscal and financial flows with the goals and targets of this framework.

    This application is plea for ecosystems around the Top End that provide essential services and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being of Territorians, to be protected, restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable. These systems are known to be very important to all Australians and a reason to call Darwin home.

    We see little evidence of biodiversity targets being implemented in developments plans, with little opportunity for the public to have any input into decisions that adversely impact high value natural systems.

    With “What are Northern Territory Biodiversity Offsets?” one of the top search engine returns when searching for biodiversity and Northern Territory, we feel the current system is not designed to protect important systems into the future, but to put aside an area elsewhere, often of questionable comparison or already home to a range of wildlife. We believe this is the wrong way to be treating the Top End’s remaining critical habitats and threatened species. We believe we can develop and prosper in this region in a sustainable way that values what we have rather than paying later to try and restore systems that have been lost.

    Target 21

    Ensure that the best available data, information and knowledge are accessible to decision makers, practitioners and the public to guide effective and equitable governance, integrated and participatory management of biodiversity, and to strengthen communication, awareness-raising, education, monitoring, research and knowledge management and, also in this context, traditional knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies of indigenous peoples and local communities should only be accessed with their free, prior and informed consent,[2] in accordance with national legislation.

    We are grateful for a rich history of traditional and scientific knowledge relating to the natural history of northern Australia and see value in upcoming technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends. But we believe a new emphasis needs to be placed on developing northern Australia under climate change while preserving the natural character of this landscape.

    Target 22

    Ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders.

    We are privileged to have direct access to the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous (Larrakia people) and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. However, we do not accept that their customary use of biological resources is currently respected in accordance with national legislation and relevant international obligations. This application highlights that there is a serious lack integration in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at any relevant level.

    Our observations

    From surveys on sites 1-7 it was evident that most of the large woodland trees exist in high density areas (greater than 5 large woodland trees per hectare). However, these areas only make up a small proportion (less than 15%) of the total woodland habitat area. Identifying and giving these areas a special status would hopefully lead to the establishment of protected wildlife corridors before these critical habitats and the small animals that use them are lost forever.

    Our journey through this process from raising concerns with politicians and developers to providing this application shows that it now seems to fall to unfunded, volunteer, community groups to mobilise and provide rigorous evidence for the importance of biodiversity to the community around the Top End and beyond. We see a pressing need for greater funding into research of threatened species, regional land and fire management, weed management, and the adaption and resilience of our amazing tropical systems as we move into novel environments not experienced elsewhere in the world under changing climate. We also see the need for changes to some attitudes toward development and better legal protection of valuable biological and ecosystem assets.



    Darwin has two wildlife corridors, a northern and a southern corridor.

    • The southern corridor is fragmented which prevents the movement of land animals between Charles Darwin National Park and the Darwin rural area.
    • The northern corridor is functional for land animal movement and includes Lee Point. This corridor stretches 27km from Casuarina Coastal Reserve to Shoal Bay Coastal Reserves. It links the Territory’s most visited park (Casuarina Coastal Reserve) with the largest protected stand of woodland habitat in the Darwin region (Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve).

    By 2030,

    1. Lee Point will lose the majority of its large woodland trees from a defence housing development that will not only destroy Darwin’s richest biodiversity area but will fragment the northern corridor, Darwin’s last viable wildlife corridor.
    2. Darwin will achieve very few of the internationally agreed (23) Biological Diversity targets for 2030 due to the loss of critical habitat (large woodland trees) at Lee Point and subsequent disruption of Darwin’s last functional wildlife corridor.


    The above report was based on data until May 2023 data. Recent field data (until November 2023) has not changed these conclusions.
    Fieldwork, mostly in the vicinity of Charles Darwin National Park and some at Lee Point peninsula, increased the number of large woodland trees (LWT) measured from 1143 to 2369. Over 90% of the total trees measured came from Charles Darwin National Park or adjacent areas and Lee Point. Estimates for LWT on the east side of Darwin were based solely on aerial photography and some site visits. This led to an estimate of ~4200 LWT remaining in 2040 for the (212 sq km) study area.
    Based on data until November 2023;
    In 2020,
    • Lee Point peninsula had over 700 LWTs with the majority of these being on DHA land
    • Lee Point peninsula had the majority of the Northern Wildlife Corridor LWT
    By 2040,
    • Darwin-Palmerston area (212 sq km) is expected to lose the majority of its LWT (based on 2020 habitat areas and historical rate of loss), and 
    • less than 30% of the remaining ~4200 LWT will be in the Northern Wildlife Corridor. 
    Clearing of Stage 1 (in 2021) and part of Stage 2 (in 2023) resulted in a 10-15% loss of LWT at Lee Point peninsula and a 5-10% loss of LWT in the Northern Wildlife Corridor.
    LWTs are now referred to as old-growth trees due to their age and potential for tree hollows.


