Unexplained clearing

Unexplained clearing (landcover change) includes lawful clearing or reduction in landcover that does not require an approval, notification and/or keeping of records, as well as areas that have been cleared unlawfully or are not fully compliant with approvals.

How are areas of unexplained clearing identified?

Areas of landcover change detected from satellite imagery are compared with known approvals, such as Land Management Code 2017 notifications, certifications and forestry approvals. 

Since the introduction of Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013 (LLS Act), unexplained clearing is only reported on the rural regulated land part of the state. Land categorised as Category 1 – exempt does not require any approval and is therefore fully explained.

Clearing occurring on other parts of the state are regulated by different instruments such as the State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation in Non-Rural Areas) 2017. Authorisations for clearing on these parts of NSW are generally provided by local government. This data is not currently reported to the Department of Planning and Environment (the Department).

The Department applies a process of elimination to clearing on rural regulated land in order to identify unexplained clearing. Unexplained clearing is identified by excluding authorised or approved clearing from all the detected clearing on rural regulated land. 

Flowchart showing the process of deduction to identify unexplained clearing 

What happens to areas of unexplained clearing?

The Department applies a risk management approach to unexplained clearing that considers the area of vegetation change on a property, the nature of the vegetation impacted and the potential sources of clearing authorisation that are not spatially recorded or are only available to government on request.

The LLS Act includes low-risk routine farming activities called allowable activities, that support maintaining infrastructure and other day-to-day activities required to run a farming enterprise.

Some areas of unexplained clearing can be determined to be an allowable activity because of their size and shape, such as long straight lines along fences, farm tracks or around farm buildings.

However, some areas of lawful clearing can only be determined if a landholder provides additional information, such as information about the history of land management or application of allowable activities. Sometimes approval records were unavailable or erroneous at the time of the cross-check and landholders can provide copies of these.

Areas of clearing that cannot be explained may be investigated further by a compliance team. All investigations are undertaken in accordance with Department compliance policies. If unlawful clearing is found, the Department will select an appropriate outcome based on environmental, social and regulatory considerations. All significant outcomes are reviewed by an expert advisory committee.

Why can't areas of unexplained clearing be identified as authorised?

Not all clearing has an approval record that can be matched against clearing identified from satellite imagery.

A proportion of the unexplained non woody change would be associated with landholder self-assessment of groundcover categorisation. The landholder is required to keep appropriate records of this self-assessment.

Unexplained clearing may also be associated with landholder use of allowable activity provisions, where no prior authorisation is required to manage vegetation for routine farm management activities, such as maintaining a fence or access track. These provisions are undertaken at the discretion of the landholder, but do have to meet certain prescriptions such as maximum width for clearing for farm access tracks or fence lines.

Landholders are not required to keep records or tell government departments when they are undertaking an allowable activity. However, Local Land Services (LLS) is required to monitor and report on the use of allowable activities.

Under Part 4 (Continuing Use) in the Land Management Code, clearing of some native vegetation regrown since 1990 can be undertaken without needing to notify LLS or obtain a certificate. As a result, no records can be used to explain detected clearing of regrowth.


Spatial data products

Woody vegetation change (SLATS)

When the data is released it is made available through the SEED Portal.