NSW Department of Planning and Environment

The Hunter’s diverse natural environment includes some of the most unique ecological systems in Australia. Within the region there are three terrestrial bioregions – the Sydney Basin, North Coast and Brigalow Belt South, and the Hawkesbury and Manning Shelf marine bioregions.


The natural environment sustains important terrestrial and aquatic ecological systems and good habitat connections, including part of a national corridor extending from Victoria to Far North Queensland.


Pristine natural areas are conserved in a network of protected areas, from the World Heritage values of the Greater Blue Mountains to the Port Stephens–Great Lakes Marine Park.


Residents and visitors are fortunate to have ready access to many of the region’s natural areas – and an array of unique experiences. These areas contribute to the region’s identity and the health of its communities and are important for recreational and tourism activities and as a focus for investment. They are also a key factor in the decisions people make about where to live.


The Hunter contains two major water catchments, the Hunter and the Manning River, which provide water that sustains the region.


Good planning and design will be fundamental to protecting the environment and building greater resilience to natural hazards and climate change.

Direction 14 – Protect and connect natural areas

Investing in conservation (including biodiversity offsets) that protects, and where possible, enhances habitat connections will deliver multiple benefits to the environment and the community. Investments have already been made in the Green Corridor (identified in the 2006 Lower Hunter Regional Strategy), which is an important link in the Great Eastern Ranges initiative. Identifying other priority conservation areas is also important.

Modelling that identifies habitat connectivity is the first step to identifying and protecting existing habitat links and then establishing new links to support the movement of animals across the landscape.

Many of the region’s natural features are already subject to a high level of regulation to protect their environmental values. Strategic land use planning should identify and take account of the location and extent of these areas of high environmental value.

Biodiversity corridors

Biodiversity corridors are areas that link vegetation to form wildlife habitat. Corridors support ecological processes for plants (for example, pollination and seed dispersal) and wildlife movement (for example, for migration, feeding and breeding). They provide habitat and can improve the ability of species to adapt to changes in habitat and climate. Corridors also have significant scenic values and often support recreation.

Corridors can take several forms, including:

  • stepping stone corridors of discontinuous patches of vegetation;
  • continuous lineal strips of vegetation along riparian strips; and
  • part of a larger habitat area known or likely to be important to local fauna as could occur in a national park or State forest.23 

A holistic approach across both public and private lands will protect and manage natural ecosystems and ensure connectivity between habitats. Planning and management tools can identify and establish corridors; processes which sometimes takes many years.

There are several areas in the Hunter where large areas of remnant vegetation could be connected to form a network. These include national parks, State forests, council reserves, floodplains, foreshore and riparian vegetation.

Proposed biodiversity corridors map

Click to enlarge.


Sustaining regional habitat connectivity

Jilliby to Wallarah Peninsula Link and Inter-regional Landscape Break

This link recognises corridors previously identified in the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy 2006-2031 and the North Wyong Shire Structure Plan (2012). It encompasses major new land release areas that accommodate urban and employment uses in the Hunter and Central Coast regions. The aim of conservation planning in this area will be to identify and create habitat corridors and stepping stones to maintain connections between Jilliby State Conservation Area, Wallarah National Park and the Munmorah State Conservation Area. This work will be important for the planning and delivery of new release areas in southern Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast region and creating an inter-regional landscape break between the two regions.

Watagans to Stockton Link

This link was first proposed by the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy 2006-2031 and is intended to accommodate national transport infrastructure to enhance north–south connectivity, and the delivery of new release areas in Greater Newcastle and the western and northern parts of its hinterland. 

The aim of conservation planning in this area will be to conserve existing remnant vegetation and invest in the rehabilitation of land to strengthen the regionally significant corridor between Watagans National Park and Port Stephens.

Recent desktop modelling indicates that the narrowest point in the Watagans–Stockton Link (generally between Weakleys Drive and Tomago) may not be able to support landscape-scale habitat connections. Investment may be needed to rehabilitate land, either within the current corridor boundary or by extending the corridor boundary, to realise national and regional ambitions for this link. Further assessments will be necessary to identify the viability of securing and rehabilitating land in these areas. Viability will be influenced by the existing ecological capability as well as current and future land use demands.

Upper Hunter Valley Link

This link contains important valley floor forest and woodland remnants and covers the only viable north–south corridor across the Upper Hunter region. The aim of conservation planning will be to connect, protect and enhance the large patches of existing vegetation between Wollemi National Park, Manobalai Nature Reserve and the Liverpool Range. It will be achieved through private land incentive programs and other mechanisms such as biodiversity offsetting.

Liverpool Ranges Link

The aim of conservation planning will be to use ridgelines and the higher slopes to maintain and enhance the connections between Coolah Tops and Towarri national parks and further east within the region. It will be achieved through private land incentive programs and other measures such as biodiversity offsetting.