    Casuarina Coastal Reserve Management Plan. 2016. Parks and Wildlife, Northern Territory Government. https://dtc.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/249041/ccr-management-plan2016.pdf

    Cook G.D., Liedloff A.C., Cuff N.J., Brocklehurst P.S. and Williams R.J. 2015. Stocks and dynamics of carbon in trees across a rainfall gradient in a tropical savanna. Austral Ecology 40(7): 845-856. https://doi.org/10.1111/aec.12262

    Hutley L.B. and Setterfield S.A. 2008. Savanna. In: S Erik, F Brian, eds. Encyclopedia of ecology. Oxford, UK: Academic Press, 3143– 3154.

    Lehmann C.E.R., Anderson M.T., Sankaran M., Higgins S.I., Archibald S., Hoffmann W.A., Hanan N., Williams R.J., Fensham R.J. and Felfili J. 2014. Savanna vegetation–fire–climate relationships differ between continents. Science 343: 548– 552.

    Murphy B., Liedloff A. and Cook G. 2015. Fire or water – which limits tree biomass in Australian savannas? In: Carbon Accounting and Savanna Fire Management. Eds Murphy, B; Edwards, A; Meyer, CP; Russell-Smith, J. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne Australia. p 273-287.

    Prior L.D., Eamus D. and Bowman D.M.J.S. 2004. Tree growth rates in north Australian savanna habitats: Seasonal patterns and correlations with leaf attributes. Australian Journal of Botany. 52(3) http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT03119

    Rankmore, B.R. 2006. Impacts of Habitat Fragmentation on the Vertebrate Fauna of the Tropical Savannas of Northern Australia; with special reference to medium-sized mammals. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University. https://ris.cdu.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/22698989/Thesis_CDU_59670_Rankmore_B.pdf.

    Ritchie E. and Murphy B. 2016. EcoCheck: Australia’s vast, majestic northern savannas need more care. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/ecocheck-australias-vast-majestic-northern-savannas-need-more-care-59897

    Sankaran, M. 2019. Droughts and the ecological future of tropical savanna vegetation. Journal of Ecology 107:1531–1549.

    Woinarski J.C.Z., Legge S., Fitzsimons J.A., Traill B.J., Burbidge A.A., Fisher A., Firth R.S.C., Gordon I.J., Griffiths A.D., Johnson C.N., McKenzie N.L, Palmer C., Radford I., Rankmore B., Ritchie E.G., Ward S. and Ziembicki M. 2011. The disappearing mammal fauna of northern Australia: context, cause, and response. Conservation Letters 4(3):192-201.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00164.x

    Xu, C., Kohler, T.A., Lenton, T.M. and Scheffer, M. 2020. Future of the human climate niche. PNAS, 117 (21) 11350-11355. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1910114117




    Acknowledgement of expert knowledge

    The following list provides those consulted by Friends of Lee Point in gaining a better understanding of the ecology of tropical systems and the species considered in this application. This list includes both professional and non-professional experts where we acknowledge the wealth of natural system understanding held by members of the Darwin community and the Larrakia people as the traditional owners of the Darwin region.



    Knowledge and expertise shared

    Dr Adam Liedloff


    Understanding of the functioning of savanna tree stands and old growth savanna trees. Field data collection techniques, tools and analysis.

    Dr Amanda Lilleyman


    Tropical bird ecology and biology including shorebird expertise

    Professor Stephen Garnett


    Tropical bird ecology and biology including Gouldian Finch expertise

    Dr Kirsty Howey

    Env. Centre NT

    Policy and legislation and natural system threats in the Northern Territory

    James Lambert


    Local bird species expertise


    Peter Brown


    Local species and habitat change of Darwin and Lee Point.

    Ian Morris

    Eco- and cultural tourism guide

    Change in Darwin’s natural systems and biodiversity including Gouldian Finches

    Graeme Sawyer

    Eco-tourism operator

    Top End ecology, threats and management including Gouldian Finches and monitor biology

    David Percival

    Eco-tourism guide and naturalist

    Extensive experience in overseas eco-tourism.

    Tibby Quall

    Traditional owner

    Sites of significance

    Lorraine Williams

    Senior Larrakia woman

    The cultural importance of Larrakia Country and the special nature of Lee Point to her family.

    Louise Woodward


    Mental and physical wellbeing of community

    Appendix A

    A list of links used in the calculation of bird species in Table 3. These links provide the extent of the area requested from the bird sighting database.

