Cliefden Caves may be damned: ancient wonder not protected by law

A HOLE LOT OF CONTROVERSY: Cliefden caves under the pump.
A HOLE LOT OF CONTROVERSY: Cliefden caves under the pump.

THE Cliefden Caves at Needles Gap which are under threat from a proposed dam are not protected by any government environmental law. 

The caves are not on the government’s National Heritage List and the only reference to the caves by the department of environment is on a register which was defunct seven years ago. 

Conservationists fear the state funded, 90,000 megalitre, Needles Gap Dam proposed for the site near the Belubula River will destroy the caves. 

The Cliefden Caves appeared on the Register of National Estate but the estate closed in 2007, its listings only exist for educational purposes. 

A Department of Environment spokesperson said any new project likely to have a significant impact on any matter protected by national environment law, such as a threatened species, must be submitted to the federal environment department to see whether a federal environment assessment is needed.

But there would be no such requirement if the state government went ahead with the dam because the caves were not protected by law. 

The spokesperson would not answer whether the caves could be included on the National Heritage List but sent a link to the department website where members of the public could nominate a site. 

However according to a NSW Office of Environment and Heritage spokesperson an interim heritage order could be requested by a council.

The purpose of an interim heritage order is to provide a “breathing space” of no more than 12 months during which a full heritage assessment can be completed. Temporary in nature, the majority of interim heritage orders are made in response to community representations or concerns raised by local government.

Cowra mayor Bill West said he was reluctant to chose between the dam or saving the caves until he had more information from the government. 


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