Barrington Tops to Myall Lake Link

This link encompasses fauna corridors first identified in the Mid North Coast Regional Strategy (2006). It is located between Barrington Tops National Park and large patches of existing vegetation in the Myall Lakes and Port Stephens areas. It extends across an area that the NSW Government is currently investigating for future gas resources to diversify the State’s energy supply and is an emerging (economic) growth area. The aim of conservation planning will be to protect landscape-scale connections. It will be achieved through private land incentive programs and other measures such as land use planning and biodiversity offsetting.

Manning River Link

This link encompasses fauna corridors and large vegetation patches between Barrington Tops and Woko national parks across the Manning River floodplain to coastal reserves such as Talawahl Nature Reserve. The aim of conservation planning will be to protect and enhance landscape-scale connectivity. This will be achieved through private land incentive programs and other mechanisms such as land use planning and biodiversity offsetting.


14.1 Identify terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity values and protect areas of high environmental value to sustain the lifestyle, economic success and environmental health of the region.

14.2 Identify and strengthen biodiversity corridors as places for priority biodiversity offsets.

14.3 Improve the quality of, and access to, information relating to high environmental values.

14.4 Protect biodiversity by maintaining and, where possible, enhancing the existing protection of high environmental value areas; implementing appropriate measures to conserve validated high environmental value areas; developing local strategies to avoid and minimise the impacts of development on areas of high environmental value and biodiversity corridors; and identifying offsets or other mitigation measures for unavoidable impacts.

14.5 Secure the long term protection of regionally significant biodiversity corridors.

Direction 15 – Sustain water quality and security

Water catchments in the region include the Hunter and Manning river systems and the Karuah and Lake Macquarie water catchments, which encompass important coastal lakes and lagoons, coastal wetlands, sensitive estuaries and the protected waters of Port Stephens and the Great Lakes.

Monitoring and managing the impacts of existing land uses, and in the future those associated with growth, will be essential to protect the quality and security of the region’s water supplies. This is particularly important in areas containing drinking water catchments.

Improvements to the networks operated by Hunter Water and MidCoast Water, and Muswellbrook, Singleton and Upper Hunter councils will be necessary to ensure an ongoing supply of water. The linking of the Hunter Water network – the second largest in NSW supplying water to more than 500,000 people – to the Central Coast regional water supply network will increase the resilience of the two regions to future droughts.

Water sharing plans form the basis of water sharing and water allocation in the Hunter. Changes in water demand from different uses may result in the potential reallocation of water over time.


15.1 Protect water catchments to sustain high quality and dependable water supplies across the region.

15.2 Effectively manage surface and groundwater use in agricultural areas to support ecosystem function and food production, and to cater for the increasing demand of urban communities and industry.

15.3 Plan for the security of the region’s town water supply.

15.4 Implement catchment-based plans for the ongoing sustainable management and health of estuaries.

15.5 Apply the neutral or beneficial water quality objectives to land use planning in surface and groundwater drinking water catchment areas to minimise the effects of development on waterways, including watercourses, wetlands, groundwater dependent ecosystems, riparian lands, estuaries, lakes, beaches and marine waters.

15.6 Reduce the risk of introduction or spread of aquatic pests and diseases from new development that may affect fisheries and aquaculture industry practices.

15.7 Incorporate water-sensitive design into development that is likely to have an adverse impact on coastal water catchments, water quality and flows.

Direction 16 – Increase resilience to hazards and climate change

Most people in the Hunter live near the coast, bushland or rivers. The appeal of these places is obvious; however, they may also come with challenges such as flooding, coastal inundation, erosion and bushfires. For example, the Hunter and Manning rivers and their major tributaries are flood-prone. These issues are a significant factor when planning for future growth.

Climate change is likely to result in varying rainfall, higher temperatures and prolonged dry periods or drought. These conditions may cause more frequent and intense hazards. Coastal communities are likely to be more vulnerable to the threat of coastal recession and over the longer term, sea level rise.

The Hunter and Manning Valley floodplains provide some of the region’s most fertile soils. The floodplains also host important inter-regional freight connections, including the Hunter Valley Coal Rail Network and North Coast Railway. Tools have to be developed to manage the risk to communities, infrastructure and agricultural productivity from the impacts of climate change.

Land use planning that supports changes to the physical environment and infrastructure can help to avoid or manage risks and build community resilience to hazards. The NSW Government will support councils to develop evidence and provide strategic advice to inform their decision-making.


16.1 Manage the risks of climate change and improve the region’s resilience to flooding, sea level rise, bushfire, mine subsidence, and land contamination..

16.2 Review and consistently update floodplain risk and coastal zone management plans, particularly where urban growth is being investigated..

16.3 Incorporate new knowledge on regional climate projections and related cumulative impacts in local plans for new urban development..

16.4 Review and update the Newcastle Mines Grouting Fund and investigate its relevance to other areas.

Page last updated: 13/05/2022