    Kakadu National Park: https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-13.4983913_131.6294102_8&polygon=l5vsCq_7kZogsBg7pBygW-lgBg5Q0lsCtnwBywiCz11H2yI2_X9ntC98V7_mD2hpC_6pB-pH0xlBqlyBswHuhBpohB


    Marrakia/Black Jungle/Fogg Dam/Harrison Dam Reserves: https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-12.6015708_131.3223155_11&polygon=hxjsCi06gZz9Oy4F_iC-yVk3HiqIgV87Xn3xBmRwuV9sjBqkOgewkDt_TmEn0Fw0IzrF21GlR


    Garig Gunak Barlu (Coburg) National Park:  https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-11.3699648_132.2130589_10&polygon=j17jCwoxlZyyBqvkBz3Ek-jBv3Oi_Rx4oBy1jB_7R0rF5iM70UozWthT_pBturBvpQp6am2sB_voB_kD5_Vm-In0F

    Charles Darwin National Park (land area): https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-12.4526689_130.8799959_14&polygon=jw8rCo32-YQkrCQs2CpS4DrT08BhvDn3B9J8MiXoa16B4K9IhXmZ5aguCxWkYwVmPpL3mBhfxtCmgBnR_c81Cz8EyiByIfglBiY4Z6G7M

    Litchfield National Park: https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-13.3029258_130.8648854_10&polygon=rjxvCkmx9Y2Q8zxBn4LsiBzyN1yIv8U4uKsrI-xE63Fk7T5oSwhI2Q1nSjjgBmRuhH38QnvX90JuzC_7M0vvB3jUgwXx9J

    Darwin North Wildlife Corridor (NDWC): https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#from=2018-05-01&map=-12.3832338_130.9138205_12&polygon=_ourC-g5-Y-_B29BZi9CqB8Tt2C0Bp6BssBpjC9Qx4BuzClvBqetwB0BP6pB7dAjT0bYoyD1wBw3FlOg7GkkC5C-Ix5Gi9C_kG-VhrB_Lx0BirBjf8J7vB-rB1iCiuCrBme1jBGitBmfsC6EjyBw5EskBgrB1iD92EjkF5zB_V&to=2023-05-01

    NDWC – Lee Point: https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#from=2018-05-01&map=-12.3484280_130.8983627_15&polygon=3_rrCs85-Y_KiPqCoCTihEhF-BYisB2coN8CiDmjB6B2DzTuiB-JsrBv1C1lCviCh9B15B&to=2023-05-01


    DNWC – Holmes Jungle: https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-12.4053788_130.9350247_15&polygon=713rCggj_Y6zCAjIuNqMkNasgCp4Ca


    DWNC – Lee Point Bio-corridor (inc. shorebirds): https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#map=-12.3513117_130.8890065_15&polygon=_tqrCwm7-YzY8tBzBgesXk8B7oC1C-OpeQ75C5Hx1C&visible_on_map=true

    DWNC – Lee Point Bio-corridor woodland only: https://birdata.birdlife.org.au/explore#from=2018-05-01&map=-12.3571493_130.8948717_14&polygon=_rsrCmr6-YySib2TyWsIiI7NyPiB4djKiBUgL0XypBvbnChBviBjIPtEkY_FvBF_OmBx3CxHlkB&to=2023-05-01


    Appendix B

    This table provides a preliminary analysis of savanna tree carbon stocks. An estimate of carbon stores in the above ground biomass of large savanna trees (all trees measured, diameter at breast height, DBH) based on the allometry of savanna tree species reported in Cook et al. 2015 where biomass is related to the size of the tree (measured as DBH). The Lee Point DHA development area contains 178.8 tonnes of carbon stored in above ground tree biomass, with an additional 2 tonnes added each year based on savanna tree growth rates. This does not consider the contribution of all trees and shrubs less than 35 cm diameter at breast height, grasses, coarse woody debris or belowground root and soil carbon stores.


    Carbon (t)

    Site (and sub areas)


    Sequestration (yr-1)

    Site 1



    Casuarina Coastal Reserve / Lee Point



    Casuarina Coastal Reserve south



    Royal Darwin Hospital



    Site 2



    DHA offset to conservation



    Lee Point DHA



    Site 3



    Lee Point



    Site 4



    Buffer Sewerage ponds



    Site 5



    Buffer Karama



    Site 6



    Buffer Karama Holmes Jungle



    Site 7



    Knuckey Lagoon north



    Site 8



    Charles Darwin National Park



    Site 9



    Airport west



    Site 20



    Charles Darwin Nat Park east



    Grand Total