A swift parrot on Bruny Island, Tasmania

Study finds only 300 swift parrots could remain as Tasmanian court challenge heard

Fewer than 300 critically endangered swift parrots could remain in Australia, a new study has revealed, as a court challenge against logging in their Tasmanian habitat was heard in the federal court.

The former federal Greens leader Bob Brown has taken state-owned logging group Sustainable Timber Tasmania, and the state and federal governments, to the federal court over forestry agreements his foundation believes are unlawful.

DNA sampling by researchers at Australian National University has found there is likely to be fewer than 300 parrots remaining – significantly less than previously thought.

The researcher Dejan Stojanovic said the parrots were threatened by a range of factors including deforestation.

“This study shows that threats like the severe deforestation of the Tasmanian breeding habitat of swift parrots has drastically reduced their population size and increased the odds that the species will go extinct,” he said.

Swift parrot breeding season began this month and STT agreed not to log in the areas where they breed while the court proceedings are under way. Brown wants it ended altogether.

“Extinction is coming rapidly for the swift parrot,” he said on Wednesday.

“The native forests are depended upon by the birds, as well as other native creatures including the Tasmanian devil, giant Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and the world’s largest freshwater crab.

“We don’t depend on it – we’ve got plenty of wood available from our plantations that we don’t need to be destroying the habitat of Australia’s marvellous wildlife.”

A full federal court hearing in Melbourne is examining whether Tasmania’s 20-year regional forest agreement, renewed in 2017, is valid.

Ron Merkel for the Bob Brown Foundation, argued it was invalid because it doesn’t include a legally enforceable requirement for the state to protect threatened species in the native forests, including swift parrots.

The foundation claims the Tasmanian forest agreement doesn’t enforce national environmental protections, including for threatened species, as required by legislation. It was the intention of the legislation to protect rare and endangered species, Merkel said.

He said protections should be provided against harm being caused, rather than to provide a remedy only after the harm has been done. The judges have reserved their decision.